"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Truth, 'Blood Will Out'

Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a MasqueradeBlood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Understatement: It is a violent world.

Just now, I listened to the morning news while wolfing down breakfast at a local cafe. 100 percent of the coverage I heard was about recent violence, violence in progress, and the prospect of violence in the future. To say the least, we are a violent species.

Yet, as Walter Kirn points out in his new non-fiction work, Blood Will Out, we humans are also capable of great tolerance and cooperation. That is not a wonderful thing. Kirn explores how these traits--in concert with our desire for acceptance--make us easy pickins for psycopaths.

In Blood Will Out, Kirn casts himself as the thoughtful dupe of a murdering con man. The premise is so oddly touching it borders on hard to believe. Kirn agrees to drive an ailing dog across country and deliver it to a member of the Rockefeller family. Sounds like a great start to a novel. However this is a true story. Or at least it is the recounting of a great deal of lying.

The book flips back and forth between a murder trial in the present and a rocky friendship in the past. This dual plotline allows the author to draw parallels between con artist and mark. In every chapter, the implicit question being begged is "Kirn, how did you fall for this guy's claims?" Therefore, the book's greatest accomplishment is its candid rendering of how Kirn, or any of us, can be grandly duped.

Blood Will Out is a fairly quick read. This is not an in-depth exploration of forensics and crime investigation. It is a memoir about the bond between two men: the deceiver and the deceived. Doubtless, some will be cynical of Kirn's choice to convert his unflattering experience into a moneymaking bestseller. Still, he seems candid about his personal shortcomings and offers up a tale with plenty of healthy caution for the reader. I highly recommend Blood Will Out.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

'Everything is Illuminated' in Book Clubs

Everything Is IlluminatedEverything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Book club became downright wild this week.

We discussed Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated. At one point I asserted the following: "Part of my difficulty getting into this book was the author's excessive use of devices--the constant switching of narrative voices, chapters where punctuation is done away with, the page and a half where he repeats the phrase "We are writing..." over and over. His indulgent use of stylized proze distracted from my ability to connect with the characters."

My two cents flung onto the reading club's table, several people nodded. Then, from directly across the table, a lady looked me in the eyes and in a reserved yet non-apologetic tone said, "Actually, I did not find the characters at all compelling. So the author's use of narrative devices was what interested me the most." As her two cents came to rest upon--no, to smother--my two cents, I nodded politely.

Like I said, book club became downright wild as we discussed Everything is Illuminated.

This novel is a perfect selection for a book club, inciting a wide range of reactions. Our club's discussion resulted in delicious disagreements, but also some vindication all around. Our reactions were various, but none of us reacted alone. For me, and I suspect for others, the realization that I was not the only one who found the book frustrating and inaccessible provided relief.

Everything is Illuminated is a novel about searching out one's roots, about uncovering family secrets, and about realizing one's destiny. This is also a novel about shedding light on horrific periods of history. At its most personable, the book depicts two similar minds nitpicking over details and perspective. These themes are tried and true, yet none of them are guaranteed to move and inspire.

Perhaps this is a masterful novel that I was not in mood for. Perhaps, as I asserted at book club, this is a so-so novel gilded with excessively stylized prose. Either way, the chance to mull over my reaction in person with other thoughtful readers made the whole experience worth it. As a matter of fact, that is one of the main ideas depicted in Everything is Illuminated.


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