Ask Again, Yes

Francis Gleeson, tall and thin in his powder blue policeman’s uniform, stepped out of the sun and into the shadow of the stocky stone building that was the station house of the Forty-First Precinct.

I enjoy family stories. I’m quite the sucker for generational stories that sometimes are big and grand enough to be called family epics. It’s character based, sometimes with time and surroundings being an extra character, but simply about all the people involved (or some of them).

Ask Again, Yes shouldn’t be called epic. Maybe not even a family story. It somehow feels like it has picked the least exciting characters to hang the story up on, and then seems to just shrug about how they can’t carry whatever plot (points) they pass. Why not more information about the previous generation, their immigration, the world they moved into? Instead the reader gets childish stubbornness that never really gives any reason to warm up to it.

So, if you want the story of a family, and all of it, go for The Woo-Woo, or Run, Hide, Repeat or The Locals. They’ll give you something more enticing.

Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Scribner 2019

The Mars Room

Chain Night happens once a week on Thursdays.

I changed my mind about this novel pretty much every other chapter. Probably because I expected one person’s story and got several, with almost all of those not being interesting to me. I don’t care about the male prisoner when the book is marketed as being about a woman in a female prison.

Anyway. Every chapter is a facet of the story, some just muddier than others. It is about Romy, a female prisoner. It doesn’t just show her story, but the circumstances that got her there and life in prison. And neither of those things are pretty.

With every chapter there is a slight shift in style, which could be a compliment to the author, but again adds to the feeling of ‘Am I here for this?’. Quickly, the story turns out to be another version of life in prison: you slog through and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner, Scribner 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing

I like to think I know what death is.

There’s a kind of story that is elevated by the surroundings its in. Even though this is the case in Sing, Unburied, Sing, it isn’t always saved by those surroundings. The story is dark and muddy, and there’s no air bubbles to be found in this morass.

Here’s a small, hurting family in the societal backgrounds of the USA. They hurt because of deaths past and future, addictions and crimes. Jojo is the young teenager who the story evolves around, but his drug addicted mother gets to share her angle as well.

If there’s not enough unhappiness around these two, death starts interfering with the living, and the story starts to feel like something the ancient Greeks would use as an example for hell. No matter what you do, misery will follow.

I’m slightly disgruntled because of having read this. Not because it’s badly written or a sloppy story, solely because it’s just full of disgruntlement, big and small. You could read it for the slice of depressing life, but don’t expect any uplifting experience.

Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward, Scribner 2017

Mr Mercedes

Augie Odenkirk had a 1997 Datsun that still ran well in spite of high mileage, but gas was expensive, especially for a man with no job, and City Center was on the far side of the town, so he decided to take the last bus of the night.

From time to time you need a Stephen King novel. And because I can never remember where I am in the Dark Tower series, I like to try one of his stand alones.

Of course there’s a retired detective who is overweight and alone and miserable, that’s how a detective works. There’s that one unsolved case as well. But this is Stephen King, so you get a look inside of the head of the perk/perp, you get fleshed-out side characters and a peek into the look of police work (lots of note blocks).

No lack of gruesome images and terrifying cliffhangers either. Mr Mercedes demands your time, and you will race (hah) through the story, pretty sure but not completely about how it will end this time.

Just don’t read this before bed. Or visiting a concert.

Mr Mercedes, Stephen King, Scribner 2014

All The Light We Cannot See

At dust they pour from the sky. 

Usually I’m not very fast with reading books from the ongoing year, definitely not those that are on lists and are nominated for prizes. They’re (too) popular in the library and the standardized blurb doesn’t really tickle me anyway. 

But this was a present. And you don’t neglect a gifted book. 

All The Light We Cannot See starts out as a pretty standard, nicely written, World War II story. There are good people on both sides, there are bad people on both sides.This time the main characters are a blind, French girl and a German, orphaned boy. They both experience things and grow up while the war grows worse. 

The addition of a MacGuffin turn Anthony Doerr’s wonderful visuals and sweet, rounded characters, sadly enough, into something flat. Suddenly the book turns into Indiana Jones in Europe, instead of carrying on with the world-building and filling out backgrounds. 

There’s nothing wrong with All The Light We Cannot See, but it could have been something epic instead of this mix-up. 

All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, Scribner 2014