Now, time for the quick and dirty. These last two books were left until the end because, though I enjoyed both, I could never really find the right words for them.
The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe
Wow. Just wow. I found this on the dollar rack at The Strand shortly after reading all of Sharpe’s other work in preparation for a review that I wasn’t able to sell. Since much of the coverage of Jamestown talked about how different it was from TSF. Well, I loved Jamestown so I wasn’t sure that a book about suburban family dynamics could really live up to that screaming, violent, romp of a book.
TSF is much quieter, and instead of investigating exploration and plunder, it talks about fragility and family and love. The book’s action begins with the stroke of Bernard Schwartz, a sad and lumpy divorce and father of two, whose subsequent coma and recovery focuses all the suffering of his family and caretakers into a storm that threatens the small town Connecticut sky overhead. Sharpe’s teenage characters are good, especially the daughter Cathy who aches to find a shape for her pain the world is not right and so goes running for the delicious suffering of Catholic saints and self-repression. The idea that people who suffered so much, often on purpose, have secrets to the world is such a seductive, teenaged idea.
There are a lot of characters in this book but each stands out without poorly rendered quirks or tics. For every sad, punch-in-the-gut moment, there is a funny jab that comes unexpectedly and the narrative never settles into a rut, which is a feat, considering how much of the book happens in the characters’ heads.
If you come across this somewhere, snatch it up!
The Mount by Carol Emshwiller
I got this book as an afterthought in an internet purchase. The cover, painted by Shirley Jackson, caught my attention immediately and the fact that Small Beer Press publishes it was definitely a point in its favor.
Emshwiller imagines a future Earth where an alien invasion led to the human race becoming enslaved to the invaders, a race of lemur-like creatures with fragile legs and strong ideas about thoroughbreds called the Hoots because of the sounds they make to control others. At this point on the timeline, humans have become specialized pack animals for the Hoots, bred like animals, with allegiance only to the aliens they serve and the pack they belong to.
This world is made amazingly real by Emschwiller’s attention to detail (my favorite parts are the descriptions of nature in a place I imagine to be upstate New York) and ability to explain the bizarre motivations of the characters without being too show-and-tell. The main character Charley, a mount-in-training for the prince of his town, tells much of the story and he is 12 or so when the book begins. The way he things about things is necessarily childlike but I think Emschwiller relies on his ignorance and naiveté a little too much when trying to drive home the negative effects of the Hoots’ “human conformation” plan (slavery, my good friends. Slavery in the name of benevolence) on Charley and the humans around him.
If you are looking for a good example of world building then this might be just the thing for you—but be prepared for a few sections of exposition and dialogue that dance like a dead drunk.