Saturday, February 02, 2008
BooksFirst - January 2008
Slam by Nick Hornby
A Slipping Down Life by Anne Tyler
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I’m a winner! By reading three novels in January I am entitled to the Green Badge to proudly display my accomplishment. I’m still taking winner announcements in comments on any post with the NaJuReMoNoMo tag (which includes this one). I will collect a list of winners in the next post or two.
I talked a bit about Slam, Nick Nornby’s foray into youth fiction when I became aware of the hot new babies-having-babies trend in the media. I first discovered Nick Hornby when I picked up a copy of High Fidelity in the now defunct Bibelot chain. Since then I have read most of his other novels, several of which have been made into movies. One of Hornby’s trademarks is the hero who is stuck in an extended adolescent. For Slam he reverses the arc and an actual kid has to learn how to act like an adult while remaining a teenager.
Sam is a skater that talks to his Tony Hawk poster when he needs advice. Tony “talks” back entirely in quotes from his autobiography that ore often oddly relevant. He meets Alicia at a party and they begin fooling around with the inevitable tragic results. Unlike most stories about teen pregnancy, this one takes the point of view of the hapless father to be. The novel is told in the first person which is a stunning stylistic feat.
Anne Tyler has been one of my favorite authors since the mid 80’s when The Acccidental Tourist and Dinner At The Homesick Café were ubiquitous on the reading lists of people I knew. I reviewed Digging To America back in June 2006. A Slipping Down Life is one of her older novels, predating her adoption of Baltimore as her primary story setting location. A teenage girl gets a crush on a local struggling musician and carves his name into her forehead. From this rather disturbing start, a typically unsettling Tyler un-love story emerges.
I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly what makes an Anne Tyler novel so Tyleresque. These eccentric slices of life are often bittersweet and melancholic and all those elements are here. Evie is chubby insecure student that fall for a self-involved aspiring rock star long on hope but short on drive. Written in the late 60s, some of the dialog sounds dated, but the timeless Tyler themes of dreams deferred and opportunities lost and regained remain as poignant as ever.
Since I first discovered Neil Gaiman as a writer when he was Guest of Honor at Balticon a few years ago, I have been dipping into his works more and more. At first I thought Neverwhere would be a little too dark and macabre for me, but instead it was wonderfully inventive and clever. In the Neverwhereverse, there exists a parallel universe of lost souls in the London Underground. Richard Mayhew, a mildly milquetoasty Londoner, helps an orphan girl and his life changes as he crosses over to the down below. There he gets drawn into a web of intrigue and adventure.
The world Gaiman creates is full of myth and legend, both literary and urban. The world follows its own twisted logic and involves a plot to destroy a noted family with odd navigational powers. The real breakout characters in the novel are Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, a pair of assassins who speak in an odd formality. The novel is an adaptation of a six part BBC series that I am wholly unfamiliar with. Gaiman’s cross-media experiments continue to amaze me with how versatile he is. I hope he returns to London Below someday.