May was usually what I call a “finish-up month,” a span where I know I won’t be able to read much so I dedicate it to clearing out that peculiar back-log of books…the ones that you get most of the way through and then just put down for some reason or another. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as successful this time out as I would have liked, but I still racked a pretty substantial page count.
The Fall: The Strain Trilogy, Book II – Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan (William Morrow, 2010) 320pp. & read the back 170
Last month I called the first half of The Fall “off,” and I still stand by that. As a middle entry in a trilogy, the book is a natural bridge between the other entries and has certain obligations to uphold. It does so, but in a way that just feels kind of awkward. The first two hundred pages are dedicated to reintroducing us to our characters and rehashing the lore laid down in book one, and by the time the bridge plot actually gets rolling there’s not enough time left for it to build itself to the point that the climax and subsequent cliffhanger feel earned.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s still a lot to like about this series, (especially if you’re a fan of vampires that actually do things) and the cliffhanger where the Master’s plan comes to fruition…well, it’s a hell of a cataclysm. But through the whole book, there’s this weird, listless undertone. It almost feels as though the publisher wanted a trilogy, so these pieces that were supposed to cap the first book and open the second got pulled out and teased into their own half-baked thing. I’m sure that I’ll finish the trilogy in the near future, but this one was a bit of a slog at times.
11/22/63 – Stephen King (Scribner, 2011) 849pp.
So, I originally started 11/22/63 back when it was released last November, but it got put down pretty quickly. At the time, I passed it off as needing the extra time to work through a particularly troublesome National Novel Writing Month entry, but when I started her up again this month I realized that it was something else. I made the decision to restart King’s entry to the undoubtedly huge stack of Kennedy Assassination Themed Time-Travel Novels that American writers have published in the past forty years right from the beginning, and this time around I realized that in the first two-hundred pages I felt kind of lost.
This didn’t have anything to do with the book being bad, but there comes a point when protagonist Jake Epping travels to Derry, Maine to try and save the life of a doomed family as his first attempt at changing the future and the time-line just “happens” to line up with the childhood segments of IT. Now, IT is not a novel that I have ever read. In fact, outside of Dreamcatcher, I am not well acquainted with King’s nightmare Bangor-analogue. So, for as much as the first two hundred pages of 11/22/63 are about Epping coming to terms with living in the past, they are also a crash course in the language of a Derry novel and that city’s particular brand of misery. It was jarring enough to put me off of the book the first time I tried to read it, and while I did get through it this time…well, that section was still a bit of a chore. It just seems to stretch forever, and it made me feel an outsider in the text.
The rest of the book picks up significantly, covering a lot of ground that should be both familiar and welcome to regular King readers. Much like the author’s previous long novel, Under the Dome, 11/22/63 feels like it probably could have done with a good trim. None of it is bad, and most of it is quite good, but there are points were the journey becomes somewhat more repetitive than even a book that is literally about repeating the past should. For the most part, though, it handles itself quite nicely. The various plot points flow into one another cleanly, and you can tell that King researched the hell out of this bitch. He also does a nice job of presenting the time period well; entertaining the essential nostalgia that is inherent in a time travel novel without ever becoming too wrapped up in it. In his afterword, King makes special reference to the points where he has taken liberties and also those where he tried to present things as reliably as possible, and it’s quite admirable. There’s a ton of historical detail throughout, but we’re never bogged down in it. It’s a nice balance.
Total Books: 1.5
Total pages: 1,019
And that’s it. That’s all there is this month. I was hoping to finish up Keeney’s 15 Minutes as well, but that just didn’t happen with restarting the King from page one. The two could have made nice companion pieces, but we’ll get there some other time. June 20th marks the start of summer proper, so that means it’s time for me to break out the paperbacks in a little tradition that I like to call Paperback Summer. I’ll see you back here for Part One in thirty days.