Category: Books

Book Review: American Dirt — Jeanine Cummins

Most anticipated book lists are a way to plan out a month, a season, a year, in reading. American Dirt showed up on so many lists that you think you could trust it. On the day it came out, the day that Oprah lauded it, the internet exploded. American Dirt’s author has historically identified as white (as recently as 2015), but has rebranded to vaguely latinx courtesy of her Puerto Rican grandmother. She is described as being married to a formerly undocumented immigrant (undisclosed in the text and promo material: he’s from Ireland), and the material is adapted and twisted from material written by people closer to the source.

American Dirt is not a good book, for multiple reasons. It’s not #OwnVoices, which is a problem that this reader keeps coming back to (particularly from the cottage industry of gay teen books written by straight white women), but if you can look beyond that (and maybe you can, but take it on board anyway), you should consider its perfunctory nature, its clumsy writing, its irresponsible presentation of Cummins’ alleged research, and its carefully manicured apolitical stance that turns out to have a dubious political stance after all.

Constant Reader Chronicle: Christine

You never forget your friend’s first car or their first girlfriend, especially when they’re the same entity. Christine, a Stephen King novel released in a banner year for Stephen King novels, is one of those works that earned him the reputation for writing door stops. Christine is an imperfect, fragmented work, more than a little sexist and reactionary, but buried in its six hundred pages is a genuinely sweet paean to friendship lost and the dangers of nostalgia.

King Spoilometer: Christine is best discussed in a more granular fashion, and so this write up will draw attention to late stage revelations as they pertain to the book’s overall themes and their presentation.

Book Review: Meat — W.A. Harbinson

Xavier was dead: to begin with. This exploitation novel by W.A. Harbinson, a man who in the nineties would put out a “non-fiction” book claiming to prove that Nazis are using concentration camp labour to build UFOs in Antarctica, is a curious beast without a centre. Can you exploit someone who was never really there?

A moment of context for Meat: it was found at the equivalent of a Free Little Library, offering the promise of a silly and quick read that would hopefully toe the right side of the exploitation line. It emphatically does not achieve that goal.

This review references systematic sexual abuse, so please avoid reading if that bothers you.

Book Review: Silver — Chris Hammer

Chris Hammer brings us back to the world of Martin Scarsden, and this time he provides fewer crimes, more flashbacks, and burdens his lead character with a lot more flaws. It’s a good time for an Australian journalist to go back to his hometown, and a good time for readers to check in with Doug Thunkleton.

Constant Reader Chronicle: Misery

Misery was originally going to be a Bachman Book. Misery originally had a different ending. Misery is a deeply personal novel that crystallises many of the demons that Stephen King was fighting at the time of its inception. Misery is a single location novel that is never inert even when it’s confined to a bed. Misery is a towering work even if it ends five inches shorter than it started.

Book Review: The Nowhere Child — Christian White

Another Australian crime debut, The Nowhere Child sees Christian White spreading his intrigue across two continents: Australia and North America. The small town this time around is in Kentucky, which is already a point of difference; Nowhere Child is a mildly intriguing piece that makes up in craft what it lacks in event.

Constant Reader Chronicle: Doctor Sleep

By 2013, it was well and truly clear that Stephen King was his own genre, and that he competes largely with himself. This is likely why, outside of The Dark Tower series and Black House, that he had never really dabbled with sequels until Doctor Sleep. That King chose to make his first major sequel to the book that became one of the most iconic horror films of all time — a film that, coincidentally, he famously really did not like — was daring. Doctor Sleep is the thirty six years on sequel to The Shining, through which King follows up on what happened to Danny after the Overlook Hotel was neutralised. And it works: Doctor Sleep is excellent latter day King, a successor to The Dark Tower, a pre-cursor to Mr. Mercedes, and a novel that doesn’t try to shamelessly ape its predecessor.

Book Review: Scrublands — Chris Hammer

If Australian publishing is having a moment, it’s largely thanks to Australian crime. Scrublands is another rural Australian crime novel about a depressed town reeling from the after effects of a multiple murder. Former SBS journalist Chris Hammer has taken advantage of a thirsty market with a remarkably greedy novel of his own: between the pages of Scrublands, no crime goes uncommitted. 

Book Review: The Institute — Stephen King

In The Institute, we unlock the paradox of Stephen King: much of his best work is familiar and comfortable, echoing across the years, spanning decades. However, there is such a thing as too familiar: when King uses one his skeletons but forgets to put the muscle on the bones, the books suffer. The Institute is the ghost of a Stephen King novel: it has the spirit, but not the flesh. It’s fine, but it’s not much more than that.

Book Review: The Testaments — Margaret Atwood

The biggest book of 2019 doesn’t have boy wizards in it, fake conspiracies about renaissance artists, secretly evil women, Swedish conspiracy theorists, or teenagers in battles royale. Instead, Margaret Atwood is hailed as the conquering hero, returning readers to Gilead some 34 years after the initial publication of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Testaments is not exactly the sequel everyone was clamouring for — the further adventures of Offred — but it’s the best possible use of the setting that Atwood could have employed. The Testaments is not warm and cuddly, but it takes a different tone to the nightmarish bitterness that characterised its predecessor: it fair zips along.