Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Bard Reviews: The Highest Tide

The Highest Tide

The Title: The Highest Tide
The Author: Jim Lynch
Description (from Publishers Weekly): The fertile strangeness of marine tidal life becomes a subtly executed metaphor for the bewilderments of adolescence in this tender and authentic coming-of-age novel, Lynch's first. As a precocious, undersized 13-year-old living on the shore of Puget Sound, in Washington State, Miles O'Malley has developed a consuming passion for the abundant life of the tidal flats. His simple pleasure in observing is tested and complicated over the course of a remarkable summer, when he finds a giant squid, a discovery that brings him the unwelcome attention of scientists, TV reporters and a local cult. Meanwhile, Miles's remote parents are considering a divorce; his best friend, Florence, an elderly retired psychic, is dying of a degenerative disease; his sex-obsessed buddy, Phelps, mocks his science-geek knowledge; and his desperate crush on Angie Stegner, the troubled girl next door, both inspires and humiliates him. Events build toward the date of a record high tide, and Miles slowly sorts out his place in the adult world.

The Skinny: A coming of age tale about a boy obsessed with marine life and what happens when he discovers a giant squid that sets off a chain of events resulting in massive exposure on his insular world and the peculiar relationships that define him.  

The Fat: The Highest Tide is one of the best novels I’ve had the pleasure to read in recent years.  Jim Lynch possesses a poetic beauty in his prose, but doesn’t make it showy or flagrant.  It flows naturally, completely enveloping the reader in the mind of the precocious Miles, a 13 year old boy who is more at home in the tidal flats around his home than in social circles or relationships.  His best friend happens to be a woman so elderly that he has to aid her in using the restroom.  The only friend his age doesn’t understand him, and his crush on a troubled older girl goes unnoticed.  To make it all come to a head, he discovers a giant squid on the beach.

This attracts scientists, news reporters and even some cultists as Miles almost miraculously discovers species after species of new or extremely rare marine life on the shoreline that he knows like the back of his hand.  His obscure world is thrust into the national spotlight, exposing the troubles that lurked in the cracks until then, including his parent’s impending divorce. 

What makes this novel stand out is how Jim Lynch seems to effortlessly bring the characters alive, and even more so his descriptions of the marine life that fascinates Miles so much.  Many writers might make such sound boring and technical, but Lynch takes the reader right to the shore and brings it all to life so that we too can be awed and humbled by the beauty and fragility of nature.  It is rare to find a novel that speaks poetry without pretentiousness, but Lynch pulls it off well.  The result is a rare treat of a story that should delight readers familiar with its themes as well as those like myself who are completely ignorant of life by the water.

The Bottom Line:  Read this book.  I loved it, and recommend it to anyone who loves a story that takes you away.

The Bard Reviews: Dog (E. M. Faustus Series)

Book cover

The Book:  Dog (E M Faustus Series)
The Author:  Christopher Davison
Description (on Amazon): EM Faustus. Private Eye. 
Looking forward to smoke number seven of the day. Then life gets complicated.  Complicated as in the walking dead, armed with fly swats. Complicated as in vampire waitresses with the best coffee you’ll ever taste. Complicated as in werewolf best mate’s, with breast fixations. And complicated as in more than one god getting really hacked off with him. All he has to do is find a lost dog, clear up a parenting issue and not get killed. All in a day’s work for the only P.I in a world filled with the ‘differently alive’. If he can stay alive long enough. If he stays alive long enough, maybe even the talking duck will make sense. But don’t count on it.
EM Faustus. Private Eye. Oh -and really, really don’t ask what the EM stands for. He gets upset.

The Skinny: E M Faustus is a human detective who just so happens to work in a segregated territory where everything non-human dwells.  Expect every genre of fantasy/religious being except space aliens to make an appearance as he takes the case of a daemon/angel hybrid who really wants to find his missing dog.  Too bad an interspecies war and a contact for his head (literally) stands in the way.  Too bad for the bad guys, that is…

The Fat:  Christopher Davison is a pretty daring author.  There have been other supernatural detective tales before, but none I’ve read have placed their fingers in every mythical pie possible and raked all the filling into one plate before.  The result is a story both entertaining and sometimes muddled at the same time.
The titular character E M Faustus (don’t ask what the E M stands for) is the kind of detective pulled from the Bogart era of hardboiled noir detectives and placed in a world where ducks talk and vampires serve you coffee.  The name Faustus brings to mind Faust, the character known for selling his soul in a bargain with the devil.  Aptly, Davison flips the convention and has Faustus sell a piece of his soul in a bargain with God at one point in the story.  

That however is no the main portion of the tale.  It starts with Faustus taking on a case from being that smells like chocolate and brimstone –an angel/daemon hybrid, of course.  The being, who is called ‘Pete’, is a strangely na├»ve, man-child who has no idea of his heritage or his destructive powers.  He’s like an inexperienced Hellboy without the demonic appearance.  All Pete wants if for Faustus to find his missing dog, who is called Dog.  Seems simple enough.

Naturally it isn’t.  Dog isn’t really important.  He’s a MacGuffin, used in many stories and films as a device to keep the characters moving and drives the plot.  It’s not the destination; it’s the journey along the way.  And what a journey it is.  There are vampire gangs, werewolf best friends, a talking duck (the preferred form of a shape-shifter name Sid), elf assassins, zombie surgeons, mad scientists, Michael the archangel, Satan and God, just to scratch the surface.

And that’s where the story starts to bog down a bit.  Davison has enough plot elements for two stories.  I understand the purpose: he wants to take the reader along for a tour of the complex world that he’s created.  It’s obvious that he’s spent a lot of time developing his original spin on the mythical beings and deities that inhabit his world.  At the same time it’s not necessary to get the whole picture at once –since this a series type story, there’s always time to explore in further books.  

What keeps the story going is the characterization, mainly in the character of E M Faustus.  His dry wit and cynical narration winks along with the reader, keeping the story from becoming overly dramatic and causes the pace to zip along even when taking detours.  There are a number of hilarious references within, and a slew of likeable supporting characters.  

The Bottom Line:  Dog is a nice intro to both the world of Faustus and the writing of Christopher Davison.  It makes for a good read when you’re in the mood for something funny and action driven.  Readers who like a twist on the average detective noir yarn should enjoy this book nicely.