Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles, written by Ron Currie Jr., is about a man named Ron Currie Jr. Both are writers, both lost their fathers to illness, and apparently both are tragically in love with a captivating but unattainable woman. To escape, Ron Currie Jr (the character, not the author) retreats to a tropical island to drink and fight; there, he accidentally fakes his death, making his failed manuscript into a bestseller.
It might seem like I gave away most of the book in the first paragraph. But even though that storyline boasts more depth and late-game surprises than I expected, it’s overshadowed by the narrator’s musings about the Singularity, his father’s illness, and Emma, the woman he loves. These asides are frequent, often right in the middle of the action, but mostly they’re authentic; moving memories of his life or fascinating bits of technology history (did you know that robots once made the stock market crash more than 1000 points in just minutes?)

Sometimes, Currie the author slips into a self-conscious style, in which I can imagine him thinking a lot about people reading his book and what they might feel about it. I can understand that’s a hard mindset to break but it just served to disengage me here and there. Some of the characters seem too obviously crafted to fill a particular role in the story, sometimes even Emma, on whom the book spends a lot of time. On one page, we’re assured she’s not sad, she’s happy. On the rest of the pages, she seems very sad and impossibly beautiful and magnetic and every guy wants her but no one can have her, and I’ve seen that kind of character too many times.

Sometimes I think I would have preferred the book if it were distilled to the narrator’s relationship with his father, but I liked where Emma’s storyline led him and us, geographically and emotionally.

More from the author: Ron Currie Jr has two previous novels, God is Dead and Everything Matters!

If you think you want to read this book really soon, you can! In a week or so I’ll pick a random commenter from this post and send them a new hardback copy of this book. I’ll even autograph it. (Just kidding, I won’t, I know you don’t want that.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

For New Years, I decided to read more and hopefully have more content for the blog. Good timing because Penguin Books recently sent me a copy of a book in exchange for a review. 

“Necks still dripped with jewelry, the kind that spent the rest of the year locked away in a safe. Town cars and chauffeured Escalades idled out front. Of course, it was all an illusion…there wasn’t a single person in this room- not a one- who could claim they weren’t worried. They all were but they were dancing and drinking the night away as they always had…it was like the final peaceful moments at the Alamo.”

The Darlings by Cristina Alger centers around one of the wealthiest families in New York: Carter and Ines Darling, daughters Merrill and Lily and their respective husbands, Paul and Adrian. Set just after the market crash, it begins with a death that jars the already tense upper class of the finance industry. The Darlings are gradually sucked into the ensuing scandal and the crisis shines a light into the depths of each member’s relationships with their family.

There’s a considerable amount of financial jargon and most of it went over my head, so I might have missed out on some valuable tension because I didn’t understand some of the company relationships. But that’s not really the focus of the story; corporate corruption and scandal mostly serve as a backdrop to human problems like infidelity, fraught marriages, loneliness and fear of failure. Many of the characters have more money than I can imagine and there is a lot of worrying over an uncertain financial future while vacationing at a second home or throwing an opulent charity benefit. This was, at first, alienating. By the end, a few of the characters like Paul and Carter become very human; others such as Duncan, lawyer Sol and his wife Marion, provide a quick glimpse into something touching and identifiable, and others still feel so much like strangers that I can’t even remember them right now. There's  a fairly large cast of characters that continues to grow till the end of the book. True to real life, but a little disorienting for a novel.

The book boasts some glowing setting descriptions, from the view of an apartment on the Hudson River to the East Hamptons on the brink of winter. After a few pages of some awkward dialogue (an upper-class adult man repeatedly says “bro” and refers to beer as “mother’s milk”), Alger gets into her groove and for the rest of the book, character interactions become more natural, well-paced and serve to slowly build the tension. The ending- again, much like real life- didn't really close the story with a 'bang.' Part of me appreciates the realism in that decision and part of me was a little unsatisfied. 

Overall, while I wished for a little more closure, I enjoyed the immersion into the grandiose lives of big city millionaires and the attention given to complex familial connections.