I polished off two very different books this past week; Paul Tremblay's "No Sleep till Wonderland"and Joe Hill's "Horns". Both held my attention until the end but neither really did it for me, even though they are both 'dark fiction' writers (which I also aspire to be).
First, Tremblay. He's a high school teacher and published a number of short stories in anthologies and magazines. This story falls into a "flawed Private Investigator, duped by girl, crime" sort of story. He did a good job of writing and I usually like these, but Tremblay has made the character so irredeemably flawed that I couldn't really embrace him. The protagonist is Mark Genevich, a narcoleptic attending group therapy or his mother will kick out of his rent-free apartment. It reminded me a lot of a cleaned-up Chuck Paluniuk. I think the part that kept me from embracing it was that the first person account was very internal. The protag editorializes everything, all the time, in a wisen-himer manner. I expect this is needed as Mark is facing some serious internal issues and we get a real sense of what it is like to live with the disease. But still...
The constant use of tough-guy talk and overly involved metaphors was sometimes entertaining and sometimes distracting. The other thing that threw me off was the use of present tense.
So, in short, a clever take on the detective novel, competently written, but I didn't love it- but then there is no accounting for taste.
The second book was Joe Hill's "Horns". I was really looking forward to this one as I enjoyed his debut novel, "Heart-Shaped Box" very much. It was an updated, edgier, and faster-paced Steven King. Ummm... if you didn't know, Joe Hill is the pen name of Steven King's son. And in that first book you could see the lineage. This one too, but not in a good way.
You see, I like King. He writes these genre-busting novels. But the thing I don't like about his writing, especially in his later work, is that he seems to meander through the story. Think Lisey's story... Dooma Key was an awesome book, but for me it was 30% too big for the story it told. I think his work certainly matured and progressed, but I haven't liked anything he's written as much I liked the shining. But this isn't about Steve, but rather Joseph Hillstrom King. Hard not to do though, isn't it?
Anyway, I didn't really like Horns as much as I had hoped I would. First, the theme, a guy turns into a demon. This didn't overly offend my Christian sensibilities, but the author's several rants about the Devil being the first superhero and God generally being a no fun blowhard didn't sit well. The characters are devoutly Catholic, but Hill really trivialized the mechanics of being religious, and being Catholic in particular, which made me feel it a bit unrealistic. The other part I didn't really like (and I confess, I actually skipped over text- which I try never to do) was that the flashbacks and the 'present' of the book seemed really unbalanced. If that makes sense. Time is moving along in the book, big flashback to explain something, short present, long long long flashback, repeat. Otherwise, he can certainly tell a story. Writing advisors tell you to not be easy on your protagonist, and the poor protagonist in this story went through hell. Which in the end seemed to be the place he wanted to go after all.