Archive for July, 2012

The journey can be more enjoyable than the destination in Will Self anthology

July 8, 2012

There’s no question that Will Self is an able writer, but his 1998 collection of short fiction never quite came together for me as a reader.

Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys has eight stories in all. A pair, including the eponymous work, revolve around the dissolute, philandering psychologist Bill Bywater. Another pair, which bookend the anthology, concern drug-dealing London brothers.

These four stories were my favorite in the book, especially “Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys.” (It appears immediately before its companion piece, “Design Faults in the Volvo 760 Turbo: A Manual,” despite occurring at a later time.) “Tough Toys” describes Bywater’s epic single-day drive from the northern coast of Scotland to London.

The psychologist is both methodical and reckless. In the morning, he checks his fluid levels and repaired engine; then he lights a blunt and takes a large gulp of whisky from “‘the car bottle’ as he jocularly styled it — to himself” immediately before pulling on to the road. Read the rest of this entry »

Hope amid hopelessness: Two post-apocalyptic visions of America

July 1, 2012

The other day, I reviewed two novels about a post-apocalyptic America. I had some thoughts about what these books had to say about the United States that didn’t fit into a general review, and I wanted to explore them here. Please beware that there be spoilers here; read no further unless you already know or want to know key information from these novels.

(Also, read no further unless you have the stomach for a rather long essay with ambitions of accessible literary criticism. You have been warned.)

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse are radically different stories. Nuclear war has scorched America in McCarthy’s 2006 bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner; gray skies blanket a dead, ash-covered landscape roamed by desperadoes and cannibals. As the nameless protagonist and his son walk south in hopes of escaping the relentless cold, every person they encounter seems to poses a mortal threat. McCarthy, an American writer, omits all quotation marks and some apostrophes and hyphens; there are no chapter breaks, and sentence fragments pepper his pages.

The Pesthouse, which Crace published in 2007, is more conventional in form. The British author writes fully formed sentences and divides his book into chapters. Whereas McCarthy pegs his harrowing tale to the viewpoint of the man and the boy, Crace’s narrator is sometimes omniscient and sometimes tied to his protagonists, Franklin Lopez and Margaret, as they journey separately and together across some future America. Read the rest of this entry »

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