If It Bleeds

Happy book review day, everyone! It has been a little while since I’ve gotten to dive in and review a good book, but that’s something I definitely want to do more of as the year goes on. What better way to start the reviews back up than by discussing the latest book by one of my all time favorite authors?

The latest Stephen King release If It Bleeds is a collection of four short stories in the vein of Four Past Midnight, another masterpiece if I may say so. The thing that drew me to this book most was a stand alone title story featuring our favorite semi-neurotic citizen private eye, Holly Gibney. This story, the third in the book, gives Holly the chance to lead her own investigation rather than just assist in others. Holly uncovers the truth about a villain, similar to one she has encountered before, that has been hiding in plain sight for quite some time. I really loved this story because I feel like it really gave us a chance to dive into Holly’s everyday life without Bill Hodges or Ralph Anderson or anyone else there to hold her hand or keep her in check.

I feel like King has done a fantastic job developing Holly’s character and allowing her immense growth. She still isn’t the most sure of herself at times, and she still has to struggle with some of her freedoms and every day situations, but it is a fantastic new situation for Holly. I feel like her obsessive compulsive tendencies absolutely helped her in this story, and I sort of have to commend King on that. So many times OCD and similar disorders are seen as handicaps, crutches, or hindrances, but I love stories and characters that actually use them to an advantage. I feel like Holly has absolutely been allowed to do that.

In addition to the character development, I feel like this idea was immensely original and, although it showed us a new version of a villain we’ve seen in the past, it presented a very new story. I sincerely hope King gives this particular type of villain a fuller story, with more detailed explanation of where and how he/she originates. And, yes, I am being vague on purpose. I won’t spoil too much for this story. The last thing I have to say about the title story is that it makes a lot of sense after delving into it. As a former journalist the old statement “if it bleeds, it leads” has a lot of meaning to me, and every story in this book fit the mold, this one in particular, of course.

Going back to the beginning, the story “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” gives the feeling of familiarity to me, but still provides some originality. Presented in a marvelous bit of first-person point of view, it tells a seemingly simple story starting out. A young man who works for an elderly gentleman in the beginning of the smart-phone era helps introduce the rich mogul to the wonders of modern technology. We get a relatively innocent view of the young man’s life right up until his benefactor’s death, when the young man decides to bury the man’s phone with him. From here we get to experience something that King loves to play with; the possibility of life after death, or existence within and beyond the grave. I won’t give anything major away, but I feel like I got some Gwendy’s Button Box vibes from this story for sure. Kind of an “ask and ye shall receive” sort of mentality that sends our narrator on a mental and emotional roller coaster that is not easy for him to handle.

Some first-person stories have a feeling of strained placement and conversation, in my opinion, but I feel like King is very good at writing in that point of view. I don’t often feel like it’s difficult to stay in the mind of his characters like it can be for some stories in that POV. I enjoy the call back to a simpler time as well, as old as that makes me sound. Remembering the early days of smart phones when everyone wasn’t so used to having an information terminal in their pockets was a bit refreshing.

The second story in this book, “The Life of Chuck,” presents us with an idea that wasn’t explicitly presented up front, but one I figured out by the end of the first section of the story. As much as I want to be ambiguous about this one and not give spoilers, I am having a hard time with that. It’s so difficult not to commend King for putting such an immense view of life on paper. I, like most I assume, was very confused about the story when I first dove in. We are thrown into the tale of a man driving home from work (as a teacher of all things. My, how things come full circle.) in a sort of apocalyptic seeming world. All we know really is that there are sinkholes opening all over the city, food is scarce, transportation is a mess, communications grids are collapsing, the internet has crashed and is not having any consistent luck rebooting and similar things. Our main character first notices a strange new billboard (39 Great Years, Thanks Chuck!) on his way home, and soon starts seeing this same message everywhere, but no one he encounters seems to know who Chuck is.

The story goes on until we do meet and encounter Chuck, learning along the way a lot about the man and his tenure. I feel like the central idea here is something much deeper and philosophical than the reader may give it at face value, and I’ve come to appreciate the thought behind it, despite my initial confusion.

Finally, the last story in King’s bloody good latest masterpiece is “Rat.” This tale is pretty straightforward and resonates with me in ways that are quite appealing to the more questioning nature of my profession. Our main character for this one is an author who, despite years of trying, has only completed a few short stories, and has never been able to keep the words working for him long enough to complete a novel. This, we learn, is his greatest dream.

His own sanity, even, seems to hang in the balance at times if he can’t get at least one novel completed. As an author who often takes years to write novels, I feel that yearning in a very real way. Drew, our would-be novelist, finally gets an idea that he thinks he can truly carry through to completion and decides the best course of action is to take himself and his idea to a family cabin in the woods near the Canadian border for a few weeks, leaving his family and every day life behind.

A storm rolls through while he is there, and between that and coming down ill, Drew finds himself stuck miles from anyone who can help him with a partial novel and an unraveling idea. This fact is something that creates an anger and an almost urgent panic in Drew. While not quite to the level of Jack Torrance, it is still pretty rough going. When an almost fairy-tale encounter leaves Drew with a decision that could change his entire life, King brings the story home with a bit of horror that only the master could muster.

The situation in this story presents the reader, especially if that reader is an author who has struggled to get words from mind to matter, with a situation that gives you chills for days. I absolutely loved this one, and even though I am a huge fan of Holly Gibney’s journey and her first solo outing, I have to say “Rat” is my favorite story in this four-pack. I am also very pleased with the presence of said rat in the cover, featured above. Not my art work, just a photo of the book on my desk!

Overall, If It Bleeds is quite a good book, and well worth the read. King still has a talent few to grab my attention like few authors can. If you are interested in a good collection of short stories/novellas, I highly recommend this one. If you’re already a fan of King, this book will not disappoint, and if you’re just looking to get into his writing this is not a bad place to start. Granted, the story “If It Bleeds” may confuse you since you won’t the character histories or completely understand some of the references, but that’s a horse of a different color.

I look very forward to seeing the next King works rolling out later this year, and I will probably have to dive back into an oldie-but-goodie very soon to satiate that need for more horror! If you have any suggestions for either my book reviews, or just for me to read in general, feel free to comment or reach out! Until next time: Happy Reading!

August Book Announcement

Hey there friends and fans! I hope August has treated you all fairly so far. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster month already for me, but hopefully things will climb to the top and stay there! As you all know, I am a HUGE Stephen King fan, so the fact that two King movies are hitting theaters in the next month is just making me absolutely giddy.

In light of that, I have decided that August’s book is going to be the absolute classic “IT”. This has been one of my favorite books since I first started reading it in third grade – which I have come to accept is very nearly 20 years ago, no matter how much it sucks to admit it. I love the weight within the book and the struggle these individuals go through, so I am immensely excited to do this book for my review. Hopefully this will give everyone a refresher course on the novel before the Sept. 8 release date of the first part of the movie, too!

Now, I’m aware this is a BEAST of a book, coming in at over 1,000 pages, so don’t hate me for doing this. It’s such a good book, and a very fast read, and it is more than worth taking the time to check it out, either the first time or as a refresher course. I hope you all enjoy the novel as much as I do, and I absolutely can’t wait to have the discussion!!

On other notes, I have been really enjoying my return to Wattpad. In not quite two weeks you guys have helped me get so many reads that I’ve placed as high as #626 in Wattpad’s horror category. Of the amount of authors on the site, that’s pretty cool! I appreciate all of the reads and all of the votes and I hope you’ll all check out both “The Dollhouse,” my new horror story or “Rain,” my detective-style noir piece. If you’re interested, you can find my Wattpad profile here; https://www.wattpad.com/user/DameanMathews.

There you go, folks! Look for the review to go up on or around the 31st, so there’s plenty of time to read! Let’s dive into “IT,” read some Wattpad and remember – we all float!

The Circle

This book was incredible. The parallels between this and other dystopian thrillers are immensely weighty. At times it was like I was literally reading a prequel to 1984. I was very eager to dive into this book after seeing a trailer for the movie in theaters a few months or so ago (I know, I know, sue me), and I knew I couldn’t see the movie without first reading the book! I finished the novel well before the release of the movie, which comes out today, so there are no worries there. Enough small talk, though; let’s jump right in.

First and foremost, as I said before, this book almost read like it could be a prequel to 1984. The ideas of the Circlers and their almost incessant need to make everything known was incredibly ominous. I can’t count the times that I thought it was almost like watching the development of Big Brother. The cameras, the mandatory participation, all the way to the ending. That ending! Man!

We enter the story with Mae, who seems just as innocent as one would imagine; a small-town girl moving to this huge opportunity. We see that she (and some around her) understands just how much bigger than her The Circle really is. As Mae immerses herself in the work she is given, we see her start to open up a little, but she has many questions. There are many instances where people like Eamon Bailey and others make comments about knowledge and the fact that they feel everything should be known. Mae is very taken aback by this idea at first. It seems like she understands the importance The Circle has in the future of the world, but she also sees the importance of privacy and separation. This quickly seems to die out.

Mae keeps herself slightly distant from The Circle at first, not attending many parties, leaving campus a lot and generally letting herself live as if she was working a standard 9-5 job. She left The Circle behind when she left The Circle. This didn’t work for the company. They addressed this a few times before Mae was faced with a situation that really threw her out of herself. In the middle of trying to fit in and find herself in The Circle family, Mae has some sexual encounters with a young, shy man named Francis and a slightly older, mysterious and impossible to find man who only tells her his name is Kalden. These encounters do a little bit of work towards making Mae a closer part of The Circle and helping her focus on the job itself. But this work is nothing compared to what happens as her parents continue to deal with her father’s MS and associate with her ex-boyfriend, Mercer. She had slowly grown more accustomed to being more open and public with her life, but it was Mercer’s first big resistant moment that made it sink in for her. He more or less told her that she was a part of what was wrong with the world, saying The Circle was crossing too many lines and she needed to grow up and see the truth. She left her parents house that night and had the experience that lead to her becoming the poster-child for citizen transparency.

Mae getting arrested really broke something in her, I think. The fear she felt at knowing she could lose her position changed how she looked at everything, and Eamon Bailey helped push that through her head. He encouraged her to feel that showing everyone everything at all times was the best way to live her life. This way of thinking, needless to say, was a game changer.

Mae started wearing her camera and documenting everything, helping The Circle with its attempt at closing in on the world and consuming everything to be consumed. The story really gains so much weight at this point. Mae slowly becomes a different person. She goes from a girl who is mortified at the thought of one person seeing her perform a moderate sexual act to being perfectly fine with taking millions of followers into the bathroom with her. The Circle’s (for lack of a better term; or is this the best term?) brainwashing of Mae really culminates and reaches its most dangerous level when she speaks up and suggests developing the mandatory voting technology that is Demoxie. The very name of this program, to me, sounds like poison. Demoxie influences everyone around the world to make their voice heard, which, although a great idea, has consequences. In addition to recording the answers, The Circle has the power to record who answers, and how. Much like Mae was able to look and see who voted her as not being awesome in a demonstration of the technology (that in itself is an experience that really allowed us to see into the damaged psyche Mae has developed, or maybe just revealed, through the text), any government organization may have been able to convince The Circle to allow them to see how its citizens voted. For that matter, Circlers themselves have access to the information. Anyone who may have voted against a popular idea could thus be singled out for their voices.

The real life-changer for this comes when Mae is given control over the technology to look for people – any person – all over the world. The first instance is likely helpful. Circlers and audience members are able to help find a fugitive and bring her to justice. But then Mae decides to take the situation further. She decides she wants to look for Mercer, who had AWOL after deciding to go “off the grid” in an attempt to hide from Mae and The Circle.

This search would have been all fine and dandy, had she known when to call off the dogs. I literally cringed as I read how intense the unnecessary chase scene became after Circle followers tracked Mercer to a house in the woods. He fled in fear and anger as Circlers and Mae followed him with no explanation as to why. Mae used The Circle’s technology to literally chase Mercer to his death. He drove off a bridge because he became so desperate to find a way to get away from the power of The Circle. That moment was very powerful to me.  I feel like it represented everyone who has ever stood up to a government or an organization that has too much power. There is so much that can be said about that scene, that idea.

But Mae couldn’t see it. She was wounded by his death, but not enough. Kalden (who turned out to be Ty, the FOUNDER of The Circle) tried to get her to  help him shut the whole thing down before it became too powerful. But she wouldn’t have it. She couldn’t. She talked so many times of feeling the black tear in her mind, her soul, and by the end of the book she was convinced the tear, rather than representing the innocence and humanity that was being walled off, represented “not knowing”, which is something The Circle was strongly against, of course.

The final insight we really get into Mae’s mind is all it took for me to both lose the last of my respect for her character and make me want ten more books. Mae’s friend Annie has literally become comatose due to the stresses of The Circle (can we be sure it isn’t something Bailey or Stenton did on purpose?) and all Mae can think about is how she finds it an unbelievable injustice that she can’t see into her friend’s mind. She can’t read the thoughts of the woman who is lying on the bed in front of her. Obviously, my first thought here was the budding idea for the Thought Police, but I digress.

Overall, I thought this book was absolute genius. David Eggers did an amazing job, and I look forward to checking out other works from him. From the time I started reading until the last word, I was enthralled. That being said, this book isn’t exactly the type of thing I typically choose to read for pleasure. But it’s easily in my list of top books. Whether that’s top 50, top 25, or even top 100, I couldn’t begin to tell you. I’ve read so much that the list does change fairly often. But this one is there. The style Eggers wrote this book in is very conversational and matter-of-fact. I didn’t get hung up on any dialogue issues and I don’t recall anything that was over-exaggerated or unclear.

My biggest compliment and biggest complaint for the book would likely be the same. It was very open-ended. From the point we leave Mae, as she considers talking to the founders about finding a way to expose thoughts to the same transparency as everything else, I feel like anything could happen. We know that Kalden (Ty) is still a part of The Circle, but we don’t know where, in what capacity, or what punishment may have been applied to his position. In other words; we have no idea of his motives, or if the mention of his position is even correct. They may well have just told Mae that as a cover. If it is true, what’s to stop him from either continuing to attempt to coerce Mae, or find someone else to help him overthrow the totalitarian organization that grew from his brainchild? Even more, I still feel like there is some way Mercer could be alive. Maybe he jumped from the truck and clung to the bottom of that bridge until it was safe to walk away. Maybe Ty knows this and he’s going to work with Mercer to overthrow The Circle. One way or another, I do think there’s enough possibility to bring this idea back for another round. Come on Eggers, what do you think?

Regardless, this was a great book and it really makes you think about the dangers of continuing down the path of total technological control that we are going on. What did you think of it? Do you agree with Mae that knowledge should supersede privacy? Or should we cherish the privacy of the independent human? There are so many questions! And for that matter, there are so many things that I didn’t really have the space to address here (the terrible things this expansion of knowledge uncovered about Annie’s family, for one) that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Leave me comments or send me messages and let’s have some great discussion on this book! As always, share your ideas for future books at any time and let’s spread the club far and wide.

Reading (Over the) Rainbow

I’ve had some good feedback on social media about what book to read next, and I have to say that I got a lot of great options this time. I had a hard time figuring out which of the suggested works I should review, but I think the option I have decided on is one that many will enjoy being able to immerse themselves in.

On  a request from Shaun Holt, this month we’re covering the classic novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum.  This, like “A Christmas Carol,” is one that we have all come in contact with at some point or another. The classic movie “The Wizard of Oz” is one that has always been a favorite of mine, and I’ve had a few experiences with the book series over the years. In that light, I do have to admit that the book is drastically different from the movie in some ways.

I look very forward to getting into this book and having people to discuss it with. This is a classic that many people don’t realize is actually part of a series depicting various tales of Oz and its inhabitants. I plan to start this book ASAP, and I hope you’ll all join me in reading and discussing this awesome piece of literary history!

I want to make sure you all know that I’ll accept suggestions anytime, any day. If there’s something you want to read and discuss, or maybe you want to encourage others to read your favorite book, or even a book that you hate, let me know about it! Send me all the titles you want to see discussion on and I’ll do  my best to get to them! Join in on the discussion here or via email or social media and share this post as far and wide as possible! One thing that I do need to stress is that, without interaction, it doesn’t really help to post these reviews everywhere. I really want to be able to keep doing them, so comment and join in on the fun, guys!