Category Archives: Reviews

Book, film, TV and other arts reviews.

How do you solve a problem like Will Schuster?

Posted on March 14, 2011 by

Glee has become a lot more loosely scripted this season, which annoys the hell out of my writer brain. It shouldn’t, perhaps. I should just buy into it as if it were opera, because really that’s what it is evolving into: a series of loosely connected, genuinely awesome emotional moments–like the Kurt/Burt scene in “Sexy”– set to music.

There’s so much good I feel bad about complaining. An out gay kid, OMG! With a supportive family! Eee! And the expanded cast has some terrific new characters… though this does mean there’s less action for the folks I love. In particular there’s less Mercedes, less Kurt and less wild-eyed ranting of Sue. Then again, there’s also less of some of the characters I’m not so keen on, characters I don’t love, and plenty of wholesome Artie content.

Anyway, with my backbrain grumbling about the plot, what plot, got plot? between viewings, I forget, sometimes, how much I am enjoying the show now that things with That One storyline, the one that was troubling me, have moved on. One thing I am liking a lot is that there are three unabashedly plus-sized women on the show (that’d be Mercedes Jones, Coach Shannon Bieste, and lately, Lauren Zyses) and not one of them is a villain or a full-time object of ridicule.

Oh, Lauren, I’m oddly in love with you! The crap you hand out to Puck, and the way he bends himself, pretzel-like, around your boundaries, give me no end of joy. Everything you do is magic. And the simple fact that an undisputed high school hottie who could be banging the likes of Santana is instead pursuing a large, proud, demanding, athletic woman… well, it’s delightful. I remember the twiglike cast of Buffy (which I adored, don’t get me wrong) and I compare it with this trio of curvy womanhood and it warms the heart.

Sadly, no amount of Lauren can keep my writerbrain from carping about Will Schuster.

Will is, was and will always be the center of the adult-themed storyline. He’s the major driver for Glee‘s Let’s set the Karate Kid to Music! overall story arc. In the first season, he had so many interesting things to push against: his attraction to Emma, the failing marriage to Terri, Sue’s multiple attempts to sabotage him and, above all, his own competitive demons. The guy had to keep figuring out that glee club was about the kids, not him. It worked, I thought, pretty well.

Nowadays he seems to be all out of push.

Matthew Morrison is such a talented performer. I was thrilled to see him tango and sing in “Sexy.” But he’s seeming underused. Is this character at a dead end? Am I the only one who misses the days when he was fighting to hold the kids together, dodging Sue/Terri attacks of utter bizarre, and occasionally even managing to teach stuff?

These days, Will flails. Sometimes toward or away from Emma, sometimes at Sue, sometimes at getting the kids to Nationals. I am loving his friendship with Shannon, but that’s frosting–it doesn’t a storyline make. Getting just a mouthful of cake now and then would make me so much happier.

I’m not asking for Whedon here, or even Shakespeare, and I am having fun, I am. What do you think, interpeeps? Is it just me?

Books read in 2011

Posted on January 4, 2011 by

Don’t panic! 2011 is not over; another year hasn’t whipped by so fast you actually did miss it. This is just a bit of a start on my shiny new list, with a note about how last year segued into this one.

You see, in order to facilitate my first book of 2011 being Killing Rocks, by D D Barant, my final book of 2010 was, naturally enough, the book that preceded it in the series: Death Blows.

I enjoyed both books a great deal, and will have more to say about Killing Rocks soon. In the meantime, I thought it might be nice to have the full What Alyx Reads at your fingertips:

Everything I read in 2010.
2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002. This is, apparently, as far back as I go. (Since I started blogging on LJ shortly after our Greece trip in 2001, that makes perfect sense to me.)

I picked up this habit from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, by the way… her most recent list is here.

So Cold the River, by Michael Koryta

Posted on December 7, 2010 by

I read So Cold the River on Sunday, in a multi-part loafing session of epic proportions. The novel is a supernatural thriller by Michael Koryta, something Kelly had heard about and knew I’d probably enjoy.

So Cold the River is very much cut from the Peter Straub / Stephen King mold of a certain era. There’s a small town with a hint of magic to it, and some underlying but long-dormant evil. Then an outsider wakes it up, pissing it off in the process. (In some of these books, like It, there’s a variation, whereby the evil explodes every X number of years, like seventeen year cicadas But I digress).

Soon enough the outsider and the big supernatural bad are engaged in a freaky struggle for the whole ball of wax, by which I mean the lives of everyone in town who fails to reach minimum safe distance.

The heroic outsider in this case is a cinematographer, Eric Shaw, who fried a promising Hollywood career a couple years ago by breaking a famous director’s nose. Since then he’s been self-destructing as fast as he can: alienating his wife, refusing to work on anything meaningful and drinking more than he ought. Ooh, he’s a real bundle of joy, our Eric. He’s found one paying gig that suits his self-loathing: making souped-up funeral slide shows for well-off families who can’t operate Powerpoint. It is one of those vids–and the fact that he’s just a teeny bit psychic–that lands him a job doing a private biopic on a dying man, a patriarchal old tycoon who has never told his family the first thing about his past.

So Cold the River is good and spooky, and Koryta writes nice supple prose: It’s evocative but never overly busy, like this bit:

Past Bloomington to Bedford, and then the highway hooked and lost a lane in a town called Mitchell and began to dip and rise as it carved through the hills.

Carved. Good verb! And the cadence is just like a road trip.

The novel builds well almost to the end, and the answer to its central mystery–who is the old man whose family knew so little about him, and what is with his freaky bottle of eighty-year-old spring water?–is both creepy and satisfying. In terms of flaws… well, both Eric and his chief antagonist, the town redneck, have sidekicky friends who are far more interesting and (in Eric’s case) likeable than they are. And as things wind up to the piano-wire tautness of the necessary dangerous confrontation, the twists and turns get predictable. But these are minor complaints. So Cold the River is a well-crafted and engaging story, and it is an especially terrific example of a tale told with a foot in two eras–the digital now and the early, desperate, bootlegging days of the Great Depression.

Bloody Crimes, Matterhorn

Posted on December 1, 2010 by

A few weeks ago a tweet led me to Amazon’s list of the Top 100 Books of 2010.

Which led me to buy Bloody Crimes, which tells the story of the final days of two presidencies: the abrupt death and long funeral of Abraham Lincoln, and the flight from Richmond of Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States of America.

This is a pop history of a certain type: it takes the train journey of Lincoln’s coffin as it wound through the eastern U.S. to Springfield Illinois and highlights the similarities and differences with Davis’s stop-and-start journey southward as the Confederacy collapsed around him.

I know just enough Walt Whitman to have known Lincoln’s train had borne his body westward,but the sheer scale of the hoopla was new to me, and there’s always something delicious in that kind of reading: Holy Cow! Really? How much bunting did they drape on NYC?. The thematic tying together of the two journeys worked nicely, but when I think of examples of this kind of intertwined yet parallel story, I think of Eric Larsen’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. This, though it’s good, isn’t quite as compelling as that. (It’s an unfair comparison, perhaps, because Larsen is so very good, and his subject matter in that book so deliciously dramatic and improbable.)

Final verdict: Bloody Crimes is a good and quick read for those with an already-fixed interest in its subject matter.

In addition to buying Bloody Crimes, I used the Amazon List to generate my usual end of the year monster pile of requests from the local public library. The first thing I chose to read from the borrowed stack was Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes.

Most of my Vietnam War reading is nonfiction, but a lot of it has the same ambience as this novel: accounts by people who fought in the jungle, detailed descriptions of the miserable conditions and various stupidities of war. But fiction lets one turn the screws on the drama that much higher, letting one create a more seamless effect without having to account for drama-disrupting truths or weird inconsistencies.

Matterhorn has this quality of artistic wholeness. It paints an unforgettable and grim picture. Its prose is functional and transparent, its characters convincing, its story inevitable and heartbreaking.

Novels and movies about war tend to also have a lot of soul-searching. Characters plumb their navels, looking at big picture questions: why do humans do this? And the small stuff, too: how did I end up here? What will be lost if I die? This is a story element that is most likely to strike a false note with me–Thin Red Line, for example, made me gag. But Matterhorn is very consistent about being in the heads of young men. There’s no mature philosophizing here: these are teen boys, groping with things that are far beyond them.

I don’t have a lot of people in my immediate circle who’d be drawn to either of the above books, but if U.S. military history is your kind of thing at all, Matterhorn is especially well done.