Monday, February 21, 2011

"Push of the Sky" by Camille Alexa

Push of the Sky
by Camille Alexa
Hadley Rille Books (2009)
302 pages
ISBN 9780981924373

I lucked out recently when I won a copy of Camille Alexa's short story collection from Red Penny Papers. I had previously read a couple of Camille's short stories, as well as read the series, Particular Friends, which is available to be read for free via Red Penny Papers. Camille has a writing style that is at times lyrical, probably thanks to her affinity towards poetry, and at times resplendent in her descriptions of characters and setting. Push of the Sky exemplifies this.

I believe Peter Straub was the first author I heard use the term "fantasist" to describe himself as a storyteller. It's a good label and applies to Camille, in my opinion. Many of the stories told here are housed in fantastical settings, some more than others. "Shades of White and Road" has a fairy tale charm to it with anthropomorphic objects tailing after a gal on a winding road, while a story like "The Clone Wrangler's Bride" takes sci-fi elements offers a fun adventure with robots and spaceships--and a bit of western flavor added.

It's all there inside the book's pages, a kind of cornucopia for any fantasy and sci-fi fan. I genuinely liked the collection, but I can't say I walked away with a stand-out favorite. There's a lot to like, but no one story for me to clutch onto and say I love. It's Camille Alexa's first book, so she's just getting warmed up and I am really looking forward to what she has in store in the near future. This book was published in 2009 after all, and she's already some really good work out in the couple years since (see above where I mention Particular Friends).

With thirty stories and poems in this book, there is bound to be more than one story for readers to find and admire Camille's ability to paint a picture with words. Some stories flow like a lazy, winding river, while a few amp up the level of adrenaline and intrigue. "The Beetle Eater's Dream" has a quiet mystery to it and its fair share of heartbreak, while "The Butterfly Assassins" offers a great little steampunk tale, a sub-genre I'm still warming up to.

If you love that ethereal style of escapist fantasy and science-fiction, you should take a chance on this one. If you're a fan of poetry, which admittedly I am not, there are a couple of real gems in this pages. Again, I'm not a poetry fan, but "I Consider My Cadaver" to be great. Hey, maybe that's the piece I love. Yeah, let's go with that. Me ... poetry lover. Pack your mittens, boys and girls, we're going to Hell.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

THE GROVE by John Rector

The Grove is a novel I found while searching out some reading material for the Kindle my lovely wife gave me for Christmas. It was released through Amazon Encore, a publishing venture which provides a second life to previously released titles which may have been overlooked by larger publishers or self-published yet still acquired a following through Amazon’s website. I can see why this book earned a following.

The Grove is a gothic tale of murder, ghosts (not necessarily the kind you might think), and shattering relationships. The protagonist, Dexter, lives alone on his small farm sipping bourbon, beer, and subsisting mostly on regret. His wife recently separated from him to live with her mother, and he stopped taking his pills. His haunted past refuses to leave him alone.

One day, while staggering around his property the day after a blackout and violent argument with his spouse, he finds the body of a teenage girl in a cottonwood grove. He decides he should investigate what happened to the girl. He thinks by doing so he will be regarded as a hero and earn the respect of his community, and more importantly, his wife.

I’m not going to tell anymore because I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. Some reviews I read noted disappointment with the ending of the novel, but I thought it was pitch perfect. I have few complaints.

All the same, there is a plot development somewhere in the third act involving some neighbors that I feel is tacked-on, did not quite feel completely authentic, and could have possibly been left out because it didn’t add anything to the overall story. Also – and this is just about as minor a quibble as you will ever come across – I thought the dialogue needed further editing. For example, characters referred to county roads as “CR’s” as in “CR-11.” I’ve never heard a road spoken of this way before. Living in an area with a lot of county roads, we usually refer to them by using their full name, as in “County Road 11,” or, more often, simply refer to them by their number alone (“I’m driving down 12 and almost home,” etc.) As I said, a minor quibble, but it knocked me out of the narrative at times. This is probably due to my own unique eye for dialogue.

All in all, I highly recommend The Grove. It’s among the best American rural gothic novels I’ve read in some time. It echoes Faulkner and McCarthy in some respects but still manages to be a page-turner. It’s McCarthy light, I guess. The prose is tight and compelling. I seriously read the novel in three or four short sittings and felt mournful every time I had to put it down. The ending left me anxious to check out other books by John Rector. He’s a writer to watch. This is a powerful first novel.

Based on my six-pack rating system, I give The Grove 5 out of 6 shots of Johnnie Walker with a Risperidone chaser.