Tag Archives: fathers and sons

Bucky Fucking Dent by David Duchovny

BFD

So, David Duchovny’s first book (Holy Cow, which I haven’t reviewed because…well, why?)  was amusing, and I listened to him read it on audio so my inner fangirl enjoyed it. But this is a real book, and I enjoyed it even more. Duchovny, a novelist – who knew?

On the surface, it’s about a man who has squandered most of his opportunities and could be dismissed as a total loser. But if you read for just a few pages, you get hooked. By the end, you’ll realize the story is really about love. Love of family, of friends, of lovers – it covers them all, and when you finish the book you’re glad a) that you probably aren’t as fucked up as the protagonist and b) he finally got to express his love to the people he should have.

It’s not a happy book – people get together, break up for dumb reasons, lose other people they love, lie to each other, and make many poor life choices. You know, like life. And if you like baseball, there’s the added element of the whole thing playing out against the backdrop of the 1978 playoffs to spice things up for you. For an unremarkable hitter, Bucky Dent sure ruined a whole lot of people’s lives (including our protagonist’s) with one, stupidly lucky home run at the exact wrong moment. Of course, if you’re a Yankees fan, you probably see this the other way. But that’s life, too.

 

Advertisements

Chop Chop by Simon Wroe

chop chop

I worked in a hotel kitchen once. It was every bit as awful as Simon Wroe depicts in this novel, even though the head chef in my kitchen was not even one tenth the sadist this one was. But it was also kind of wonderful, working at a very unforgiving job where any mistake you make could mean disaster and you never get to stop and think even for a minute and you never get a break or any credit but somehow this bonds you with your coworkers in a way that you can’t explain. (Sort of like working in the theatre…but don’t get me started on my history of thankless jobs that nearly kill you and pay crap.) So that’s why I started this book – nostalgia. Why I finished it, however, had nothing to do with the kitchen parts and all to do with the parts where the protagonist worked through the problems of his past.

Our protagonist, called “Monocle” by his coworkers because of his (so far) useless degree in English Literature, takes a job as commis in a gastro pub called the Swan. He’s been without a job long enough to be desperate, and sticks with the job mainly to avoid having to go home to live with his parents – even though the job starts out badly enough and then evolves into completely horrifying. The head chef, Bob, is a horrible person who enjoys treating his workers with such vile cruelty that I cannot imagine lasting in that kitchen for longer than 15 minutes. He locks one chef in the walk-in cooler regularly (causing work in the kitchen to back up so that everyone suffers), repeatedly sets up the pastry chef to fail because he likes to watch and heckle, and at one point deliberately drops molten caramel onto our protagonist’s hand. All of this is bad enough, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg – we discover that Bob is in thrall somehow to a shadowy crime boss called the Fat Man, and when one of his mutinous chefs sets him up to fail at one of the Fat Man’s dinner parties, the Fat Man expands his campaign of terror to blackmail each of them in turn – and we learn that Bob’s sadism was mere child’s play. The Fat Man is a professional.

But none of this was why I finished the book. I finished the book to see how things would work out with Monocle’s family. Throughout the novel, Monocle struggles with his feelings about his older brother’s death when they were children, and how it affected him and his parents. He has always felt like the wrong brother survived, and actually seems to believe that his father’s grief and subsequent neglect are his own fault. His parents are both wrecks – his mother works a menial, difficult job to support his father, who cannot hold a job and gambles away whatever money he can finagle. When she finally has had enough and tosses out her deadbeat husband, he turns up at Monocle’s doorstep…and Monocle is forced to watch his two worlds collide. And collide they do – by the end, the Fat Man even has enough dirt on Monocle’s father to add him in to the circle of blackmail hell. As ugly as the story was already, it gets uglier – the terror spreads from the kitchen of the Swan to the Fat Man’s private home to the street outside Monocle’s boarding house. People get stabbed, people go to jail, parents are reunited, many scores are settled and Monocle finally gets to talk to the girl. It’s not a happy ending exactly, but it is satisfying. It made me very, very happy that I no longer work in a kitchen. And that my father earned his own living and will probably never turn up destitute on my doorstep.

Fair warning – foul language, sexism, racism, and every other possible form of offensiveness happens in this restaurant’s kitchen (one chef is actually nicknamed Racist Dave, and there are regular conversations amongst the characters about who has or has not performed colorfully descibed acts of sodomy on whom). You’ll need a strong stomach for this book. Oh, and did I mention the drugs? They do some drugs. And there is a great deal of cruelty to animals, though thankfully one character finally refuses the worst of it. I have seen this book described as “funny” and “hilarious” but I wouldn’t go that far – all of its wit is the painfully funny kind, where you have to laugh or fall apart. Kind of like kitchen work itself.

I cannot even begin to think of a read-alike for this book.

Sinful Folk: A Novel of the Middle Ages by Ned Hayes

sinful folk

I find the weirdest reading materials by accident sometimes. I found this book while searching for a picture book illustrated by Nikki McClure, and the cover was compelling – so I read the description. It was about the medeival period and a possible murder and a former nun disguised as a mute man raising her illigitimate son alone and suddenly I had to have it. It was based on a true story, even, and I’m a sucker for those.

The heroine’s son has been killed in a fire, along with some other boys in her village, and she and the other fathers (she is living as a man, remember) have decided to haul their bodies to the king and demand justice for their deaths. The loudest of the men is convinced that Jews are responsible – even though all of the Jews were driven from their village years before – and he convinces the others that the king should pay for not wiping out the Jews for good. This is, of course, a foolish idea. They are ill-prepared for such a journey and to travel the king’s highway without protection from the crown or a patron lord is practically suicide. Mear does not believe the story of evil Jews, and has seen evidence that one of the villagers is the culprit (and may even be the same person who killed her only female friend in the village a few years back). But she cannot bear the idea of being parted from her son, so she goes along, hoping to discover along the way who killed the boys and find some peace. 

 I devoured the first 1/4 of the book in worshipful fascination. This book was beautiful! I had discovered the book that could live forever in my heart with along with  Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book! Mear’s love for her son, her grief at the loss of his father – it was almost poetic. But then slowly, the whole story just lost its way. I began it so eager to find out who Mear was, why she had fled the monastery where she was raised, who her son’s father was , why he wasn’t present and who murdered the boys and why – but as the story went on, none of these things seemed to matter any more – I just wanted them to stop wandering around in the snow with a cartload of dead bodies, fighting amongst themselves whevever they weren’t fighting off people bent on killing them. Anyway, by the time the questions were all answered, I didn’t really care any more. Plus some of the events were so totally unbelievable I couldn’t forgive the author at all for putting them in. The idea that this ragtag group could survive all of the things they survived, only to fail so miserably at other, simpler tasks, seemed laughable. I finished the book, but under protest.

I don’t know. Maybe this was just a case where my disappointment in the end has colored the whole book for me. I still do think that the first part of the book was wonderful, so maybe another reader would like it just fine.