Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Michael Punke’s The Revenant: A Book Review

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Michael Punke’s The Revenant is a gritty, no holds barred piece of historical fiction. Avoiding cumbersome slogs through governmental structures and wars, Punke instead explores the life and struggles of the fur trapper Hugh Glass on the frontier lines of America in the early 1800’s. Ripe with conflict, Glass miraculously survives a bear attack, killing the beast in the process. When the two men left to guard him abandon the body, Glass becomes hell-bent on revenge, a quest that fuels first his survival and subsequently his recovery.

In clean prose, Punke quickly establishes the central conflicts—namely the intrusion of the white man into native lands while battling the very lands themselves. This novel, a piece that flows by with ease, pulls at the reader and paints a rugged picture of a rugged time. Starting in medias res, the novel seems to end in a similar manner just when it needs to, just when we are aware of Glass’ fate, and that of the two men who left him to die.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo: A Book Review

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While George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo was a critical success, I struggled to fully appreciate and enjoy this text with the same esteem. Set around the death of Willie Lincoln and his ghost’s quest to either stay in the Bardo or move on, the novel effectively and innovatively invokes an experimental style that blends fact and fiction through a rapid flow of interviews. The plot itself is rather thin—Abraham visits his son’s body, holds, and mourns over it, while Willie struggles to come to grips with his death and placement in the spirit world. Around him swirl myriad ghosts chronicling their past, their present, and rooting for Willie to be Willie. A single night passes and the ghosts help determine the fate of a child died too young.

Perhaps it is here that the novel fails to hold me: I struggled to first care about these other specters and then to full differentiate between them in a meaningful and discernable way. Yes, some of their stories are interesting and some of the Civil War bleed over is as well, but much of the text seems stuck in neutral. While the experiment might be a success, the craft outweighs the substance in my mind, and I often struggled to plow on and find purpose in the meandering prose. Ghost here, story there, none of it was gripping in a traditional sense, which given the style is understandable, but it failed to fully gel together in my mind. That said, Saunders still flashes as a talented writer, and obviously it worked for a great many, even if I was languishing in the bardo.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita: A Book Review

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In terms of innovation and creativity, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita crafts a beautiful tale that mystifies, amuses, and traipses across history. While difficult to fully describe, the novel is both literal and dense, yet the density is rewarding and in no way stands as an exercise in self-flagellation.

Set in 1930’s Moscow, the novel follows that hysteria that the appearance of a gang of magical, omniscient, and seemingly knavish causes in the city. No life is spared, no one is safe, and everything is at risk. On one end a strange foreigner takes over the artistic community with his ghosts, witches, and talking cat, while on the other a mysterious figure known as The Master discusses his motivations for creating a novel that centers on Pontius Pilate. At times these two plot lines and their many spokes seemingly have no connection, yet at others they overlap, intersect, and ultimately intertwine. In the process, the reader is treated to tremendous satire, and a brand of dark comedy rarely found in any media. The results stand as enjoyable and rewarding experience worth both the time and money.