What the Dog Knows

Author: Cat Warren

Type: Non-fiction, single subject, memoir

Full title: What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs

Published: 2013

I read it: April 2015


“For him, human death is a big game.”

This is the way Cat Warren introduces how her German Shepherd, Solo, views his work. (That’s him on the book cover.) It’s mostly play. After trudging through a swamp for hours looking for a body, Solo gets rewarded with a tug toy and the praise of his master. He’s a body-recovery dog, also known as “body dog” or “cadaver dog.” For Warren, training a cadaver dog was not in the plan. But after she got Solo, the only of his litter, she found this path because this big rambunctious dog needed something to do. A purpose.

Though the subtitle suggests a more general analysis of all working dogs, the book is about Warren’s personal journey with Solo through the cadaver work world. She notes humorously:

I know cadaver dogs are an esoteric branch off the working-dog tree, as well as an acquired taste. If someone turns up her nose, I change the subject to politics.

To be clear, cadaver dogs train for the specific purpose of finding dead bodies. Ideally they are distinct from dogs searching for lost people who are most likely alive, though city budgets often force K9 units to train their dogs for a variety of tasks. The book does a great job of showing how the life of a working dog handler is almost fully consumed by the work, and how the dogs are similar to or different from regular pets:

It’s critical that a working dog be able to lead, to independently decide where and how to search, instead of timidly looking to the handler for cues. It is the inverse of a relationship that most trainers suggest we have with our household pets.

This hobby/profession is a powerful mix of art and science. Warren describes other animals that research organizations have tried to train for “scent work” but none are all around as effective as the dog. This probably has a lot to do with the tight co-evolution of dogs and humans, which caused dogs to have the one thing that helps most: that eager need to please. A trained dog wants a happy handler. Warren has no disillusions about what a dog can and can’t do. She goes to lengths to emphasize that a dog’s nose is not perfect and people shouldn’t expect the body to be found every time. But they are pretty great tools for the job at hand:

Good dogs seem to move through a kind of complex decision tree on difficult searches: “This, not that,” “Up, not down,” and “That thing doesn’t belong here, but it’s not the thing I’m looking for.” Although dogs aren’t perfect, they adapt to a variety of search conditions.

Trained as a journalist, Warren keeps a skeptical mind and weighs all the research she can find as she takes this journey with Solo. A lot of it is spotty, and a lot just plain wrong. (I love her jabs at Animal Planet when they claimed the bloodhound has a nose “up to a million times more sensitive than that of humans.” She responds: “I’m not making this up. Animal Planet is.”) She does uncover a lot of other factoids from better research, always up to revision of course. One is the statistic that “a sniffing dog breathes in between 140 to 200 times a minute, compared to a dog out for a stroll, breathing at thirty times a minute.” Regardless of how much the dogs enjoy their task, she makes sure to illustrate the “work” in “working dogs.”

So a woman named Cat wrote the book on cadaver dogs. It’s a pretty fascinating little slice of modern life. But this is also just as much a memoir about a woman and her dog, not unlike the different but also wonderful Pack of Two. Warren weaves together the internal and the external in a graceful blend that is real without being sappy. The university professor comes out through a bunch of little epigraphs in front of chapters and sections, and the reader gets to know Solo as much as anyone can know a dog without meeting them in real life. People interested in just dogs or just forensics would find this a satisfying read. It makes you want to get outside, but be careful. You never know what your pup might uncover when they bound down into a weed-covered ditch.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Memoir, Non-fiction single subject


Tags: ,

To Kill A Mockingbird

Author: Harper Lee

Type: Fiction, novel

Published: 1960

I read it: April 2015 (re-read)


I didn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time until I was 26 or so. For whatever reason it wasn’t on any of my school curricula. But thanks to Books & Bars, the book club I frequented at the time, I finally had a reason to get around to it. I loved it. Rarely does a book feel so tangible, so there. And because I read it as an adult, I considered it a very adult book. I don’t quite vibe with those who think it’s a young adult book, though of course that designation probably didn’t exist when it was published. (The year I read it, EW did a fun little piece on the YA-ness of the novel and how it might be received today.)

The book was still pretty satisfying a mere five years later (I realized I don’t re-read books within this span of time very often). I had remembered the broad strokes, and the unparalleled ending, but I had forgotten some of the smaller scenes. The book is very episodic, with little life experiences illustrated by the fire at Scout’s neighbor’s house, or Atticus shooting the rabid dog, and the kids visiting their relatives. There are also the countless little phrases that add life to the book. Here are some favorites:

  • Scout describing Dill as “a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies.”
  • Scout re-phrasing lessons she has learned, such as “Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had” or “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”
  • Jem realizing that “around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black.”
  • Miss Maudie’s lesson that “people in their right minds never take pride in their talents.”
  • Atticus’ infinite wisdom: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” and “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.”
  • More Atticus, with the weighty truths of the big trial: “She is the victim of cruel poverty and ignorance.” As well as the fallout of the town’s mistakes: “Don’t fool yourselves—it’s all adding up and one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it.”
  • Also, Scout yelling at her brother, “You damn morphodite, I’ll kill you!” (Not a good word now that I’ve looked it up, but still, the execution is priceless.)

What a book. Should we roll our eyes that “Scout” and “Atticus” continue to be on the lists of top baby names, presumably among white people? Nah. Those characters are awesome. We shouldn’t squash the continued celebration of something so moving as To Kill A Mockingbird.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Novels


Tags: ,

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Author: Mindy Kaling

Type: Non-fiction, humor, memoir

Full title: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Published: 2011

I read it: April 2015


I’m finally catching up to this books written by comedians thing. I think I’m generally pretty slow about trying out new genres, and the biography/autobiography stuff just isn’t my thing. But after Dad Is Fat and Yes Please I’m realizing that if I’m going to read something self-reflective about someone still alive, it’s best to find authors who are funny. So, this book was more than a steal when I found it on the half-off rack at Eat My Words.

There’s a lot of similarity to Amy Poehler’s book (yes, I realize this one came out first). It’s just that there’s the part about youth, then the part about college and slovenly living, and the part about trying to break into comedy, and plenty of musings on womanhood and family, and then the big chunk everyone is waiting for: dishing about the popular TV show. My wife and I have been working through The Office on Netflix since last fall, because we never did finish watching the show when it aired. So it’s been a blast to go back to that, and the stuff about The Office here is pretty good. As with Poehler, stories about working with Mike Schur seem to come up a lot. I particularly liked Kaling’s description of how she wrote and envisioned Kelly Kapoor: a version of how she thought some of the upper-level writers thought she was in real life. And you can see some of the comparisons, because the book has a lot of funny anecdotes about dating guys and loving fashion and trying to fit in. She also admits she can be pretty dramatic in real life: “I’m the kind of person who would rather get my hopes up really high and watch them get dashed to pieces than wisely keep my expectations at bay and hope they are exceeded.”

I never knew about the short play Matt & Ben that Kaling wrote with her friend, about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. This was the DIY stuff that got her noticed and eventually onto our televisions. I’ve not seen any The Mindy Project yet, but now I’m more interested. She obviously has a lot more ideas up her sleeve, including a mention in this book (2011, remember) of an all-female cast Ghostbusters reboot. It’s a damn shame she wasn’t actually cast when it became a reality (her other actors would have included Emily Blunt, Taraji Henson, and Natalie Portman). Other areas of the book find her giving out miscellaneous social opinions like “I do not think stress is a legitimate topic of conversation, in public anyway…Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation.” The early entries about being an awkward kid are also great, including the story of when she got embarrassed and injured at summer camp. She says that if she has kids she would give them these golden nuggets of advice:

“Sometimes you will meet idiots who are technically adults and authority figures. You don’t have to do what they say. You can calmly say, ‘Can I first call my mom and ask her if I have to this, please?'”

“If you’re scared of something, that isn’t a sign that you have to do it. It probably means you shouldn’t do it. Call Dad or Mom immediately.”

The only section that kind of lost me was “The Best Distraction in the World: Romance and Guys.” I just do not have a way to engage with a list of things Jewish guys do, or a way to respond to the issue that men put on their shoes too slowly. Do guys do that? I don’t think we run in anything close to the same social circles, Mindy.

But that’s not to say I wasn’t feeling the book: I absolutely was. In fact, I read the whole thing in a day, the day of my first-year wedding anniversary. Poolside in the Phoenix sun and in the crisp A.C. of the hotel room paired with spoonfuls of strawberry yogurt, I channeled my inner gossip and breezed through this one. Now to finally, finally finish season nine.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Humor, Memoir


Tags: ,

The Absolute Sandman, Volume One

Author: Neil Gaiman

Artists: Sam Kieth, Michael Dringenberg, Dave McKean, others

Type: Fiction, comic

Collects issues: 1-20

Published: 2006 (this collection), 1988-1990 (original issues)

I read it: March 2015


The Sandman comics hover over the Gaiman universe like a mysterious deity. I’m trying to chip away at the author somewhat methodically, because he’s one of those who has enough works to want to sink into the whole universe, yet not quite so many that it’s an impossible task if you come late to the game. Though he is still churning them out pretty regularly, so I’d better try to keep up in the forward direction, while also jumping into the past by tackling Sandman.

Anyway, I got this collection for my wife for Christmas one year and wrote an inscription that says “Here’s to better dreams, fewer nightmares.” Little did I know how upside-down those hopes were. Some of this stuff is dark. It’s probably my fault for not researching much about the title before cracking it open. (But isn’t fending off full summaries part of the joy of trying to experience older fictions as a new reader?) I didn’t even know this was a DC Comics title. It all makes a bit more sense in retrospect after reading Gaiman’s initial pitch, which is included at the back in a section called “A Sandman Miscellany.” Here he describes his wish that “it would be firmly rooted in fantasy, and it would be a horror title, with a Mature Readers tag” but also that “it would be the combination of horror/fantasy/superhero that would make it work.” The horror and fantasy parts came through in full form, and the main character of Dream/Morpheus/the Sandman is distinctly cool enough that he can hold his own in a superhero world.

These early issues have all the strengths and weaknesses of being an origin story. You get the full history starting at page one, so there’s little confusion about the action, and each new unfolding of the mythology is exciting. Yet things are rather clunky as they get rolling, and some of the early concepts feel kind of off. For example, Dream has this weird gasmask thing that makes him look vaguely buglike and demented in the wrong way (fortunately this seems to fall by the wayside as the issues progress). The introduction by Paul Levitz states that the story really finds its stride in issue eight when Dream’s sister, Death, first makes an appearance. I think this is a generally sound judgment. It comes a couple issues after the really nasty “24 Hours” which, alongside the later issue “Collectors,” is the super dark stuff I mentioned earlier that I was unprepared for. I don’t see how some of those storylines would be worth re-reading.

That brings us to the thorny issue of storylines overall. The collection shows off the huge playground that Gaiman is using to concoct his dreams and nightmares, so things are pretty uneven. The stories that feature on Sandman himself seem the most necessary, yet in a lot of them he hardly makes an appearance. This kind of works when a strong new character is introduced, like the human Rose, who presumably has a bigger part to play in the future. Other non-Morpheus issues feel deflated, like the clever experiment “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” or the last issue, “Facade,” which seems to have only a small relation to the series overall. This reminds me of the weakest tendencies throughout Neverwhere, where the whole is neat in concept but rough in execution, with some set pieces that are colorfully brilliant and others that are interesting yet fail to cohere.

My favorite experiments are the more whimsical (and less visually nauseating) ones like “Men of Good Fortune” in which a man in the 1300s claims he would never submit to death and so, thanks to the bro-sis duo pulling strings, gets his wish to live on for at least another 600 years. Sandman checks in on him once per century and it’s a nifty little walk through time and the man’s various experiences. More medieval fun is had in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which features William Shakespeare and his traveling troupe. Bill S. has to make good on a previous deal with Morpheus by writing and performing the famous play for a special, otherwordly audience that consists of the very characters the play is about. It’s a lot of fun.

Something also has to be said for Dave McKean’s unique cover illustrations. Remember that Bright Eyes song that goes, “He once cut one of my nightmares out of paper/ I thought it was beautiful, I put it on a record cover”? I imagine McKean flipping through early drafts of an issue, coming up with this elaborate photo/painting layout, then Gaiman taking a look and saying, yep, that’s basically the entirety of the nightmare right there. Those pages are instense.

I’m still trying to work out what I think of the book, while reminding myself that I’ve only just walked a few lengths down the full trail. It’s been my experience that Gaiman’s greatness comes in bursts, so I can see how these comics give him a good opportunity to get crazy. I’ll just have to see if it’s the kind of crazy that can keep me interested enough to get through several more of these books that strain my back just to lift.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Comics


Tags: , , , , ,

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006

Author: Dave Eggers (series editor), Matt Groening (introduction)

Type: Fiction, non-fiction, short stories, essays, comics, humor (anthology)

Published: 2006

I read it: April 2015


This issue was apparently the first to feature the now-deceased front section. Well its inception here is strong, with an exchange between Stewart and Colbert from The Daily Show, transcipts from a Pennsylvania court trial in which creationism was shot down, and selections from the Edge Foundation’s What We Believe But Cannot Prove. This last includes someone writing a short piece on “I believe that the radiation emitted by mobile phones is harmless.” He must feel vindicated by now! The Best American New Band Names makes its debut, and it’s fun to look back at names like Arctic Monkeys, Band of Horses, and The Raconteurs. Immediately following is something that hasn’t aged well: Best American Names to Know about Chuck Norris. I’m not sure how this got crystallized in our modern texts. But things are made right by John Hodgman’s Best American Things to Know about Hoboes which includes his list of 700 hobo names. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the names of the ancient and unspeakable ones from That Is All, but it still amuses (and there’s a neat connection due to the hobo name of Cthulhu Carl).

In the bulk of the book, I found the memorable pieces to be almost all non-fiction. There’s a neat story about the Body Worlds art/anatomy exhibit, and another about a Canadian trying to become an American citizen. George Saunders has a brilliant GQ essay called “The New Mecca” about Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The closing trio is a powerful lineup, including Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God?” which still ranks high as a doubter’s introduction to losing religion (“It’s like I had to go change the wallpaper of my mind.”), Kurt Vonnegut’s “Here is a Lesson in Creative Writing,” and David Foster Wallace’s no-b.s. “Kenyon Commencement Speech.” That’s a lot of quality in one anthology.

This year for Nonrequired Reading was a big one for war stories, due to the U.S. being in full swing with overseas occupations. The front section has a devastating excerpt from a military blog, and Tom Downey writes a fair and complex portrait of a terrorist in “The Insurgent’s Tale.” There is an eye-opening selection from the Lincoln Group, a defense contractor that the Pentagon hired to plant fake articles in Iraqi newspapers in order to sway public opinion. The full text of this one entitled “Are Iraqis Optimistic?” is written as if by an Iraqi to his or her people. Of course it lays out how attitudes are turning in favor of the U.S., and contains such phenomenal lines as “Under Saddam, public opinion wasn’t something anyone in power wanted to know about, so no polls were conducted … Even that was more of a propaganda tool than a scientific instrument.” Um. The. Huh.

All the selections that touch on Iraq makes this book a nice time capsule of liberal writing about wartime. The only thing that seems overdone was the inclusion of the Iraqi Constitution, originally printed in The Washington Post. It’s a document that obviously has value as a historical achievement, but I couldn’t bring myself to read 25 pages of its details. It seems the editors were trying to make a point or show off their worldliness; at the very least they could have just stopped after The Preamble or some of the Fundamental Principles. Even in these couple pages that I read, I have a hard time seeing how it stands out as “best reading” under any gauge. A governing document written in 2005 that retains lines like “Acknowledging God’s right over us” and “Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation” is not nearly secular enough for someone like me to appreciate.

Overall, I flew through this book and I think it’d be a great entry point for someone curious about the Nonrequired Reading world.

Copyeditor’s corner: This book has some curious throwback style items like “Web site,” “in-box,” “e-mail,” and italicizing then-uncommon foreign words like “sharia.” A lot can change in a decade of internet usage I suppose. See how I lower-cased “internet” there? It’s evolution, baby.

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Comics, Essays, Humor, Short stories


Tags: , ,


Authors: Thomas More, Paul Turner (translator, introduction)

Type: Fiction, novel

Published: 1965 (this version), 1516 (original)

I read it: March 2015 (re-read)


I read this in college, but all I really remembered was golden toilets. I had forgotten, or never even paid attention to, the structure and overall analysis of the work. And while I call it a novel for purposes of this site, it’s really not (this preceded Don Quixote by close to a century). What would you call it then…a philosophical tract?

Regardless, it has a remarkably modern structure. It kicks off with a couple letters, one from More to his friend Peter in which More shows off the draft but expresses doubt that he should publish it, then the second from Peter to another higher up in which he praises the work and calls for its wide distribution. The bulk of the text is a conversation with Raphael Nonsenso, a cultured traveler who relays his tales of lands that most Europeans haven’t seen firsthand. It’s a clever way for More to couch his ideas within fiction, yet it’s cast as if it actually happened (which apparently some people believed, so there’s a hallmark of a good, or at least respected, author).

The name “Nonsenso” and others with modern English puns are thanks to the translation by Paul Turner. In the introduction he addresses the common question: translated from what? From Latin, apparently, which was new to me. Thomas More decided to write his work in the most timeless way he knew how, and Turner has done an excellent job in extracting meanings as best he can and crafting the book so it makes sense to our modern eyes and ears. The only word left alone is “Utopia” itself, which means no-place. Did you know that alongside Utopia, there are other lands the character Raphael has seen, such as Happiland, Blindland, and Tallstoria? The book is full of this clever stuff.

So what is Utopia like? It’s forward-thinking in a lot of ways, which is surprising because More was intensely religious to the point of asceticism, and conservative to our minds (depending on which books you read). So when he criticizes then-modern cultures with something like the following, it’s eye-opening:

Their last resort will be: ‘This was good enough for our ancestors, and who are we to question their wisdom?’ Then they’ll settle back in their chairs, with an air of having said the last word on the subject—as if it would be a major disaster for anyone to be caught being wiser than his ancestors! And yet we’re quite prepared to reverse their most sensible decisions. It’s only the less intelligent ones that we cling on to like grim death. I’ve come across this curious mixture of conceit, stupidity, and stubbornness in several different places.

Raphael goes to lengths to call out the silliness of European societies, and explain how the seemingly radical ways of the Utopians are often the most logical (“for things always sound incredible if they’re remote from one’s own habits of thought”). Their society is about sharing the workload and finding comfort and belonging in knowing they will never go without food or shelter, because they have no personal property and so everyone’s home is everyone else’s home. While the concepts are dramatically over-simplified to show Utopia in the best light, More makes intriguing points about how a properly run society prevents huge amounts of crime:

Stop the rich from cornering markets and establishing virtual monopolies. Reduce the number of people who are kept doing nothing. Revive…plenty of honest, useful work for the great army of unemployed. Until you put these things right, you’re not entitled to boast of the justice meted out to thieves…You allow these people to be brought up in the worst possible way, and systematically corrupted from their earliest years. Finally, when they grow up and commit the crimes that they were obviously destined to commit, ever since they were children, you start punishing them. In other words, you create thieves, and then punish them for stealing!

If that sentiment doesn’t still have relevance today, then I don’t know what does. Of course, Thomas More on his own couldn’t conceive of an absolutely perfectly functioning society. Things are still patriarchal in Utopia, though the women and children probably have more freedoms in this fictional land than in More’s England. And as for those golden toilets: precious metals are looked down upon so that no one forms useless attachments to them, so they make their chamber pots, as well as the chains of the slaves, out of gold and silver. That’s right, there are slaves in Utopia, though even this has its qualifications. The slaves are either Utopians who have fallen from grace because they committed some terrible crime, or certain types of war prisoners. This seems to reflect More’s steadfast belief in personal virtue and the ability to overcome vices (which themselves are heavily regulated in Utopia). If you’re a slave in Utopia, it’s because you are selfishly weak.

I imagine this work is the furthest that More ever went in openly flirting with critique of popular religion. A hardcore Catholic, he was overly devout in real life. There are moments when the reader sees this shining through, like when Raphael describes bringing Christianity to the Utopians. This makes you cringe for a minute, until it is described that only some of the Utopians have converted, and some still hold to native religions. Not only that, but religious tolerance is a highly valued concept on the island. Then there’s another shift where we read that the homegrown beliefs of Utopians align more or less with monotheism, as if they somehow rationalized their assumptions of nature and conveniently landed on something close to Christianity, or secularly worked their way there because the concept of one father-god is self-evident. And come to find out, the ultimate intellectual shame for Utopians is someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife at all or doesn’t think that humans are divinely special. They basically just wait these people out until they come around to better conclusions! We get a similarly twisty argument when on one page Raphael takes the rich and the noble down a peg, while on the next we read about the inherent goodness and infallibility of kings and priests. More wants to have his hierarchical cake, but eat it in on island incapable of corruption.

Obviously, the only way a modern reader can learn from the land of Utopia is to pick out the best parts and leave behind the worst. Isn’t that how we should aim to build all societies, by using the best ideas according to our admittedly limited points of view? I was pleasantly surprised how much was worth considering from More, as well as the amount of humor he used. Maybe he wasn’t such a curmudgeon after all. The most glaring aspect is how explicitly he advocates for a brand of communism, which considering how radical some people think that concept is today, must have seemed even more so in the 1500s. Paul Turner, addresses that some people refuse to take this angle seriously, but in the appendix he concludes, “I have yet to see any conclusive evidence that More did not mean what he said about communism in Utopia.” That’s a strong endorsement for taking the book’s ideas seriously, instead of as pure farce.

There’s one last piece I have to highlight for the reader and writer crowd, because it’s so keen and amusing. This is from the introductory letter in which More shows reluctance to publish the work:

Most readers know nothing about literature—many regard it with contempt. Lowbrows find everything heavy going that isn’t completely lowbrow. Highbrows reject everything as vulgar that isn’t a mass of archaisms. Some only like the classics, others only their own works. Some are so grimly serious that they disapprove of all humor, others so half-witted that they can’t stand wit. Some are so literal-minded that the slightest hint of irony affects them as water affects a sufferer from hydrophobia. Others come to different conclusions every time they stand up or sit down.

Well, Thomas, you might be sorry to hear that we can be just as fickle in the modern age. And we have yet to build our Utopia. But we’re working on it, you old coot. Or are we?

Music corner: Whenever I think of this book, my mind goes instantly to The Shins song “So Says I” with its tuneful line, “Sir Thomas More, we’ve got another failed attempt.” So many failed attempts. The original track is good, though I prefer the bluegrass cover by Iron Horse.

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 17, 2015 in Novels


Tags: , ,

The Green Mile

Author: Stephen King

Type: Fiction, novel

Published: 1996

I read it: March 2015

green mile

A free what?! I can’t tell what was supposedly included in pink there in the original boxset. I had the box but it was ruined by toddler hands. The individual volumes themselves are nifty, all brightly colored and the same length (with the exception of the final installment, which is longer). The set only cost a few bucks used years ago, and a recent Stephen King discussion with a coworker caused me to finally give it a go.

This is some pretty solid King. Despite the hyperbolic selling points on the paperbacks, it’s not all that terrifying. But then, most regular SK readers know that he has more tricks up his sleeve than traditional horror. This book does have one large dose of supernatural, framed in the construct of some old-timey religion. Without the miracle nature of prisoner John Coffey, who acts as “a conduit” of healing, there wouldn’t really be a story, so you have to go with it. Plus the narrator really sells it. Former death row guard Paul Edgecombe tells the story from his retirement home, and his take is about as objective a one as you could hope for from someone bound up in the fantastic.

The six parts that make up the novel are all impressively solid, and feature plenty of memorable set pieces. The prisoners and guards are full characters, as long as you can get used to those weird King phrases that seem pulled from thin air. (Also, there’s an amusing feel of stumbling into a certain story of a boy wizard when you come across sentences that involve Dean, Harry, and Percy.) I can’t say how accurate the situations and mannerisms would be for this story set in the dustbowl of 1932, but it sure feels real while you’re deep in the book. I’d recommend it for those who enjoyed the prison tale of “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” but want something a bit longer. My only regret was that I read it in the wrong season; this one is meant for the stickiness of late summer, or an unseasonably hot October evening.

And one last hurrah for the format. It would have been a lot of fun to experience the serial release in real time. King seems to have enjoyed the Dickensian experiment, though he mentions he probably wouldn’t do it again. But I wish other authors would, especially if they have long stories in the works. Readers want a good cliffhanger, but one that is soon resolved. We want Southern Reach instead of A Song of Ice and Fire. Sign me up for the next revival of something published in this format.


Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Novels


Tags: ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers