Book Review | Mexico : stories by Josh Barkan

mexico stories josh barkan.jpgMexico is a collection of twelve short stories by Josh Barkan. The book’s characters come from various backgrounds and the stories are not connected other than that they all take place in Mexico. Protagonists include US expats and Mexicans, ranging in age from children to older adults. Themes dealt with include religion, interpersonal relations, gang violence, power struggle, cancer and corruption, among others. While some characters are coming of age, others are changing their ways after a life’s work.

This book is well-written and started out strong, but petered out a little as it continued. That said, each story is thought provoking and works well on its own. The themes and perspectives offered were interesting, but something to pull the reader in and keep his attention was lacking. Because of the format, some characters were not as well developed and harder to relate to. Barkan has incorporated violence tastefully into these stories, which range in length and make the book easy to pick up or put down. This book would appeal to those interested in experiencing a slice of life in another culture from various points of view. Released in January 2017, you should be able to check it out from a library near you.

I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

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Film Review | Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal

indexOpening with a sudden car crash in which his wife loses her life, Demolition follows protagonist Davis (Gyllenhaal) as he transforms from a traditional member of society into a more free thinking version of himself. His father-in-law and boss (Cooper) asks him to take time away from his financial industry job after several out of character incidents at the office. Davis develops a correspondence with a customer service worker (Watts) and eventually meets up with her. The film follows as their relationship develops.
I found this film to be constantly engaging and fresh. The perspective explored seemed to be a theme that people are often unwilling to talk about or recognize: not everyone views success or happiness in the same light and fitting in is not always the most important thing. The acting and dialogue were realistic despite some destruction scenes that may have been a bit much. I’d recommend this film to those content bucking the mainstream, fans of Gyllenhaal and those looking for a good movie without too much drama. Check it out from a library near you!

Book Review | Sunless : A novel by Gerard Donovan

Sunless was recommended to me by someone with similar reading interests. It takes place in the near future in Salt Lake City, Utah and centers on a struggling family and their interaction with a nearby pharmaceutical company in Park City. Self-named Sunless, the narrator and protagonist, begins the story when he is about five years old. His parents are excitedly expecting their second child, his brother, but the baby never makes it home from the hospital. Mother plummets into depression, taking pills and father develops cancer. As Sunless grows up and things at home just get worse, he turns to his mother’s pills.

I was told that I should read this book with someone close nearby in case it made me sad. I was slightly disappointed when I found this book a bit flat. I wasn’t very interested in the main character and was unable to empathize. The story flowed alright and made for easy reading, but without appealing characters. The presence of pharmaceutical companies in day to day life was surprising and led me to think more about the current state of prescription drug use in the United States. It could be a quick airplane read, but I suggest approaching it without high hopes. Check out Sunless from a library near you.

Film Review | Journey to the Shore (Kishibe no tabi) directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

indexThree years after his disappearance, Mizuki’s husband Yusuke returns home and calmly explains to his wife that he drowned at sea. Pleased that he has finally come back to her, Mizuki seems mostly unfazed by the fact that her husband is dead. Yusuke asks her to go away with him and she agrees, leaving the mundane life she has established as a children’s piano teacher behind. The couple embarks on a journey where they cross paths with various people in need of some type of spiritual release, ranging from a man whose wife has abandoned him, to a couple who has lost a child.

This movie was very well done. It was both moving and thought provoking. Although it dealt with seemingly impossible happenings, such as dead people blending in among the living, Kurosawa has done so tastefully, in a palatable manner. The movie captured my interest from the beginning and continued to keep my attention for the whole two hour duration. Fans of Japanese cinema are likely to enjoy this feature, especially because it moves at a decent pace with a logical and easy to follow plot. It may also appeal to those going through relationship issues away from a loved one or those who may have lost someone very close to them.

Book Review | A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball

a cure for suicide jesse ball book coverA Cure for Suicide begins in a utopian style village (think The Giver) where “a claimant” is being rehabilitated by “an examiner”. As the book progresses, cleanly focused on daily events and dialogue, the reader begins to understand the rehab structure. After a strong dose of brain erasing medicine, claimants are shipped to a numbered village with their assigned caretaker to relearn life skills and human interaction. The protagonist is a middle aged man who is revealed through the text at various times during his reprocessing.

I enjoyed Ball’s writing style and clarity. I see how his stylistic departure from the norm could be considered effective, but for me it didn’t enhance the text. Contrary to other reviewers, I found this book a bit flat. While emotional situations occurred, they were almost glossed over and left me feeling untouched. Though the novel held some original ideas, it seemed to be more of a melding of storylines that I’d previously ingested. I should note that this book was long listed for the National Book Award. Check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe

arrows of rain coverArrows of Rain takes place in the imaginary African republic of Madia. The scene is set with the death of a prostitute being investigated on a beach. Split into three parts, the book relays the stories of two male protagonists: Femi, younger, a reporter, and Bukuru, older, a vagrant whose sanity is in question. Femi observes the arrest of Bukuru for murder and is later summoned to jail as the press recipient of Bukuru’s life story. This recounting is the meat of the novel and reveals a past riddled by trials of love, violence and political corruption.

Ndibe has received much critical acclaim for this novel. Beginning with a murder is one way to draw the reader’s attention. The text is straightforward and easy to read, with chronological jumps being very clear. Some situations seem more devoid of emotion than a reader may prefer, but this also allows for not becoming too caught up in or disturbed by the violence. This text does have graphic parts that may not be suitable for sensitive readers. Overall, the book was well written, but took longer to finish than I had anticipated because I was not very interested in the outcome, although I did enjoy cultural references. Check it out from a library near you.

Film Review | The Normal Heart starring Mark Ruffalo & Matt Bomer

dvd cover the normal heart

Produced by HBO, The Normal Heart has a lot in common with the 2013 film Dallas Buyers Club. These films deal with the emergence and rapid increase of AIDS cases in the United States. The Normal Heart is an adaptation of a play by Larry Kramer that debuted in 1985. It places emphasis on both the gay men’s struggle happening in New York City and the personal life and relationship of an activist and New York Times reporter. The film starts out with Ned (Ruffalo) visiting his gay friends and the group learning about a new type of gay cancer (AIDS). They form a committee, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, with the intent to spread awareness, raise money and support those affected by the disease. Being the 1980’s, the men must tread a fine line with what is and is not socially acceptable and handle conflicts with those close to them.

The film does an excellent job showing how difficult things could have been at the time for gay men. The relationship between Ned and his lover (Bomer) is touching and tragic. The acting is well done and the film flows well. It may make you cry, but check it out from a library near you.