The Girl on the Train–Paula Hawkins
This addictive thriller is about a woman (not a “girl”) who passes by the same neighborhood every day on her train trips to and from London. She notices the couple living in one of the houses and takes a liking to them. She gives them names and imagines their personalities and back stories. Then one day she looks out the train window and sees something going on at the house that she can hardly believe. It makes her rethink everything she “knows” about the couple. It also makes her get off at their stop to investigate. It’s not long before she regrets that.
The Girl on the Train is apparently the book that people are reading now that everyone has read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. It’s hard to read Paula Hawkins’ book without comparing it to that one. They both feature missing women, brutal violence, and unreliable narrators. The difference is that I was able to figure out who did what to whom in The Girl on the Train by page 150 and Gone Girl kept me guessing longer than that. That doesn’t mean this book isn’t worth reading, though. Despite determining what happened fairly early on, I still had to figure out why it happened and that kept the suspense going for most of the book. The other difference is that The Girl on the Train had a much better ending that Gone Girl did. Paula Hawkins’ book didn’t leave me with that feeling of disappointment I got from Flynn’s.
Stephen King’s new novel is about the decades-long relationship between two characters, Jamie Morton and Charles Jacobs. When we first meet the two, Jamie is a boy playing with toy soldiers in his front yard and Charles is a young minister who has just moved to town to work at the local church. When he isn’t preaching or spending time with his family, Charles enjoys inventing things and experimenting with electricity. As often happens in Stephen King novels, tragedy strikes. As a result, Charles preaches a sermon so scandalous that he’s forced to say goodbye to his young friend and leave town.
Many years go by. Jamie grows up and becomes a musician. He finds himself abandoned at an Oklahoma state fair addicted to drugs and close to broke. He’s near rock bottom when he recognizes his old preacher friend working an amazing attraction at the fair. The sign says, PORTRAITS IN LIGHTNING!
The two characters meet up many times over the course of the book and each time Charles Jacobs seems a little more unhinged and more obsessed with his electrical experiments. It’s not until 40 years have gone by that Jamie finally learns what Charles has been working towards all this time. The end of the book is truly shocking and features images that are still burned into my brain three weeks after finishing the book. I’m sure they’ll continue to haunt me for years to come…especially at night during lightning storms.
The Old Man and Me–Elaine Dundy
I’m not sure why people don’t talk more about Elaine Dundy. Her Dud Avocado was so biting and hilarious that I had to look around for her other books. That novel was about a young American woman living in Paris in the early 60s; The Old Man and Me mines similar territory by placing its young female heroine (or anti-heroine, depending) in London at around the same time.
When we first meet her, “Honey Flood” is searching London for a rich old man she plans to seduce and possibly murder for his fortune. She’s not looking for just any rich old man, though. She’s got her sights set on a particular one and it’s not long before she finds him and sets her scheme in motion. Then it’s just a high-stakes battle of the sexes set among bohemian clubs, fancypants country houses, and pompous restaurants where grey soup is called crème waldeze.
I thought this book was just as funny as The Dud Avocado. One of my favorite scenes is when Honey and the old man go on a date to see Hitchcock’s Psycho. As Honey puts it:
The idea of going to a murder movie in the first place was to watch it closely in the hopes of picking up some valuable pointers.
The punchline, of course, is that Honey can’t stomach the film. Maybe she needs to rethink her plans. What’s the best way to kill an old man if you’re unwilling to stab him in the shower? Who is Honey Flood and why did she pick this particular old man in the first place? And how much does he know, anyway?
Autobiography of a Corpse–Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
I usually avoid carrying an unfinished book over from one year to the next, but I couldn’t manage to finish this short story collection by the end of 2014. While the author’s other collection, Memories of the Future, was one of my greatest literary surprises of the last few years (bought on a whim solely for its title), this second collection was one of my biggest disappointments. I had a lot of trouble getting into these philosophical tales about cracks and seams and shadows and what-Nots. I’m not ashamed to admit that I found many of Krzhizhanovsky’s stories as difficult to follow as his name is to pronounce. The exception is “The Unbitten Elbow”, a satirical story about a man whose goal in life is to bite his own elbow. I liked that one.
(books for January)
I’m currently zipping through Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and reading a chapter-a-day of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I’m scheduled to finish up the Hugo on the last day of February.