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Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist by Sunil Yapa April 1, 2016

A book review by Alexander Castiglione

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I remember vividly my father telling me “Your heart is the size of your fist.”

I don’t know why, but that stuck with me. Sometimes I’d look at my hand, clench a fist, and think “this is your heart.” Then I came across this title by Sunil Yapa, his first novel, and knew I had to read it.

Set in the turbulence of the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, a nation divided, and on the cusp of the post-911 world we find ourselves today; it is a tale of heartache and loss, but also of redemption and self-realization. Despite it being set some 17 years ago, there are significant echoes of current political climes and social injustices which we still see today.

Broad strokes: the narrative follows several wildly different characters on intersecting trajectories, the protagonist being a young man named Victor, who just returned to Seattle after running away for two years. From the time he was 16, Victor was a wayward, world traveling soul; looking for something, anything. We also meet King, an eco-radical in a sense, and Park, a radical policeman in a totally disparate sense. There are other players within the piece, and they all gel together (symphonically in this writer’s opinion) to create a tapestry of human conditions I think many of us, even if we didn’t stand resolute protesting the WTO, our muscles aching from baton strikes, can relate to.

From the alienation of a boy looking for his place in the world, to the stoicism of a hardened police chief trying to quell a rebellion, all the way over to the older man, who practiced non-violence his entire adult life, and protested every atrocity along the way, media coverage or not. Yapa creates a mosaic of love, hate, anger, pain, loss, self-discovery, doubt, power, and most of all love; that I think we all can agree makes up the mosaic of human existence. Each tile no more or less important than the last, each emotion just connected to the other.

His prose is beautifully written, and despite having very deep passages that read more like a pastoral hymn with monkish undertones than a novel written in 2016, it is powerful. Very powerful in fact, much like the title of this book which drew me in; and like a fist, the heart is capable of pain: both inflicted it, and being afflicted by it. Just ask anyone who has taken a shot to the jaw, or missed and hit a brick wall in error; and perhaps I’m over analyzing – but I think this is an exceptional metaphor for the heart: the paradox of vulnerability and impenetrability. It can be broken and yet is still unbreakable, a marvelous organ indeed.   

The actual delivery is not the only beautiful element to this 300-or-so page novel, but the actual substance. Yapa weaves a tale of great depth, capturing the illogicality of our actions and relationships and nailing the mysteriousness of ourselves to ourselves. Even set against the backdrop of the WTO protests, with turmoil in the streets, Molotov cocktails streaking through the night sky, and rubber bullets bellowing from police shotguns; there is still a great contrast when this tumult is compared to that of a boy looking for his father, a girl looking for resolution, a diplomat looking for a way to his meeting. Each of us, he implies, is amidst a riot all their own. All sides of the story are exposed, and all characters are given their humanity by Yapa.

Despite Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist being Yapa’s first novel, I am absolutely certain it will not be his last. It’s poignant prose and outstandingly researched setting juxtaposed to round, real, relatable characters is not something easily attained, and the thoughtfulness shines through. It’s a tender novel, with (at times) grizzled characters, which are surrounded by more than just CS Gas and pepper spray, but their own demons.

 

All This Life by Joshua Mohr July 16, 2015

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 12:12 PM
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A Book Review by Alexander Castiglione

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In Joshua Mohr’s fifth release – All This Life (released July 14th, 2015) – he spins a yarn about several characters and how their lives intersect, using the common thread of a wildly public and equally outrageous group suicide to stitch a poignant and emotional tapestry of the human condition. Told from the perspective of vastly different characters – ranging from a naïve young woman, to a tormented recovering alcoholic who abandoned her son, to a young man with brain damage from a tragic accident – he brings these characters to life: creating a robust cast which sucks the reader into a Mohr-ian San Franciscan setting.

Mohr has the incredible ability to pull our heart strings, and make us feel the alienation of say, a teenage boy who films the suicides, and is addicted to his cell phone. But in the subtext he touches on the false “followers” modern technology and social media present us; illuminating that although we are all now connected in a technological sense, we are even more alienated than we were in the pre-Columbian era when knew the world was flat. In this regard, the text is very deep, incredibly enthralling, and touching on multiple levels. Mohr’s ability to capture and emulate the tesseract of human emotion is quite remarkable.

He also has created an intersecting microcosm within his own works, all the way from Some Things That Meant The World To Me – his first release (and at the risk of breaking the objective voice of journalism, one of my favorite books, I suggest you all read it) to his most recent. In each of his five books, he ties back to the previous, however subtle; and All This Life is no different. He cleverly inserts a bar with space-black walls and mirror shards everywhere that was the setting in previous books, and stylistically, I find it to be a deft literary move, a poke in the ribs to make sure you are paying attention.

And it’s hard not to pay attention, to empathize with the characters in this release. He runs the gamut of personality types and age demographics, using setting, tone, narrative shifts and internal dialogue to reveal a veracity of character that is hard to capture from a literary perspective. We feel the alienation of the boy with brain trauma, and yearn for him to be able to spit like the rappers he envies. We suffer with Sara, a naïve and seemingly lost young woman, who trusts too easy and makes a mistake – and this mistake goes viral in the worst sense of the word. We endure tragedy, loss and the ensuing, cannibalistic guilt with Noah, an alpha-male, corporate ladder climber. In a sense, we live the lives of these amazingly real and rotund characters for 296 pages.

While not outwardly gritty simply to shock, this book does more than tell a story; it comments on our culture – our increasingly global culture – where we place our self-worth on followers and likes, where we document the world through the lens of a smartphone and don’t experience it as we should. Subtly, he drives home the point that we are not digital entities, we are real, physical beings that should interact with the world around us – not live tweet our every thought in the hopes somebody retweets us, validates our notions, endorses our emotions. And he fleshes out the ignominy and strain of parent/child relationships within this crass, online-trolling civilization we have created, showing that amidst the ones and zeroes, there lies a person with thoughts, feelings, doubts, dreams, loves, and hatreds.

While very accessible to read, the book has depth. It brings to light issues I’m sure we’ve all thought on some level, and introduces new dynamics that we may have overlooked as a collective. It keeps you thinking even after you turn the last page and that in and of itself is a literary win in my book. Read it, empathize, and for God’s sake, put down your cell phones, abandon your twitter, log out of Facebook and interact with the world around you. You just may find it more fulfilling, rich, and dynamic than the latest viral video, and you’ll be better for it.

 

Movies v Books March 24, 2015

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 11:41 PM

by Alex Castiglione

Books have been made into movies, well, since movies really came into the limelight (pun intended). Gone With The Wind comes immediately to mind. But some of them, well let’s be real, the vast majority of them, are way worse than the book. Some are better, some are just as good. Here’s my list, agree or disagree – and I’m purposefully omitting the page turners like Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, tween sensations like Harry Potter books, and of course, the bane of all things literature, the Twilight series. As good as the book (save for a part here or there)

  1. Mystic River – the book and screen adaptations are pretty close, save for Laurence Fishburne’s character who is a grizzled Irish cop in the book. Other than that – it’s pretty true to the text.
  2. Fight Club – almost a shot for shot remake, my only qualm is how he met Tyler in the book is not the same as the movie. Admittedly, the scene in the book is almost unfilmable without giving away the end.
  3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – maybe it’s because Johnny Depp and Hunter S Thompson were buddies, but he nailed his role in this movie. He virtually became Gonzo himself, and if you read the book as watched the movie – it follows almost exactly the same; hallucinations and suitcase-full-o-drugs included.
  4. The Ruins – this novel by Scott Smith was pretty good, not great, but not horrible. The movie was the same. Suspenseful, edgy, and well thought out, but not the best. This author also wrote A Simple Plan – another book that made it to the big screen starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton.
  5. Factotum – This movie, like the above, was about as good as the Bukowski novel it was adapted from. Nothing spectacular, but the movie was true to the text, and I think Matt Dillon was a great choice for the protagonist. Likeable, but kind of a dick.
  6. Life of Pi – this one is a wash, they both had their merits. The book was very well written, the movie was exceptionally well made with great effects.
  7. I Am Legend – although it was based on a short story, this one is a wash too. I like the humanistic story of the movie more than the one told in the book, but I like the narrator’s voice in the book more: he’s more broken, more cynical, the way one would be after an apocalypse. And the short story makes the title make sense, the movie kind of glosses over it.

The book was better (said in your best condescending hipster voice)

  1. Requiem For A Dream – Hubert Selby Jr’s gritty novel about drug addicts in New York, the book had so many more layers to it than the movie. Don’t get me wrong, Darren Aronofsky made an awesome flick – but the book was much more complex and deeper. Also, the characters in the book you start to loathe, as they become thieves and liars, and find yourself muttering “…junkies” – when in the movie, I think the director wanted you to connect and empathize with them more.
  2. Lone Survivor – Great movie, but the book, save for the whole “Texas, God & Country” spiel in the exposition, was fantastic. Written by the actual SEAL that went through the harrowing tale, Marcus Luttrell delves into not only the training he underwent and the ordeal itself, but gives the reader some background on Pashtunwali – a code of honor the people of the Afghan mountain regions abide by, and have done so for thousands of years.  A full, well composed text all around.
  3. The Beach – The book by Alex Garland, (who also wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later in case the name looks familiar) was not only darker and more intricate, you really got to know the characters, and the main character Richard’s (played by DiCaprio) descent into Lord-Of-The-Flies-esque madness, was delineated much better in the book. It was close, until you got to the end. The end in the book was dark. I mean dark.
  4. Shutter Island – Being a huge Scorsese fan, I was pumped for this movie. In fact, I read the book a couple of days before it came out, because I’m kind of a dork like that. The book was fantastic – a crime thriller – which really isn’t my cup of tea, so to speak. An intricate thread pervaded the entire text, weaving this amazingly crafted story, so complex that it blew my mind at the end. Despite being a media steeped 20-something, I didn’t see the end coming. And even when I got to it, I expected another twist. The whole time I watched the movie, in the theater, I was wondering how they were going to weave all the pieces together. They didn’t, they only got a fraction of them, which is why I say the book is better. Admittedly, the book would have taken 5 hours to film shot for shot.

The Movie Was Better

  1. Odd Thomas – A Dean Koontz serial, the movie blew me away. I found it on Netflix, and randomly watched it with my girlfriend, and was so enamored with the characters and the story that I barely moved; I was “riveted to my seat” as the old-school movie critics liked to say. The story was so out there and complex, I knew it had to be based on a book. Low and behold, we get to the end, and there it was – “Based on the novel by Dean Koontz.” I had to read it. And I was disappointed. The book version had a lot of holes in it, and was not nearly as believable as the movie – and even that’s a stretch since it was a supernatural thriller.
  2. The Mothman Prophecies – The Richard Gere movie, although not at all an adaptation of the book by John Keel, was much better, in my opinion. It was unnerving and spooky, and the book, while it evoked the same qualities, was more of a chronology and compilation of encounters with the Mothman, Beelzebub, or whatever nomenclature you want to use.
  3. Jarhead – the movie was a great tale of what Gulf War Marines went through, and in that respect, the scales tip toward the movie; simply because the story and plot was better. However, the book lets you into the psyche and thinking of a fighting Marine – their brawling attitude, the machismo. The book is much more complex, but the movie is more entertaining; both are equally insightful.
 

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk September 20, 2014

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 8:04 PM
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A book review by Alexander Castiglione

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Irrepressible literary shock-jock, Chuck Palahniuk, is back at it again with his latest release via Doubleday – Beautiful You.

The plot bullet points are simple: Penny – your plain-Jane type – is introduced to us toiling in a thankless corporate environment where she is as nondescript as a yellow legal pad in the law firm she works for. That is until billionaire lady-killer C. Linus Maxwell – referred to affectionately as Climax Well – takes a liking to her. From there, the story takes off into a sexually charged journey, bouncing from New York’s Madison Ave to the mountains of Nepal. I’ll leave it there – I think if I go into it, I’ll give too much away, and like most novels, it’s all about the suspense, build-up and surprise.

Now, the analysis: This piece is obviously a tip-of-the-hat to the 50 Shades books that have been so popular in the recent past. Or rather, a punch in the face. It’s obviously allegorical, and it’s plain to see that it’s not homage in the slightest, more like a subversive literary assault. That, however, is where this rabid Chuck fan trails off with praise. Overall, the first 50 pages or so dragged on, and it took a while for the narrator to get to the brunt of the story. However, even though this book is not particularly my cup of tea, I must admit that Mr. Palahniuk did a stellar job of weaving a story together with threads that are outlandish, yes, but also reside upon the same loom that reality is woven from. For example, he talks briefly about advertising and how the target demographic for the vast majority of products is women ages twenty-five to fifty-four. This, as anybody that works in advertising will tell you, is the golden demographic. Without revealing the story, let’s just say that there’s a consumer conspiracy that makes vertical integration look like child’s play. In that regard, bravo – the plot was definitely well thought out, in my humble opinion.

I did find the ending, and even a bit of the falling action, to be rather rushed, with the “resolution” seemingly coming out of nowhere. Like unsuspecting fauna on a dark, country back road, you’re just plodding along the pages, then whap – the ending hits. Additionally, I found the narrator, much like the narrator in the Doomed/Damned (also reviewed here) books of late – perhaps due to the criticism that a lot of his writing is too centered to be not only slightly annoying, but a rather contrived character. It seems Palahniuk has utilized the voice of the disillusioned and angry male with most of his books dripping with testosterone and rage.

Maybe. But to that I say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In my opinion, his best books, were those with borderline unlikable and often unreliable male narrators, save for Diary which was absolutely brilliant and narrated by a middle-aged woman. This could be my own prejudice, but I find his recent releases narrated by a naïve Kansan girl with big city dreams or a 13-year-old rich girl a little hard to relate to. Be that as it may, the plot for Beautiful You is still equally complex and outlandish, with the dark little observations of human nature and society that we all came to expect from the author that brought us Fight Club.

Is this book my favorite? Not by a long shot. Is it horrid? No, not at all. Would I read it again? Maybe. But since every year I fiend for a new release from Chuck Palahniuk, this was, admittedly, kind of a letdown.

I still recommend you read it, especially if you loathed the onslaught of women reading 50 Shades of Grey on the train every day on your commute. It comes out next month, October 2014, via Doubleday.

 

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk October 7, 2013

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 9:32 PM
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A book review by Alexander Castiglione

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Well, the old adage, “If you have nothing nice to say don’t say it at all,” that’s getting thrown out the window.  Now, anybody that reads my reviews knows I am a huge fan of Mr. Palahniuk, but his new release and sequel to Damned falls short of the mark.

Then again, maybe my expectations are too high, since most of his books I’ve read multiple times, equally enamored each time around.  Maybe it’s the fact that the protagonist is an undead tween, donning a skort, battling obesity and dealing with a serious inferiority complex; and as a twenty-something male, I find that a tad hard to relate to.  My ability to relate aside, points to Palahniuk for being able to create and maintain a unique alienated teenage voice for near 600 pages between the two novels.

Of course the book has its vile twists and turns and sordid sub-plots (no Chuck book would be complete without them), but save for the end, I found this entire piece weighed, measured, and found wanting.  A gut feeling tells me it’s part of a trilogy, and I truly hope so.

Damned, well, it was pretty damned good.  A truly twisted tale of Hades, Hell, the underworld; whatever name you put on it.  With candy as currency and pools of bodily fluids making up the landscape, it was as hilarious as disturbing.  However, it’s sequel left something to be desired.  Doomed, just like its prequel, ends with a question mark (IE The End?) and I truly hope this is prophetic of a 3rd installment, as this one left much to be desired.

Doomed comes out October 8th, 2013 via Doubleday.  Grab a copy and decide for yourself.

 

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman January 3, 2013

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 10:24 PM
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A book review by Alexander ‘Stigz’ Castiglione

Another collection of essays by columnist, humorist, satirist and generally hilariously insightful author, Eating The Dinosaur kicks some Jurassic-sized ass.

Any author that puts out a book entitled Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs automatically has my attention. After reading his first collection of essays – Cocoa Puffs –  prior to perusing the one in question, he earned my respect by interestingly and analytically breaking down our modern culture in this self-proclaimed “low culture manifesto,” complete with an in-depth sociological analysis of personal favorites such as Saved By The Bell – something most people in who were born in the early to late 80’s and that owned a television most likely remember vividly.  In addition he shed light on the porn industry, the “breakfast club effect” and various other quirky, low-brow and highly popular social phenomenon.

This particular book is just as quirky and equally funny as Cocoa Puffs. Tirades on Garth Brooks’ marketing shtick (I wasn’t aware this was even a thing) to the marketing genius of Nirvana, Klosterman is as entertaining as he is enlightening into the darker sides of the music industry. From there he keeps it stimulating with an exhaustive analysis of time travel (and cites some badass movies to support his theories, I may add) to tirades about obscure basketball players I hadn’t even heard of.

A conversational read, you breeze through it pretty quick, and the little excerpts from anonymous interviews with (what I assume to be) celebrities keep you smiling along the way. He does this subtly at times and very blatant at others – my favorite being “The Best Response to being arrested for carrying an unlicensed handgun into a nightclub and accidentally shooting yourself in the leg, thereby jeopardizing your pro football career.” If you didn’t catch that reference, you probably were nestled under a slab of granite for the last couple years. And you’ll learn more about ABBA than you ever thought you knew. Yea…ABBA. That just happened.

So grab a copy, read a few essays or jam straight through it, you’ll probably come out the other side in stitches with an in-depth knowledge of cinema, music, marketing, and the general tomfoolery of the mass media machine. Cynics, cinephiles, and concert junkies – this book has you covered.

 

Seven Days in Rio by Francis Levy October 11, 2011

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 8:27 PM
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A Book Review by Alexander ‘Stigz’ Castiglione

A lot of books start with the main character traveling to a distant land.  Many stories’ inception begins with our protagonist going on a journey.  In that respect, Seven Days In Rio, is like many other stories.  And that is the only similarity.

This piece by Francis Levy follows Rich Cantor, a Jewish CPA from Manhattan, and his seven-day stay in Rio De Janiero, Brazil.  Our protagonist is a sex tourist, with one thing on his mind: paying for pussy.  Layered with psychological schemas and doused in an accelerant of promiscuity, this book takes us on a seven day journey of a sexual deviant wearing a Brooks Brothers suit.

From the seedy descriptions of the locale, to the in-depth psychoanalysis and allusions to famous behaviorists, we follow Rich Cantor on his sleazy journey through the South American sex capital.  As he searches for the perfect “Tiffany” (a name the protagonist uses to describe any “working girl”), the author surreptitiously draws the blinds open on the disparity between cultures and the free nature of the sex trade.  Drawing inspiration out of the “free love” movement most likely, Levy creates a sordid tale of a sex addict, or rather more aptly a “Tiffany aficionado,” skulking around the streets of Rio and the halls of his hotel.  His hotel, ironically, has a convention in town for psychoanalysts, and Cantor not only has an affinity for women of the night, but also a predisposition to therapy and Lacanian practices.  From there, the story spirals into a distasteful adventure where any orifice is game and the only boundaries are reality, that is the amount of reals or Brazilian currency in your pocket.

An interesting novel to say the least, it is a rather quick read at only around 200 pages or so.  However, some parts of the story play too much on the psychoanalysis angle, making the reader feel a bit alienated (I’d imagine) if they were unfamiliar with some of the motifs and themes.  However, the references to Freud and Lacan aren’t pervasive enough to stop you from reading altogether.  The hilarity of the protagonist’s predispositions in the bedroom will more than make up for the bouts of psychobabble.  With disturbing Oedipal revelations and a fixation on hairy minge, this book is as disturbing and unnerving as it is funny, bringing you from the streets of Rio to the high-rises of New York with equally perturbing prose.

If you feel like reading something a little different and vastly more risqué, check this book out published by Two Dollar Radio.  If you are in the mood for something inoffensive and safe; stick with Stephanie Meyers and leave this book for the big boys (or girls).

3.5/5 Tiffany’s