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Original Essays | September 17, 2014

Merritt Tierce: IMG Has My Husband Read It?

My first novel, Love Me Back, was published on September 16. Writing the book took seven years, and along the way three chapters were published in... Continue »
  1. $16.77 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    Love Me Back

    Merritt Tierce 9780385538077


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The Good Guy by Dean R Koontz
The Good Guy

GDuperreault, August 4, 2013

I have adopted a policy of not reading giant American bestselling authors, but I read this one to honour a friend's twenty-first birthday because she rates Koontz as one of her favourite writers.

This is an easy summer read with a fun, nicely drawn sociopathic killer with connections to a secret government organization. It has the strong, silent, modest hero, rising to the challenge of unbeatable odds. It has an equally strong female who is not a victim of the attempt to kill her. I was delighted by how much this book echoed my own youthful favourites, in particular Dead Cert by Dick Francis. Now that I am a bit older, it would seem that the stoicism and survival of the characters was what appealed to me and now appeals to my friend. It was a very pleasant surprise that reading The Good Guy brought back youthful memories and feelings.

There is a but, however. Stop reading if you don't want to read me disclosing in some detail the ending. It ended very badly, enough to take it from a five star book, to four. When I told Al of my reaction, she agreed with me. And added 'Koontz writes bad endings. Usually.' Actually, it was so bad that I found myself 'needing' to extemporaneously re-write it for Koontz. I have included that below my review.

What could have been so bad? After surviving against all odds, in what had been generally very strong writing, the protagonist suffers through a deus ex machina as bad as any I've read in at least ten years or more. He talks to the President of the USA, who cleans house of the evil secret security organizations. Really? Not only does this assume the president doesn't know about it, which is, although possible, somewhat improbable. But then, if he doesn't, how would he be able to so quickly effect such a housecleaning? And if he did know about them, how would he clean house? They would be an accepted part of managing a free democracy, and he would have little ability to change that.

Yes, The Good Guy had a very bad ending, indeed. Too bad, as it hurt an otherwise very entertaining read.

Now here is the rewritten ending.

In February, nine months after Tim killed Linda's would-be murderer, six months after his meeting with the president, Michael McCready's house burnt to the ground. What remains were left were tentatively identified as those of McCready, and the initial survey indicated it was an accident.

But Tim didn't learn that for several days after the fact. The day before McCready died, Tim's sophisticated and expertly hidden security surveillance system disclosed someone's presence where no one was supposed to be. Without flinching with the pain of this betrayal, Tim texted Linda with their pre-determined code-word. Without seeking each other, they exited their home via two divergent underground paths. Each picked up the stowed survival kits that had been carefully prepared. Before hurrying to meet her, Tim texted Pete another code word one of the disposable cell phones in the survival kit. He left it and his regular cell phone behind after removing their batteries.

Several hours later, Tim was looking at Linda looking at him. For the first time he thought he saw a touch of fear in her eyes. 'We're not dead yet,' was all he said. It was enough.
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Mother of Maya Diip by Suniti Namjoshi

GDuperreault, August 4, 2013

A donkey, the colour blue but female, is surprised at being privileged to receive from its matriarch a request to be guests of India's only true matriarchy. She brings as her guest a poet friend who is a sort of militant anti-patriarchy lesbian because the matriarchy is famous for being poetical. Oh frabjous day, callooh callay! It is with great excitement and a feeling of honour that they go and, after a cordial welcome, are befriended by another matriarchal 'foreigner' who had fled the evil of the patriarchies some years earlier. To be in a place where not only women are honoured, but poetry is too! And, above all, where males do not exist meaningfully in the community meant, obviously, that this is going to be utopia.

Or is it? The two protagonists discover the brutal truth. The males, called 'pretty boys' are kept in horrific conditions until their semen can be milked from them as stud animals when they reach puberty. The honour and reward the pretty boys receive for giving the gift of life is their being returned to the earth goddess before their obnoxious puberty could be allowed to create social disorder, decay, depravity and dystopia.

And so the satire starts. And it started well! But in the end Suniti Namjoshi's novel The Mothers of Maya Diip ended far too late in this short book to keep it from moving from an interesting satire into a clunking, plodding, heavy-handed parody that collapses like an undercooked angel food cake.

After an initial optimism that this would be both funny and a real social commentary/criticism, I found I became disenchanted at the flatness of the characters. They all sounded pretty much the same and the narrator's observation felt like a drone. 'Good try,' I thought, 'but not quite.' And up until the final two thirds of the text I thought Mothers was still a positive read.

Alas! In a modern example of a hurried deus ex machina, Namjoshi fell into complete creative collapse and bad writing. Perhaps even very bad writing. The collapse begins with the unbelievable rescue of the foreign matriarchal heretic from prison by self aware male robot soldiers who call their helicopter 'mother' and badly embody every machismo stereotype Namjoshi could cram in. Am I asking too much of a satire that it not be too heavy-handed? Perhaps, but now consider: the helicopter conveniently crashes into the ocean close enough to land to allow the protagonists to escape but have the robots 'drown.' The rationale? The robot's' mother proved to be bad at maintaining herself, despite having had the wherewithal and ability to create the self-aware robots in the first place.

The penultimate section, that of the gallants, suffered from what I can only describe as a circumscribed creativity. That the 'pretty boys' who managed to somehow not die and somehow managed to get to an island where they were allowed by another renegade matriarch to grow up without responsibilities and who would choose suicide before taking them on was just too much for my limited brain to accept. Not even in what I had hoped would be a satire. Perhaps if the writing had felt less like this was a slap dash tack-on, a hurried-up my book's deadline is due jumble, I would have accepted it. I have accepted very bizarre things, but the writing was just way too weak to sustain my credibility to accept the satirical nature of this part of plot.

And the final wrap up, which was to see the 'proper' matriarchy restored after its early overthrow by the matriarch's daughter, displayed to me that Namjoshi was in this effort an empty critic: she poked fun at matriarchy, and poked fun at the feminazies' version of patriarchy, but when it came to an alternative, which is how the book closes, she proffered nothing but the restoration of an autocracy, but this time by someone who didn't want the position. Sigh! I hesitate to suggest that I would have liked this better if Namjoshi hadn't tried suggesting a solution to the problem of patriarchy, but it may have helped.

At the beginning I loved that this was poking fun at how easily feminist political ideology can fall into patriarchal practices, and I so wanted to like this book. But it fell from a five star beginning and premise, all the way down to just two stars, meaning, in this case, read only as a curiosity or perhaps as inspiration to create your own satire.
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Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Invisible Cities

GDuperreault, August 4, 2013

This book is impossible to review.
It isn't prose, it isn't poetry, it isn't history, it isn't a novel, it isn't a narrative.

I festooned this small book with yellow sticky notes of the interesting bits, of the beautiful bits, of the energizing bits.

It is imagination.

This is imagination on a multiplicity of levels and layers. Imagine, if you can, Marco Polo and Genghis Khan talking about Polo's travel experiences. Then imagine Polo describing the wonders of the things he's seen. Then imagine that Polo has imagined more cities than he's seen, filled them with magical constructs, and eccentric citizenry, architecture, social mores.

It is, perhaps, most like a travel journal, or log, but like none you could have imagined. Polo, or perhaps Khan's biographers, have catalogued these "invisible cities" as belonging to distinct classifications.

. . . and several more. Then comes a short description of the city that purports to provide the rationale for the city having been classified as it was.

These descriptions are collected into sets, separated by the narrator's observation of the meeting and conversations between Khan and Polo.

The writing is brilliant. Calvino's imagination appears to be unbounded and endless.

From one of the festooning stickies, picked randomly:

". . . But with all this, I would not be telling you the city's true essence; for while the description of Anastasia awakens desires one at a time only to force you to stifle them, when you are in the heart of Anastasia one morning your desires waken all at once and surround you. The city appears to you as a whole where no desire is lost and all of which you are a part, and since it enjoys everything you do not enjoy, you can do nothing but inhabit this desire and be content. Such is the power, sometimes called malignant, sometimes benign, that Anastasia, the treacherous city, possesses; if for eight hours a day you work as a cutter of agate, onyx, chrysoprase, your labour which gives form to desire takes from desire its form, and you believe you are enjoying Anastasia wholly when you are only its slave" (from Cities and Desire 2).

And from one the Khan/Polo ruminations:

". . .
As time went by, words began to replace objects and gestures in Marco's tales: first exclamations, isolated nouns, dry verbs, then phrases, rarified and leafy discourses, metaphors and tropes. The foreigner had learned to speak the emperor's language or the emperor to understand the language of the foreigner.

But you would have said communication between them was less happy than in the past: to be sure, words were more useful than objects and gestures in listing the most important things of every province and city -- monuments, markets, costumes, fauna and flora -- and yet when Polo began to talk about how life must be in those places, day after day, evening after evening, words failed him, and little by little, he went back to relying on gestures, grimaces, glances" (from after Trading Cities 1).

This is a startling and amazing read.
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The fisher king and the handless maiden: (understanding the wounded feeling function in masculine and feminine psychology )

GDuperreault, April 28, 2013

When I first read this I thought is was an extremely important book. It brought interesting ideas to and clarified the angst I was seeing in my own and my wife's psychological struggles. However, the last time I read it, I found it to be more like an introduction to the Jungian perspective on male/ female psychology. So, if you are new to Jung and Jung's ideas, a solid 5 stars. However, if you are familiar with Jung, this will be down a little from that, but is still a worth while read.
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The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
The Bonfire of the Vanities

GDuperreault, December 26, 2012

This was one of the few books I've read because of the chit chat around it. The movie, which I felt had potential but which I thought was ultimately a directorial failure, was the final element that brought me to pick this book up. I was curious at how the movie failed and needed to read the book to see if my impression that it was a directorial failure was accurate or not. My reading that book did not answer that question with any certainty because BotV has become one of the touch stone books marking me as an outsider to the society within which I live. Its award winning popularity is a complete mystery to me. Poorly written, it has uninteresting characters and characterization espousing a heavy handed superficial morality -- sort of. My few observations of Wolfe in book interviews did not in any way dissuade me that he is an overrated wind-bag, filled with ego and hubris and little of what I would consider critical intelligence. It struck me that he was an apologist for American hegemony both domestic and foreign.

So, with that in mind it was with surprise and even fascination that I read a Tom Wolfe encomium of American domestic practices under Reagan get severely castigated by Noam Chomsky. In his satirically way, Chomsky basically puts Wolfe's social commentary into the ranks of the rantings of a delusional apologist for the greed-based policies that successfully impoverished the majority to the benefit of the very few. So, in a perversion of a 'proper' book review, here is a taste of Chomsky chastising Tom Wolfe -- note, I hadn't even heard of Chomsky before reading BotV:
What the [economic] "paradox" [in 1992 of a 'Weak Economy but Strong Profits'] entails for the general population is demonstrated by numerous studies of income distribution, real wages, poverty, hunger, infant mortality, and other social indices. A study released by the Economic Policy Institute on Labor Day, 1992, fleshed out the details of what people know from their experience: after a decade of Reaganism, "most Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and considerably less security," and "the vast majority" are "in many ways worse off" than in the late 1970s. From 1987, real wages have declined even for the college educated. "Poverty rates were high by historic standards," and "those in poverty in 1989 were significantly poorer than the poor in 1979." The poverty rate rose further in 1991, the Census Bureau reported. A congressional report released a few days later estimates that hunger has grown by 50 percent since the mid-1980s to some 30 million people. Other studies show that one of eight children under 12 suffers from hunger, a problem that reappeared in 1982 after having been overcome by government programs from the 1960s. Two researchers report that in New York, the proportion of children raised in poverty more than doubled to 40 percent, while nationwide, "the number of hungry American children grew by 26 percent" as aid for the poor shrank during "the booming 1980s "... one of the great golden moments that humanity has ever experienced," a spokesman for the culture of cruelty proclaimed (Tom Wolfe Boston Globe February 1990).

The impact is brought out forcefully in more narrowly-focused studies; for example, at the Boston City Hospital, where researchers found that "the number of malnourished, low-weight children jumped dramatically following the coldest winter months," when parents had to face the agonizing choice between heat or food. At the hospital's clinic for malnourished children, more were treated in the first nine months of 1992 than in all of 1991; the wait for care reached two months, compelling the staff to "resort to triage." Some suffer from Third World levels of malnutrition and require hospitalization, victims of "the social and financial calamities that have befallen families" and the "massive retrenchment in social service programs" (Boston Globe September 8, 25, 1992). By the side of a road, men hold signs that read "Will Work for Food," a sight that recalls the darkest days of the Great Depression. (Year 501: The Conquest Continues p280-1).

I am being a little mean here, I fully acknowledge. But in the few Wolfe interviews I saw, I found myself becoming angry that a bad writer was being heralded as a visionary and truth seeker to be paraded by the media in their campaign to mis-represent the extent of income polarity and impoverishment that is the direct result of American policies that are benefiting very few, but doing so to a staggering degree(less)
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