Jan. 31st, 2019

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And so it’s a new year of reading fun!

Though I’m off to a slow start this year, thanks mainly to having spent the month (1) hunting for a new flat to move into and (2) moving into it (which we did this week). But it’s not like I set a goal of reading 42 books again this y–

Oh wait. I did.

Oh well, it's not like Goodreads will rescind my membership if I fail. And I’m sure I’ll make up for lost time once everything settles down a little.

Random Walk: a Novel for the New AgeRandom Walk: a Novel for the New Age by Lawrence Block

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Lawrence Block since the mid-80s, but somehow I missed this book that came out in 1988. And there may be good reason for that – it’s a novel that not only steps outside his usual turf (crime novels) but also didn’t do well at the time (also unusual for a Block novel, at least by this point in his career).

According to Block, he just had this idea of a man in Oregon who isn’t satisfied with his life, hears a voice suggesting he literally walk away from it all, upon which he packs a bag, starts walking east and keeps going – and Block ran with it until three weeks later he had a novel. A mysterious force compels others to join Guthrie’s walk, protects them from the elements and even provides healing miracles. This being Block, there’s also a very nasty serial killer on the loose somewhere in the Midwest.

As always, Block is good at keeping you turning the pages, if only to find out (1) where all of this is going and (2) what the serial killer has to do with anything. However, the eventual explanation for the walk isn't very convincing, and the resolution regarding the dual narratives – while perhaps daring – beggars belief even within the New Age spiritual framework Block employs, which itself is problematic. As a fan, I did enjoy watching Block try something different (although the serial killer angle is vintage Block), and it was a nice try. But ultimately I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to accommodate it.

The Lottery and Other StoriesThe Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read several of Jackson’s novels before and liked them, so I was keen to try this collection of her short stories – not least because I’d read “The Lottery” when I was in high school. The striking thing about it is that it shows Jackson didn’t just write horror stories – most of the stories here are more focused on suburban middle-class angst, with the protagonists often dealing with the pressures of conformity, deception, duplicity, etc.

That said, these aren't exactly slice-of-life mini-dramas – Jackson manages to put a unique twist on many of them, and her eye for social observation is sharp as a tack, especially the ones that tackle heavier themes like racism. That said, I have to admit I prefer Jackson in weird/horror mode, and while a couple of stories here fit that description, “The Lottery” is the main attraction. It perhaps says a lot that it’s the last story in the collection – as if putting it first would overshadow everything that follows. Or maybe it’s like bands who save their biggest hit song for the finale.

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Winning isn’t everything,

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