Friday, December 03, 2004

Hard-Boiled Fiction

(posted this early by accident)

Every once and awhile, I read a book where I don't want it to end - indeed, I've often purposely avoided reading it too fast because I'm much more interested in savoring the experience for what it is. Usually, it's a novel of some sort (it is fairly rare to come across this with non-fiction, but it happens), and I think my hesitation in finishing is mostly due to a feeling of "sadness" (for lack of a better term...maybe "regret" is better) that, having finished such a wonderful book...I'll never have the chance to read it for the first time again. These are not necessarily books that I found particularly "moving" or literary achievements, though that can happen as well. For example, I recently read Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, which was a fine literary achievement (and a good story as well), but...it isn't a book that I would hand to a friend and say: "You've just got to read this book!" It is excellent in it's own right, but I didn't feel regret at having finished it.

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett was one of these "special" kinds of books (I got so into that book that I was taking purposely long bathroom breaks so I could read it at work, back when I was at Hill's Pet Nutrition in Topeka - lol). American Gods by Neil Gaiman was another. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (don't get me wrong...The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is Chabon's best novel and probably my favorite literary novel written in the last ten years that I've read - but...I read Wonder Boys first and the experience was different...though I was tempted to put Kavalier & Clay down in this list in it's place...). About a Boy by Nick Hornby. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter Miller.

There are a few others which I'm obviously neglecting. But, if you notice a pattern above...while all of the books on that list are "good books," none of them (with the exception of Canticle, which some argue is the greatest work of "science fiction" ever written - and is unarguably the best work of anti-nuclear fiction ever written) are considered literary classics. In some cases, they're not even the best known works by that author (Pratchett's tough to say...Gaiman's better known for The Sandman series, Chabon for Kavalier & Clay, Hornby for High Fidelity, Irving for The World According to Garp...etc.). They are, however, in every case...the first book I read by the author.

All of this as prelude to adding a new one to the list. Dear readers...if you like mystery novels, have a sense of humor, and are willing to "suspend disbelief" a bit...do I have a book for you:

Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia

My only exposure to/knowledge of Garcia was when I saw "Matchstick Men" with Nicholas Cage and it had a "based on the novel by" credit for Garcia. That's it. I did some digging and found out that he's best known for his "Rex" series of novels...mysteries...of a sort. I went to a bookstore and plunked myself in a chair with a paperback copy...discovered I was interested and then went online and bought a hardback copy.

Now, all I can say is: wow. I just finished this book today and I have so many positive things to say about it that I find it difficult to start. For starters, it's a "laugh out loud" funny book - skewering so many different things (I can't spoil it for you...but...about halfway through, the main character attends a musical in NYC that is just about the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of...), I can't start to count them. It is also a very well written satire of our modern American culture, as well as a pretty good mystery as well (I guessed at one of the surprises and was right...another didn't surprise me...another totally did), with a main character that is part Phillip Marlow wannabe, part Indiana Jones wannabe, and all "loser." ;)

Oh...and did I mention that the main character is a dinosaur?

There's the "willing suspension of disbelief" bit. The plot revolves around a central point of divergence, which is that the dinos faked their extinction billions of years ago and presently make up a minority of the world population, existing in realistic human disguises alongside the rest of us apes. They've evolved down to (mostly) our size and they have their own (hidden) society. But really...it doesn't matter. Its a conceit to the story but you will find yourself simply accepting it and moving on...because the novel is too dang fun to get wrapped up in unbelievability issues. Excellent satire, wonderfully written, funny, and a pretty good mystery to boot. Highly recommend it to everyone.

Even better...it was the book that gave back! I wrote an online review for it on Powells.com and ended up winning $60 in store credit! And hey...if my review (a featured title of the day from Powell's) gets more people to buy a copy, putting more money in Garcia's hands...even better.

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