Monday, July 29, 2013

The Son

by Philipp Meyer, Ecco, May 2013

... a real Western without the romanticism of Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey

This is a novel of the American West set in Texas.  It follows one family - the McCullough’s - thru the history of the state.  The patriarch, Colonel Eli McCullough, was the first white child born in Texas in 1836. Eli lives for 100 years so he carries the story forward well into the twentieth century.   He is the larger than life character that dominates this story.  The other two storylines are interspersed between Eli’s narrative.  Eli’s  son Peter is a brooding intellectual type who lives through the pre WWI conflict with Mexico and is forever changed when his Mexican neighbors are massacred by his family.  Lastly Eli’s  great granddaughter Jeanne Anne is a talented woman trying to make her way in the male dominated world of big oil.    

This is really an epic saga about the settling and growth  of Texas.  Through Eli’s experiences we read of family massacres, Comanche Indians who kidnap and use white settlers,  Texas Rangers who enforce a frontier type of law.  Through Peter’s story we see the conflicts between the white Texans and the Hispanic settlers who were the original landowners in the area. All of the corruption that marks the relations between a victorious conqueror and the losing side  is here to behold.  Peter also tells the story of the movement from cattle ranching to oil drilling in the big ranches in Texas.  Jeanne Anne’s experiences show the grow of big oil in the state and the uphill battle a woman faced in being successful in this state.  

This story flies along and is filled with action.  I particularly liked the ending which was somewhat unexpected and definitely satisfying.  I was left with two impressions after reading it.  One if anyone wonders where the gun culture in the US comes from, read this story.  Almost from the first settlers in the West, the gun was used to ensure white superiority.  All disputes were settled with guns and loss of life was the norm not the exception and this story illustrates that in spades.  My second impression was that this story so close to truth was profoundly depressing and grim  in that the behavior of the white Texans to the Native Americans and the Mexicans was extremely brutal.  Probably not that much different from other conquering nations but depressing nonetheless.  The author does not sugarcoat any of it.  So if you want to read a real Western story with none of the romanticism of Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey read this.  Sure to be one of the best books of the year.

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Crazy Rich Asians

by Kevin Kwan, Doubleday, June 2013

... a definite beach read!

This is a fun book on it’s way no doubt to becoming a fun movie. American born Chinese girl unknowingly becomes romantically involved with a colleague who is the scion of an incredibly rich Chinese family living in Singapore.  The story flits from New York to London to Paris to Hong Kong to Singapore.  The author has some familiarity with the lifestyles of the upper echelons of the incredibly rich Chinese and uses this information to skewer them in a hilarious fashion.  

Rachel Chu is a successful college professor who falls in love with Nick Young a fellow prof at NYU.  Nick invites her to his family home in Singpore without telling her much about the extensive wealth of his family.  As you might imagine this girl from modest circumstances is not welcomed by the haughty family.  Nick’s childhood friend is marrying and an outrageously expensive wedding provides the backdrop for most of this story.  Rachel is immediately uncomfortable in this world and is rescued only by Nick’s cousin Astrid.  Astrid’s relationship with her husband provides one of the subplots for the book.  Events proceed in a rather predictable way but the story is rescued by the writing style of the author - he makes it all fun - an entertaining soap opera with multiple characters acting in just enough of an outrageous manner to make the whole story fly along.  A definite beach read!

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Wicked Girls

by Alex Marwood Penguin Books, July 2012

...a very different thriller

Wow, this is a very different thriller!  Set in a UK seaside town it tells the story of two women who spent a single day together as children and to their everlasting unhappiness were responsible for a young child’s death.  These woman (Kristy and Amber) meet again as adults during a serial killer investigation.  Kristy, originally the child from a very poor upbringing has struggled through the social welfare/prison system to complete university and is a married mother of two working as a reporter.  Amber, originally the child of a privileged upbringing has fared less well. She works as a cleaning supervisor on the overnight shift at the seaside amusement park.  She lives with common law husband Vic and two beloved dogs.  

As the serial killer's bodies start piling up the two women reconnect.  The story is peppered with interesting characters who are well drawn even if many of them are decidedly creepy including Vic, Amber’s husband and Martin a hanger-on who interjects himself into many lives.  I really liked that many of these characters tell the story in their own voices (first person).  I think it raised the level of the physiological drama to get inside their heads that way.  I bet no one guesses the ending of this one, it had me right up until the last page.

The issues that the story highlights - what happens to child killers as they become adults, how society treats them and how they deal with their own guilt make this a thoughtful work while not in anyway stinting on the suspense.  I bet you’ll remember this story long after you read the last page.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.