Friday, August 24, 2012

Dwight Okita, Murakami, and Jellyfish

This summer I've had the pleasure to read both 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and The Prospect of My Arrival by Dwight Okita. The books were very different, and yet there was a similarity to their style - a deceptive simplicity, deepening excitement, addictive prose, and a sense of melancholy and wonder throughout.

1Q84 is a doorstop of a book that originally was published in three volumes in Japan. It is perfect for anyone who is looking for a book for autumn, one that will last through quite a few rainy nights. Murakami writes about a woman, Aomame, and a man, Tengo. They go through separate adventures that interact in Murakami's signature mysterious existentialism.

Aomame gets out of a cab one day and climbs down from the highway into a world that has two moons. There she finds that things are a bit off. The world has shifted. In that  new alternate universe, a beautiful young girl called Fuka-Eri writes about Little People. They appear out of a dead goat's mouth and build an Air Chrysalis. There are two moons, and a Town of Cats.

Meanwhile, Tengo is working to polish and publish the manuscript by Fuka-Eri called Air Chrysalis. There are fascinating minor characters, such as the man who leads a powerful cult, a man that Aomame is contracted to kill. There is Ushikawa, the man hired by the cult to find Aomame.  Each of these characters is more than they appear - they unfold, like origami, into balanced people with depth and emotion. 

I am already a huge Murakami fan; Kafka on the Shore is one of my very favorite books. To be able to spend a summer reading a long novel by him was a real gift. And he didn't disappoint - 1Q84 satisfied my delight in urban fantasy, science fiction, action, and wonderful writing.

The Prospect of My Arrival was a different kind of read. It is much shorter, for one thing. I read the book in a few evenings, although in part that was because I simply could not put it down. Okita uses dreamy prose that is reminiscent of Murakami. He pumps up the volume on the science fiction, as the book is about a scientific and moral experiment.

Prospect is a foetus, a baby about to be born. He is given enhanced intelligence and a twenty-year-old body and sent out into the world to see if he wants to be born.

To help him in his decision, he is sent to visit Referrals. The book is the story of those visits on one level, but there is a thread of other plots connecting those stories. There are people who are against the Pre-Born Project and who want to stop it at all costs. There is also a love story between Prospect and Lito, his second referral. Okita manages both deftly, making the first exciting and the second lovely and touching.

I have read some reviews on Amazon about The Prospect of My Arrival that complain about the spare prose. Okita uses short sentences and simple description, but to my mind it is done very artistically. The book is like a Mondrian painting. It seems very straightforward at first glance, but there is a complex structure and design behind the simple sentences. And those short phrases echo the soul of Prospect who is, after all, a foetus. 

In one scene, Prospect meets his mother in the Shedd Aquarium. They talk about his sister, Joyce, in front of one of the tanks of jellyfish. "As they leave this place, jellyfish descend in slow motion like parachutes onto the bright coral reefs below them." This image is echoed in another Referral's home. "Sheer pink curtains flutter from the open windows of the living room. They move like jellyfish in the summer breeze."

The jellyfish encapsulated the book, to my mind. The words move lazily, dreamily, like underwater creatures, and yet they are mesmerizing. The plot and the prose seem so simple, and at the same time they are lovely and complex.

Can you get excited about the story of a foetus who may or may not decide to be born? Oh, yes indeed you can. As I said, I could not put it down, and I had a very sad feeling when the book ended. Luckily, Okita has other books coming out, such as The Hope Store, and I will certainly be purchasing everything by him.

I read Prospect as a Kindle book. Formatting is an art unto itself, and Okita's format is breathtaking. He includes images and chapter headings that make this a joy to read. However, the story was so amazing that I need to get the print version and beg the author to sign it for me. Okita is a name to be watched on the Indie front.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Last Call by George Wier

The Last Call, book one in the Bill Travis Mystery series is an interesting take on the classic hardboiled detective action tale.  Author George Wier has created a cast of characters who immediately draw you in, and from page one you care about their problems.

The hero, investment-advisor Bill Travis, is having a mid-life crisis.  We never really find out exactly what area of investment consulting Bill works in, other than it is for extremely sensitive clients who need help with investing large amounts of cash and property just short of money laundering;  keeping good people out of bad trouble. In the course of his work he's made many friends, a lot of of whom owe Bill some rather large favors.

On the day this tale begins, we find Bill in in traffic on his way to the office.  As he is negotiating the rush-hour traffic, he finds himself playing tag with an attractive blonde.  She wins. cutting him off and making a fine start to his Monday.

Lo and behold, his first appointment of the day is the blonde from the traffic-jam; her name is Julie Simmons and she is in trouble.  She has crossed a bad man, a north-Texas liquor baron, named Archie Carpin and has taken a VERY large sum of money from him and hidden it.  She turns to Bill for help; he tells her he doesn't deal with stolen money.  Still, he finds himself involved both physically and emotionally and the next thing he knows, he is trying to help her get her mess straightened out.

Bill turns to Hank, an old client and a friend who has a passing love of explosives.  Hank has a friend, Dock (with a k) who also gets involved.  Somehow, Julie forgets to mention that two of Carpin's henchmen, Lefty and Carl are following them until they are outside Dock's house.  After the shooting is over and Lefty and Carl have been driven off,  the  three men find themselves hiding Julie. During the course of their adventures they rescue an 8 year old girl, Keesha and find her a good home.

The action is non-stop, keeping you turning the pages to see what is going to happen next.  Several times the truth is both revealed and hidden in the nightmares Bill suffers from. Not everyone survives the action in this thriller.  When one of the characters died, I found tears in my eyes. Julie is a cypher - you don't really know what to make of her until the end. Nothing is predictable, and yet nothing is random.  The plot makes complete and perfect sense, and the story, as it unfolds, is a piece of Texas history, with a certain amount of license taken in regard to the truth. 

I will definitely be reading the next book in the Bill Travis SeriesCapitol Offense.  George Wier is the author of 14 books and has several more currently in the works.  With The Last Call as my introduction to his work, he has become one of my favorite authors!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ednor Scardens, Kathleen Barker

Book 1 of the Charm City Chronicles,  Ednor Scardens by Kathleen Barker takes place in Baltimore in the nineteen sixties. The title is a play on words; a twist on the name of the neighborhood in which the protagonist, Kate Fitzgerald and her friends live: Ednor Gardens. The story begins as Kate and her chums are leaving the sixth grade in their coed parochial school. Kate comes from a working class catholic family, she and her mother live with her grandmother, with no father in the home; he was killed in the service before she was born.

Kate has developed breasts, and as such she is the envy of all her girlfriends, and the object of scrutiny by all the boys. She lives with her mother and grandmother, in a loving and supportive family, and has the usual problems and worries that girls of that age have. She develops a crush on both Gabe and Michael, who just happen to be brothers. During her last years at her coed school a new priest joins the faculty; one who is a danger both to boys and to girls.

Boys are never-ending source of mystery and trouble for Kate.  There is plenty of the real-life misbehaving which I remember in my own teen years, and the general partying and abuse of alcohol among her and her set of friends is much as I remember in my small town set of friends.

This is not by any means simply a novel of fond reminiscence, however – Ednor Scardens deals with the issues which plague girls today – the temptations and pitfalls of life are trans-generational.  Teenage girls and boys all struggle with the desire to remain chaste, and yet they struggle with their own physical changes and the wants and needs which those changes bring with them. Each teenager deals with those issues in their own way, and Kate’s personal struggles make for a wonderful coming of age tale.

The small dramas which happen in their daily life are every bit as entertaining as are the larger dramas; and are very real in the way they are portrayed. There is so much humor and love between Kate and her friends that the reader lives the story with them. The dark side of this story (and there IS a dark side), is handled very well.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a well-crafted romance. You won't be able to put it down until you have reached the end!  Kathleen Barker has just published the second book in the Charm City Chronicles series, The Body War.