October 28, 2014
Consumed : A Novel
By David Cronenburg
If you're a fan of director David Cronenberg’s horror films from the 1980s, you will not be disappointed by his debut novel. Never seen any of his movies? Here's a sampling: 1981's "Scanners" is about a new race of humans with telekenetic powers, reminiscent of X-Men; 1983's "Videodrome" follows the president of an underground TV station who discovers an international broadcast of snuff films with subliminal messaging that cause strong hallucinations and lead him to coin the phrase "long live the new flesh!"; 1986's "Dead Ringers" is about experimental twin gynecologists, both played by Jeremy Irons. Consumed delves into the most bizarre of human behaviors, including graphic depictions of auto-cannibalism and self inflicted amputations. This means that, like his movies, it is not for the faint of heart.
In addition to being a great gross-out horror novel, Consumed is a brilliant depiction of "the way we live now" in the Digital Age. The main characters, poly-amorous Naomi and Nathan, are journalists who spend their time Google/Youtube/Wikipedia'ing everything around them as they also record it with the best equipment money can buy. Their experience of this mediated reality is told in striking detail. Naomi is investigating a French man under investigation for the murder of his wife, a famous intellectual, and it leads her through a shadowy network to Tokyo, where he both seduces and confides in her. It turns out he has an acquaintance in common with Nathan's current investigation, of a decertified doctor in Budapest who practices an experimental form of mastectomy on movie stars. The couple keeps in close touch with each other as they follow these stories around the world. If you can stomach what these characters can, you will follow them with baited breath and you won't be able to put this book down. Recommended for fans of David Lynch, J.G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon and others who show us a secret world hidden in plain sight.
October 14, 2014
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
By Mary Roach
Mary Roach once again tackles weird science with her trademark hilarity and attention to detail. In Spook, we encounter families brought together by reincarnation, scientists obsessed with measuring the physical dimensions of the soul, fraudulent mediums and much more. Roach explores the various ways that science has attempted to explain the afterlife throughout history. After reading this book you may have an alternate answer to that famous question, “Who you gonna call?” Perhaps a university researcher and author of peer-reviewed literature on paranormal phenomena.*
While the author is clearly a skeptic, her curiosity and open-mindedness prevent the book from feeling condescending towards its subject matter. Roach pokes fun at the paltry tricks employed by early mediums (including swallowing lengths of gauze for later regurgitation as “ectoplasm”), but at the same time she is genuinely interested in research on reincarnation and out of body experiences. Her book is a fascinating journey through historic scientific approaches to abstract concepts like the soul, ghosts and the afterlife. Whereas these days it is more common to think of something like the soul as existing outside the laws of science, at the turn of the century this was not the case. Scientists attempted to measure, capture, and observe the unknown in order to prove its existence.
Roach’s anecdotal style entertains while her meticulous research provides substance and reliability. Like all of Roach’s books, Spook is divided into chapters which can stand alone, as each one deals with a different aspect of the larger subject. Though Roach doesn’t provide a cut-and-dried conclusion on the existence of paranormal phenomena, she does state that after a year of research she believes that not everything we experience in life can be explained by science. And, if you really want to push the subject, “The debunkers are probably right, but they’re no fun to visit a graveyard with. What the hell. I believe in ghosts.”
*N.B. Actually, Dr. Venkman of Ghostbusters is a Ph. D. in “parapsychology and psychology” and has published work on the paranormal, though this writer doubts any of it was peer-reviewed.
October 6, 2014
By Paul Coelho
In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal refers to the Brazilian-born Coelho as a “66-year-old writer, a self-styled spiritual guide who has sold more than 165 million books in some 80 languages”. He also handles his own publicity and maintains a very active and large social media presence with over 25.6 million fans on Facebook and nine million followers on Twitter. Mr. Coelho is a busy man. If you are curious about just how busy, you can read all about it at this link http://online.wsj.com/articles/paulo-coelho-digital-juggernaut-1408055080.
Adultery is a novel about a female journalist, Linda, married with two children, and her financier husband who are well off and live in Geneva, Switzerland. Coelho does a nice job of describing and creating Geneva's atmosphere. Linda is a respected journalist and is prone to philosophical bouts of introspection, especially about her marriage and her life. As part of her profession, she receives an assignment to interview a rising politician, Jacob, who was a former boyfriend of hers. This meeting, as one would guess, ignites old passions and sets of a chain of events between Linda, her spouse, and Jacob and his spouse, that pushes Linda onto a very dangerous marital ledge. I do not want to say much more…that might give something away in a story of quick turns and twists of plot. The story is a rather quick read with often very short chapters or sections. Coelho writes very lucidly and philosophically. Linda, and others, can be very annoying or liberating characters depending on how you interpret their motives. Interpretation, reader interpretation, is, in the end, what will determine the rise or fall of this novel. It is an interesting novel and one in which the reader cannot help but be judge and jury.--Bill