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Interviews | September 2, 2014

Jill Owens: IMG David Mitchell: The Interview

David MitchellDavid Mitchell's newest mind-bending, time-skipping novel may be his most accomplished work yet. Written in six sections, one per decade, The Bone... Continue »
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    The Bone Clocks

    David Mitchell 9781400065677


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William Kennedy has commented on (13) products.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
The Sisters Brothers

William Kennedy, April 30, 2011

Where to begin? The Sisters Brothers is without a doubt one of the most original and engaging books I've picked up in awhile. After reading, and thoroughly enjoying Mr. DeWitt's debut novel "Ablutions," I was looking forward to reading this.

"Ablutions" is a brief fantastic story of a barman who works at a downtown LA dive. Told in the second person, it mines similar terrority as Denis Johnson and Bukowski, but with a fresh and inventive narrative. For some reason, I expected "The Sisters Brothers" to be more of the same. Another tale of the down and out, the hopeless and deranged. Patrick DeWitt has grown leaps and bounds since his debut and gives us something unique - a good old fashioned Western that rips along like a horse set loose from the corral for the first time in years.

This novel bends genres and acheives something greater than just being a Western. In fact, the story itself is something universal, it just happens to be set during the early days of the gold rush.

Eli and Charlie Sisters are two hired guns sent to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. They don't question why he has to die, they simply follow orders. The journey to find Warm is a large portion of the book and allows us the chance to see how different Eli and Charlie are from each other. Charlie is brutal and selfish, a cold hearted killer with vicious instincts, while Eli is a bit softer, open to the beauty in life - or at least the possibility of finding happiness someday.

Eli narrates the story with thoughtful observations and through him we begin to understand the complicated relationship between the two brothers.

I read this book in a storm over two nights. Novels often fall into two categories, at least as far as reviewers are concerned - the literary, and the genre books. Literary means difficult and serious while genre (mysteries, sci-fi, paranormal, romance etc.) are easy and mindless reads. Of course, this is not always the case but it is a hard stigma to fight. What Mr. DeWitt does is completely ignore whatever classification his novel may be given, and tells us a ripping good story full of humor, violence, and heart. Charlie Sisters knows a little something about the way of the world and how greedy and selfish people are at their core. To find a way to be someone different in the midst of all that is Charlie's goal, and Mr. DeWitt takes us right along with him.

I loved this book. I loved the way it was told and the way it made me feel. Highly recommended for anyone and everyone who enjoys great fiction.
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(6 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)

Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin
Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson

William Kennedy, October 20, 2010

What makes this particular biography unique is the fact that it was written with the consent and participation of Brian Wilson. Trying, as it would seem, to set the record straight, or at least correct some of the falsehoods perpetuated by his physician/guru Eugene Landy, who purportedly had a very strong influence on "Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story."

Peter Ames Carlin explores the history of the Beach Boys through their leader (at least for the first decade) and he writes as an obvious fan of the group and their music.

In writing of Brian's gradual coming apart, he give amples time and space to the other members of the group, who in Brian's absence, continued to write and record some of the Beach Boys best and most creative albums. Yes, "Pet Sounds" is a masterpiece, but what about "Sunflower," "Friends," "20/20?" These albums stand on their own as fantastic contributions to the world of music.

Mental illness is a grey area, and thankfully, Carlin doesn't put Brian on the couch and try to dissect why he is the way he is. Of course, Brian's relationship with his father, his wife, and the other band members is looked at, but Carlin doesn't attempt to explain away what is essentially a state of being, a creative mind that buckled under the weight of the world.

I haven't read any other Beach Boy or Brian Wilson biographies, so I can't compare or judge based on what isn't here. On it's own, this book provides an extremely insightful look at one musical genius and the history of the Beach Boys through that lens.

Obviously, for any fan of the group, for anyone who truly appreciates the Beach Boys legacy and not just their "fun in the sun" albums, this is a great book.
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Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk

William Kennedy, October 20, 2010

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful:
Half Formed Ideas, May 10, 2010

This review is from: Tell-All (Hardcover)
To criticize a Chuck Palahniuk book is to invite the howls of rabid fans who will die trying to convince you that either, you don't get it, or you're stupid. I guess I'm prepared for both.

I love literature, I love what words can do when put together by a master writer. Most of what I read are novels by the tried and true practitioners of the art form: Don Deillo, William Gaddis, Philip Roth, Paul Auster, Denis Johnson etc. So, Palahniuk is not necessarily my cup of tea in terms of literature, however, I have found several of his novels to be clever if not entertaining reads. Especially Lullaby and Diary.

In recent years Palahniuk has devlolved into writing some incredibly half hearted, almost insulting books. I hesitate to speak for him, but it comes across as though he knows full well he has a cult like following, and regardless of the quality of the will sell.

Tell-All falls into the same category as his last two novels, "Snuff" and "Pygmy." It is brief and uninspired, an added twist seems to be present simply for the sake of itself. It is alluded to if not completely given away long before the final pages.

Palahniuk is a writer in love with gimmicks: be it sing-song repition, backwards counting page numbers, broken english etc. Most reviews have already mentioned the celebrity names in bold type, which in and of itself is not as bothersome as the lack of creativity in the writing.

I would love to see Palahniuk set himself to writing a novel that challenges not only his skills, but those of his readers. I can't help but thinking it's time for him to grow and mature as an artist, I don't want to believe that he reached his peak with "Diary."
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(2 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)

Lean on Pete (P.S.) by Willy Vlautin
Lean on Pete (P.S.)

William Kennedy, October 20, 2010

Willy Vlautin has successfully carved out a niche for himself writing about the lives of the down and out, the depressed, and the hopeless. In his first two novels, he used this specific stroy structure with effectiveness, but now on this, his third novel, it is beginning to wear a little thin.

It's not easy to rise above constant comparions to writers like Raymond Carver and John Fante and Bukowski. This sets the reader into expecting a certain level, if not quality of work.

Willy's style of writing is essentially a lack of style, he writes plainly and simply. There is no poetry or beauty in his words. The emotions you feel while reading his work are visceral reactions, not heightened states of awareness like other authors can draw out of a reader. That said, he used this "style," this spare, stripped down prose to great effect in "The Motel Life", which really is a fanatstic debut novel. He followed up with "Northline," which is also a good read, but is also the book during which the simplicity of his prose begins to become monotonous. He has developed the unfortunate habit of telling us every mundane detail of a character's life with very little attention paid to the internal struggles or fears. He will literally describe a character tying his shoes, brushing his teeth, eating a meal, without any stylistic flourishes. It starts to sound too much like real life...which may be the point, but I want to see real life through a clearer lens.

The trouble with "Lean on Pete" is not story, this is something Willy does well. He besets his characters with hardship after hardship and allows them to overcome, or at least, survive. It is in rendering these awful events with a completely unblinking eye that we start to lose the impact of devastation. For example, in "Lean On Pete", death makes an appearance more than once, yet through the eyes of Charley (the fifteen year old narrator) we feel none of his pain. In fact, through out most of the book I was wondering whether or not this kid had any feelings at all. Vlautin chooses not to let us inside his head, Charley tells his story as if numb to all that's happening around him. I want to root for Charley, I want to see him succeed, but it's so much easier to track with a character if you feel, as a reader, that you can relate, or at least understand and sympathize with what they are going through.

Halfway through "Lean On Pete" I wanted it to be over, it is more or less the same formula as Vlautin's previous two books. Take good hearted characters, beat them to hell, and have them make it out on the other side...maybe not better, but at least alive. You could combine all three of Vlautin's novels into one volume and not notice any variation in voice, style, or prose.

I don't expect much from writers I appreciate, but I do long to grow with an artist. To track with them as they employ new methods, new techniques, and even new genres. Willy seems stuck, which is too bad because he does write well, but it's too...polite. I wish he would branch out and write something furious and burning.

Although I was disappointed with "Lean On Pete," I whole heartedly recommend "The Motel Life" and "Northline."
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(1 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)

Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco
Palo Alto: Stories

William Kennedy, October 20, 2010

I'm frankly shocked by the positive reviews I've seen for this collection of stories by James Franco. I was hoping to avoid making the obvious statement, but I feel there's no way around it - this book never would have seen the light of day if Franco was not an actor.

I don't know much about acting, but I realize it involves inhabiting the psyche of a single person for the duration of a film. Writing however, involves probing the minds of multiple characters and keeping track of their personalities and the stories in which they are a part of. Franco may be a competent actor, but he is no writer.

These stories, averaging ten pages each, constitute some of the worst writing I've ever had the displeasure to read. Not only are they bad, they are offensive in almost every regard. If you are going to subject your audience to teenagers engaged in horrific and senseless sexual behavior and acts of violence, you better have some damn good prose to make it all seem surreal.

Franco writes in a pseudo-minimalist style that is trying to be some sort of Denis Johnson/Raymond Carver hybrid, but acheives neither. Johnson is incredibly poetic and incisive while creating characters we actually care about. Franco's bunch of denegenerates have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. They are lost and hopeless, but unfortunately they are never tragic. Tragic would imply that these people are aware of how lost they are.

Take any Carver story and look at the emotion evoked by these poor wretched people just barely scraping by. This is because Carver cares about his characters, he wants to see them do what's right even though he knows they won't.

I went into this book with an open mind. I wanted to like it. I was hoping that Franco would impress me. I walked away disgusted and disappointed. If I may be so bold, he seems enamored by the "literary author" image, but lacks the chops to fully inhabit it.

These quotes from other recognized literary authors sound like they've been paid to drool all over Franco's book. Who gives blurbs like these unless you've gotten money to sound this enraptured?

"Franco's talent is unmistakable, his ambition profound." "This is a book to be inhaled more than once, with delight and admiration."
--Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story

"Franco's intense artistry swarms all over this gripping book"
--Ben Marcus, author of Notable American Women

Intense artistry? Profound ambition? everyone bow down to Hollywood...all together now.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)

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