Tag Archives: Bleak

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers (1940)

Four lonely people in a Southern town search for meaning outside of life’s banalities, brought together by a deaf-mute who’s mourning the loss of his closest friend.  Parts of this book resonated with me strongly as the characters express their inability to fit into the world around them, especially Mick’s analogy of the outside room where she performs for society versus the inside room where she enjoys her secret love of music.  The rest of it, however, moves painfully slowly, with long chapters and dialogue that hasn’t aged well, leaving its raw power to be deciphered rather than enjoyed.

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Nijigahara Holograph, by Inio Asano (2006)

Children speak of a monster in the drainage tunnel behind their elementary school while one of them sleeps in a coma; as adults, their paths cross in mysterious ways, and there are butterflies.

Nijigahara Holograph feels obliquely perplexing until it reaches its gut-wrenching conclusion, though on a second skim-through the connections felt clearer, revealing this to be a meticulously crafted manga that tells a powerful story.  The climactic reveal left me feeling uncharacteristically drained and somewhat disturbed—I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but that a manga can exert this kind of power means a lot.

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Death: The High Cost of Living, by Neil Gaimon, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, and Dave McKean (1994)

In this Sandman spin-off, one day per century Death descends to convene with the living in the form of an upbeat goth girl, and this time she’s befriended Sexton Furnival, a suicidal sixteen-year-old in need of perspective.  Their adventures are easily resolved, but the real magic lies in Gaimon’s dialogue and in the Death-Sexton mismatch, which takes place before a decaying urban backdrop alongside a colorful cast of side characters.  As a bonus, the collection comes with a ‘90s-era sex-safe comic outlining the importance of condom use as protection from AIDS, a PSA time-capsule fitting of the Philadelphia era.

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Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk (2011)

Damned is Chuck Palahniuk’s What-If? take on Hell told through the eyes of cynical rich girl Madison Spencer (“Are you there, Satan?  It’s me, Madison”) and her Breakfast Club-inspired gang.  Though there’s very little in terms of plot, Palahniuk instead takes us through encounters with pagan demons, Hell’s geographic oddities (The Great Plains of Discarded Razor Blades, etc.), its candy-fueled economy, its telemarketing industry, and its bizarre damnation rules (honking your car horn more than 500 times lands you in Hell, no exceptions).  Its whims are entertaining, but incredibly scattered, with an unsatisfying ending hindered by mediocre twists.

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Fight Scenes, by Greg Bottoms (2008)

Fight Scenes is about growing up in the 1980s with your friend whose dad keeps naked pictures of women he’s slept with under his bed; it’s about dealing with bullies and looking at porn with girls you like and sitting in front of the 7-Eleven and smoking pot in the woods and fending off crazy racists at the local Popeye’s.  Bottoms shows us these moments in a series of vignettes that all say more than they seem to at first glance, so that the book shows us both his ridiculous middle-school adventures and how fucked up life can be.

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Where I Got It

A 2016 Christmas gift from the same friend who got me Rose of No Man’s Land, which is also pretty rad.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan (2001)

In 1935 Britain, a thirteen-year-old girl’s overactive imagination and accidental brush with the c-word lead her to send an innocent man to prison for a sex crime.  While the first half covers the misunderstanding, the second deals with the grim early days of World War II, both on the French front and in the hospitals.  Everything about this book feels like it shouldn’t work (historical fiction, child narrator, loaded politics) but it does, which speaks to McEwan’s skill as a storyteller.  Though the prose is often slow, there are enough hard-hitting dramatic moments to make this an intense read.

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Where I Got It

From a friend who was getting rid of books in the summer of 2015. I have mixed feelings about movie cover tie-ins, but this one pulls it off quite well.

Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis (1985)

Bret Easton Ellis’s first novel feels like a 1980s version of The Sun Also Rises with heroin, male prostitution, and at least one snuff film, which was probably the same level of scandal as when Hemingway’s characters got drunk and had premarital sex in 1926. The whole novel evokes a quiet, disconcerting loathing for the fast-paced, aimless LA lifestyle of its post-high school characters, with subdued yet depressing descriptions of everything from desert scenery to shooting up heroin. It’s also a fast read that leaves you with a distinctly unsettled feeling, but in a good way.

Rating:
4-kafkas
Where I Got It

Ordered online in Summer 2015 after having this on my informal To-Read list since college.

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