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“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” – Joan Didion

Storytelling is baked into the human condition. Throughout the centuries, we have told one another stories intended to educate us or entertain us or simply to help us endure. They are the ties that bind us, the threads of the tapestry into which we are all woven.

Stories have power – power that drives us to preserve them, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Anthony Doerr understands that power as well as anyone. His new book is “Cloud Cuckoo Land” (Scribner, $30), a segmented saga of wild ambition and staggering scope, spanning centuries as it follows a varied cast of characters through their trials and triumphs. From 15th century Constantinople to a 22nd century starship – with a few stopovers in mid-20th and early 21st century Idaho – Doerr takes us on a journey driven by the power of story. The stories we are told, yes, but also the stories we tell ourselves.

Binding all of it together? An ancient Greek text titled “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Antonius Diogenes. That tale – also an invention of Doerr’s – serves as this novel’s connective tissue, with excerpts introducing each chapter. That book’s journey within Doerr’s larger tale – lost, then found, then lost again and discovered anew – reflects the transitive nature of story; some live forever, while others disappear.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 03 August 2021 11:29

The way of the gun – ‘Billy Summers’

Whenever anyone brings up horror fiction, the first name that inevitably arises is Stephen King. And there’s no question that he is the absolute master of modern horror, having given us some of the scariest stories ever to be put to paper. And if that was all he was, that would be more than enough.

But it isn’t. Not even close.

That’s not to demean his massive success in the horror genre, but we’ve seen plenty of work from King over the years to show that he is about more than genre. He transcends genre – the man is, above all else, a storyteller, unafraid to follow in whatever direction the tale takes him.

His latest novel is “Billy Summers” (Scribner, $30), a book in which King embraces a different kind of darkness. Not the supernatural shadows, but rather the bleak and sinister spaces within the hearts and minds of man. It’s a book more evocative of King works like the Bill Hodges trilogy or “Later” from earlier this year, one that digs into the author’s affection and affinity for pulpy noir fiction. There’s a gleeful griminess to it, even as he unleashes the full capacity of his storytelling prowess.

(In case you haven’t guessed yet, it’s VERY good.)

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 28 October 2020 11:40

Words like violence, break ‘The Silence’

When we’re talking about the best American writers of the past half-century, everyone’s going to have a different list, but there are certain names that will likely appear on most of them. One of those names is Don DeLillo, who has written some of the most impactful literature of his generation. Books like “White Noise,” “Underworld” and others are significant parts of the 20th century canon.

And he’s still going strong.

DeLillo’s latest novel – his 17th, but who’s counting? – is “The Silence” (Scribner, $22), a slim volume that takes a look at what it might mean for our precarious and codependent relationship to technology to be unceremoniously ripped away, leaving nothing but the quiet echo of our own thoughts. How has this proliferation of tech impacted our ability to engage with one another – and are we able to get back what was lost.

“The Silence” is a lightning-fast read – just 128 pages – but no less engaging for its brevity. It is thoughtful and thought-provoking, a quick-hit of a novel one assumes is intended to mirror the bite-sized rapid consumption encouraged by our current relationship to media both old and new.

Published in Style

It’s a reality of life that nothing lasts forever. All things are transient. Everything that begins must eventually end.

And I do mean EVERYTHING.

Even the universe itself will eventually come to an end. Entire fields of study are devoted to beginnings and endings on a cosmic scale, with brilliant scientists spending their professional lives staring out into the universe and deep into the atom in an effort to understand not just how everything works, but how it might eventually stop working.

Astrophysicist Katie Mack’s new book “The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking)” (Scribner, $26) is a smart, surprisingly funny look at some of the ways that cosmologists believe the universe could potentially end. Don’t worry – it probably isn’t taking place anytime soon. Most of these endings won’t happen tomorrow. Probably.

It’s an accessible and engaging work of pop science, one that finds a way to strike a balance between the intricate physics and mathematics that go into these explorations and an easy narrative tonality that allows even those without PhDs to wrap their heads around these big-by-definition ideas. Consider this a crash course in cosmic eschatology, a sort of End Of It All 101. It is informative and entertaining in the way that only the very best science writing can be.

Published in Tekk

Nobody does novellas like Stephen King.

Sure, he’s a tremendous novelist and a great writer of short fiction, but more than perhaps any author of popular fiction in recent decades, he embraces the gray area between the two. And some of his most acclaimed work has sprung from that particular vein.

His latest book is “If It Bleeds” (Scribner, $30), the latest in his every decade-ish string of novella collections, book such as “Different Seasons,” “Four Past Midnight” and “Full Dark, No Stars.” It’s a quartet of stories that are a little too long to be labelled short, all of which are packed with that uniquely King combination of fear and empathy.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 10 September 2019 17:54

A lie of the mind - ‘The Institute’

Stephen King’s reputation is that of a master of horror, a writer who plumbs the depths and brings forth supernatural terrors to be confronted and defeated by regular people who have been thrust into irregular circumstances. And that reputation is well-earned.

But make no mistake – King is often at his horrifying best when his villains are ordinary rather than extraordinary. Finding the evil that lurks within the human heart – that’s a skill for which Mr. King doesn’t always get his full due.

Those are the villains in King’s latest novel “The Institute” (Scribner, $30), regular people willing to do unspeakable things simply because they have been told those things are necessary. There’s a timeliness to this book, an of-the-moment quality that also possesses a sense of universality. It is a look at the evil that men do when they believe their cause is just.

But while these villains may not be possessed of paranormal girts, the targets of their villainy certainly are – children. Children, stolen from their homes in the dead of night and confined to an isolated compound, selected for imprisonment and torture so that a shadowy cabal might somehow bring forth the full force of the children’s inexplicable talents.

Published in Buzz

When one hears about a new Stephen King novel, one has certain expectations. We know that it is going to be a compelling story. We know that it will feature mysterious, likely supernatural elements. We know that the ideas resting beneath the narrative surface will be thoughtful and engaging.

And we know that chances are good that it will be long.

Not so with King’s latest. Titled “Elevation” (Scribner, $19.95), the author’s latest is a much slimmer story than we usually see from him – just shy of 150 pages. Have no fear, however – this Castle Rock tale more than meets all the other expectations you might have. But while the inexplicable and uncanny are present, this book isn’t ABOUT that. It’s a charmer of a feel-good story that illustrates the breadth of King’s talents, breaking some new ground while still doing what he does best.

Published in Buzz

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Stephen King is the preeminent American storyteller.

Apologies for my broken-recordness on the subject, but it always bears repeating – there is no one in American letters over the past half-century who has managed to be as prolific and as culturally relevant as Stephen King.

And there’s a reason the zeitgeist is awash with King-inspired and -adjacent properties. Not only have the majority of his iconic earlier works withstood the test of time, but his late-career renaissance puts on display a King who has evolved while still maintaining an unprecedented degree of narrative skillfulness.

Oh yeah – and his stuff is still REALLY scary.

King’s latest is “The Outsider” (Scribner, $30), a pulpy, propulsive tale reminiscent of some of his earlier highlights. Yet even as he elicits memories of his own creepy stylings from 30 years ago, he infuses that throwback thriller with pointed references to the present. The end result is a book that is somehow both Now and Then, where early King and late King combine with an eerie smoothness. It is dark and creepy and thought-provoking and engrossing – everything you hope for from Stephen King.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 08:50

Life during wartime – ‘Manhattan Beach’

Latest from Jennifer Egan a masterful, powerful work

Published in Style
Wednesday, 27 September 2017 10:51

Perchance to dream - ‘Sleeping Beauties’

A haunting collaboration from Stephen & Owen King

Published in Buzz
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