Artemis by Andy Weir is a sci-fi novel that just didn’t work for me, possibly because the main character is obnoxious and snarky. Jasmine Bushara has lived on the moon in the city of Artemis since she was six years old, the daughter of a Saudi welder who also lives there. But she’s a troublemaker and free spirit who is mad at just about everyone for reasons that aren’t clear (her mother abandoned her, but still), and now she gets caught up in a get-rich-quick scheme that is both illegal and dangerous, not to mention way over her head. Since she’s already a smuggler, she doesn’t much care about the law—Artemis is pretty lawless anyway, it seems—and thrives on risk. So, fine, she agrees to take on a sabotage job in order to earn a potentially huge payday. Stuff—and much science gobbledygook—happens. Meh.
Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk is fast-paced and clever, but annoyingly ridiculous. I’m not sure what the author is trying to say in this story about a fashion model who is disillusioned and hates everyone, including herself. When she suffers a disfigurement, she seeks revenge against her former best friend and her ex-fiancé and teams up with a woman who is in the process of completing her gender reassignment. There’s much talk about hiding who we really are, and so maybe that’s the point of the story, including the many twists and revelations that come out along the way.
Hold Fast by Spencer K.M. Brown is a charming novel about a grieving widower and his grown son who has suffered losses of his own. They have come together to live, but are adrift and aimless in their home on the shores of Lake Superior. They each claim to be “holding fast,” meaning that they’re doing okay, but in reality they’re both sinking. Whether they’ll be able to pull themselves together and recover from their losses is the book’s central question. Brown’s writing is excellent, and the reader feels real sympathy for both father and son as they work through their grief and also work on their relationship with each other. A fine plot element that is revealing of character is the arrival in the father’s life of a young pregnant woman who needs shelter from an abusive domestic situation. Perhaps more important thematically is the project the father undertakes—he begins to build a boat that he intends to row across the lake. I savored the reading of this book because of the fine writing, until I neared the end and needed to know how the various conflicts would be resolved. Highly recommended.
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac is a trip. I’ve never read a whole Kerouac book before, so this was something of a revelation. Supposedly he wrote it over a ten-day period, and given its rambling nature that’s entirely believable. The language strikes me as Joycean in places, and is a convincing portrait of a mind that is nearing the edge of sanity, tipping over, and just barely hanging on. The people in the book are all based on Kerouac’s beatnik friends. For example, the story, for want of a better word, is that Jack is going to Big Sur to stay in his buddy Monsanto’s cabin for a few weeks to relax and write. Monsanto is based on Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jack and his other pals visit Monsanto’s bookstore in San Francisco (Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Booksellers). While Jack loves some aspects of being in the cabin, he goes nuts and needs to be around other people, but that only drives him nuttier.
The Cyclone Release by Bruce Overby is a workplace novel set in a Silicon Valley startup. Brendon is hired to be a technical writer—actually, the only tech writer at first—for a software firm that is gearing up for the release of a big new product. The novel is divided into parts that are named for the phases of a release like that and the milieu is one that Overby knows well from his years working in the industry. The wrinkle here is that Brendon is coming back to work after several months following the death of his wife in an automobile accident that still haunts him. The new release, though, along with the planned IPO of the company, offer a significant distraction for him as well as high stakes. One more complication—he hires help in the form of Mo, an attractive tech writer who is also recovering from loss. It’s a compelling novel and a quick read.