Tag Archives: novel

1632, an alternative history novel by Eric Flint

By James Gilmore

Eric Flint’s 1632 is an alternative history science fiction novel about a small town in present day West Virginia that is suddenly transported back in time to Germany during the devastating Thirty Years’ War in the year 1632.  At its heart, 1632 is a romantic view of classic American ideals clashing with and conquering those of the oppressed, war-torn 17th century continental Europe, pushing normal small town folk into extraordinary circumstances.

Book cover for 1632, an alternative history novel by Eric Flint, on Minimalist Reviews.

Eric Flint executes the unusual and exceptionally difficult premise with marvelous ease and methodical reasoning, exploring the promise of the premise with detailed thoroughness.  Despite reviews which misleadingly describe the book as “action packed”  1632 is mostly a relationship-oriented piece with a few periods of intense action counterpointed against extended laconic sections of blossoming romance.

The plentiful characters populating the novel surprise the reader with their variance, color, and very human likeability, which makes the exploration their relationships a pleasure, even if the story does get bogged down in a disproportionate amount of romance during the second act.  The large cast prevents great depth in character development.  Regardless, it’s obvious to the reader that Flint is an author who genuinely loves his characters.

One of the greatest shortcomings of 1632 is its failure to live up to the high stakes generated by the premise.  Main characters have things pretty easy and rarely (if ever) actually lose anything of value, while any obstacles that do arise are circumvented without great difficulty.  Greater challenges and higher stakes conflict are needed in a world where innumerable dangers lurk in the shadows.  Unfortunately, the dangers threaten but seldom actually emerge from the periphery.

Eric Flint’s 1632 may be an acquired taste for most, but don’t hesitate to pick up a copy if you are in the mood for something new, unique and quasi-historical.

Rating:  3.5 / 5

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a mystery thriller novel by Stieg Larsson (“Quickie” Review)

By James Gilmore

Book cover for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a mystery thriller novel by Stieg Larsson, on Minimalist Reviews.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson is an altogether pleasurable and smooth read, even in spite of the frequent, overly burdensome exposition and a vast proliferation of details almost too numerous for the reader to continually to keep in mind, requiring an extra dosage of concentration while reading.

As for the character of Lisbeth Salander, she is one of the most fascinating, inescapably magnetic characters in modern fiction, a curiosity or enigma that sucks us into slavering to learn more about her.

The author Stieg Larsson passed away on November 9, 2004.

Rating:  4 / 5

Of Mice and Men, a literary novella by John Steinbeck

By James Gilmore

Book cover for Of Mice and Men, a literary novella by John Steinbeck, on Minimalist Reviews.

Of Mice and Men might as well have been called “the ranch of broken dreams.”  Presenting itself like a stage play in all but format, author John Steinbeck maintains Aristotle’s unity of place and time by focusing our attention on a microcosm inhabited by two men who share a single hollow dream.  Ultimately, their dream collapses due to their own human weaknesses and those of their fellow men.  The fundamental core of the story illustrates how human beings latch onto hope, real or imaginary (but in either case perceived as actual), as a goal to strive for, as a reason for living, and how and why reality seldom plays out like our dreams say they ought.

Of Mice and Men packs brutal emotional impact through realistic, layered characters and relationships in this structurally sound novella.

Readers will find Of Mice and Men much more accessible than Steinbeck’s far more brutal Grapes of Wrath, and should be required reading for any serious reader or storyteller.

Rating: 5 / 5

Damned, a novel by Chuck Palahniuk

by James Gilmore

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk follows the idea that every cliché you’ve ever heard about Hell is absolutely and completely true.  And Hell isn’t really that bad of a place so long as you don’t expect it to be like Heaven.  All it needs is a little optimism and some long-overdue re-landscaping by the supernumerous tenants.

Book cover for Damned, a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, on Minimalist Reviews.

The book is creative, thoughtful and entertaining, and is probably more broadly-appealing to readers than most of Palahniuk’s other, more shockingly gruesome works.  With trim, lean writing the author creates the most sympathetic, likable protagonist of his career.  To his credit, the 13-year old female protagonist is thoroughly authentic in thought and viewpoint, which allows Palahniuk to lead the character to a number of unusually profound conclusions.  Like the protagonist, every member of the supporting cast is similarly illustrated with sympathetic—if not tragic—human weaknesses.  As the backstories of these characters are revealed the reader becomes continually haunted with the idea that there is no Heaven at all, and that Hell is for everyone.

Despite its strengths, Damned is not Palahniuk’s best.  His trademark technique of using repetition in changing contexts fails to fulfill its purpose in this novel.  The result is frequently negatively iterative, if not, at times, indulgent.

The structure of the final act is particularly weak as well, giving the impression that the novel was cut short of the full story the author was trying to tell.  Virtually without warning, we are ushered to a rapid climax which dissipates with an anti-climax.  The pivotal idea to the story’s final revelation—that the main character is driven by free will—is hindered by the poor structure and ultimately results in invalidating all the story which preceded it by making it feel pointless.

Damned is worth a read, especially for those who love anti-fundamentalist and anti-liberal satire.

Rating:  3 / 5

Babbitt, a literary novel by Sinclair Lewis

by James Gilmore

Book cover for Babbit, a literary novel by Sinclair Lewis, on Minimalist Reviews.

Babbit by Sinclair Lewis is an all-but-forgotten literary masterpiece which espouses the hollowness of blind conformism.  At the surface, the novel appears to be about a successful businessman entering (and surviving) a mid-life crisis.  But more accurately, Babbitt is about a man whose identity only exists by means of his compromising conformity to everyone else.  He struggles between being the person everyone thinks he should be and what he really wants for his own life, although he has become so entrenched in the conformist society that he cannot escape.  In this he discovers that he is weak and pathetic, a living cliché, a human example of meaningless and futility.

Babbitt is a true character piece which explores every facet of the completely repressed individual in a society of demanding conformity.  The text remains engrossing despite constantly straddling the line between thoroughness and repetitiveness.  Unfortunately, reading the novel can be arduous due to its very slow story development.

Babbitt was internationally successful at the time it was published while domestically the novel’s brazen but accurate depictions and accusations of America offended or mystified many readers.  Every student of American literature should study Sinclair’s Babbitt.

Rating:  5 / 5

Pygmy, a novel by Chuck Palahniuk

by James Gilmore

Although all of Chuck Palahniuk’s novels satire American culture, Pygmy is perhaps the most pungent of the author’s bibliography. 

Book cover for Chuck Palahniuk's novel Pygmy on Minimalist Reviews.

Technically sound, fascinating and shocking.  And while many readers may take issue with the nature of certain violent events which occur in the story, these events are in fact appropriate to the story, even if they are presented in a fashion to maximize shock factor.

The audio book recording of the book is an excellent alternative for Palahniuk fans who wish to avoid the grammar headaches of reading the novel’s own form of pidgin English, which can be extremely laborious.

Pygmy is an absolute must-read for fans of Chuck Palahniuk.  However, strangers to his work may find the book distasteful if not virtually impossible to read.  On the other hand, adventurous readers should absolutely give the book a perusal.

Rating:  4 / 5

Other Voices, Other Rooms, a literary novel by Truman Capote

by James Gilmore

Other Voice, Other Rooms refers to shadows, memories—places people have been, voices that have sounded, ephemeral ghosts which burn brightly and then disappear, as if from a distant place and time. Once innocence is shed, you can never return to the past.

Book cover of Other Voices Other Rooms, a literary novel by Truman Capote, on Minimalist Reviews.

Rich, luxurious prose which reproduces in intimate the detail the cultural mores, mindset and isolation of the gothic rural American South. The main drive of the plot is the unraveling of the mystery of protagonist’s father’s identity, which ultimately leads to the loss of innocence and the realization that reality/life is a cruel and twisted master, of whom we only catch a sliver’s glimpse. Perhaps the most powerful strand of the story is the sub-theme regarding love and how it far more complex, and thus far more painful, than the youthful ideal of meet-love-marriage, as embodied by the character of Randolph.

Other Voices, Other Rooms should be considered a companion piece to To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Both are colorful, insightful penetrations into the gothic American South in which both Harper Lee and Truman Capote are depicted as childhood friends and protagonists.

Rating: 5 / 5

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a novel by Gregory Maguire

by James Gilmore

Book cover for Wicked The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a novel by Gregory Maguire, on Minimalist Reviews.

Wicked: TLaTotWWotW is a masterwork of storytelling on all fronts. It is an epic in the classic sense; a true Greek Tragedy.

Maguire’s re-imagining of Oz entails a complex plot cast against an even more complicated background, with multifarious–but utterly human–relationships which do not gloss over the less glamorous aspects of weakness, regret, and mistakes made. Furthermore, the author demonstrates an intimate understanding of culture, the succession of religions, humanity and the human condition (as is the subject of all great literature), and the oxymoronic fickleness of perspective and public opinion.

Woven throughout with a powerful spell of thematic material, which elucidates a living discussion concerning the nature of evil, the author presents us with an array of possible answers to its (non-)existence instead of a narrow, single-minded conclusion. The core of Wicked is best summed by a secondary character named Boq: “People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us,” and, “It’s people who claim that they’re good, or anything better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.”

Rating: 5 / 5

Strange As This Weather Has Been, a literary novel by Ann Pancake

by James Gilmore

Book cover for Strange As This Weather Has Been, a literary novel by Ann Pancake, on Minimalist Reviews.

Aside from being slammed in the face with a sledgehammer labeled “Mountaintop removal mining is BAD” every paragraph, Strange As This Weather Has Been delivers strikingly eloquent characters and prose with unparalleled craftsmanship.

Many elements illustrate or elaborate the themes in the novel quite well while far too many seem to serve no other purpose than redundant milieu. For those who relish character work and language this is the book for you, but general readership will find it a work of willpower as they struggle to overcome breathtaking boredom due to a near-complete lack of forward story progress.

Although an enviously gifted writer, Pancake should consider serious outlining before writing her next novel or stick to her specialty: literary short stories about Appalachia.

Rating: 2 / 5

The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book cover for The Great Gatsby, a classic literary novel by F Scott Fitzgerald, on Minimalist Reviews.by James Gilmore

Calm, flowing prose on a near subconscious level floats the reader to a violent two-punch ending. Fitzgerald illustrates how careless wealthy people destroy those around them, even men destined for greatness such (as Gatsby), leaving everyone else to pick up the painful pieces. From another angle, Gatsby delivers a scathing opinion of capitalism by depicting it as superficial, debauched and criminal, as embodied by Gatsby himself, a man who came from nothing but gained everything through enterprising opportunism and less-than-legal means. It should have been a short story, but Fitzgerald dragged it out into a novel three times its necessary length, and somehow created one of the most recognized titles of 20th century literature.

Rating: 3 / 5