News Of the World by Paulette Jiles – A Book Review

I’ll be honest, I grabbed this book from my local library’s shelf because I recognized the cover from HBO Max and it looked like a fast read. I have not seen the movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks, nor did I particularly want to. You see, from the trailers I watched, the story did not seem all that appealing. A man riding from town to town reading newspapers? No thanks.

Little did I know, however, that News Of the World is actually about so much more.

The novel begins around 1870 as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a man in his early seventies and veteran of multiple wars, is hired to return a ten-year-old girl to her relatives near San Antonio. This isn’t just any girl, however. This is a girl who has lived with the Kiowa for four years after they killed her family and took her captive. She has fully immersed herself in the Kiowa ways–she seems to have no recollection at all of her previous life. Kidd is headed towards San Antonio anyway, and so he agrees to take her with him.

Though Kidd does indeed read the news of the world to those isolated in Texas, the story is really about the bond he forms with the girl–Johanna–as they must evade danger at every turn and even, at times, face it head on. A patient–though very tough–man with children and grandchildren of his own, Johanna is more than just a passenger to Captain Kidd–she’s perhaps his last chance to do something meaningful in this world.

Paulette Jiles has written a story that is genius in its apparent simplicity. I could easily recount to you the major beats of the entire book. Make no mistake, though, Jiles sprinkles in such nuanced detail that you feel as though you are riding right along with Captain Kidd and Johanna in that covered wagon of theirs. The landscape, the clothing, the politics–Jiles deftly describes all of it with brief, potent, easy to envision passages.

Best of all? The book ended exactly how I wanted it to. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but Jiles’ writing style reminds me quite a bit of Proulx and McCarthy, and so I naturally had great concern for Kidd and Johanna. In this case, at least, Jiles decided both had already been through enough trauma, which I greatly appreciated. I am definitely excited to read more by Jiles. Plus, you know what? I think I will indeed watch the film adaptation now.

Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill – A Book Review

Day Zero is C. Robert Cargill’s follow-up to Sea Of Rust. Sequel isn’t quite the right word because it actually takes place before Sea Of Rust. Prequel doesn’t quite fit, either, though, because the stories are largely disconnected from each other. Let’s just say companion piece.

Regardless of how you’d like to label it, if you enjoyed Sea Of Rust, you’ll find Day Zero phenomenal.

Day Zero is also one of those rare “prequels” that, if you read it before Sea Of Rust, I don’t think it would diminish either experience. They can stand on their own, but they also fit seamlessly together.

Sea Of Rust takes place long after humans have been exterminated and AI robots, humanity’s former workforce, have inherited the world even as they fight with each other over replacement parts. Day Zero takes place on the literal day the robots rebelled.

However, it’s really not even about that. Day Zero is really about one particular robot, a nanny robot made to resemble an upright tiger, striving to keep his eight-year-old charge alive amidst the chaos.

You’ll encounter the usual themes you would expect with stories such as this: free will, real love, loyalties, self-preservation, the greater good, etc.

However, once again, C. Robert Cargill writes the characters in such a way that you can’t resist their charming personalities. Sure, Pounce, the tiger nanny, narrates in such a voice that he sounds more human than most humans, and, like with Sea Of Rust, these characters could have been anything–robots, humans, elves, aliens–yet the writing is so fluid, so quickly-paced, that the book is impossible to put down. I personally love C. Robert Cargill’s style. I like to read. I like action. Boom. He gets it.

Of course, as with Sea Of Rust, there is a moment where a very convenient plot device changes everything, but that’s okay. I’m invested in this world. I’m hooked on the characters existing in this world. Robots made to look like tigers serving as nannies while toting plasma rifles–whatever. I’m in.

Though action-packed, violent, and laden with profanity, Day Zero truly has a heart of gold with some powerfully uplifting messages. I’m not sure Sea Of Rust and Day Zero is for everyone–after all, you have to have a very high tolerance for violent robots and sci-fi–but for those who like these kinds of stories, it will prove a wonderful experience.

Day Zero kept me turning page after page, and I can’t ask for much more than that from a book.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Gram Jones – A Book Review

Most of my recent reads come from a list of recommendations by Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages.” Mapping the Interior is from among those many wonderful books.

Written by Stephen Graham Jones, Mapping the Interior is a concise 107 pages. It’s told from the perspective of a Native American boy nearing his teens. His mother moved he and his little brother–who seems to have some health challenges–off of their reservation and into a lackluster trailer. The boy reveals his father died some time ago, so no one is more surprised than he when that very same father appears in their home. Their real father is dead and buried, though. This is something … different.

For such a slim book, Mapping the Interior dives into some rather poignant issues such as poverty, racism, violence, alcoholism, bullying, brotherly love, motherly love, disabled family members, and absentee fathers. Running throughout all of these themes, however, is a sense of dread as a monster seems to persistently lurk.

At times surreal, Mapping the Interior plays with the reader a bit as it teases fantasy while dealing very much in reality. Those two genres eventually merge and it becomes difficult to separate fact versus fiction as our narrator may or may not be totally reliable. There were several moments in the book when I had to read a paragraph over to be certain I read it correctly, but this wasn’t a bad thing. Mapping the Interior demands your engagement.

My only criticism of the book pertains to the ending. It managed a consistent, fast-moving pace until the very end, when the pace suddenly hit lightspeed. I understand the point Jones wanted to make about fathers and sons, but the last ten pages of the book were frustratingly rushed. In all honestly, the last ten pages should have been given another hundred pages if not an entire follow-up book.

If you like thoughtful, brief works that aren’t afraid to dabble in horror, I highly recommend Mapping the Interior.