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The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

“The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted.”

the-girl-who-loved-tom-gordon-by-stephen-king-L-1mbmQyThe Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a psychological thriller that centres around a nine year old girl – Trisha McFarland – that also has a baseball theme to it.

Yes, you heard that right – a BASEBALL theme.

But relax (those of you who don’t know anything about baseball or hate the sport) because aside from the chapter headings, a fictional player called Tom Gordon and a little bit of radio commentary, this novel is just a good old fashioned ‘girl-gets-lost-in-the-woods-story.’

King informs the reader of this fact in the opening paragraph,

“At o’clock on a morning in early July she was sitting in the back seat of her mother’s Dodge Caravan, wearing her Red Sox batting practice jersey (the one with 36 GORDON on the back) and playing with Mona, her doll. At ten thirty she was lost in the woods.” (p.3)

Trisha, who is on a day out with her mother and brother wanders off the main trail in search of a tree to have a pee… Well you know the rest!

NEVER WANDER OFF THE GODDAMN TRAIL!!!

If you’ve ever been in the woods, then you’ll be familiar with the way it can play tricks on the mind. You may think you are walking in a straight line, but in actual fact you’ve just done a 360 and end up where you started. King captures the characteristics of the forest brilliantly.

The Sounds, The Dark Shadows and The Thing that watches from within:

“The dead trees began to look less and less like trees and more and more like gaunt sentinels standing with their gnarled feet in the still black water. Be seeing faces in them again pretty soon, she thought.” (P.136)

As Trisha struggles through the forest, night after night, the lines between reality and tricks of the mind become blurred. In typical King fashion little voices of doubt begin to creep into Trisha’s consciousness:

“It’s a special thing Trisha – the thing that waits for the lost ones. It lets them wander until they’re good and scared -because fear makes them taste better, it sweetens the flesh – and then it comes for them. You’ll see it. It’ll come out of the trees any minute now. A matter of seconds, really. And when you see its face you’ll go insane.” (p.110)

imgresOn her walkman she can listen to the Red Sox commentary, and seek advice from her favourite player Tom Gordon who materialises as part of her imagination.

Or is it? Can Trisha keep her grip on reality long enough to escape the forest?

These are the questions that kept me reading right to the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed  The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It’s short with a simple plot and has hardly any characters which makes this an easy read.

Does Trisha make it out? Why not grab a copy, relax, get lost in the woods and find out for yourself.

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you. 

 

 

 

Cujo by Stephen King

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“He suddenly understood that THE MAN had made him sick.”

I watched a Stephen King interview once, in which he said that Cujo didn’t turn out the way he wanted. This is the Fourth Stephen King novel reviewed this year on literaturefiend and certainly isn’t one of the best.

There are a number of problems in this novel that constrict the reading experience. Cujo is written as one continuous narrative, which I don’t think worked well at all.

I think the film version of Cujo worked very well. I mean who can forget that image of the huge St Bernard Dog covered in blood!

The main part of the novel – and the best part – focuses on Donna and Tad Trenton (Mother and Son) who become trapped in their old Ford Pinto with Cujo waiting to rip them apart.

These sections of the novel made me feel on edge, and I felt their pain of being trapped in a small space with the unbearable heat from the sun beating down on them.

In fact all the sections of the narrative with Cujo were excellent: the build-up as he gets bitten by the rabid bat, the way Cujo battles to keep the rabies at bay; the fact that Cujo can’t understand why he is feeling so agitated and angry, all add to the compassion I felt towards the dog.

The subplots were very tedious.  The world of Victor Trenton – who co-owns a advertising company – is boring as we’re told about their campaign for ‘Sharp cereals’ or something. This is the reason why Victor leaves his wife and child alone (to go on a business trip), so I can see this as a device from King to make the main plot more plausible but it just went on and on and on and on…

About halfway through I began to skim read the sections that didn’t relate to Cujo. I didn’t loose anything from adopting this method, but it really diluted the reading experience. If the subplots were shorter it would’ve made for a really enjoyable novella, rather than an overworked novel.

The way King portrayed the workings of Cujo’s mind is brilliant. As a reader it makes you feel sorry for Cujo, as he can no longer control the advancement of the rabies virus. King highlights this at the end of the novel when he writes:

“He [Cujo] had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor” (p.420)

cujo2In the ‘Iconic Terror’ editions by Hodder Press, King writes an introduction on each novel and there isn’t one about Cujo.  This is the only novel King – a recovering alcohol and drug addict –  can’t remember writing, and probably one from a period of his life he’d rather forget.

That said, the novel is worth a read, if only for Cujo’s split personality (pre and post rabies) and the unexpected ending.

Section that Stayed 

This section shows how powerful and dangerous Cujo is once the rabies has taken hold:

“With a speed and agility that was terrifying, the big dog changed direction and came at the car. The awkward stagger was gone now, as if it had been nothing but a sly act all along. It was roaring and bellowing rather than barking. Its red eyes burned. It struck the car with a hard, dull crunch and rebounded – with stunned eyes, Donna saw that the side of her door was actually bowed in a bit.” (p. 285)

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you. 

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

“Sometimes dead is better”

Wow, Pet Semapet sematarytary by Stephen King really did live up to expectations. It’s scary as hell; personally the film also scared the crap outta me too.

In the introduction King writes:

‘When I’m asked (as I frequently am) what I consider to be the most frightening book I’ve ever written, the answer comes easily and with no hesitation: Pet Sematary.” (p.xi)

In fact the novel nearly wasn’t published, King continues:

“All I know is that Pet Sematary is the one I put away in a drawer, thinking I had finally gone too far” (p. xi)

Luckily for us, King had one book left on his Doubleday deal before he could leave,  and instead of writing something new, he sent them Pet Sematary.  

Now it’s being review by literaturefiend.

The novel follows Dr Louis Creed and family as they move into a new house in the small town of Ludlow. The house is on a main road and it isn’t long before Jud Crandall (a neighbor from across the road) warns the Creeds about the dangers of the passing trucks. Louis – whose father died when he was young – discovers a paternal connection with Jud. The role of the father is to protect, but it is Jud who shows Louis the Micmac burial ground which ultimately leads to the catastrophic events in this novel.

There is a path which leads from the Creed home to the Pet Sematary. This is a  lovely concept, started by the town’s children to bury their beloved pets; the majority of which killed on the road by oncoming trucks. Death is something all children must come to terms with and you really feel their innocence with little devices, such as the misspelled Pet Cemetery sign which has an “S” instead of “C”. Also I loved the handwritten grave markers with little messages from the children:

“TRIXIE, KILT ON THE HIGHWAY SEPT 15, 1968” and “HANNAH THE BEST DOG THAT EVER LIVED 1929-1939” (P. 38)

Things are no different for the young Ellie Creed who takes her first visit to the Pet Sematary (and experience of death) pretty hard. She has a beloved cat named Winston Churchill (or Church for short) who she would like to live forever.

“He’s my cat! He’s not God’s cat! Let God have his own cat! Let God have all the damn old cats He wants, and kill them all! Church is mine!”

When Ellie’s cat is killed by a trucchurchk,  Jud tells Louis about the Micmac burial ground which lies beyond the Pet Sematary.  This is a place of evil, a burial ground that somehow brings what is buried back to life – only when they return, they aren’t the same.

When Church returns King writes:

“The feel of the cat caused Louis to break out in gooseflesh, and he had to clench his teeth grimly to keep from kicking it away. Its furry sides felt somehow too slick, too thick – in a word, loathsome” (p. 162)

You get the idea right?

The book then gets even darker. Think of the horror, chasing your young son who is running towards the road, a speeding truck coming from the opposite direction. King explores this scenario when it happens to Gage Creed (Louis’ son); would you just accept it, or… exhume your sons grave, and bury him in a place where you know he’ll return?

Read it to see how it plays out…

The central theme of this novel focuses on coming to terms with grief and the loss of a loved one. There is Rachel Creed, haunted by the memory of her sister who suffered from spinal meningitis before her death; Pascow,  a young student who is killed by a truck on the main highway to mention a few.

I can see how Pet Sematary scared King, as much of it is based on personal experience. His own child Owen running for that main highway (thankfully King tackled him in time), his daughter’s cat Smucky flattened by a truck (thankfully, not coming back from the dead) and the real  Pet Sematary (thankfully, the burial ground beyond is fiction).

This all happened and I think it shows King’s creativity at its best. He certainly highlights the notion that “sometimes dead is better.”

Section that Stayed

A university student is brought into the campus surgery after being hit by a truck. The finality of this passage stayed with me throughout the whole novel.

“He was a young man, age approximately twenty, and it took Louis less than three seconds to make the only diagnosis that mattered: the young man was going to die. Half of his head was crushed. His neck had been broken. One collarbone jutted from his swelled and twisted right shoulder. From his head, blood and a yellow, pussy fluid seeped sluggishly into the carpet. Louis could see the man’s brain, whitish-gray and pulsing through a shattered section of his skull.”(p.70)

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.  

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

imgresI’ve been thinking about what to write since I finished Tartt’s masterpiece a few weeks ago. An epic work which weighs in at 864 pages, which I really loved reading.

The length of The Goldfinch may put some people off; but the investment is well worth the effort.

Throughout the novel the themes of loss and friendship are dealt with on so many different levels; too many to mention in this short review.

It follows Theo Decker from childhood to adulthood, after the loss of arguably the most important figure in his life – his mother. Theo sort of imprints the memory of his mother onto a painting he steals after a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, his mother’s favorite painting, I might add. Worried about what the authorities will say (as Theo ponders coming clean) the painting sparks an obsession, and not just for the protagonist.

It is important to point out that the painting of The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, is a truly remarkable piece of art asimgres you can see from the image on the right. It is said to be one of a dozen surviving works by the Dutch Artist; many of which were lost when his studio was destroyed by the explosion of the Delft gunpowder magazine on October 12, 1654. Fabrititus – a pupil of Rembrandt – died in this explosion aged 32.

Tartt’s novel is full of memorable characters, apart from Theo. For me, I really enjoyed the lifelong friendship with Boris – a Ukrainian with so much depth to his personality – and was really touched by their relationship, not to mention their crazy adventures.

In this section of the novel Boris talks to Theo about girls:

“Here is my experience. Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you. What you want to be happy in the world is a woman who has her own life and lets you have yours.” (p. 667)

And who can forget Hobbie, the furniture restorer who I imagined for some reason to be a blood relative of the BFG; but more than that,  he is a simple character, more than content spending his days in his workshop restoring furniture – I really admired this about him.

The writing style is typically beautiful. However, there is a section in the last third of the book when Theo is contemplating his own mortality and whether he should continue to live. The descriptive quality and somber subject matter is well captured. I mean throughout this section the “Black Mood” was transferred from the page and really affected me to the extent that I had to put the book down on a regular basis; it seemed to suffocate me.

Depression is a theme that is re-visited throughout the novel. In this passage Theo describes the difficulty of living a normal life after tragedy:

“…and though the darkness sometimes lifted just enough so I could construe my surroundings, familiar shapes solidifying like bedroom furniture at dawn, my relief was never more than temporary because somehow the full morning never came, things always went black before I could orient myself and there I was again with ink poured in my eyes, guttering around in the dark” (p. 573)

I’m not surprised that The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014 and unlike other reviews I’ve read I don’t care it was a decade in the making. Tartt openly admits that she’s a slow writer, but the descriptive detail and depth of research really does help to  pack a punch.

And you know what? I’m happy to wait another ten years if I get to read something as well crafted as The Goldfinch again.

See you in 2024 Tartt. It’s a date!

Wait Until Spring Bandini by John Fante

Wait-Until-Spring-Bandini

 

 

I was so impressed by Ask the Dust, that I went straight to Amazon and ordered the “Bandini Quartet.” It has the four novels: Wait Until Spring Bandini, The Road to Los Angeles, Ask the Dust and Dreams from Bunker Hill.

It works out much cheaper than buying them separately, and if you want to read them all – which after reading one Fante novel, trust me you will – is well worth the investment.

In this novel we get an insight into what things were like for Arturo Bandini (or Fante, however you want to look at it) as a child. And the answer is pretty bleak; the family are poor – like most during the depression era – and constantly struggling to pay their food bill at the local shop, let alone the rent.

Arturo – in typical fashion – has his mind consumed with a girl from his school, Rosa. She however, doesn’t reciprocate his feelings:

“Rosa, his girl. She hated him, but she was his girl. Did she know that he loved her? Was that why she hated him? Could she see the mysterious things that went on inside him, and was that why she laughed at him?” (p.42)

Svevo,Arturo’s Father, is a bricklayer and hates the winter; he is constantly being “rained off” as we say in England, due to bad weather. He is ashamed that he cannot bring more money into the household; in the first few pages we see these worries as he walks into:

“…the yard of his house that was not paid for..” (p.8) and  to his “…house that was not paid for” (p.7).

On the other hand his wife is a deeply religious woman, rich, in the sense that she makes the home a home. She is described as angelic and despite the lack of money, the love in the household is strongly felt:

 “Maria had a white rosary, so white you could drop it in the snow and loose it forever” (p.7). 

The routine of the Bandini household is torn apart – partly through miscommunication and partly through the local rumors in the neighborhood, when Svevo goes to work for the rich widow Hildegarde to earn money for his family. It is his pride that obstructs his true feelings:

“Bandini sobbed – a grown man, forty-two years old, weeping because it was Christmas Eve and he was returning to his sin, because he would rather be with his children” (p.137)

Through the use of a omniscient narrator the reader can identify with every character at one stage or another; this way their love, thoughts and feelings towards each other really shine through. That said,  I much preferred the first person narrative (from Arturo) in Ask the Dust, which made me laugh out loud on many occasions.

This novel, is an excellent piece of writing; which is poetic throughout, not to mention heartbreaking at times. The more Fante I read the more I begin to understand the term “way ahead of his time” because if it wasn’t for the popularity of Bukowski we may have seen Fante’s work buried deep in dark attics and second hand bookshops.

And that my friends, would be a tragedy in my eyes.

 

Best Part

Arturo is trying to be a little more “saintly”,  but for reasons I’ll not reveal he lashes out in frustration. He is in his garden when:

“He [Arturo] found a lump of coal the size of his fist, stood back and measured his distance. The old brown hen nearest him got the blow in the neck as the whizzing lump all but tore her head loose and caromed off the chicken shed” (p.46)

This was a harsh act, but the reason I liked it so much is that a few pages later the hungry family are tucking in to a succulent roast chicken.

 

Rating: 7/10

 

Ask the Dust by John Fante

“I didn’t ask any questions. Everything I wanted to know was written in tortured phrases across the desolation of her face.”

 

d449cb3a4cd787f53929a4bf2389e815John Fante came into my life as part of my Charles Bukowski addiction.  Both of these writers appeal to me because of the rawness in their writing.

It captures truth, beauty and simplicity. A little like Steinbeck and Hemingway, but not as literary.

Fante’s fictional works were all but out of print until Bukowski created a resurgence in popularity in the late 70’s. There are four books that document the life of Fante’s semi-autobiographical character, Arturo Bandini – now know as the Bandini Quartet.

“I AM ARTURO BANDINI!”

Ask the Dust is a really funny novel. Bandini writes a short story that is published, but blatantly ignored by the people around him (even though he is always self promoting it.) It’s evident from the beginning that he isn’t as popular as he thinks. There is a nice little scene when he first meets his landlady and shows her his short story in a magazine; a few moments later she asks for his name. Bandini says:

“…And I was disappointed, for already she had forgotten the author of The Little Dog Laughed and his name printed in large type on the magazine” (Ask the Dust, p. 51).

There are funny bits like this throughout the book. When Bandini meets Camilla Lopez – a waitress – his life takes a number of twists and turns. It’s a kind of love hate relationship, that just never seems to go smoothly.

Ask the Dust, documents how Bandini, although a good writer never really gets the work – life balance he wants. There is always something missing in his life, and I think this theme speaks directly to most people in society. No matter what they have, they always want a little bit more.

That said, I love the animosity Bandini feels towards his place in the world, causing him to continually battle his own demons throughout the novel.

It is evident that Fante carefully constructed each sentence, as the words sing as you read. I even read a passage to my wife, and she simply replied that it sounded like poetry.

I’ll end with the part that was so unexpected I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. The scene is in the restaurant where Camilla works; after Bandini has done something nasty to her, Fante writes:

“Then she said a strange thing; I remember it clearly. ‘I hope you die of heart failure,’ she said. ‘Right there in that chair.’ (p.35)

Pages: 194

Rating: 9/10

Mr Mercedes & Finders Keepers by Stephen King

For all you haters out there, I’m going to get this first part out of the way. Stephen King, deserves literary recognition of the highest order. Maybe not for his prose, but for pace and story – he is the master. Not to mention the wide range of genres he writes across.

 

For me,  it’s all about the test of time. And so far so good.

 

Mr Mercedes

tumblr_n1f260GpMe1rtynt1o3_1280.jpg 51bn5LZ3gcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Anyway, on to Mr Mercedes.  This novel is based around the retired cop, Bill Hodges. I thought that it started off at a slow pace – perhaps that was just my mind frame at the time – and quickly introduced some likable characters.

Bill Hodges has nothing much to do, except sit at home in his la-Z-Boy and watch daytime TV. Until his only unsolved case comes back to haunt him; this enters Hodges into a game of cat and mouse with Brady Hartsfield.

The main villain in this novel, Brady Hartsfield is as sick and twisted as you’d expect from a King novel.  I really felt for King’s villain, while being repulsed at the same time.

Before I knew it, I was struggling to put this novel down and just like that – it was finished.

 

Pages: 405 (paperback version)

Rating: 7/10

 

Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers, is the second novel to this trilogy. After finishing Mr Mercedes on paperback, I rushed out 9781473698994_1to by the hardback of this novel.

I think that this second book was better than the first. Brady Hartsfield who was an integral part of Mr Mercedes takes a back seat for most of this book.

It was a great story that went back and forth from 1978 to 2014; which made for an interesting insight into the characters lives and gave the novel great depth.

It centers around a reclusive author – John Rothstein – and his private notebooks that are kept in his safe. These notebooks represent the power of obsession and the tragic consequences it can bring.

Finders Keepers was fast paced, and you get a brilliant surprise in the last few pages; which is going to make for a eerie third novel – I cannot wait to read this.

Unfortunately, I can’t rush out and buy the hardback as it isn’t released yet.

Hurry up Stephen!

Pages: 370 (Hardback version)

Rating: 8/10

 

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