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Kurt Kemmerer has commented on (7) products.

South of the Border, West of the Sun: A Novel by Haruki Murakami
South of the Border, West of the Sun: A Novel

Kurt Kemmerer, October 12, 2014

I'm not sure whether I want to give this book four or five stars. OK, fine. I'm going with five

It's an incredible piece of writing, and it is the book that convinced that Murakami deserves the acclaim he gets. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the first two Murakami books I read ("Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World" and "1Q84"), but the similarities of those books left me wondering if he was somewhat of a one-trick wonder who had lost his ability to write concisely, on top of it. Now, it's a great trick, but it's one he pulled off much better when he was younger, as "Hard Boiled" makes the much more acclaimed later book look overwrought and indulgent by comparison. Still, I had to wonder.

I wonder no more, at least for now. "South of the Border" is in another world completely from those books, and yet its the best Murakami writing I've read. Sure, as with the other two, the psychological conceits are only valid if one lives a "first world" life. Sure, the narrator continues to be a rather self-absorbed individual who can't seem to make the hard choices in life.

And yet, there are layers of subtlety here, whereas the other tomes offered only a thin veneer of the same. The constructs, the plot ran the show in the other two, after all. Still, the subtlety in "South of the Border" is hammered at times by literary bombs, most of which are truly pin point accurate. What's more is that there is no sci-fi adventure here. It's all on a human scale, and a scale that delves into mysteries few of us figure out during our lives, though we are all working our asses off in the attempt.

I could go on and on about the book, quite frankly. For example, the narrator was a Japanese male in 1980s who still brought his kids to school and back. He was, despite his otherwise selfish nature, walking a step into the future. Further, as a mental health provider, I can't help but see the narrator as an introspective individual whose lack of developmental experiences left him acting in rather a juvenile manner into his late '30s. Well, try as I might, I can't get to the core of the book using my own words.

Still, I look forward to exploring more Murakami. I'm not sure I could say that before I read "South of the Border, West of the Sun."
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Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
Fourth of July Creek

Kurt Kemmerer, October 7, 2014

A rather difficult and exhilarating excavation of a debut novel by a guy who also works at Weiden + Kennedy (advertising agency) in my hometown of Portland.

Bottom line: You'll be entertained by a well-crafted piece of work, where character development reigns supreme. Henderson peels the layers of each individual until the very end. Of course, those individuals start the book with plenty of scars and gain quite a few more along the way, but, at the end of each day, so to speak, just as you wonder if the book has gone off the rails into pure terror for terror's sake, the human connection brings it back on the road, though the spinout is always worthy of the motion sickness it creates.

And you will have a touch of motion sickness. At least I hope you will.

In some ways, the book reminds me of a "modern, critically acclaimed" TV series, where the story runs a single season, and the character development wins the day amidst a creative plot, albeit a plot with individual pieces that you've watched plenty of times before. Still, Henderson's craftsmanship goes beyond such a vehicle, and then some, as the mystery opens up much like the characters do.

No, it won't change your life, but you will recognize yourself, and you might even take stock of a couple of personal traits, some wanted, some less so.

Good stuff.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)

This Love Is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juarez by Robert Andrew Powell
This Love Is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juarez

Kurt Kemmerer, July 2, 2014

All in all, "This Love Is Nor For Cowards" is a worthy read if you're curious about what life is like for those trying to outlast the narco wars of Mexico. Interestingly, the writing improves a great deal over the last 2/3 of the book. I suspect that the author "overthought" while writing the early sections, as they come across as stilted.

Still, even though some of those passages seemed awkward and stunted, the author proves empathetic to everyone he meets. That does not mean that he stays away from showing the warts of the individuals he befriends over time. He's no kinder to himself, generally, and he does his job well.

Yes, the horrors are real, and Powell does not shy away from them. He does not utilize them for shock either. Still, the book focuses on what it means to survive those horrors, to continue to live and move forward each day, despite the uncertainty of survival. Yeah, that sounds dramatic, but, as anyone who knows the story of northern Mexico knows, the drama is real.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Kurt Kemmerer, March 22, 2013

This one is an absolute treat. The teenage heroine comes alive, as do the settings and the rest of a typically tragic family whose foibles and love spill and speak for humanity, including those coming of age as the heroine and her sister, those struggling with mid-life and compromise, and those struggling with life's end via AIDS in the '80s. All in all, an incredible, worthy debut.
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Tree Frog 1ST Edition Thus by Martin Woodhouse

Kurt Kemmerer, March 19, 2013

A time capsule of a book, Tree Frog offers up an entertaining, ramshackle look at the dangerous farce that was Cold War.

The scientist / almost intelligence agent narrator provides a cool but empathetic look at the characters -- at least the fictional ones -- of the era. Dark slapstick rules the day, and makes the book just a bit more than an enjoyable quick read. By no means high art, Tree Frog also covers middle class, middle age culture of the '60s -- not exactly a well-worn literary topic. This, of course, indludes a picture that depicts the reality of the sexism of the era, where there are some women working for the various agencies involved; some in middle ground technical jobs, while others portrayed in the worst of the usual clichés of the genre. Still, this is no Bond cliché fest. Even the sexism is simply a part of the time capsule.

I came across Tree Frog when it came up in a discussion about drones, as the story revolves around a possible breakthrough in the use of drones for intelligence purposes in the mid '60s. It's not really quite a four-star book, but that's how much I enjoyed it at this time.
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