Archive for the ‘books’ Category

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For readers of Dan Brown’s novels, the announcement that Ron Howard would be skipping the third novel in the Robert Langdon series and moving straight to ‘Inferno,’ the fourth, was welcome news. The neglected book, appropriately titled ‘The Lost Symbol’ was a laughable mess that exacerbated Brown’s flaws as a writer, pitting our hero against a villain, tattooed from head to toe, in a frantic chase to locate 1) an undercover video of a benign Mason ceremony and 2) a mystery McGuffin that turns out to be, ultimately, a King James Bible.

Not a Bible with a special message inside, or a map to some pseudo-fantastical discovery, just a plain old Bible. Genesis to Revelations. Available for $10.38 with free shipping on Amazon Prime.

Oh and Langdon dies, spoiler alert, except he doesn’t, in one of many eyeroll-inducing attempts at faking out the reader.

Compared to that misfire, ‘Inferno’ was a welcome quasi-return to form, falling short of the thrills of ‘Angels and Demons’ and the lesser-but-more-popular ‘Da Vinci Code’ but offering a satisfactory page-turner for long airplane rides or afternoons by the swimming pool.

But it’s still absurdist, pseudo-intellectual pop literature, with more than a little bit of ego masturbation by its author, who crafted a fantasy proxy so glaring in his womanizing, tweeded Langdon that it rivals Woody Allen for self-aggrandizement.

Howard, and star Tom Hanks, are able to smooth some of those edges, adding some maturity to the goings-on and focusing on the puzzles and pistols more than the buxom brunette that Langdon is paired with for the current adventure. But it’s hardly enough, as ‘Inferno,’ like its predecessors, can barely drum up the energy to explain that convoluted and nonsensical plot that loosely connects the anagrams and scavenger hunts that make up the goings-on.

‘Inferno’ does score points for trying something new. It opens in a fog, as Langdon is recovering in a Florentine hospital from a bullet-graze to the head and concussion, which has wiped out his memory of the past 3 days. After regaining consciousness, he is plagued by apocalyptic hallucinations and before you can say “Alighieri” he is being shot at by a would-be assassin and forced on the run with the doctor who treated him (Felicity Jones, to be seen next in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’).

The film’s omni-chase structure, ostensibly, sends its protagonists through famed locales like the Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Vechio. The eye candy of Dan Brown’s settings is part of the charm of the franchise, and yet in ‘Inferno,’ Howard keeps his camera cropped tight, robbing any hope of architectural and historical eye candy. It’s likely a result of the actors being nowhere near the actual locales, but whether due to movie trickery or no its a wasted opportunity for what would otherwise be a glitzy romp through Florence, Venice and Istanbul.

There are high moments. The perpetually-underrated Ben Foster puts in good work as the de facto villain, a billionaire decrying overpopulation from the rooftops whose death sets the film’s plot in motion. And screenwriter David Koepp takes creative license from the source material, deviating from Brown’s more questionable choices and crafting a third act climax that delivers satisfactory tension when paired with Howard’s competent directing.

It’s almost enough, and certainly gets more mileage than the novel would suggest. And while it escapes cinematic hell, it lands far from heaven.

Grade: B-

Inferno opens nationwide on Friday, October 28.

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Committing by Benjamin WoodOne year ago this month, I published a little novel called “Committing.” It’s been called “interesting” and “very book-like” by members of my immediate family and currently has 4.5 stars on Amazon.

I’m currently working on a new project, my first feature-length screenplay, but I wanted to commemorate the first birthday (second? birthday numbering makes no sense) of my debut novel.

As always, the entire second chapter of Committing is available as an excerpt here on Woodstock (along with information about how you can get your very own copy). But in celebration of Committing book-iversary here’s the entire FIRST chapter. Enjoy!

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CHAPTER One

There is a beautiful library in downtown Salt Lake City. It is made up of two seemingly separate structures: the first, a glass tear drop, four stories tall, housing rows of books, computers, and conference rooms; the second, a sweeping arm topped by a sloped stairway that rises from the plaza outside to the roof of the main building.

The two structures are, of course, connected, but within the library’s glass walls they are divided by an atrium with café tables and used books for sale where musicians occasionally perform. The arm contains a row of study tables on each level, offering a quiet space for reading and studying. From there, you can look across the empty space to the organized sea of volumes and tomes that lie beyond.

It was there, on a Saturday morning, that Charles was sitting – the top floor of the Salt Lake City Library. His elbows were rested on the table in front of him, causing his body to pitch forward in the kind of youthful slouch that would have prompted his mother to swoop in and straighten him in his younger years. He was staring into the dull glow of a computer screen, his head weighed down further by a chord connected to the headphones that tethered him to where he sat.

The video he was watching ended and slowly he closed his laptop and cast his gaze across the void to his right at a mother and two small children climbing a curved staircase to the third floor. Gathering his things, he began walking back across the atrium to the other side and stopped on the breezeway that connects the two sections. From where he stood he hovered in the air directly above the library’s main entrance and as he peered over the breezeway’s edge at the atrium floor some 80 feet below he allowed his weight to carry him over, and down. The cool air licked at his face, forcing his eyes closed as he fell, weightless and free, to the floor.

But it wasn’t real.

Charles remained sitting in front of his laptop, his headphones over his ears playing an instrumental soundtrack as credits panned up the screen in front of him. In his mind he could hear the dull thud as his body struck the floor below. There was a swath of light pouring in through the windows where his body would land and he wondered if somehow, even though his soul – if there was such a thing – was slipping away, he would feel the warmth on his skin.

There were about a dozen individuals meandering just outside the doors, not to mention the countless people within the library’s walls. Among them, as always, was no small number of derelicts, offensive to all five senses and taking advantage of a quiet space to sit and spend the day near public restrooms. Charles often thought how it made for an odd combination, as the public library always seemed to be evenly split between khakhi-shorts-wearing children and their parents, hipster bookworms and homeless, drug-addicted lowlifes. Then again, Charles’ mind always seemed to say, where would you go if you had nowhere to go? It makes more sense than the mall.

There would be an immediate panic. A piercing scream would echo through the vast, silent space, bouncing off of glass, concrete and paper. The confusion would not last long. Officers patrolling the grounds would respond immediately, call for an ambulance and begin diverting the rubbernecking public from the area. His body would be removed, covered in a plastic sheet and wheeled off to some forgotten and seldom-seen corner of the city where suicide victims were taken prior to being released to their families. The floor would be cleaned and by the next morning, at the latest, the library would open its doors and greet the public.

What would they use? Charles thought. A mop? A broom? A shovel?

For his family, of course, the emotional clean-up would not be so swift and it was the arrival of that thought, the sense of pain that his death could cause to others, that finally broke Charles from the macabre fantasy. The music in his ears had stopped and the website was asking him if he wanted to continue on to the next episode. On the screen was the frozen image of some busty brunette, a promise of the kind of zany, escapist shenanigans you can only get from a television sitcom.

The mother and her children reached the top of the stairs. Upon seeing a full row of nothing but gleaming comic books the boy, probably 10 or 11, darted off and begun pulling volume after volume from the rack with a face of pure, ecstatic joy while several issues spilled to the floor.

Charles closed his laptop. Gathering his things, he passed over the breezeway, pausing briefly at the center only to enjoy the sudden beat of sunlight at his back and then, with a breath, he continued on to the other side, down the stairs, and out the lobby doors below.

It begins at a funeral.

Stories like this one always seem to start with some catalyst, like a birth or a wedding. As it happened, this one begins with a death.

After more than six years, Devin Wallace had lost his valiant battle with leukemia. Charles met him in 2006. By some twist of fate they had been assigned each other as dormitory roommates. They had no way of knowing then that in a matter of months Devin would be diagnosed.

For most of their friendship his disease was simply a part of him. It defined him. He was Devin, “the one with cancer.” He had beaten it before and he would surely do it again.

Except he didn’t.

So Charles biked through the dirty sludge of a fading winter back to his one-bedroom apartment and changed into a black suit. He slipped on his black shoes, which he had shined the night before, over his black socks. He fed a black belt through black beltloops and fastened the silver buckle. He buttoned up the collar of his white shirt and stood before the mirror as he fixed a narrow black tie.

The tie’s slim cut, he thought, was a little Friday night for a funeral but it was the only black tie that he had. His others were all of the bright, solid color variety – “power” ties in commanding reds, purples and greens –

which obviously wouldn’t do. As he looked at his reflection he wasn’t sure if he looked too somber, or not somber enough. He looked good, he thought, but then thought that he ought not try to look good, which immediately gave way to the thought that he certainly ought not to not look good.

Devin was 26. They both were, technically speaking, except Devin was dead. Charles would turn 27 in three months but in photographs, old videos and memories Devin would stay perpetually 26 for as long as Charles lived. Longer, actually, since as long as there were people still living who remembered Devin alive he would continually be Mr. Devin Wallace, deceased March 2, 2013 at age 26. Charles could die tomorrow, he reminded himself, and that would have no effect on when Devin had finally succumbed to the disease inside his blood.

But what about when everyone who once knew Devin was dead? How old would he be then, when every trace of him was erased from the earth and everyone who had ever held a lingering knowledge of his existence was gone? At that point Devin would not be 26, Charles thought, he would be nothing at all.

Devin was also married. He and Stephanie Elizabeth Wallace, maiden name Christensen, had been legally and lawfully wedded on October 4, 2008 after dating for just under two years in college. Much like the cancer, Charles had met Devin shortly before Devin met Stephanie, and so she had come to define him as well. Charles’ best friend Devin, the one with cancer, Stephanie’s boyfriend/fiancé/husband and now Mr. Devin Wallace, deceased March 2, 2013 at age 26.

Their son, Daniel, was born February 24, 2010. Devin’s cancer came soaring out of remission the month after Stephanie got pregnant. It had always been a possibility, one that they had accepted and planned for as best as possible. Every milestone was an event, checked off an imaginary list like a game show contestant scrambling to win a prize before the buzzer rang.

Devin won many prizes. He saw his son’s first steps, he heard his first word. He helped his wife with the potty training, took a photograph of his son on Santa’s lap and lived long enough to see Daniel turn three years old. Charles knew how happy that had made Devin.

He scooped up his keys and wallet on his way out the door. Locking his apartment behind him, he started making his way down the cold, echoing stairwell, arriving one level down before the door to his floor swung shut with a reverberating boom that rippled down the walls like the sliding bars in a prison. For whatever reason, Charles suddenly became fixated on the idea that he was alone in a concrete cylinder that stretched six flights above the ground and two flights beneath it. In his mind he stripped away the walls, floors and ceilings that surrounded him and instead imagined himself floating, 20 feet in the air, standing tall and rigid in a black suit and skinny tie.

Charles bounded down the remaining flights to his car in the basement parking lot, arriving slightly out of breath. It had been a few days since he had driven last and when he turned the ignition the car sputtered slightly in the cold before the speakers blared to life, blasting him back against his seat with the sound of a rousing instrumental chorus from whatever CD he had been listening to. He quickly reached out and shut it off, plunging the space into abject silence.

He sat there for a moment, staring forward into the empty parking stalls in front of him. His fingers where white, the blood having left them at the request of his awkwardly tight grip on the wheel. Glancing up he saw his reflection in the rear-view mirror and straightened his tie.

Charles turned the volume down on his stereo and pushed play. As the music began he shifted his car into drive and inched slowly forward, and out.

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Friends, my first novel “Committing” is now, officially, ready for the public.

It is available in both print and digital formats, so let me do some quick shopkeeping and then we can chat.

To order a paperback copy ($10.99) from the Create Space eStore click here.

To order a paperback copy ($10.99) from Amazon, click here.

The difference? There really isn’t one since Create Space is owned by Amazon but if you have an Amazon Prime account you’ll probably save money on shipping through Amazon (Also, I get a slightly higher royalty through Create Space. I hate to even bring that up, but there you have it).

To purchase a digital copy on Kindle ($4.99) click here.

*Disclaimer* My paragraph formatting got a little messed up on the Kindle version. My first line indents are gone, which in some places can make a whole page look like one daunting block of text. Let’s pretend this was an artistic choice.

Now that that’s done, let’s talk about the book.

I started writing Committing shortly after moving back to Utah from New York in 2012. It’s a relatively short book (just over 30,000 words) but nonetheless took me two years to complete. It is also my first attempt at fiction – besides a few short stories in college – so bear that in mind.

The book is about a group of friends in their mid-20s dealing with the transition into adulthood. In particular, it’s about a man named Charles, who has just lost his best friend to cancer, and who is having a hard time embracing the next stage of his life.

For regular readers of my blog who may be expecting comedy, this book is decidedly a drama. I would say it is similar in tone to the last installment of My Life Online or some of my Quarter Century posts.

*Disclaimer No. 2* There is a small degree of adult content in this book, specifically language and sexual innuendo. If you prefer to not read that type of thing I understand completely and thank you for your support either way. It is not my intention to make anyone uncomfortable (including myself, since I will inevitably be hearing about it from my mother).

*Disclaimer No. 3* This book is, above all, a work of fiction. You’ll see why I say that after you’ve read it.

You can read the entire second chapter for free here to whet your appetite, but note that there may have been some minor changes since I posted that excerpt.

I just want to thank everyone for their encouragement over the last two years as I’ve been working on this. A lot of people chimed in and read early drafts (and you’ll see them listed in the acknowledgments section of the book) and also a big shout out to JP Allen for creating the cover image and Erin Jacobs for finalizing the cover design.

I hope you enjoy the book and I can’t wait to hear your feedback, good or bad (I self-edited, so yes, there are going to be spelling errors). As a final plea, if you do take the time to read it, please go on Amazon and write a review. It exponentially increases the amount of exposure I get.

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CommittingCover

We’re getting really close to the launch of Commiting. A proofreader is looking over the manuscript as we speak (type?) and in between helpings of turkey and potatoes yesterday me and my sister sat down and drummed out the front and back covers. She and I both are fans of minimalist design and red/black color schemes, as you can see from the blog you’re currently reading.

This is still very rough draft and it’s a work in progress so I’d love to hear what you think. If you didn’t get a chance to read the excerpt you can find it by clicking here. Also, shout out to J.P. Allen for his help with the cover image.

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As some of you know, for the last two years I’ve been working on my first novel, ‘Committing,’ about a group of friends in their mid-20s dealing with the transition into adulthood while reacting to the death of a friend.

I’m pleased to announce that we are on track for a self-publishing date in early January and possibly late December (right in time for Christmas, eh?) and so to whet your appetites here is an excerpt from the 2nd chapter of the book, which sees our protagonist attending the funeral that sets the story in motion.

Keep checking Wood’s Stock for updates on the (relatively short) book, which will be available in both e-book and paperback formats. If you see any spelling or grammatical errors let me know. I’m self-editing and as my former co-workers at the Statesman will tell you, micro-editing is not my strong suit. Also, any and all feedback would be much appreciated.

Enjoy!

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The church was beautiful, a display of minimalist perfection with only a few muted white blossoms and black and white photographs drawing attention away from the ornate structure and its elaborate stained-glass windows. As he entered, Charles couldn’t help but think how lucky Devin was to have married Stephanie, and how lucky Stephanie was that Devin would never plan her funeral. Charles was no more than two steps through the door when little Daniel bounded up to him and wrapped himself around Charles’ leg. He always greeted him this way. Charles called it his Daniel-Socks and would walk around with the young boy sitting on his foot, arms and legs firmly secured behind his calf.

“Uncle Charles!”

“Hey Dan,” Charles said, reaching down and tussling the boy’s head. Stephanie arrived immediately and bent down to smooth her son’s hair back into place before rising to give Charles a hug.

“Steph, this is beautiful.”

“Thanks Charles,” she said before directing her attention to her son. “Come on Dan, Uncle Charles needs to go sit down.”

“I can take him with me, if you want. What do you say Dan? Want to sit with me and Uncle Tyler?” Charles said, noticing the small line of arriving guests waiting to give their condolences to Stephanie. She merely nodded and mouthed the words “thank you” before turning to embrace a large woman, trembling visibly between unsuccessfully muted sobs.

“Hold on buddy,” Charles said, feeling Daniel’s grip tighten around his leg in response.

He walked with a dogged gait, making a louder stomp each time his loaded right shoe struck the floor. He wondered what malady people must assume had befallen him if they were sitting more than 10 feet away and were therefore unaware of the 30 pounds of three-year-old attached to his pants. Tyler was sitting 6 rows from the front and was watching him arrive, having turned like everyone else to see who was making all the noise.

“Hey Dude,” Tyler said, sliding over to allow room. Tyler was a large man, the kind that you assume had attended some junior college on a football scholarship.  In actuality, he was an engineer or something.  Charles wasn’t entirely sure what Tyler did for a living besides get paid more than he deserved.

“Where’s Trish?” Charles asked, peeling Daniel off and setting him down on the bench beside him.

“Work. She’ll be here later.”

Trish and Tyler made up the third branch of their little family. Tyler had lived down the hall from the dorm room Charles and Devin shared their freshman year. He had dated Trish in high school when he was a senior and she was a doe-eyed idiot of a sophomore cheerleader.  When she finally graduated, she conveniently enrolled in the same university they attended, poised to win back her man. After four years of unrelenting affection – during which Trish was a constant presence in all of their lives despite Tyler’s insistence that they were not, nor would ever be, in a relationship – he had finally succumbed to reality and proposed.

“How are the plans going?” Charles asked.

 “Well, my criteria for ‘success’ is not being bankrupt after the honeymoon,” Tyler said. “And in that sense, it’s not going well.”

“Isn’t her dad supposed to pay for everything? That’s a thing, right? Father of the bride and all that?”

“Her dad’s a stingy bastard and she’s a feminist,” Tyler said, “which apparently means she wants the wedding she feels she deserves, paid for with her own money, which really means she wants the wedding of her dreams paid for with my money.”

 “All’s fair.”

“Is it?”

Someone that Charles should have remembered walked by and gave both him and Tyler a handshake, the kind where the person clasps you with two hands, over and under simultaneously. The woman, probably in her late 50s with slightly graying hair, gave each of them their own individual two-minute session of hand-swallowing and fixed, compassionate eye contact. She said nothing, apparently confident that her condolences were being adequately transmitted either telepathically or through touch.

For their part, Charles and Tyler both put on an appropriately sympathetic and affectionate smile and nodded in that way people do at solemn occasions.

“Who was that?” Charles asked.

“No idea,” Tyler replied. “So Trish is mad at me, we kind of had a fight this morning.”

“What about?”

 “Well, she was on my case about not caring about some dumb wedding detail, centerpieces or something, and then all the sudden she says ‘if you hadn’t waited so long to propose then maybe Devin would have been at the wedding.’ Can you believe that shit?”

Charles wasn’t looking at his friend and didn’t respond immediately. His attention was focused on Daniel who was struggling to un-tuck his little white dress shirt from the waist of his pants. “That’s messed up,” he said finally.

Tyler looked to see what Charles was watching and fixed his eyes on Daniel, who had succeeded with his shirt and was now fumbling with cherubic fingers to loosen the bow tie that had become twisted and tight around his neck. Tyler turned back towards the front of the chapel. “Yeah man,” he said softly. “It’s messed up.”

Charles scanned the room. He could see Devin’s parents toward the front of the chapel, sitting hand in hand with rigid backs. As if sensing Charles’ gaze, Devin’s mother turned and met his eyes with an affectionate smile, dipped her head slightly and then turned her eyes back toward the casket that was placed directly in front of them.

It was large, even for a casket, but was otherwise unimposing. The lacquered chestnut was broken only by the silver handle that ran along the side. For the most part, it blended in with the dais at the front of the chapel.

Charles didn’t recognize many of the other guests. He swept his head in one last 180-degree pass from side to side, touching briefly on a few cousins or family friends that he thought he recognized from encounters over the years. Just as his view returned to the front of the room he felt Tyler’s elbow jab his ribs.

 “Oh man!” Tyler said in an excited whisper, “Back door, right side. Look who just walked in.”

He put his arm on the bench behind Tyler to better turn himself and froze when he saw her. Blond hair that fell between her shoulder blades. A sleeveless black dress that stopped just above the knee, giving way to two flawless legs held in perfect shape by a pair of striking heels.

Jessica.

“I didn’t know she was back in town,” Tyler said. “How long has it been since you saw her. Three, four years?”

“Five,” Charles said, his eyes still fixed on her as she passed behind the pews toward Stephanie. She moved effortlessly, the kind of woman who was born in heels and confident in any setting. It wasn’t so much a step as it was a sort of gliding motion across the floor, like a the bow of a ship piercing through ocean waves. In every way she looked like she had just walked across the street from where she was filming a Maybelline commercial.

“You gotta talk to her after, get her number,” Tyler said. “Damn, can you believe how good she looks?”

“Dude, I hardly think it’s appropriate to pick up chicks at Devin’s funeral,” Charles replied, louder than he intended. He quickly ducked his head down, hunkering into the pew like a frightened turtle. He could feel his pulse on the left side of his neck.

“Are you kidding me?” Tyler said, oblivious to any sense of volume decorum. “You know Devin would be proud if his funeral helped you get back together with Jessica Warner.”

“Just … shut up man.”

“I think she’s here alone, I’ll waive her over,” Tyler said, rising halfway out of his seat before Charles forcefully grabbed his arm and pulled him back down.

“Dude, they’re starting,” Charles said. Tyler looked embarrassed and quickly composed himself as the pastor took to the pulpit and invited everyone to take their seats. From the corner of his eye Charles watched Jessica move into a pew by herself near the door. His attention was snapped back forward when Stephanie began addressing the guests.

“Thank you all so much for coming,” she began. “You may not have known this, but Devin hated hosting parties. He told me once that in high school he had tried to put something together last minute on Halloween. There was a single bag of chips on the kitchen table, about a dozen guys taking turns playing foosball and one girl, just one, sitting sullenly in the corner. He was so shamed and scarred by the experience that he vowed to never host anything for the rest of his life. If I ever approached the subject he would throw one fist to the sky and scream ‘Never Again!’”

She paused for a moment and pressed her hand to her mouth, her eyes wet with suppressed tears.

“When his condition worsened, we knew that certain preparations had to be taken care of. He wrote his will and something like 40 letters for my son, Daniel, to open on specific birthdays. I have them at home, in a box tucked away in our closet. He said that it was important that a boy learn certain things from his father and it took him about two weeks to decide at what age Daniel should get the sex talk.”

Charles put an arm around Daniel and scooted him close to his hip. The boy was completely naïve to everything being said but was frantically waiving at his mother, trying to draw her attention. Stephanie looked down and saw him and broke into a wide, tearful smile.

“Hi Daniel,” she said with a little wave. “I’m glad you’re listening because you’re going to get an awkward letter from daddy in 11 years.”

Everyone laughed as Stephanie stood there, beaming with glistening eyes.

“Whenever the funeral came up, Devin would just stop the conversation. I remember one night he said to me ‘Babe, you know what the silver lining in this is? It’s my party, but I won’t have to plan any of it and if no one shows up, well, I’m dead anyway.’”

Stephanie didn’t talk much longer. She retold the story of meeting Devin, how his diagnosis had arrived like a lightning bolt just as things where starting to get serious between them. She told how they both decided they weren’t ready to give up on each other and that come what may, they would face it together.

And that was it. She stopped abruptly, which led Charles to believe that she had prepared more to say, and walked down into the audience to sit by her mother, who pulled her daughter in tight and set her head down on her shoulder. After Stephanie, Devin’s mother spoke, then his father and then the pastor gave a few last words.

Charles stood, holding Daniel, and walked to the front of the chapel with Tyler close behind. He handed Daniel to his mother then turned, joined by the other pallbearers, and lifted the casket up over his shoulder. There had been no rehearsal, or even instructions given, but somehow the eight men seemed to operate with a robotic precision, dipping and lifting in unison and marching in step to some silent drummer.

He had not been to many funerals and he had never been a pallbearer. As he walked down the steps and to the hearse he thought of how many times he had watched the scene play out on movies and television shows and wondered whether he looked the part of the dutiful best friend: somber in his black suit at the front corner of the casket that held his most trusted confidante.

The sun was shining, and Charles thought inside himself how it’s usually raining at the funerals on TV.

He rode to the cemetery with Tyler and when they arrived Trish was waiting for them. They stood at the edge of the grave, just behind Stephanie and Devin’s parents. He could see Jessica standing across the casket from him and for the one second that he allowed himself to look at her she returned, and held, his gaze.

Charles quickly dropped his head and stared at the casket. He was close enough to see the pattern in the wood and he traced the lines along the lid until they disappeared beneath the bouquet of white flowers placed on top. The pastor finished his prayer, a piper began to play and Charles watched as the patterns blurred and then disappeared. The flowers shrank and a dark shadow passed over the casket as it dropped, slowly, into the grave.

He placed a hand on Stephanie’s shoulder. As she reached up and pressed her fingers around his, he could feel her shaking.

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Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, begins with a common-enough whodunit premise. On the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing, leaving behind the first clue of her annual treasure hunt anniversary gift and the tell-tale signs of a struggle.

Naturally, suspicion swirls around Nick, a former-journalist turned down-on-his-luck bar owner in a once happy but now troubled marriage. There’s only one problem, not only is Nick our main character, he’s also our narrator, as we observe the story from his first-person perspective.

How do you maintain a mystery when the reader has an inside look at the brain of the investigations’s one and only suspect? That, in essence, is the central device of Gone Girl, which Flynn plays like a drum, bouncing between the unreliable narration of Nick’s introspection and passages from Amy’s journal entries, which ensnares you in doubt as the inconsistencies become more frequent and more troublesome.

The book twists and turns as Nick yearns for catharsis by following the treasure hunt breadcrumbs of his missing wife as the evidence and public vitriol mount against him. And that’s just Act I, as the first portion of the plot hinges on an eye-popping twist that completely changes the game beyond a simple “Where is Amy?” I should stop there with the synopsis, I’ve already said too much.

Unfortunately, the book deflates in ACT III. When it finally comes time to deliver on the heavily-built-up mystery and intrigue, Gone Girl finds itself painted into a rather constricting corner. It’s not enough to undue the impressive work that led up to it – I still find myself ruminating on the story weeks later – but after several jaw-dropping twists and a relentless narrative that keeps you awake for hours wanting to read just one more chapter, the story stumbles hastily toward a too-quick finish like a hurdler tripped up by the final bar.

It is unfortunate, since Flynn nonetheless manages to create one of the most unique cat and mouse games I’ve ever read only to toss the tension aside in a conclusion that is unsatisfying for any and all of the carefully-constructed characters (including the most diabolically manipulative individual since Steinbeck’s East of Eden).  Borrowing from the old fiction-writing adage, Flynn puts a gun on the wall in Act I, but in ACT III it merely falls down without discharging.

Still, even with its weak conclusion, Gone Girl remains a wildly entertaining and deliciously deceptive tale of betrayal, desperation and yes, murder.

Grade: B+

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It’s easy to feel angry at Davy Rothbart while reading his collection of essays “My Heart is An Idiot.” Angry because his book is essentially the same book you tried to write years ago and, by extension, because while Rothbart’s tales of love and live are adventurous and charming, your tales (and your life, and your loves) are ever-the-more mundane and uneventful.

In a series of episodic vignettes, Rothbart talks about landing face first in one American city after another in the pursuit of romance and financial success, only to see himself constantly foiled by lofty expectations and the same men-from-mars women-from-venus misunderstandings we can all relate to. Along the way he sprinkles a few non-romantic tales of the heart into the mix to add levity and variety, such as walking up in nothing but a pair of socks in a New York City park or bonding with a hitchhiker on the unknown roads that make for great classic rock lyric inspiration.

It’s a quick, relatively easy read that is more than enjoyable. Rothbart, a sort of neo-beatnick, doesn’t shy away from the details – good or bad – resulting in some explicit and graphic diction at times, not to mention some underlying subject matter that might make my mother blush.

The book also takes a few self-promoting turns as Rothbart hawks his magazine at every turn and spends one of his longer segments toward the end explaining the false imprisonment of one of his friends. It reeks of free publicity and a ploy for sympathy, almost like you’ve been tricked into hearing a sales pitch for time-shares by the promise of a free lunch.

But all in all, MHIAI is a charmingly honest, inspiring slice from the pie of life that makes you wish you had spent more time seeing the world and taking risks, because even in our most embarrassing failures come the best stories later on. B

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