Not all stand-up comedians can translate their live energy and timing into textual representation. For Patton Oswalt, however, the transition from stage to page feels effortless and strangely appropriate. In Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Oswalt treats us to an engaging romp through a motley assortment of his personal experiences, pop-culture obsessions, and comedic experiments. Oswalt introduces the book with a very appropriate confession: “Comedy and terror and autobiography and comics and literature – they’re all the same thing. To me.” And, for once, he isn’t joking.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is extremely eclectic, which makes it difficult to relegate to a singular category. There are sections that lean towards the autobiography/memoir side of the spectrum. But there are also humor pieces and miscellaneous experiments, such as an illustrated chapter that feels like a slightly zanier, compressed version of Dylan Dog. There is also an epic poem dedicated to Ulvaak, the last character Oswalt played in Dungeons and Dragons. While the sheer variety of Zombie’s vignettes might seem overwhelming, the book is actually compulsively readable. I found myself eagerly turning the pages, wondering what Oswalt’s fevered brain would churn out next.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s enduring classic, The Little Prince, explores topics of great importance such as art, friendship, space travel, responsibility, proud flowers, and what a boa constrictor looks like after it has eaten an elephant. This cherished fable is narrated by a pilot whose plane crashed in the Sahara. After meeting the little prince in the desert, miles and miles from any inhabited place, our narrator gradually learns about the little prince’s travels and world view.
The little prince comes from Asteroid B-612, a very small planet where he dutifully cleaned out the miniature volcanoes and tended to his beloved flower. His flower had many demands, and her haughty manner made the little prince feel confused and manipulated. As a consequence, he decided to leave his home and go exploring.
Nikola Tesla was a complicated, enigmatic man who continues to pique our collective curiosity. Although he transformed the modern world with contributions like alternating current and wireless energy transfer, he died destitute and unappreciated. In The Invention of Everything Else, Samantha Hunt seems to fully recognize Tesla’s value, making him the novel’s star and honored guest. Most biographical accounts indicate that Tesla was on the anti-social side, but Hunt successfully transforms his aloof character into a structural adhesive, situating him as the force that keeps the novel’s disparate elements from spiraling into separate and distinct orbits.
The Invention of Everything Else opens in 1943, the year of Tesla’s death. He lives as a forgotten recluse in room 3327 in The Hotel New Yorker and spends his time tending to his beloved pigeons and contemplating the past. Hunt channels Tesla’s profound alienation in one of the novel’s strongest passages: “I’ve been forgotten here, left all alone talking to lightning storms, studying the mysterious patterns the dust of dead people makes as it floats through the last light of day.”
Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby will not comfort you, or soothe you, or ease you into a restful slumber. It will most likely disturb and haunt you, though. Palahniuk is a master of modern horror, as clearly demonstrated by the fact that this novel’s title refers to a sweet song which has the power to obliterate humankind.
Lullaby is narrated by Carl Streator, a bitter misanthrope who works as a journalist. When Streator is assigned to investigate a series of crib deaths, he fixates on the minute details associated with each case. This strategy allows Streator to keep thoughts of his deceased wife and child from overwhelming him, but it also brings him closer to a terrible revelation. Each time he visits another stricken home and memorizes another tragic scene, he gets closer to identifying the pattern lurking within these seemingly random deaths.
In Gun, with Occasional Music, Jonathan Lethem blends dystopia and noir in order to depict the Oakland of the future: a surreal world where the written word is obsolete and animals wear clothes and behave as humans. It’s also a place where corrupt Inquisitors run amok and one’s social standing is determined by “karma points.”
In the midst of this disorienting environment, Conrad Metcalf is a reassuringly anachronistic figure. Rather than serving the monolithic institution known as the Office, he embraces his own brand of investigation, walking the streets and asking questions as a Private Inquisitor. The Office has tolerated his presence and unorthodox methods, but their complacency evaporates once Conrad starts working for a new client: Orton Angwine.
What if one pill gave you the ability to read four books in a single evening and remember every word? What if you could learn a language in an afternoon, or write a book in a week? Could you walk away from a drug that would basically give you superpowers? While some of us might ask ourselves these questions to make a traffic snarl less agonizing, in The Dark Fields, Alan Glynn constructs a captivating scenario in which they are anything but abstract.
In An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro gracefully explores the experiences and memories of a disgraced artist living in post-war Japan. The novel is seductive and haunting, but I was also impressed by its substance and depth.
Mansuji Ono, the novel’s protagonist, was once a great artist whose paintings commanded respect throughout Japan. Following the end of World War II, however, Ono experiences a surreal displacement. From Ono’s perspective, the former order he was a part of has not only been abandoned, it has been rejected and renounced as the epitome of disaster. Instead of enjoying the power and prestige that accompanied his former reputation, Ono finds himself adrift, an aging man who wanders through a crumbling house, where all traces of his past life have been “tidied away.”