Tony’s Review: Every Day, David Levithan

 

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“A” wakes up each morning in a new body. “A” has done this every day for the whole of their existence, and doesn’t question it any more than we question waking up in the same body every day. Then “A” meets Rhiannon and wants to have a ‘normal’ life.

This is a difficult book to review. Not because of the content or writing. It’s a lot simpler than that, and a lot harder: “A” is without a pronoun. They are completely non-corporeal – without a permanent body. “A” is neither he nor she, and I’m going to be forced to call them It, to give them the overtones of a non-person. It feels like the wrong approach, because “A” is such a strong character, labelling them as It feels…rude. Derogatory.

“A” has a unique narrative voice, one I have never come across, or even contemplated – one without gender. Gender is so tied into every book I’ve ever read, that having a character without gender, with a constant shifting body every day is disorientating. The only way I could relate to “A” is to read them as a male character.

A female friend is going to read it and I’m really fascinated to see if she reads “A” as a female. I wasn’t sure I wasn’t projecting my male narrative voice onto “A”. I needed a gender to work with.

That isn’t an issue with the book at all by the way; just my perceptions of reading it.

The book itself is wonderful. “A” is eloquent, warm, emotive, caring, passionate. If you wanted a friend for life, “A” would be it. “A” feels every moment of every day, living entirely in the present; it’s all “A” can do before It moves on. Because of “A”‘s unique perspective on life, “A” notices details the rest of us would miss. The shoes Rhiannon wears; the callous on her thumb; the texture of sand through a host’s fingers. “A”‘s language is lyrical and powerful, the soul of a poet.

We get to touch lives from the inside with “A”, feeling the tragedy of a girl who can’t stop drinking; the first funeral “A” ever goes to; a girl who wants to commit suicide. But also the joy as well; a gay pride parade with “A”‘s host’s boyfriend. Gender or sexuality doesn’t matter to “A”; only the emotion. So we get to see “A” as girl with another girl, a boy with another boy. Love is all that matters.

Through it all, “A” loves Rhiannon; it doesn’t matter if he’s a girl or boy, black or white. “A”‘s only thought is to be back with her, and It breaks Its own rules of ‘non-interference’ to do it more and more as love takes over.

It’s great writing, but the book does have problems – hence the not-perfect rating. There are plot holes left undeveloped – most significantly, is “A” the only body-hopper? – and the subplot with a boy who remembers being ‘possessed’ by “A” just fades away. And then there’s the epilogue. It’s only eight or nine lines, but it wasn’t needed, and only left confusion.

What “A” knows, and the rest of us barely realise, is that the package love comes in doesn’t matter; only the emotion matters. It’s a message that Levithan carries off with panache and style, with wonderful passages of lyrical and emotional writing, and a tearful punch of an ending. Superb.

Tony’s Review: Insurgent, Veronica Roth

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3/5

Tris has to come to terms with killing a friend, and losing her parents, while trying to form and keep new alliances with The Factions (and Factionless). But nothing is black and white anymore…

I checked back, and it’s been two years since I read Divergent – high time I read Book Two, I thought, and I had some summer time reading space and went for it.

Despite the gap between the stories, I didn’t feel lost as to what was going on in this book. It’s almost self-contained, with enough back-story reminders to keep you on track. There’s a nice sequel hook at the end so you come back for Book Three to see how it all works out.

Roth sketches her world in rough outlines, with shades of grey and rain the predominant colours and weather, but despite that, you get a solid sense of place and are very grounded in this world and its characters.

I commented in the first book there didn’t seem to be much chemistry between Tris and her instructor, Tobias (now her lover). This time it seems more developed and the relationship more concrete. There seems to be more of a need for each other now.

Roth doesn’t hang about in this book. Her pacing is relentless; there aren’t many pages where the characters aren’t moving forwards to the next event. Tris is shifting locations constantly in this book, from Amity orchards to Candor confusing corridors. The pacing is almost too fast, and sometimes the action blurs into one.

Tris also changes alliances as her whims take her. I’m not sure I would Tris with my back in a fire-fight: She might decide the people we were supposed to be fighting have a better deal for her. It does make her character and the dynamics of her relationships more interesting though. Tris is a woman in conflict, with everyone around her and herself.

I will be coming back for Book Three…maybe in another two years.

Tony’s Review: Emma, Jane Austen

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3/5

Emma Woodhouse is an early 19th century matchmaker. She’s also very rich (I saw a modern comparison put her wealth at $3 million or so in 21st century value), very bored and a snob – and a spoilt brat with a sense of superiority and inflated ego.

In the 19th century, the only way a woman could make her mark on the world was to marry; it was the only way she could secure her future and the future of her children. Marriage to the right man was all that mattered. And when I mean the right man, I mean a richer one. Everyone in 1815, it seems, was a social climber.

It’s background like this that you need to have before you go into this book, or Emma’s attempts at matchmaking and her refusal to marry won’t mean a thing. Once you get that idea of the social set, you’re on your way.

I had a hard time getting into this book. No fault of Austen; I was reading thirty minute snippets at lunchtime in a very noisy and distracting environment at work, and not much seemed to be happening – endless dinner parties or arrangements for dances or visits, mixed in with Emma’s hopeless attempts at matchmaking and discerning human behaviour.

I didn’t feel I was being fair to the book, so I started reading where it was quiet. Suddenly, something about Austen seemed to click. I practically heard it. Everything she was doing with the characters and situation started to make sense.

And let me tell you something: Austen is a bloody brilliant writer. Her characters are warm, witty, full of life and idiosyncrasies and funny. They are human and jump right off the page. Her small cast of characters and her observations of humanity are spot on.

Here’s an example. Mrs Bates: That woman. Will. Not. Shut. Up! And then Emma calls her on it, and realises how much it has hurt Mrs Bates. As a reader, I thought, I’m just as bad as Emma. I’m just as rude for not listening to her, or at least tolerating her. Brilliant.

Emma and her life herself take some dissection. Her social set consists of about ten people in one village, and she has no means of travel for long periods away from home. Her father worries a lot about everything, convinced some disease will strike her down if she does, and Emma respects that.

Her life is boredom, essentially. She matchmakes the people around her to stretch her strait-jacketed life and to alleviate the tedium – a tedium I felt as keenly as her as she arranged yet another trip to Randalls, or discussed the best place to hold a ball.

The only thing about Emma’s matchmaking…she’s not very good at it. No; she’s useless at it, completely misunderstanding everything that’s going through other people’s heads and hearts. Her ego and self-assurance won’t admit to any fault on her part though. She’s convinced she can’t be wrong.

She also refuses to mix with people below her, or those she considers ‘inferior’, like Jane Fairfax. She’s not an easy person to like. But despite that, you stick with her because you glimpse the good in her – in her respect for her father, her heeding advice for Mr Knightley, she shows the good woman she could be. And she does get better. A whole lot better, by the end of the book – she’s a woman transformed.

I enjoyed this a whole lot more than Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps now I’ve got the hang of Austen – she’s a writer having a blast and a whole lot of fun – I might go back and give it another try.

I certainly have a lot more time for her now.

Tony’s Review: Coraline and other stories, Neil Gaiman

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4/5

 

My first dip into the Gaiman universe was an enjoyable experience. Like a day at the beach – sometimes the wind will drop and the vista of the sea before you will open out to infinity. You’ll settle into your chair of choice and sigh, contented. The next minute, the wind will be kicking sand into your eyes and the sun will be shooting shard of lights into your eyes from the choppy ocean.

Gaiman is like that. When he’s good (which is most of the time), he’s excellent, with a wry and humorous turn of phrase, a delicate touch of wit. When he’s bad, he’s mediocre, and doesn’t do a lot for you. You shift in your seat and push on, hoping he’s going to get better again.

This was a collection of ten stories and one blank verse…

Coraline, the header of the book. An old-fashioned fairy tale, with an old-fashioned witch and a feisty heroine. Nothing new here, not really, but Gaiman spins the tale with a deft wit into an exciting and at times frightening tale. To be honest, I was more scared by Coraline’s parents’ indifference than by her Other Mother. Great bedtime story for kids though.

The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds This is an absolute hoot, a riot of a tale. A hard-boiled detective working the nursery rhyme beat, full of characters like Little Jack Horner and Humpty Dumpty, aka The Fat Man. Just brilliant, and I guffawed and chortled my way through it. One to read aloud, detective voice included.

Don’t ask Jack The weakest and shortest story in the collection, about a malevolent toy abandoned in a toy box. Such little happens that it wasn’t worth the effort.

Troll bridge A spin on the tales of trolls that live under bridges, but more about the boy (and later man) who discovers it. Since he’s a jerk, we don’t really care if the troll catches him or not; and since he’s a jerk, the story didn’t do much for me.

How to sell the Ponti bridge The oldest scam in the book – selling something that isn’t yours. A twist at the end, but it isn’t a particularly good twist, and doesn’t lift the story above average.

October in the chair A homage to Ray Bradbury, full of strange imagery and twisting sentences. The story itself is quite weak, but the frame around the story is nice, full of seasonal atmosphere and wit.

Chivalry Another hoot of a tale. An old lady finds The Holy Grail, and refuses to part with it, even when a knight makes her better and better offers. Wonderful tale, especially the little epilogue.

The Price A family takes in stray cats, and one of them repays them. Interesting story; what was refreshing was how genre-savvy the character was. He locks the cat in the basement, and his life starts to go wrong. He releases it, and his life improves. He’s smart enough (for a change for a literary character) to realise what’s going on.

How to talk to girls at parties Thinking about this one again, I see where Gaiman was going with it. Talking to girls when you’re a teenager is like talking to strange aliens who make no sense. In fact, I think it still is.

Sunbird Strong characters let down by an average story and so-so ending.

The witch’s headstone A boy – who might or might not be dead – can see the dead and interact with them. He decides to buy a witch a headstone as a favour. Too easily resolved, this could have been stretched a little more and the characters given more depth to make it more satisfying.

Instructions A blank verse poem about going on a quest, with some cool imagery. Falls apart at the end though, like Gaiman didn’t know what to do with it.

So, in the end, what do I think of my first dip into Gaiman? I liked the way he developed his characters, and his world building – sometimes in a phrase or two – was brilliant. His characters are very genre-savvy, which is energising. When the boy in “October in the Chair” meets another boy in a graveyard, he knows (as we almost instantly do) that the boy is a ghost; as when the man in “The Price” who finds that a stray cat is protecting his family when he locks it into the cellar and his life begins to break.
His endings seemed the weakest part of his writing. He seems to be aiming for twists in some of his stories, but they were laboured and obvious.

However, I think I’ll be back for more Gaiman. I’m intrigued enough to continue reading!

Tony’s Review: Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

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4/5

In a world where unwinding – the dissolution of teenagers for organ replacement – is legal, a group of very different teenagers struggle to survive in any way they can.

This is a sequel to the outstanding Unwind – one of the few books I’ve given 5/5 to, I believe. Neal Shusterman is one of the best writers I’ve ever come across – YA or otherwise. His world is totally believable, his characters are full and complex. There’s nothing flat here in dialogue or pacing; not a sentence is wasted. His writing is flawless.

His heroes and villains are both beautifully realised. Nothing is black and white; the heroes make hard choices, they make realistic choices as to what actions they can take. So do the villains. Everyone thinks their actions are right and the moral choices they make feel right to them. As readers, we empathise with them, even if we don’t agree with their actions.

Shusterman isn’t afraid to ask tough questions: Questions about how society treats its teenagers. Questions about leadership, and standing up for what you believe in – questions about leaving people to die so that others can live; questions about what it means to be a hero. There are no easy answers, either in the book or in the world.

So why not 5/5 again?

In ways, this felt like a bridge between Unwind and Unsouled (Book three). As a result, there was a slow sense of exposition going on – a lot of questions, but no answers. The pacing is slow – don’t expect explosions on every page – but the evolution of the characters and their situations is handled so well, the slow pacing can be forgiven. New story arcs develop, but not many of them complete.

I will be reading Unsouled, and not just so I can see how all this plays out; I want to spend more time with the wonderful writing and powerful world Shusterman creates.

I want to know how it ends.

I’m a fan.

Tony’s Review: The Great Gatsby

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3/5

Nick Carraway lives in a 1920s world outside of reality, a world of endless parties and flitting affairs, a world of the extremely rich…the richest of which is Jay Gatsby, a legendary party host and a mystery.

The Great Gatsby is a short read, about 200 pages, but there’s a lot in there. At times, Fitzgerald’s prose is so thick with imagery that you have to cut it with a machete and read a paragraph again. Most of the time, this worked brilliantly, but there were times when the image he was going for was lost.

Unsurprisingly, some of the novel is dated. As I was reading about one summer of 1925, I couldn’t help but imagine how many of these rich and very spoilt people wold be bankrupt by the end of the depression and contrast it with John Steinbeck’s writing about the poor. However, the central theme of Gatsby – a man seeking his lost love – is timeless.

There’s a chapter which is nothing more than a list of names of ‘famous’ people in 1925 who attended Gatsby’s parties, most of which I skipped. I assume they were famous and not fictional; I only recognised one name. Such is transitory fame, another theme of the book.

Gatsby’s life is a forgery (even his name, even the title of the book), and he’s shallow and ephemeral, but he’s no shallower than the people around him. His only wish – impossible – is to have the woman back he loved (For a whole month!) five years before. All the parties, all the drive to make money, all of it was for that one purpose. Gatsby is a fantasist, chasing a dream lover he can’t have, and one he probably never had anyway. Who can’t relate to that?

Despite all his wealth, we come to pity him – the sadness of a man who can only live in the past. Gatsby dies at the end and no one – none of the famous, none of the rich who couldn’t get enough of him when he was alive – come to his funeral. He lies forgotten and abandoned, his only mourners Nick and Gatsby’s father.

The writing style is an immensely powerful engine that drives the story forward. Fitzgerald describes the world in terms I’ve not seen out of synaesthesia (experiencing the world through alternate senses: smelling a musical note, listening to a flower), and the different way of world building is mesmerising. The world is the best thing in the book actually; compared to that, the characters are thin and hollow – which was probably the point.

(Trivia of the day: The actress Sigourney Weaver took her stage name from a character in this book.)

Tony’s Review: A Streetcat named Bob

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4/5

James Bowen was a mess. He’d lost touch with his family, his music career had stalled and he was a recovering drug user in emergency sheltered housing, only a few steps away from living on the streets. He scratched a living busking on the streets of London, but had no purpose or direction to his life.

Then he saw a cat sleeping outside a nearby flat, and after some hesitation, he adopted it. It was a decision that was to change his life.

Suddenly, he was aware he had a responsibility to his cat – he named him Bob – and from that he realised he wanted to take more responsibility for himself as well. The real transformation for him is when he took Bob busking – from scratching a living, suddenly he can afford a proper meal. Suddenly he wants his life back. He’s been thrown a lifeline and he snatches it with both hands.

This deceptively simple tale gets under your skin. It slips under your guard and sucker punches you, sliding into your heart and restoring your humanity. It melts your cynicism and makes you look at the people you ignore on the street with new eyes and compassion.

Bowen alternates tales of his cat with tales of himself, his past life and his attempts to rebuild himself. He doesn’t skim his past or romanticise it, being wise enough to know he was a mess, and smart enough to know what Bob has done for him.

I nearly cried when he lost Bob for a few hours – then he found him again, even more emotional. Even more when James visits his mother and starts the slow process of methadone withdrawal.

It is an overused word and almost a cliché, but this is the most heart-warming tale: This man, slowly slipping through the cracks of society, rebuilt his life because he adopted a cat.

What could you do with yours?

Tony’s Review: Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness

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3/5

Todd and Viola – and a growing cast of others – have to fight for peace with the native ‘Spackle’, as well as keeping their own warring camps apart.

Phew. I’m exhausted. This is the third of the “Chaos Walking” trilogy, and I’m as war-weary as Todd and Viola. The pace is frantic, the writing dense and the characters actions thick and fast.

New this time is a “Spackle” character – they call themselves The Land, with obvious references to Native Americans (Or for a more modern audience, Avatar), complete with complex culture, nobility and a deep connection to the planet. They even ride their mounts standing.
Patrick Ness isn’t afraid to use the page to show you what’s going on. Explosion?

BOOM.

– with a size 40 font. Different character voices? Use a different font for each for extra emphasis.

After three books, some of his writing style was starting to grate though –

Like –

He will write something –

And then –

And do this –

And then do that –

…all the way down a page or two. His stream-of-consciousness style I can get behind most of the time though, tumbling together his sentences and images into a single paragraph. I certainly can’t complain, since I use it in my own writing style.

And as usual, his characters are full and three-dimensional and his world building is flawless, even the bit players like Ivan (who goes where the power is, something Ness uses to good effect).

The characters inaction frustrated me. Todd is over there, Viola is over here, and they spend a fair part of the book apart, worrying about each other, fighting to keep the warring factions apart. I wanted to shout at them: PICK YOURSELVES UP AND MOVE TO ANOTHER PART OF THE PLANET.

I was as frustrated as they were at the endless point-scoring of the Mayor and Mistress Coyle. What does it matter who wins the peace? All that matters is the end result. Not one person had the wisdom to tell them that.

Ness creates such a realistic world that I wanted to shout at the people who lived there to grow up. Now I know how it feels to be a politician, trying to bring peace to a war-torn country. No one can see past the hate and stupidity to see what bloody idiots they are. No one can see the futility.

I need to talk about The Mayor, the most developed character in the book. I never trusted him…well, maybe for chapter or two, but he never seemed anything less than sociopathic. Like most dictators, he was charming with it, able to (literally) bend minds to his will. He claimed that the best parts of Todd rubbed off on him. I didn’t believe him…until his actions at the climax of the book.

It’s a long haul from the start of book one right the way to the end of book three – it’s about 1500 pages, actually. I’ve been on that world with Todd and Viola, fought as they fought, felt their frustrations and their exhaustion.

Ness is one hell of a writer, and I’ll be back for more.

Review of Part One…Here

Part Two…Here

Tony’s Ramble: Ten books that made me the reader I am today

A fellow blogger Becky Day recently posted (here) about the books that have made her the reader she is today. It’s a fascinating thought, and one that’s impossible to resist. How do you decide which books you read when you look at all the ones you can pick?

I have read a LOT of books since I started around the age of six or so. I have no idea how many, but my Goodreads count is 426, and those are only the ones I can remember reading or have added to my bookshelves.

I know there are ones I’ve never added – I have a complete set of Star Trek movie novelisations and short stories based on the original episodes by James Blish sitting on my shelf at home, for instance, and that’s just the tip of the literary iceberg.

But I managed to pick out ten which I think define me as a reader. The ones that made me look at the world a little differently, or the ones that I simply loved and read over and over.

(Looking over this list as I type the author names, I just realised I only had two females. Doesn’t mean I haven’t read any, just interesting to note. I think the ones I have picked pitch some literary weight though, certainly for me.)

Anyway, in no particular order:

 

Bedknob and broomstick, Mary Norton (Review)

B & B was the first book I remember reading independently, and for that it’s made an indelible mark. I remember reading non-fiction at the little library in my primary school – books full of trivia like the size of dinosaur teeth or the world’s smallest plant – but this is the first time I think I ever tried fiction. I fell in love with the simple story and read it over and over again. Even bought myself a new copy a few years ago…and the magic was still there.

If I hadn’t read this, it would have probably been another fiction book I read first…but who knows, I might not have developed the early skills to sit and read and enjoy fiction as much as I still do. I might have hated it!

 

Tomorrow when the war Began, John Marsden (Review)

When I first met my wife in 2001, I hadn’t read any young adult books in years. Mostly, I was in to movie novelisations and Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Young adult to me was of the level of “Oh, dear, I farted {giggle}” – and I hadn’t seen anything to convince me otherwise.

My wife told me to read this and Marsden changed it all for me. Here were intelligent, well created characters you lived and breathed with, characters you laughed and cried with, characters you climbed inside of. He’s a big influence on me as writer as well, and I’ve read almost everything he’s ever written.

 

Lord of the rings, JRR Tolkien

Now this is an odd one. I have never read Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit, so why is it here?

I think the books we don’t pick say as much as much as the ones we do. I tried LoTR, I really did. I loved the movies…but the books…just plain bored me. I never got past page one of LoTR or The Hobbit, and to this day I’ll never read a book where they name a sword. It’s not pushing any of my buttons, folks!

 

Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham

Way before anyone knew the phrase “post-apocalyptic”, here’s John Wyndham in 1951. The world goes blind overnight, and the survivors struggle to rebuild their lives and start a new society. The story is creepy as hell and the scenes of a crumbling London and England fifty years ahead of its time…and it started my ongoing fascination with post-apocalyptic fiction.

 

Star Wars Episode IV, Alan Dean Foster (as George Lucas)

This is the novelisation of Star Wars, and it started a long love affair for me for movie novelisations, which for a while I was actively seeking out in bookstores, (remember those?). Some of them were good – like this one – and some of them bad (Yes, you, Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The book is good enough to stand alone without the movie, and I’ve still got it on my bookshelf – along with five other Star Wars novelisations! Entertainment, pure and simple, and I love dipping into them.

 

IT, Stephen King

One of my aunts had an extensive library of horror fiction in her spare room – some heavy stuff like Graham Masterton and Dennis Wheatley – and a collection of King. When I’d stop there for the weekend, I’d always pick one up, never quite daring to read it at midnight or one in the morning. IT (for those of you who don’t know) is 1100 pages of book, so it’s understandable I’d be intimidated by it even if it wasn’t horror.

But I found myself sucked in to it once I started it, and it started a love – and hate – relationship with King ever since. Some of his books don’t cut it for me (Needful Things and The Dead Zone), but mostly I’m in for a good time with Uncle Steve.

 

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

One of my parents books is an old copy of aToTC, bound and made sometime in the 1940s. I started it one day, not really knowing who Dickens was or what made him write it – or even when. Although the language was weird and it took a while to get started, I really got into it. I haven’t stopped reading Dickens or classics since, coming back to this one again and again and getting a little something different from it each time.

 

Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

Surprisingly, I didn’t have to study this at school, and it was quite a few years later that I picked a copy up. Anne was a blunt girl, not mincing words about anyone, but what got me was her simple hope and a wisdom she had beyond her years, and I symbolically have the book beside my 19th century Dickens and other classics. After I read this, I realised all you need to be free is to see is a blue sky, even if it’s glimpsed at from a behind a black out curtain. I still look at the sky sometimes and remember that.

 

Nineteen-Eighty Four, George Orwell

How startling it is to read this, in an age of internet snooping and CCTV on every street corner, with traffic cameras that keep records for five years. How easy it becomes to hate someone because the media says you should. How easily we slip, uncaring and indifferent, towards the world Orwell imagined.

 

Lightning, Dean Koontz

Koontz is often bundled with King as a horror writer, and some of his earlier books were certainly that. But Koontz has transcended his genre. He doesn’t exactly write thrillers, or horror, or comedy, but mixes them all together into a wonderful smorgasbord. When he gets it right – like the generational time-travelling story of Lightning, the first of his books I read – his prose is powerful, his characters engaging.

When he gets it right, you simply cannot put a Koontz down, and when he gets it right, there’s no one quite like him. Which is why I keep reading them…even when he gets it wrong.

 

I hope you enjoyed the list! Any thoughts on what books define you as a reader?

Tony’s Review: The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

 

2/5

In the dustbowl depression of 1930s America, the Joad family from Oklahoma move to California out of desperation, lured by the promise of a mythical land of endless food and well paid work that doesn’t exist.

For the first half of this book, I loved it. Steinbeck alternates each chapter between the Joads and a bigger picture of half the country on the move, hungry for work and hungrier for food. The travels along Route 66 were full of drama and tension and the characters well developed.

It was a delight to travel along with them, poor and desperate as they were, dignified in their poverty, hoping as they did that they would find what they were looking for…but knowing that they wouldn’t, hoping at least for some resolution for them. Some of the writing was beautifully poetic, especially in the wider-world chapters.

It was when they arrived in California that the story crumbled and stalled. There were long passages that went like this:

Tom pushed open the matchbox and took out a match. He struck the match against a piece of sandpaper and took the flame carefully to the lantern, and lit the lantern with the fragile yellow dancing flame. The lantern lit with a mellow dancing light against the walls of the shack. Tom sat back and warmed his hands on the feeble heat coming from the lantern.

How about we try this, Mr Steinbeck…?

Tom lit the lantern from a match and sat back, warming his hands on the feeble heat coming from it, the light dancing on the walls.

…and then we can get on with the story. How would that be? No? Okay then, I’ll sit through the same drawn out descriptions every time someone does something, no matter how minor.

What that happened throughout the last third of the book, it really dragged it down. Steinbeck also decided that he only really needed two characters (Ma and Tom), and the rest drop into the background and become two dimensional and superfluous. He might as well have killed the rest on the journey to California for the impact they have in the story.

And the ending. Well, it just…ends. There are no conclusions, and we never find out what happens to the family. It’s like Steinbeck died halfway through and didn’t finish the story. In fact, I just checked online to see if my copy was missing a dozen pages. Nope.

Here’s how sucky the ending is (Skip it if you don’t want spoilers):

The Joad’s are flooded out of their shack of the week, and they come across a barn. Rose of Sharon (huh?), who has just undergone a still-birth, gives an un-named starving man her breast milk. The End.

WTF was THAT?

After four hundred pages, some of the most wonderful and poetic language, that’s IT?

Do the family starve? Do they drown? Do they go back to their shack after it dries out? Would it have killed him to write an epilogue? At that point I was glad to finish the damn thing and be done with it.

No more Steinbeck for me. After the flat characters of “Of Mice and Men” and making me care about a desperate family and then leaving me hanging, he’s had his chance.