Monday, June 30, 2014

The Forsaken -- Ace Atkins

One of the dangers of following any writer for any length of time is running up on that inevitable book that misses the mark, sometimes just by a hair. You can forgive this, of course, because no matter what it is a person does, nobody doesn't have an off day. It was with a certain level of trepidation, therefore, that I cracked open The Forsaken, the new Quinn Colson novel by Ace Atkins.

In order to finish this one last night I shooed my husband out to the picture show. Finish it, I did. I thought better of writing my review last night, because I really needed to think through what I could say about it that would make you want to read it.

I've had a good night's sleep, and now, in the light of morning and two strong cups of coffee into the day, here's what I have to say about it.

Oh. My. Stars. In. Heaven.

How does Ace do this?

How does he consistently make his well-limned characters even more interesting every single time?

If you're waiting for Ace to trip over his own success, you're going to have to keep waiting, folks.

Sheriff Quinn Colson is compelled to investigate what appeared to be a closed case from 1977, one in which two young girls were brutalized, and one of the girls was killed. A man was hanged by a lynch mob for that crime, but now survivor Diane Tull has come forward to say that her assailant was not the man who was hanged all those years ago.

Quinn soon meets with plenty of tightly locked lips, and a growing realization that his father may have been a member of the motorcycle club who was responsible for the unjust hanging.  The leader of that club, Chains LeDoux, is still so feared that his imminent release from prison has series bad-guy Johnny Stagg practically begging for help from Quinn.

All of this sets up a mighty powerful and moving story about how hard, and how necessary, it is to make past wrongs right.

If that's not enough, The Forsaken made me fully appreciate how strong Ace Atkins' women characters are, strength that comes from a place of quietude and necessity. That he stays well clear of making these women caricatures of the Steel Magnolia variety is even more remarkable.

Oh -- and it appears Atkins has introduced a new and, I hope, recurring character who should provide even more interesting plot developments down the road.

If you have not yet read any of Atkins' Quinn Colson novels then you now have your summer reading list. Start from the beginning. (The Ranger, The Lost Ones, and The Broken Places)

Trust me.

A very, very solid ***** of ***** 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken

I hate when reading slumps happen. Last time I had one, I quit even trying to find a book that would grab me. Once it became clear I was in a slump this time I determined I was not going to let that happen.

The stack of books I started and tossed aside may have upset the delicate balance of my home's foundation. I'm not listing those books, because when I'm in a slump I can't ever be sure if it's a me thing or a them thing, and it wouldn't be fair to be dismissive if there's not really a good reason to do so. (And you know how much I like to wreck a book that has it coming.)

My coworker suggested that a collection of short stories might help. This is where I need to say that while I do enjoy the occasional short story upon which I stumble, I have never been a particular fan of collected short works by a single author. I don't know why. I'm not proud of it or anything. It just is whatever it is.

On her suggestion, though, I brought home Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, and as with most collected works by one writer, I found some of the stories to be just wonderful and rich and full, and others to be more on the meh end of the scale. In some fashion, all of them have to do with losses --what we do to work them into something that will remain in some way, and how much more we stand to lose if we allow ourselves to be defined by them.

The title story was so good it will resonate with me for a long, long time, for it spoke of crazy hope and perception stained by love and guilt, and it was as fine as any short story I've ever read.

I've considered carefully how to assign a star rating to this one. I didn't read every story through, which makes this something shy of a read book. Rating it, therefore, doesn't feel like the right thing to do...but go back and read that last paragraph. Nobody writes a story that good who is not a fine writer.

What can I say? I own this blog and I can change my rules whenever I want.