A monthly round-up of any books that didn’t get a full review!
Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
3 out of 5
The Short Version: On Nov. 1, 1988, four paper girls are doing their early morning route when they encounter strange creatures. What seems like leftovers from Halloween quickly turns out to be something else entirely: some kind of invasion from across time and space. So they fight back.
The Review: I’m a sucker for a big messy adventure story, but Paper Girls is almost too messy, at least in this first volume. The concept is simple and delightful and Cliff Chiang’s art is a delight, especially as things start to get weird. But Vaughan tries to cram too much into every issue with time travel and dinosaurs and genetic experiments and maybe God in a classic rock t-shirt? and it was just too much all at once. By the end, I felt like I had whiplash and the volume-ending twist felt more like “okay now I have to go even further” than any actual logical progression. It was a great post-Stranger Things read, as it stokes that same ’80s-spooky-nostalgia fire, but I’m not sure I’m willing to pick up the second volume later this year. Jury’s still out.
Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-1914 by Frederic Morton
2 out of 5
The Short Version: Vienna in 1913 stood on the brink of an unknowable future. As intellectuals and revolutionaries (and revolutionary intellectuals / intellectual revolutionaries) buzzed about the cafés and salons, a political crisis was brewing around Serbia and how Austria, Germany, Russia, and the rest of the major international powers would handle the Balkan question – and, in the wings waits a few young radical men who will change the face of the world…
The Review: Frederic Morton promises something in the opening pages of this book that he does not quite deliver: a easy-flowing narrative retelling of Vienna just before World War One. Don’t get me wrong, he does deliver a whirling look at nearly every possible major figure who was in town at the time (including but not limited to Freud, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Franz Ferdinand) – but his attempts to make this anything more than a history text fall short of the mark. He seems torn about what he wants this book to be, occasionally adding an authorly flourish of detail or conjecture – but then never actually puts us in the minds or even presences of these historical titans. Instead, it’s like a summary of events for a high school AP Euro course. Not bad if that’s what you’re looking for, but reductive and lacking in really anything new or interesting to those who have a basic grasp of the time period already. Also, his writing needs a better editor; if I saw “morganantic” used to describe Franz Ferdinand’s marriage or wife or children one more time… you’ve introduced the concept and we get it, Frederic! You don’t need to keep repeating it!
The Bed Moved: Stories by Rebecca Schiff
3 out of 5
The Short Version: A debut collection of short stories, many of them flash-length, that detail the various neuroses and complications of being young, female, adrift, and Jewish in the 21st Century.
The Review: I was surprised by Rebecca Schiff’s collection from nearly the very start. Many of the stories, including some of the best ones, are no more than a page or two in length – and they create a sort of shimmering not-quite-there-ness that feels affecting when you read it but fades rather quickly away. It’s not to say that Schiff isn’t insightful or funny or poignant – in fact, she’s quite often all three, sometimes even at the same time – but the stories have an ethereal quality to them. Perhaps it’s because the terrain often feels well-worn: adrift twentysomething Jewish girl has hijinks, often sexual, looking for meaning in her life. “In fiction, it is never benign,” she writes at one point – but all too often, these stories felt exactly that, even for the individual-line-level fireworks that I could highlight (and often did). But when Schiff does deploy her intelligence and wit towards something more moving on a larger level (“The Lucky Lady”, “It Doesn’t Have to Be a Big Deal”), the results are worth the read. Color me intrigued for what she’ll do next.