Valeria’s Last Stand by Marc Fitten – A Book Review

I have to admit that I only chose to read this book because I liked its cover, so nothing could have prepared me for just how much I would love it.

Valeria’s Last Stand takes place in a tiny Hungarian Village during the modern day.  It features Valeria, who is an old woman and the village bully.  When she falls for a local artisan, however, Valeria becomes a mystery not only to her neighbors, but even unto herself.

Marc Fitten delivered a smoothly written, charming, humorous, well-developed story.  The characters leapt off the page and even the surliest of them were loveable.  Valeria was particularly charismatic, though she would cringe at being described as such.

I would have called you crazy if you’d told me I would love a book about an old woman in a remote, Hungarian village giving love one last shot, but I did, and that’s a credit to Marc Fitten.

No matter what your tastes in genre, I whole-heartedly recommend Valeria’s Last Stand.

The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection by Martin Page – A Book Review

This story features a man named Virgil who comes home to find a woman he can’t remember breaking up with him on his answering machine.

Great premise.

Unfortunately, the rest of The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection is a disappointment.  Virgil is your classic egocentric, neurotic, delusional sort of character who believes himself to be far smarter than he actually is.  The only problem is that he has not one likable quality.  And when the story literally goes nowhere, even Virgil himself can’t keep the reader interested because there is nothing interesting about him.  His myriad negative characteristics offer not even a smidgen of charm, and frankly, by the end of the novella I was quite sick of him.

I read the translated version of this book done by Bruce Benderson.  Now, I don’t know if something was lost in translation, but I really found little positive to say about The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection.

It came so close to demanding a psychological analysis of Virgil, but, in the end, he simply came across as a tired egomaniac who couldn’t think past his own needs and wants.  I’m afraid the story offered absolutely no reward for having finished it.

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link – A Book Review

In a recent interview, Michael Chabon recommended reading Kelly Link.  His suggestion was good enough for me, and so I quickly got a copy of the short story collection Pretty Monsters from my local library.

I think the first thing I need to note is that Pretty Monsters is a young adult novel.  Meaning that, while there is some profanity and adult circumstances, the stories largely focus upon young adult protagonists and largely investigate themes important to young adults.

However, that is not to say that you should turn your nose up at this book if you are an old adult as opposed to a young adult.  (I’m 32, where does that put me?)  Link has one of the most imaginative minds I’ve ever run across.  While her stories dealt with aspects of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, each was completely original and refreshingly weird.  I mean that as a total compliment, by the way.  Oftentimes, I feel like authors aren’t willing to get flat-out weird enough.  I’m not talking perverse—I’m just talking weird in a fun and provocative way.  Link often took her stories in unexpected directions, and if you do manage to predict an outcome to one of her stories, be assured that she meant for you to do so.

My only complaint about Pretty Monsters, though, is the fact that each story tended to end on a rather abrupt, inconclusive note.  Some people really enjoy this, but I personally prefer more decisive endings.  Link charmed me, consequently, when she addressed this issue in—appropriately enough—the final story in the collection.  Somehow the fact that she’s cognizant of her trends makes it less irritating for me.

In particular, I recommend “The Faery Handbag,” “Magic for Beginners,” “Pretty Monsters,” and, by far one of the best short stories I’ve ever read, “The Surfer.”

The Road – A Movie Review

Though The Road opened around Thanksgiving, it just came to my town a few days before Christmas.  This, along with the multiple delays and reshoots, gave me great concern that the movie would not live up to the source material.

My fears were unfounded.

Absolutely bleak and morose, the film perfectly captured the essence of McCarthy’s novel.  I absolutely believed I was looking at an apocalyptic landscape, especially because they made sure not to go too far over the top.  The landscape was covered with ash and burnt-out cars, but the skies were gray, the trees were bare, the streams ran, and the air was cold.  In other words, the world looked completely recognizable.  Unlike pure post-apocalyptic science fiction that leaves you feeling as though there wasn’t a chance in hell it could happen, The Road made you feel like, yeah, this could be what our tomorrow might hold, and that was a very scary feeling.

When I read the novel, it struck me as a potent work, but my wife and I were not yet parents back then.  Now that I am a father, the storyline took on a whole new meaning for me, and the brilliant Viggo Mortensen utterly conveyed the despair and hope of a father striving against all odds to protect and keep his son alive in practically lifeless conditions.  I believed in Viggo as the nameless protagonist, the everyman, and I saw some of myself in him, as I believe you will, too.

When my friend and I walked to our cars afterwards, another person who was in the theater yelled at us that he wanted his money back.  When I asked him why, he said the little boy was far too whiny for his tastes.  I have to wonder if he had a child himself, and if he did, if he could remember when that child was around nine or ten years old.  Personally, I thought the boy playing Viggo’s son did a great job, and he didn’t strike me as whiny at all.  Most child-actors take me right out of my suspension of disbelief, but this young actor made me believe in the story all the more so.

As a new parent, I particularly appreciated the fact that while The Road maintained much of the savageness of the novel, they did exercise discretion and left some of the more heinous scenes of the novel out, though they did hint at them.  If you’ve read the novel, you can probably imagine what I’m referring to.  There are some things a father simply does not want to see up on the big screen.

Which leads me to another point: I have a lot of trouble imagining someone enjoying this film if they haven’t read the novel.  Don’t get me wrong, I think this film was done about as well as a film can be, but if you have no idea what you’re getting into, I think The Road might be hard to endure.  In fact, some college kids behind us got up and left about half way through the film, mostly because they thought it was boring if I overheard them correctly.  It is a subtle, nuanced story with brief moments of nail-biting excitement, but mostly it is a steady, tense, quiet film with little dialogue and overpowering body language and facial expressions.

It is a relationship study, an analysis of the human will to survive, a social statement on the difficultly of maintaining morality in the face of abundant depravity, and it is magnificent.