Showing posts with label dark fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dark fiction. Show all posts

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Title: Save Yourself
Author: Kelly Braffet
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: August 6, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Patrick Cusimano is in a bad way. His father is in jail, he works the midnight shift at a grubby convenience store, and his brother's girlfriend, Caro, has taken their friendship to an uncomfortable new level. On top of all that, he can't quite shake the attentions of Layla Elshere, a goth teenager who befriends Patrick for reasons he doesn't understand and doesn't fully trust. The temptations these two women offer are pushing him to his breaking point.

Meanwhile, Layla's little sister, Verna, is suffering through her first year of high school. She's become a prime target for her cruel classmates, not just because of her strange name and her fundamentalist parents: Layla's bad-girl rep proves to be too huge a shadow for Verna, so she falls in with her sister's circle of outcasts and misfits whose world is far darker than she ever imagined.

My Review:

Don't worry, friends, I did not give up on Gone With The Wind.  Still working my way through it!  But often when I'm reading a super-long book, I like to break it up a little bit with some shorter books in between.  Such is the case with Save Yourself.  I heard rave reviews about this one for the last year or so, and after seeing it on this list from, I was pushed to give it a try.  Plus, Kelly Braffet is Stephen King's daughter-in-law.  I know that in terms of literary prowess, this means nothing, but still.  She's FAMILY.

The first half of this novel was not quite as I expected.  I think the reviews I'd read had me looking forward to a dark, disturbing story from the get-go, but that wasn't how it played out.  The first portion of the book takes a lot of time helping you get to know the main characters--primarily, Patrick, Caro, Layla, and Verna.  The book is told from multiple perspectives, so you're getting a sense of the characters not just from their own narratives, but also from the insights of the other protagonists.

It took me a while to see just what Braffet was doing there, and honestly I wasn't completely sold for a while.  Not necessarily because of the slow pace, but moreso because the writing felt more simplistic than I expected, and some of the characters (namely Layla) seemed a little too...overdone? Cliched?  I just wasn't sympathizing with her the way that I wanted to.

HOWEVER.  Despite the slower start, I'd liken this novel to some kind of really intricate Boy Scout-type knot.  You know, one that takes forever to weave together, but then all of a sudden--PULL--and the knot closes up tight.  In the last 50 pages, this book went from "slow moving, but okay, I think something important is building here" to "I SHALL NOT SHUT MY EYES UNTIL I HAVE DEVOURED THE VERY LAST PAGE."  Braffet took her time piecing together each person's story, but as their connections grew closer and closer, the sense of foreboding grew right up to its completely crazy conclusion.  (And when I say crazy, I do mean crazy.  Not for the faint of heart and literally a nail-biter, as cliche as that sounds.)  By the end, you look back at the beginning and realize the importance of that slow, detailed plot building.

So, is this book the dark and macabre tale that I had been promised?  Yes, but unlike many other thrillers, it's not a sinister tale from the very beginning.  Instead, steep yourself in the slow-building suspense of the early pages, and then get ready for the intensity that takes over at the end.  It's worth the wait.

Readers, have you read any books lately that had a truly mind-blowing ending?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

Title: The Silent Wife
Author: A.S.A. Harrison
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source: e-ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads: (kind of spoiler-y, does not get my seal of approval)

Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

My Review:

"Jodi's great gift is her silence, and he has always loved this about her, that she knows how to mind her own business, keep her own counsel, but silence is also her weapon.  The woman who refuses to object, who doesn't yell and scream--there's strength in that, and power."

Anything that gets compared to Gone Girl = immediately added to my TBR list.  No questions asked.  Such was the case for The Silent Wife, which promised me a completely dysfunctional couple, lots of drama, and death.  COUNT ME IN.  (I am so morbid.)  Apologies if I contrast it a lot to Gillian Flynn's novel, but I think it's fair to use that as a comparison point when the book's own description mentions it, eh?

If you skipped reading the plot summary I provided above, GOOD--this is one of those instances where I think the plot description is way too spoiler-iffic.  It gives away a big event in the novel that I think is better approached without any forewarning.  As I've been known to do, I only skimmed the summary of this book before reading, so that particular event was a surprise for me.  This built the suspense of the novel more than if I had known about it from the start.  However, even if you did read the summary, I think you'll find this novel has more than enough drama to keep you glued to the pages.

Is The Silent Wife exactly like Gone Girl?  Nope.  It does have some similar elements: a very dark and foreboding atmosphere.  Two characters that are completely unreliable in their accounts of each other.  Terrible actions that each character finds justifiable in their own ways.  But beyond that, The Silent Wife is a drama all its own.

For one, it's not nearly so twisted as Gone Girl.  I know that a lot of people who didn't like Gone Girl were particularly turned off by the extremity of some of the twists--they were too much of a reach.  I never felt this way in The Silent Wife.  Dark, hateful, amoral things happen throughout the plot, but the characters almost seem to stumble into them innocently.  This keeps the plot action from feeling contrived, to the point where things like cheating, lying, and yes, even murder, seem completely natural for this cast of characters.

The two protagonists, Jodi and Todd, are endlessly interesting to me.  Jodi is calm and cool on the outside, but tension and suspense simmer around her constantly as you get further and further into her psyche.  She's a psychologist by trade, and as a therapist she feels that she knows deeply about herself; however, as the novel progresses it becomes clear that her persona is far more complex than she lets on.  On the flip side, Todd is so self-centered, he can never truly see how his actions impact others.  Jodi is self-centered too, but in a different way--her obsession with routine and neatness blinds her to reality much of the time:

"No need to stare reality in the face if there's a kinder, gentler way.  No need for all that grim urgency."

I could spend hours psychoanalyzing these two, and maybe that's half the fun of the novel.

The only downside, for me, was in the ending.  It's not bad, but I felt like there were a few too many coincidences thrown in at the end to tie it up.  I'm not a big fan of the "convenient" ending, and this had a tinge of that.  However, the book did manage to keep me thinking about it long after I read the last word--so it's not a loss by any means.

The Silent Wife was a winner for me.  Jodi and Todd aren't nearly as insane as Gone Girl's Amy and Nick, but their subtlety plays well on the page.  I needed a fix in the dark fiction department, and I got it in spades.  I may not have adored the ending, but the rest of the novel wormed itself so far into my brain that I'll forgive the conveniences that were thrown in at the end.

So, readers, what else can I read to follow up on my "dark fiction" fixation?
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