Saturday, April 25, 2009

Castle by J Robert Lennon

I’m a huge fan of Lennon’s Mailman and Pieces For the Left Hand, so even though I have a long list of books to read, I immediately ordered this one and bumped it to the top of the list when I read about its release.

The story begins when Eric Loesch, a middle-aged loner, moves back to his mid-western hometown of Gerrysburg, where he buys an old fixer-upper on 620-acres of wooded land outside of the small town. Loesch is not a particularly likable man. He is rude to the people he encounters in the town, arrogant and stiff. And we get the sense that he has some rather dark secrets in his background. It’s a promising start to the story, especially with Lennon’s talent for creating quirky, flawed characters and intriguing stories about small-town life.

But about halfway through the book, the story takes a bad turn. Just as it’s getting genuinely creepy (mysterious sounds from the house at night, shadowy figures moving around in the forest), it goes off on two weird tangents, one that would stretch credibility for a Scooby-Doo plot, and a flashback at the end that feels out-of-place and tacked on. The latter, incorporated into the story with more deftness, might have worked and helped explain some of the character’s quirks. But the main plot arc is still so preposterous that I kept looking for signs that it was all an allegory, or a dream, or something other than just a bad story.

I’ll still read anything Lennon puts out, and I give him props for taking a big swing with this one. He just whiffed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama [audiobook]

I started a membership to an audio book club, which allows me one free download a month and lets me fill in my walking time with books as well. In selecting audiobooks, I’m considering who is reading them as much as who wrote them. Especially this first book, I was very anxious to hear Obama’s story told in his own voice.

Although written before Obama’s political career took off, it’s hard to listen to this book and not hear Obama the president. But it was the fact that this book was written early in Obama’s career, before he was a guarded, calculating politician, that drew me to it. He is very frank about everything from his disappointment with his father to his drug use, from his take on race relations and search for an identity to his dealings and disillusionment with Chicago politics and community leaders. His early life would be an interesting story for any man—considering that he’s now the president, it’s really interesting.

As a president, Obama is a top class writer and orator. As an author, he tends to overwrite a bit for my taste. And as a reader of audiobooks, he’s so-so. He has a commanding voice, but his accents slip in and out when he does dialogue and he comes across a little stiff. Still, I wouldn’t have anyone else read this book. And overall, it’s a great and insightful look into a living historical figure.