Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas

I thought it would be a good time to talk about Rob Thomas’s Rats Saw God, a YA book published in 1996. I think I bought my paperback copy when I was twelve when YA paperbacks were $6.50, and I loved it. I reread it recently in light of the news surrounding Rob Thomas’s other writing project – the TV show Veronica Mars – and it’s successful movie funding on Kickstarter. It’s a great book to pick up and read in the year or so before the Veronica Mars movie is released, especially as Rats Saw God has actually beenpicked up for a rerelease.

I had never made the connection between the Rob Thomas who wrote Rats Saw God and the same Rob Thomas who created Veronica Mars, not until I came across an episode in the second season of the TV show called “Rat Saw God.” A little bit of googling later, and I realized that the same person who wrote one of my favorite YA novels also created and wrote one of my favorite TV shows.

Rats Saw God is about Steve York, and flashes back between his junior year of high school in Texas (living with his dad, “the astronaut”) and his senior year of high school in San Diego (living with his mom and sister Sarah). On the brink of failing his senior year, a sympathetic guidance councilor named Jeff DeMouy tells him he can make up his English credit by writing a 100-page essay. Steve decides to write about his junior year in Texas, the events of which turned him into the pothead he is when we encounter him at the beginning of the novel, just barely holding onto his grades.

In Texas Steve was a member of GOD, or Grace Order of Dadists, an alternative group at the high school with hopes of getting into the school year book. It was also there that he met Dub (Wanda), the first girl he’s ever fallen in love with. He’s also juggling home life with his distant father and his job at the Cineplex. The flashbacks between the past and the present aim to match up the Steve writing the essay with the Steve he’s writing about.

Thomas’s trademark one-liners and quick dialogue are as strong here as they are on Veronica Mars, and there are similarities between the two (even if they are pretty distant. The sports teams at the high school in Veronica Mars are the Pirates; in Rats Saw God, it’s the Buccaneers. Steve York also has just a touch of Logan Echolls about him. But just barely!). It’s a quick, good read, and the dialogue between Steve and DeMouy is reason enough to pick up Rats Saw God

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

I wrote about Karen Russell’s Swamplandia here when it came out a few years ago, and just stumbled across her new collection of short stories in the bookstore the other day! Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a new collection (in the vein of her first book of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves) of eight short stories, each of them as different as the one that came before it, and all of them clear contenders to be anthologized in other publications.

The book starts with the titular “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” a story about a pair of old married vampires who have found a home at a touristy lemon grove in Italy. Clyde and Magreb have been together throughout most of their immortality, which has posed all sorts of new obstacles to marriage. Clyde can no longer transform from man into bat, while Magreb lives in bat-form in a cave in the mountains.

“Reeling for the Empire” is an elaborate tale of a woman named Kitsune who works at a silk factory; however, along with the other women, she is turning into a silkworm herself, spinning out vibrant green thread. After signing herself over to the factory without knowing of the transformation she has agreed to, Kitsune learns that there is a metamorphosis in her future if only she will allow herself to take it.

Many of Russell’s stories are written about teen characters, with the transition between childhood and adulthood in mind. Two of these, “Proving Up” and “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” were my favorite in the collection, and two that I will continue to return to. “Proving Up” is an American Gothic story set in the frontier farms of the west, where a family must prove that they have acquired a glass window for their farmhouse in order to get ownership papers. It is a haunting piece of history, built on chilling images from frontier living. “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” is narrated by a boy in grade eight. It records the events that follow him and his friends after they find a scarecrow that resembles a disappeared classmate of theirs named Eric Mutis. As the story goes on, the narrator reveals the connection between himself and Eric Mutis, pulling apart a terrifying world of middle school bullying.

Every story in this collection is so worth the read (I haven’t even mentioned “The New Veterans,” a story about horses living together on a farm, each one the reincarnation of an American president), as they show off Russell’s skill of reworking language and story into something completely new.