Review: Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

9781786890634

A spare, propulsive, ever-intensifying noir novella by the creator of Mad Men.

With Heather, The Totality, Matthew Weiner has written a superior, haunting thriller about obsession and parental love, laced with moral ambiguity, with a sobering ending that lands like a gut-punch.

Almost entirely void of dialogue, Weiner’s sparse expository style works thanks to razor-sharp sentences and characterisations. We’re introduced to Mark and Karen — set up by mutual friends — who marry and quickly find themselves expecting a baby, Heather, who — when she enters their lives — becomes the centre of their universe. It would seem the perfect life, the Breakstone’s the idyllic family living in an apartment building west of Park Avenue, with barely a hint of menace in the text. That is, until Weiner introduces Robert ‘Bobby’ Klasky, born into poverty and violence ten years after Mark and Karen’s first date, whose emotional corruption results in a spree of crimes that escalate in seriousness as he gets older. From then on, the reader knows: at some point Klasky and the Breakstone will cross paths, and the repercussions will be catastrophic. But events don’t necessarily play out as you’ll expect.

Heather, The Totality is a superb read-in-one-session book that exposes the harsh realities of love, and obsession’s inescapable links to violence.

ISBN: 9781786890634
Format: Hardback  (214mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 144
Imprint: Canongate Books Ltd
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Publish Date: 7-Nov-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar

large_9781473672093Stephen King and Richard Chizmar revisit one of King’s most popular locales in Gwendy’s Button Box, a quietly haunting novella that satisfies on every single level but one: readers will wish it was longer.

We open in 1974 when 12-year-old Gwendy Peterson is offered a magic box by a man named Richard Farris, whom she meets at the top of one of the cliffside Suicide Stairs in Castle Rock, Maine. There are eight buttons on the box, and a lever that dispenses silver dollars and chocolate treats that Farris claims will help Gwendy lose the weight that has resulted in her nickname “Goodyear.” Despite some reservations — Gwendy’s been told by her parents not to talk to strangers, let alone accept gifts from them! — she takes the box from this mysterious man, then watches him disappear.

Sure enough, Gwendy begins to lose weight. But that’s not all that happens. It seems her luck, in totality, has changed for the better; indeed, she’s happier than she’s ever been. Until the day she presses one of the buttons, when everything changes, not just in that moment, but forevermore, when the temptation to use the box again ratchets up to an impossible degree.

Gwendy’s Button Box follows the titular character through high school and beyond, capturing the joy of childhood and adolescent friendships and first love. But it’s all cast under the dark shadow of the box and its power. The novella is a potent, engrossing blend of the traditional coming-of-age tale mixed with King’s trademark terrors. It’s riveting from beginning to end. King and Chizmar make quite the team. Let’s hope they meet again. Maybe with a higher page-count next time!

  • ISBN : 9781473672093
  • Publisher : Hodder & Stoughton General Division
  • Imprint : Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
  • Publication date : June 2017
  • Bind : Hardback
  • Pages : 176

Review: The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

NothingHanif Kureishi’s novella, The Nothing, is the story of Waldo, an aged and once-lauded film-maker, who is now confined to his wheelchair in his London apartment under the care of his much younger wife, Zee.  He suspects his wife is cheating on him with a middle-aged film critic, Eddie, who visits every day, and sets out to expose their illicit affair and enact his revenge.

Waldo’s frustration and rage borders on comical to truly terrifying, and the rawness of his fluctuating emotions is worryingly authentic. My relationship with the man alternated throughout the course of the novel; at first I sympathised with his situation, then as he marinated in his lust for revenge, I became repulsed by his scheming, and willingness to trample anyone to satisfy his quest for vengeance. The Nothing is told exclusively from his perspective, and every character is tainted as a result, and their true motivations remain masked, left for our biased narrator to interpret.

The Nothing blends elements of classic 40s and 50s American noir cinema with tragedy on a Shakespearean level.  This is a story about a man fading from the world because of age and illness, struggling for relevance as a result, and striving to land one final blow and do one more thing of consequence. Waldo isn’t likeable, but his story is compelling, and expertly told with Kureishi’s signature dosage of black comedy. A quick read, but an impactful one.

ISBN: 9780571332014
Format: Hardback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: James Patterson Bookshots – Black & Blue by Candice Fox

Black and BlueIn high school I devoured James Patterson’s Alex Cross books, but a long time has passed since those days, and his style – short, choppy chapters with an extreme focus on plot rather than character – no longer resonates with me. It’s like he’s got the framework of a brilliant novel, but rather than fill it, he leaves his novel emancipated, stripped down, raw. It’s not for me – but obviously fits the bill for millions of other readers, so hey, I guess this is a case of accepting I’m the outlier. I grabbed a copy of Black & Blue purely for the Candice Fox factor. On the one hand, I want to support the work of a local author whom I greatly admire; on the other, I will admit, I just wanted to see how Patterson’s influence would impact her storytelling.

Black & Blue is one of the first entries in Patterson’s Bookshots series, dubbed as “the ultimate form of storytelling, and introduces Sydney detective Harriet Blue, who will star as the lead in a full-length novel this August, Never Never. The plot is simple – a young woman has washed up on a river bank, and Blue believes she’s another victim of Sydney’s worst serial killers in decades – the Georges River Killer. She investigates the murder alongside Tate Barnes, a despised, nomadic detective, whose methods are questionable, and whose past is black as pitch. Not that Blue is completely on the side of the angels, as demonstrated by her brutal takedown of an accused assailant under the cover of darkness early on in the novel.

There’s no question Black & Blue provides an hour of fast-paced entertainment – but there’s nothing here that’ll live long in readers’ memories. The plot is fairly rote, amped up by Patterson’s short chapters and constant perspective-shifts, from Blue, to the killer, to her superior officer. Speaking of, Harriett Blue and her supporting cast have potential, but it’s not properly explored here: it all feels very much like a tease, which I suppose is all I suppose it was meant to be. Still, as the ultimate form of storytelling, I was left feeling a tad indifferent. Black & Blue is a solid little thrill-ride, but if I had a say in the matter, I’d have voted for a solo Candice Fox novella instead. She is an author who has demonstrated a willingness to bend the tropes of the genre. Here she is playing very much by the rules, and the book lacks her trademark flair. That said, hopefully readers who enjoy Black & Blue will sample Hades, Eden and Fall.  It’ll blow their minds.

ISBN: 9781786530165
Format: Paperback (188mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 176
Imprint: BookShots
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 2-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom