The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Short Version: Optimus Yarnspinner, the legendary author, recounts to us his earliest adventure – a visit to Bookholm, a city of books and book-related people. But what begins simply as a quest to find an author ends up putting Optimus on the run through the catacombs of the city, fearing for his very life! WIll he survive? Will he ever write anything? Of course – the fun is discovering how and why!
The Review: Walter Moers’ Zamonia is one of the more overlooked fantasy creations today. A continent in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, full of strange creatures and locales (all delightfully illustrated here by the author), Zamonia is a manifest representation of one man’s towering imagination. I’ve visited before, but this entry in the Zamonia canon delivers something that even non-fantasy lovers will adore: a city built on and around books. The selling thereof, the collecting, the reading, the creating – it is a true literary paradise (if an immense fire hazard), and Moers creates it vividly through his words and illustrations.
The adventure runs a little long in the tooth at times, as do all of Moers’ books – that kind of relentless imagination and creation is actually exhausting for readers past a certain point – and the plot sometimes resolves on not so much logical extensions but sudden swerves that barrel off in another direction before you’ve noticed. That said, it often doesn’t matter. Moers has a love for reading and for storytelling and his creations, every single one of them, carry that love and deliver it unto readers. We could use more frivolity like this, these days.
The Approach by Chris Holm
4 out of 5
The Short Version: Michael Hendricks is headed out to pick up a client – a stripper who now has a price on her head. But one mistake throws what should’ve been a simple approach into total chaos.
The Review: A delightful short featuring hitman-hitman Michael Hendricks, just before the start of The Killing Kind. It’s a quick read (even quicker than its page count belies, as there’s an extensive preview of Red Right Hand at the back) and Holm seems delighted to have a moment to just deliver some wham-bang action and call it a day. Lester makes an appearance and Hendricks isn’t quite so road-weary as he is last time I saw him, so it was nice to go back to when things were a little simpler. The action is tremendous (it all pivots on one simple mistake made by Hendricks, one that is both funny [that’s all down to Holm’s writing] and quite nearly deadly) and yet there’s still an opportunity to have a human moment. Hendricks makes a big deal out of being (somewhat) mercenary, but a story like this sheds more light on the heart we readers know to be there – while also reaffirming that if there’s one dude you want on your side in a fight, it’s Hendricks.
Dirty Snow by George Simenon
3 out of 5
The Short Version: Frank is 19 years old and living in occupied Belgium. His mother runs a secret whorehouse and he’s both sexually and violently a little repressed. One night, he decides to kill a man – and this sets off a downward spiral that can only lead to one place.
The Review: Nobody goes to Simenon for light and joy, this much we know. But the circumstance of having to read this, widely considered one of his bleakest novels, in the three days immediately following the 2016 election was… it was actually downright painful, at times. Not because of the plot or story, but because that bleakness is so unrelenting – and I was already feeling pretty bleak.
Not dissimilar to Camus’ The Stranger in terms of a numb young man enacting a sudden, inexplicable act of violence and then having to deal with the fall-out, except that Camus was thinking philosophically whereas Simenon is writing more concretely about a very human moment. Frank’s life-in-wartime is perhaps all he really knows; certainly all he’s understood while coming of age. He has no real role model, no real education, and the thing he’s come to understand about the world is that when a strong person sees something, they should take it. This, of course, leads to predictable conflict and as Frank’s world narrows and thins and eventually is reduced to a single point, the question even arises: is Frank’s story reliable? What can we believe about his thoughts and behaviors or has Simenon secretly been giving us an unreliable picture of a deranged young man the whole time? It’s an interesting post-read trick… but ultimately, an overwhelmingly too dark one for our current moment. Perhaps I’ll return to it someday…