Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wizard and Winter

Got a fun idea: While I was watching the Academy Awards, I realized I'd much rather read many of the stories nominated for Best Picture than I would care to actually watch the movies.  So with that, I went online the next day and reserved as many books that had become BP-noms as were available.  (There were only four in this year's crop)  Started reading The Accidental Millionaires (the book The Social Network was based on) and ended up dropping it after 73 pages.  This wasn't because it was a bad book (it was a bit crude, though obviously I've been able to overlook that in the past); rather it was because I had just recently seen that movie and was kind of bored with the story since I already knew where it was going.  So that's two books I've given up on this year. 

Anyway, two books finished recently.  One is not a best picture nominee, the other is.

Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower IV)
by Stephen King
1998 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (nominated)
698 pages
Published by a lot of different distributors, and I can't find the exact edition I read on Amazon

This was a re-read.  I first read The Dark Tower right when I was starting to get back into reading and around when Robbie was born.  This has always been one of my favorite books in the series because it has sort of a self-contained novel smack in the middle of the overarching narrative of the series.  The majority of this book is a flashback providing some welcome back story to King's gunslinger, Roland Deschain.  And it's a thrilling, frightening, passionate Western about young love and small-town politics and conspiracies and reality-altering mysteries.  And Hey Jude.  Trust me, it works so much better than it sounds like it ought to. 

The opening of the novel is a continuation of the ten-year cliffhanger from King's previous Dark Tower novel (The Waste Lands, which is also superb).  It's pretty intense.  Following the opening episode, the characters find themselves in Topeka, Kansas, during the events of King's non-DT novel The Stand.  Then Roland takes on the role of storyteller and delivers the origin of his quest for the Tower and his ill-fated romance of the daughter of a horseman in a small outer-barony town.  It's really compelling stuff.  Also occasionally grisly and disturbing.  If King sees an opportunity for a disturbing scene, he'll always take it.  Likewise, the passionate love-making sequences are largely unedited, so proceed with caution.  Overall, though, the story itself is a great adventure epic that augments the rest of the Tower saga.  And after Roland's tale is told, the book takes one of the strangest crossovers in the entire series.  ("There's no place like home..."

All said, this was a good choice to re-read, even if I had forgotten exactly how creepy Rhea of the Coos could be.  A solid tale well-told if you have the stomach for it. 

Winter's Bone
by Daniel Woodrell
224 pages
Back Bay Books, 2007

Running out of time, so I'll try to make this quick. 

This was one of this year's Best Picture nominated films.  It's very good and very disturbing as it depicts the lives of a family of drug-makers in the Ozarks.  Our protagonist, Ree, is truly a heroine worth rooting for.  If she doesn't work, the whole book is a waste.  But she does.  In an environment that seems to be breeding perpetual self-destruction, she holds on to hope that things can one day be a little bit better for her family.  Not in a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky sort of way, but realistically. 

In the story, seventeen-year-old Ree's father has disappeared (again) and is wanted in court (again).  He's signed their house away as evidence that he'll show, and if the man doesn't come to court the city will be able to seize the family's property.  Ree sets out to find her dad, and you learn that the entire surrounding area is inhabited by a family that protects itself and its secrets.  At every turn, Ree is commanded to give up her search, and pretty soon she can tell that whatever has happened to her father, it was bad news.  As she uncovers bits of information, she challenges a lot more than tradition, determined to either save her family or die in the process.  And there are times when you're pretty sure she'll do both. 

I enjoyed this book.  It was very dark and dismal, but not without hope.  Again, it's all in the heroine: she makes the whole thing work.  Woodrell writes of a world far removed from my own reality in such a way that I feel I can understand and relate to it, and that right there is the mark of an incredible narrative.

Oh, and since it's been stuck in your head since the post title:

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