Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: Everything's Fine by Socrates Adams

I bought this book without knowing much about it. I think I saw it mentioned by some other author I follow on social media and bought it on a whim. I can't say I regretted picking it up.

Ian's job is selling PVC tubes. He's not very good at it. His boss tries to light a fire under his ass by giving him a piece of tube, naming it Mildred and making him raise it as a baby. When that doesn't work, he demotes Ian to the position of Tiny Shit Head, a job that consists of being strapped into a chair and forced to watch a monitor count down numbers. In between his job and taking care of Mildred, he plans and saves for a vacation in the French Alps. He ends up developing a crush on the pretty travel agent, Sandra, in the process.
Although I am not earning a great deal of money, I feel as though my new job is going pretty well. It is a demanding position which carries a large amount of responsibility and is high powered and executive. 
Ian is clearly unhappy with his life, but is clearly in denial about it. He tries to console himself that his sale skills are important, even though he clearly has none. He doesn't even have basic social skills. His denial is very thin however, his unhappiness with the world around him peeks through very often. This scene where he's pushing Mildred in a stroller and it begins to rain, for example.
I imagine the water rising so fast that I have to struggle to keep moving, all of the filth of the pavement licking at my skin. The water will rise all the way up to the bottom of the pram. The water will carry on rising upwards.
Ian feels like the world is drowning him.

He doesn't get much respect either. His boss treats him like dirt, people laugh at him behind his back and even Mildred has some choice words about him.
I don't understand him. I can't work him out. I don't understand why he would come and get me. I am a tube.
What I do know is that he has made me so miserable today that is is almost certainly the worst day of my life so far.
Whether the digressions into Mildred's thoughts are really the tube thinking or Ian projecting himself on to it is rather ambiguous. While Ian plays the role he was given and treats the tube like a baby, it's clear he knows how stupid the whole thing is. It also serves as a metaphor for Ian's own situation.
A tube's natural state is to be part of the plumbing, or more specifically, to carry something from somewhere to somewhere else. When it is not part of the plumbing it will roll about and get in the way and be a nuisance, because it is not doing what it is meant to be doing. It is not doing what it was made to do.
The problem with humans is they don't know what they were made to do. None of them knows what their natural state is.
Ian's pathetic state would be really annoying if he made no attempts to better himself. He does, however, work hard to save money to go to the French Alps. He loses a lot of weight by eating less food, but also gets roped into a ridiculous pyramid scheme. He also makes bumbling attempts to get with Sandra, which ends up landing him in even more trouble.

My two major complaints is that for all the time spent building up Ian's absurd and awful life, he seems to snap out of his complacency rather quickly. When he finally goes on his vacation, his epiphany feels rather forced. There is also a lot of repetition in the book that seems to be trying to help show Ian's trapped mindset, but doesn't really end up contributing much.

All in all, I think this is a solid novel. It's a funny and enjoyable absurd comedy about the emptiness of modern work life. Anyone who's ever worked a shitty job will sympathize with Ian's plight. This book is Socrates Adams's debut, and I think it's a good sign he'll be coming out with something even better in the future. I definitely recommend this, and I look forward to reading Adams's future works.

Buy Everything's Fine by Socrates Adams here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Brief Thoughts 6

I've got a couple reviews coming down the pipe at Adventures in SciFi Publishing and at least one on here. Here's another entry in Brief Thoughts until then.

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino 

Calvino quickly became one of my favorite authors after I read Invisible Cities and Cosmicomics. This was his first novel that I read, and I love it as much as his short stories.

The book is told in the second person for the most part. You, the Reader, are tying to read Italo Calvino's new novel If on a winter's night a traveler. You discover your copy is defective and exchange it at the book store. You find that your replacement copy is actually an entirely different novel. You set out to find the complete novels and stumble on an international book conspiracy made up of duplicitous translators, overzealous academics and a beautiful fellow reader that you fall in love with.

This is one of the most readable "postmodern" books that I've read. A lot of these types of books intentionally alienate and confuse the reader. This one's not much different, but the main story is a straightforward enough thriller that it keeps things grounded. It's pretty funny too.

The most interesting thing I've found in the book was the dynamic of reading as a form of personal enjoyment vs literature as a social and political force. While Calvino makes fun of the latter with the goofy academic characters, he doesn't dismiss it altogether. It's clear, though, that Calvino believes that literature is an individual experience to the reader, and that should be primary above sociopolitical considerations.

As he demonstrates in this very novel, it's very possible to create books that work to satisfy the reader as an individual without being completely asocial, apolitical or amoral. Being this is a novel about reading, the fact that people are not free to read as they please in many countries comes into play. The later chapters mock censorship of literature without being didactic or preachy

If you haven't read anything by Italo Calvino, you're missing out on a lot. This clever novel is as good a place as any to start with him.

Buy If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino here. 

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

I randomly picked up this book without knowing much about it or Hermann Hesse, but I'm glad I did. This is a beautiful novel.

The story is about the spiritual journey of an Indian with the same name as the Buddha, who he meets along the way. He finds himself taken by the Buddha's teachings, but can't bring himself to become his disciple. He believes that in order to fully grasp this knowledge, he has to learn it himself as the Buddha did.

I'm hardly an expert on Buddhism. The only things I know about it comes from a few articles and Osamu Tezuka's Buddha series. This novel conveys the basic teachings of it (to my knowledge) very well, however. In an very poetic way too.

Even people who don't gravitate to Buddhist teachings will get a lot out of this book. It packs a lot of emotions in it's short length (only 122 pages in my New Directions edition). The basic lesson that true wisdom can only come through thinking for one's self is probably the most important theme in the work. It sounds trite, but I've never seen it presented so well.

This is a book who's beauty and importance I don't think I can properly convey. Highly recommended.

Buy Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse here.