Thursday, April 29, 2021

Godshot, by Chelsea Bieker: Just a Really Good Cult Novel

You know me, I love a good cult novel. And whoa boy, is Godshot, by Chelsea Bieker, a GOOD cult novel. But it's so much more, too. Taking place in a suburb of Fresno in California's drought-addled Central Valley in (I think?) about 2011, the story is about 14-year-old Lacey May, her mother Louise, and the bad-man preacher Vern who is hell bent on bringing rain, but only succeeds in destroying everyone's lives. 

Louise, who has ambitions of stardom, abandons her daughter and takes up with a man who tells her he'll make her famous — you know, the tale as old as time. But so Lacey May is left to live with her grandmother, and is stuck in the thrall of the two-bit preacher, Vern. Things go very badly for her from there. 

One of the main messages of the novel, which rings so incredibly true in this day and age, is how mediocre white men use whatever means necessary — religion, drugs and booze, promises of fame — to try to control women and keep them subservient. Indeed, is a cult-like religion really that different than the sex industry? They're both run by awful men who are addicted to their own fantasy of themselves and have mostly never drawn an honest breath in their lives. Lacey May imagines a meeting where these terrible men get together to compare notes: "Did they have a club where they traded these ideas with one another? I imagined a low-down shitty man meeting, all of them sitting in circle..." There are just way too many low-down shitty men out there, aren't there?

This is an immensely readable, quickly moving, "fiercely written" (as Entertainment Weekly said) coming-of-age-in-the-worst-possible-ways novel that's part John Steinbeck, part Mean Girls, and part Going Clear. I LOVED this book.

Monday, April 26, 2021

No Time Like The Future: Michael J. Fox Considers Mortality, Optimistically

My dad passed away three years ago from a variety afflictions — dude was on his sixth (!!!) cancer, the last one of which is what ultimately got him. But he also had rare skin disease, had recently broken his hip for the second time, and had battled Parkinson's disease for more than 30 years. My brothers and sisters and I joked (I guess somewhat morbidly) that it's a good thing he wasn't around for Covid, because even if he'd been locked in a hyperbaric chamber, he still somehow would've gotten it. 

But like all his other health issues, he would've handled it like a champ! He was unfailingly optimistic, almost infuriatingly so. I'd always think "Dad, it's okay to be mad, or frustrated, or even just mildly irritated." But he never was. It was truly inspiring. 

Michael J. Fox is probably the most prominent advocate for Parkinson's patients, and this book, No Time Like The Future, is about a tough year (2018) for him and how he did his level best to remain optimistic amidst his worsening Parkinson's, and a number of other health calamities, including a fall that left him in a wheelchair for several months. 

The highlight of this book, other than its message about optimism, is Fox's total dad humor. He's self-deprecating and goofy — and actually reminded me a lot of how my dad was: Using silly humor to deflect. 

You certainly don't need to have Parkinson's or even know someone that has Parkinson's to enjoy and be inspired by this book. Even as he's jetting off to Bhutan to shoot a documentary, and meeting Keith Richards at a New Years Eve party, just reading about Fox's everyday struggles helps put things in perspective. The next time you have to do something that seems really difficult, or aren't motivated to, say (as is sometimes the case for me) go for that run, just imagine how difficult it is for Michael J. Fox and/or my dad just to get up in the morning and get out the door. Everyone's fighting a battle. Parkinson's disease is a particularly shitty one. So reading about how Fox remains optimistic, and remembering how my dad did too, is a much-needed dose of inspiration.

PS. April is Parkinson's Awareness Month — hence the timing for this post. My brother Geoff and I are running the Chicago Marathon in October and raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. If you'd like to donate, you can do so here. Much appreciated! 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Klara And The Sun: A Master Class in Empathy

When a living Nobel Prize in Literature winner publishes a new novel, you read it. You just do. Thankfully, this one is really, really good.

Klara And The Sun is an absolute master class in empathy. Kazuo Ishiguro's singular genius is making incredibly complex ideas seem deceptively simple and he does that here in this parable told from the perspective of an Artificial Friend — a robot — about how we hope, love, and connect to others. 

As always with Ishiguro, though the world seems just like ours, key details are different, and the novel has its own rules and logic. And you have to sort of learn as you go. And you do. 

Rich with symbolism, allusion, and poetry, this is just a stunning work of art. Easily a favorite of the year.


Some New Dork Review Changes:

You may have noticed this is the first post in a little while (since February). I've been thinking about how to revamp The New Dork Review of Books to make it more relevant these days. I've been writing this thing for 11.5 years now, and it was getting stale. I thought briefly about shutting it down. But after a lot of soul searching, I decided, yes, I still want to do this, and also, I don't really want to change much! Good times. 

Okay, but for real, the biggest changes will be shorter, more frequent, and hopefully more interesting posts (see above as example) — no one likes the 800-word book review anymore. These posts will be more reactions to what I've read than actual reviews. I've been doing this on Instagram for a bit, and it's fun! So I'm going to work hard at being more concise (but also allow myself the freedom to do longer posts if the mood strikes).

Another change is that I've set up Substack for email subscriptions. That seems to be what the kids these days are using most frequently. If you already get each post via the old email system Feedburner, you don't have to do anything. The old system I used is still active, though it has moved into maintenance mode, so I don't know how much longer it will be active. So if you want to subscribe via Substack to make sure you continue to get posts in your inbox, or if you don't subscribe yet via email and want to, just toss in your email address in the little box in the sidebar or here.

One other minor change is that the affiliate links to books I've read now are all to — that's been the case for about a year now, but figured I'd point that out. Bookshop donates part of its sales to independent bookstores, so you're doing a good thing if you buy books from there. You can also always buy books at RoscoeBooks, the store I work at, too — we ship anywhere in the U.S. 
Thanks, as always, for reading! Let me know if you have any suggestions for content you'd like to see.