‘The Shining’ by Stephen King

During my college career, I took more than my fair share of English Literature courses. I remember one particular class when my professor asked everyone to name an author who would stand the test of time. Some obvious names were called out-Dickens, Fitzgerald, Hemingway. When the discussion came around to me, I nervously asked, “What about Stephen King?” You could feel the silence in the room from my audacity to throw the name King into the discussion of so many legendary authors. Fortunately, the professor was a kindred spirit who voiced her agreement by saying, “I think King will last.” Truer words were never spoken. It seems difficult to believe that there was a time when King wasn’t one of the greatest-selling writers in the world. But back in the 1970’s, he was a teacher just trying to make ends meet for his family. By 1977, he had published two fairly successful novels, but the release of The Shining would launch King into superstardom. In my review of his later work, Pet Sematary, I discussed how King’s greatest strengths as a writer are creating well-developed characters and exploring the darkness inside human beings. In The Shining, these skills are executed to perfection. Creating an original spin on the “haunted house” story is no easy task, but I firmly believe that this novel is one of the best of the genre alongside Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I’ve reread this novel several times, and it continues to entertain as well as send chills down my spine with the immortal words “REDRUM REDRUM.”

The Shining (1977) by Stephen King (5 out of 5 stars), Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Jack Torrance, a writer and recovering alcoholic, is needing a fresh start. Recently fired from his job as a college professor due to an incident involving a student, his friend connects him with a winter job as the off-season caretaker of the Overlook, an old hotel deep in the Colorado mountains. Jack, along with his wife Wendy and five-year-old son Danny will be cut off from the rest of the world for three months after the winter storms hit. It will be the perfect opportunity for Jack to earn some much needed money, as well as complete his play. However, the idyllic Overlook as quite the shady past. Terrible forces exist inside the hotel, waiting for the right person to reawaken them. Unfortunately, the only one who knows that these horrors are coming is young Danny, who has a very special gift.

While there are several reasons why The Shining should be considered a classic work of literature, I will start with the most important, the characters. Yes, this is a work of horror. But it’s also the tragic tale of a family and their past struggles. As I said, King is known for crafting believable characters, both good and bad. The Shining in particular is such a character-driven work, delving so deep into the psyche of its three main leads that you feel like you know them just as well as your own family members. King achieves this intimacy through lengthy flashbacks, specific details on their thoughts and feelings, and loads of repetition. While King has used these techniques in the majority of his works, with varying degrees of success, they work beautifully here. The reason they work so beautifully here is that along with a story of evil spirits, it’s also a story on the horrors of addiction.

“This inhuman place makes human monsters.”

Jack Torrance struggles with anger and addiction. While he’s worked incredibly hard to stay sober from alcohol and to be a better husband, abstinence has been a daily tormenting struggle. Jack has made some costly mistakes due to his demons, and King does not shy away from the graphic details of his past abuse towards Wendy and Danny. While he has changed at the start of the story, that inner darkness is still there to some measure. As a result, his relationships with his wife and son are strained. While Jack Torrance may not be the most likable of King’s protagonists, I think he’s easily the most believable. He’s flawed, and while some may struggle with forgiveness for his prior actions to the novel’s start, I felt some compassion for him particularly following the glimpses into his upbringing. King is no therapist, but he manage to reflect how multi-generational trauma in families can repeat itself.

The story’s other protagonist is Jack’s son Danny. While King is fantastic at developing his adult characters, I think he has a real gift with his creation of child characters as well. Some of the most endearing moments, as well as the most horrific, involve Danny. I loved that his abilities were in the form of his imaginary friend named Tony. One of the more genius moves by King is the fact that, as readers, we know that events are going to be extremely bad when the Torrance family gets to the Overlook after only reading a few pages. But we keep reading. Through Danny’s glimpses into the future, we know that horrible events are about to unfold. King says, “hey I warned you,” but we don’t stop. If I had one complaint about Danny, it would be that he seemed older than a five-year-old. I’m willing to give this one a pass on the account of his gifts, but I feel like seven or eight would have been more realistic.

While Wendy is given a solid character portrayal as well, she comes in last behind the rich development behind both Jack and Danny. I’m not viewing that as a slight on the story, as we learn enough to have a good understanding of her character, particularly the knowledge that she struggled with emotional abuse from her mother. For best supporting character, you can’t go wrong with Dick Halloran, although his role is more along the lines of exposition in order to better understanding what “shining” actually means.

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The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo., where Stephen King stayed in 1974, inspired “The Shining,” Photo Credit: Natalie Getter (2014)

Setting and the pacing of the plot are the other elements that make The Shining such a fiction masterpiece. Even without the great cast of characters, I would still have enjoyed this work simply for the magnificence of the Overlook. I’ve always said that a great setting can become a character within itself. King achieves this with his grand hotel inspired by his real haunting experience while staying at the Stanley Hotel. The Overlook is a menacing presence from the outset with its forbidden rooms and scary garden of topiary animals. At the heart of the old building is the boiler, which becomes a huge piece of the final plot point. King knows the importance of setting up those little details quite early in the story. When Jack comes across a mysterious book of old news articles, he learns that this elegant hotel has a not-so-elegant past. The Overlook has a shady history of disreputable guests and horrific events whose ghosts fill its many rooms.

Inversely to the development of the human characters, the ghosts and dark forces that exist within the Overlook are not given very much backstory. I completely support this decision by the writer for I’ve always felt that the more mystery surrounding the other-worldly monsters, the better. The beings that exist within the hotel are parasites that take advantage of the darkness with Jack Torrance in an effort to become more powerful. At this point we know horrible events will take place. King manages to keep readers off-balanced by interspersing this feeling of uneasiness with moments of tranquility. Pacing is everything to this story. I love how we travel within the speed limit as events unfold with this sense of dread. Little details, such as the wasps’ nest, come back in such a significant way to the overall story. Once Jack falls under the spell of the Overlook’s malevolent forces, King kicks the pace into high gear. Suddenly, we are going 90 in a 60mph lane. In other words, when shit starts hitting the fan, King cranks the horror to an 11.

Here’s a great description of the boiler room from Danny’s point-of-view:

“The mechanical roaring sound, which he now recognized as the boiler at the Overlook which Daddy checked three or four times every day, had developed an ominous, rhythmic hitching. It began to sound like…like pounding. And the smell of mildew and wet, rotting paper was changing to something else-the high, junipery smell of the Bad Stuff. It hung around daddy like a vapor as he reached for the book…and grasped it.”

Finally, let’s talk about an issue that has been a dividing point among fans of this work for decades:

Heres Johnny The Shining GIF - HeresJohnny TheShining JackNicholson -  Discover & Share GIFs

So here are my thoughts about the book vs the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation. Long ago, I learned a rather important lesson that has served me well. Don’t compare movie to book. Instead, treat them as two separate art forms. The film adaptation is visually stunning with some impressive scenes, such as the Danny on a tricycle, the blood coming out of the elevator, and the famous face in the door. But it’s not Stephen King’s work. The character development is absent from the entire movie. What makes the book such a great literary achievement is in its development of this family. While I love Jack Nicholson’s portrayals of so many great characters, I absolutely detest his version of Jack Torrance. From the first scene, he is totally unlikable. I got no sense of that need for redemption and would certainly not want to be locked up with the guy for three months, even before all the insanity. I’m not even going to discuss Shelly Duvall as Wendy. While the film captures the skeleton of the story, several important scenes are changed for the worse or simply not there at all. Recently, I did watch the sequel, Doctor Sleep, and enjoyed it very much. Again, I love Kubrick as a visionary filmmaker and his take on the material is an unforgettable classic of 1980’s horror. But it’s apples and oranges to the source material. So don’t compare it.

Stephen King will forever set the bar high for writers with an incredible body of work, to which The Shining is one of many jewels. For lovers like myself of horror fiction and family drama, this is a novel that will stand the test of time. With perfectly timed plotting, a larger-than-life setting, plenty of chills, and believable characters, this novel is all the proof you need that Stephen King belongs within the ranks of classic authors.

“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.

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‘Revenge’ by Yoko Ogawa

Ever since I read Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I’ve been in love with Japanese fiction. Much like my appreciation of the films of David Lynch, I enjoy these bizarre plots and strange events that happen to seemingly ordinary people. Yoko Ogawa wastes no time in capturing this sense of the uncanny immediately in Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales. The title can be a bit of a misdirection, as not all of the stories in this collection focus on revenge. However, they are extremely dark and will linger with you for quite some time after finishing. Several weeks later, I still find myself reflecting back on this wonderous collection.

Revenge (1998) by Yoko Ogawa (4 out of 5 stars), Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Following an opening paragraph describing a beautiful Sunday in “Afternoon at the Bakery,” Ogawa creates a misleading scene with these ordinary descriptions of normal life:

“Families and tourists strolled through the square, enjoying the weekend. Squeaky sounds could be heard from a man off in the corner, who was twisting balloon animals. A circle of children watched him, entranced. Nearby, a woman sat on a bench knitting. Somewhere, a horn sounded. A flock of pigeons burst into the air, and startled a baby who began to cry. The mother hurried over to gather the child in her arms. You could gaze at this perfect picture all day-an afternoon bathed in light and comfort-and perhaps never notice a single detail out of place, or missing.”

It doesn’t take long for Ogawa to get to the dark underneath this lovely scene. A woman enters a bakery to purchase a special treat for her son’s birthday. While normally a busy shop with a line out to the street, today it is eerily vacant. Eventually another customer enters and begins to have a conversation with the first woman. Discovering it is the other woman’s son’s birthday, she asks his age, to which the reply is “Six. He’ll always be six. He’s dead.” This simple tale of beauty turns into one of loss:

“He died twelve years ago. Suffocated in an abandoned refrigerator in a vacant lot. When I first saw him, I didn’t think he was dead. I thought he was just ashamed to look me in the eye because he had stayed away from home for three days.”

The story spirals downward from there. While for me this was my favorite piece of the collection, I raced through the rest of the book. It’s not entirely accurate to call this book a collection of short stories (Ogawa is full of contradictions) because each story connects to the following one, either through a character or event of the preceding one. For example, the second story “Fruit Juice,” focuses on the woman who was supposed to be working in the bakery that day. This makes the book feel like a giant mosaic rather than disparate tales, which I actually prefer.

As you’ve figured out by this point, Revenge is full of the macabre and intensity of emotions (which again are subtle, to some extent) and most of all it is also about the human condition. Each piece deals with either loss or loneliness which leads the characters to behave the way they do and not in the best ways. There are times when as a reader I was caught off guard, unable to predict the characters’ actions. Ogawa does manage to make the stories flow and evokes some different emotions, from the surreal to heartbreak. While a couple of the tales fall into straight horror, most of them focus on the impact grief has on the human psyche. Despite writing in sparse, short sentences (another Murakami motif), Ogawa can definitely put us in our feels. From a lover’s revenge on her cheating boyfriend to the sad death of a Bengal tiger, there is a wide range of emotions to find here. I also found that Ogawa is quite brilliant at capturing those subtle “blink and you’ll miss it” moments. Certain images definitely stayed with me, from kiwi trees in a field to a very powerful violin scene.

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Yoko Ogawa is the award-winning author of The Housekeeper and the Professor and Hotel Iris,.
Photo Credit: Tadashi Okochi/Picador USA

I certainly got that feeling of reading a work by Murakami when I started, but I was pleasantly surprised when Ogawa took this book into an orbit all her own. There’s the story of a purse designer whose customer is a woman who wants a designer bag for her heart which is growing outside of her chest. Another tale focuses on a museum that collects various torture devices from throughout history. Then, there’s a landlady who grows carrots that oddly are in the shape of human hands. While I wouldn’t call this book a work of magical realism, Ogawa does an excellent job staying right at its borders with these strange occurrences.

My only issue with the collection is that the characters’ voices are not distinctive enough, making it difficult to separate one character from the next. I had difficulty determining the age and gender of a particular narrator at the time. However, I found the prose itself to be very clean with an excellent translation from Stephen Snyder. Yoko Ogawa has achieved tremendous success in carving herself a place next to the magical Haruki Murakami. I look forward to becoming unsettled again through Ogawa’s mesmerizing writing.

“The desires of the human heart know no reason or rules.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.

‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ by Agatha Christie

Last year marked the centennial anniversary of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie’s first novel. Initially rejected, the book’s publishing heralded the creation of one of the most important detectives in literary history. While I’ve read several of the more famous Hercule Poirot stories, such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Death on the Nile, reading Poirot’s introduction was quite the transcendental experience. Protagonists in long-running series tend to enter into some other dimension, one in which they age but essentially remain the same. The passing of years isn’t experienced in the same way as it is for the reader. In the case of this novel, Hercule Poirot is described as “old” and has been retired for quite some time. Perhaps there is something comforting about this ageless and mythic figure, who until his final novel, remained relatively the same. Since this was Christie’s first book and lacked the fame of some of her other works, I entered Styles House with no expectations. I am pleased to report that I was impressed with how much talent Christie demonstrates for a first novel.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie (3.5 out of 5 stars); Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is narrated by Arthur Hastings, a character created to serve in a similar role as Dr. Watson did for another famous detective. While recovering on sick leave from the war, Hastings is invited to stay at Styles House in Essex, by his old friend John Cavendish. Not long after his arrival, he realizes that Styles is quite the hotbed of scandal and grudges. For example, John’s mother Emily Inglethorp has married a much younger man, and the family feels that her new husband is only after her wealth. Mrs. Inglethorp has just had a falling out with her good friend Evelyn Howard, and tension is palpable between John and his beautiful wife, who is spending a lot of time with a visiting physician, who just happens to be an expert in poisons. Christie is quite generous with the foreshadowing here as poison is mentioned a lot before the actual murder takes place. Add into the mix Cynthia, a young ward of Mrs. Inglethorp and John’s sullen brother Lawrence, and that makes a lot of people who are financially dependent on Emily, or would be a lot better off if she were no longer there.

So you can guess what happens next. When Emily Inglethorp is poisoned in the night while inside a locked room, suspicion naturally falls on the new husband. As luck would have it, Hastings just happens to have a friend who is lodging nearby as a refugee:

“I came across a man in Belgium once, a very famous detective, and he quite inflamed me. He was a marvelous little fellow. He used to say that all good detective work was a mere matter of method. My system is based on his — though, of course, I have progressed rather further.”

Shortly following this disclosure, Hastings bumps into his old friend Poirot and requests his help in solving Mrs. Inglethorp’s murder. Christie has demonstrated a knack for character description, and our first encounter with the little Belgium detective is quite memorable:

“Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little to one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible. I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police. As a detective, his flair had been extraordinary, and he achieved triumphs unravelling some of the most baffling cases of the day.”

I was impressed with Poirot’s orderly mind and calm demeanor. One particular memorable scene occurs near the end when Poirot is struggling with a detail. He begins building a stack of cards in order to reset his brain into some kind of natural order. His relationship with Hastings is one of genuine friendship, and as an audience, we can empathize with the frustration towards Poirot for often holding back information until the obligatory reveal. While I found myself becoming quite annoyed with our little detective, I recognize this literary device as a way to challenge the reader to recognize a potential missed clue. There is a lot of warmth and humor between Poirot and Hastings. Poirot has a lot of fun keeping Hastings in the dark, or leading him up the wrong path. However, it is Hastings who, albeit inadvertently, provides the detective with “the missing link in the chain” that brings the solution together. The two friends make a great team, and I recognize the absence of Hastings in the later Poirot mysteries.

Given that there is a murder at the heart of this book, it is a highly entertaining piece of fiction. While American crime fiction is filled with passion and violence, the British tend to carry on while having a cup of tea. Fortunately, I enjoy both styles of detective fiction. There are plenty of characters with secrets to track, and red herrings abound within every chapter. Christie does keep the story grounded through the use of only one main setting. While the majority of the plot occurs within the walls of Styles House, it never feels claustrophobic. In terms of the crime itself, and its resolution, this one feels slightly clunkier and more convoluted than the later Christie novels. While there are several pieces to this puzzle, I never felt as though it was out of the realm of possibility.

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If locked-room mysteries are your bag and you want to see the genesis of pure brilliance, then The Mysterious Affair At Styles makes a great introduction into the world of Hercule Poirot. I plan to read at least one more Agatha Christie this year as I’ve got quite the collection at this point. Also, I’m counting this book as a “New-to-me classic by a favorite author” for BACK TO THE CLASSICS 2021.

“Sometimes I feel sure he is as mad as a hatter and then, just as he is at his maddest, I find there is a method in his madness.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

‘Death of a Salesman’ by Arthur Miller

One of my goals for this year is to read more diversely and that includes reading a play. Despite having plenty of plays on my shelf, I’m ashamed to say it’s been years since I read one. Originally, I was going to pick something by Shakespeare, but decided instead to try Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Although Miller is one of the most famous of the American playwrights, I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read anything by him. This one, which won the Pulitzer, seemed like the perfect beginning. When I finished it, I was completely blown away by Miller’s deep psychological insight into one of the most tragic characters to ever be created.

Death of a Salesman (1949) by Arthur Miller, Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Considered as Miller’s masterpiece, this play is about the vision, dreams, and hopes of Willy Loman during the period shortly after World War II. It is a time of rebuilding and change for the American dream. Now in his sixties, Willy has spent his career as a traveling salesman. He is a man with a larger-than-life personality with dreams to match. Willie has a vision for himself and for his family. A believer in the adage of “it’s all about who you know,” as well as material success, he often has trouble distinguishing reality from his vivid imagination. Despite his age, he still dreams of making it big. Unfortunately, he is beginning to lose some of his mental faculties and flashes back-and-forth between the past and present.

While Willie has achieved very little, he makes his family and friends believe otherwise. His lies about being a successful salesman run so deep, he often convinces himself of the illusion with only a few brief moments of clarity. His arrogance at being so successful masks a figure that’s quite frail inside. Willie often seeks guidance from a hallucination of his Uncle Ben, who is the ultimate symbol of a successful life. As the play unfolds, it becomes clear that Willie is not the man he claims to be. His deteriorating mentality leads him to no longer be able to support his family emotionally or financially or to simply drive correctly.

After Decades On Stage, Arthur Miller's Works Defy The Final Curtain : NPR
Playwright Arthur Miller

As a therapist, the Loman family was so fascinating to study with the roles each member played in the functioning of their dysfunction. Linda, Willy’s dedicated and clueless wife, truly believes in his lies, or turns a blind eye. Willie and Linda have two children. Biff, the eldest son, is a person who lacks direction and refuses to cater to his father’s expectations of him. Despite his shortcomings and self-doubt at the start of the play, he later stands up for himself and identifies his capabilities. Among all the characters, Biff shows the most growth and development by the play’s end. He accepts that he failed at his father’s expectations of graduating high school and becoming a successful athlete. The climax of Biff’s story is a flashback to an incident that he witnessed which made him decide to drop out of school and led to his grudge against his father. Through several flashbacks, we see how Willy showered Biff with expectations and pressures to be a successful athlete. Willie continuously berates Biff for his free-spirited nature.

Harold, who goes by the name “Happy,” is Willy’s second and youngest child. He doesn’t get as much stage time as the other characters, which is fitting considering he struggles for his father’s attentions behind his older brother. The next Willy in the making, Happy shares his father’s arrogance and misplaced confidence. Considering himself to be successful, he diverts himself from the family drama with his womanizing ways. Ironically, he longs for happiness throughout the play but always feels out of place.

At the beginning of the play, Willy’s mind is spiraling downward. Most likely, this is the result of early dementia. The story is told through Willy’s point-of-view as his mind moves from the present to the past and readers gain background information to better understand the story. Throughout the play, several clues point towards the discoveries of the final climax. I loved the playwright’s use of lighting and space to transition back and forth between past and present.

The story begins as Biff returns home after working out West as a farm hand. As Willy’s mind deteriorates, he is also concerned with his eldest son’s aimlessness and his efforts with “finding himself.” Linda, Willy’s wife, informed Biff about how Willy has attempted suicide in the past and puts tremendous pressure in their oldest son’s hands. If Biff can settle down and get a stable job, Linda feels that everything will be alright. However, Biff’s attempts to be someone he’s not merely feed the illusion. To make matters worse, Willy got fired from his job, and we discover that the family is struggling financially. During the play’s final act, Biff becomes so overwhelmed that he attempts to shatter the falsehoods and show his family their reality. Unfortunately, he fails, leading to the story’s tragic conclusion.

This play is easy to read and understand. Readers get swept up in the tragic circumstances as they internalize the themes presented in it. Willy’s inability to accept his fate and to continue to deny himself the truth is the main cause of his demise. His life has been full of unrealized dreams and memories of the past that take him further and further from reality. There are moments when Willy sees glimpses of the truth, but they are fleeting. His chasing of the wrong “American Dream” and never living an authentic life result in his demise. The character’s inability to drive is symbolic of living a life traveling in the wrong direction.

Death of a Salesman reflects not only physical death, but also the death of a dream. Willy’s dream of becoming financially successful remained a dream. For me, the saddest part of the play was the scene of Willy desperately planting seeds in his backyard. Realizing that he lived his life in the wrong way, he tries to create something physical to give his life meaning. While time has run out for Willy Loman, perhaps the next generation will have a chance to learn from his mistakes.

In a world where people often measure success by material wealth and career achievements, this book questions what is really important in life. Ask ourselves as to what our dreams should be. The themes of this book and the questions it raises for discussion makes this play a timeless read.

This book counts as my “Classic Play” for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

‘Recursion’ by Blake Crouch

After so many reviews of “classic” books, I realized that it had been ages since I read anything contemporary. Since reading more science fiction is part of My 2021 Reading Resolutions, I decided to read my third book from the innovative mind of Blake Crouch. So far, I’ve felt divided on this writer. While I loved Dark Matter, I was slightly underwhelmed by Pines. I suppose this will be the tie-breaker. Fortunately, Recursion was a hit for me as I couldn’t put it down. This is a modern-day thriller that gets so completely insane, I couldn’t stop myself from reading ‘just one more chapter’. This latest release proves that Blake Crouch is a writer who knows how to hook his readers.

Recursion (2019) by Blake Crouch, Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

This book is told from two different perspectives. First, New York detective Barry Sutton is investigating a devastating illness the media has dubbed ‘False Memory Syndrome.’ This mysterious affliction drives its victims insane as they inherit memories of a life they never lived. In the opening chapter, Barry attempts to talk down a suicidal woman who claims memories of being married to a man she has never met. We soon discover that Barry has his own troubled past. His teenage daughter was killed in a hit and run tragedy that later resulted in his divorce. As Barry suspects there is more to the false memory phenomenon than just a contagion, his investigation leads him to the mysterious Hotel Memory where he is given a “gift” impossible to refuse.

The second perspective is Helen Smith, a neuroscientist who is attempting to develop a technology that will preserve a person’s most precious memories. Inspired by her mother who is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, Helen’s success would mean someone could theoretically re-experience moments such as a first kiss, the birth of a child, or a final moment with a loved one. On the verge of losing all funding, Helen is approached by billionaire Marcus Slade who makes her an offer that will change not only her fate but that of the entire world. As it turns out, Helen’s research into memory preservation has unlocked a secret that could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

If you’ve read anything by Blake Crouch, you know that the suspense quickly builds into a complete mindf*** of a story. The book alternates chapters between Barry and Helen along two different time periods until they finally merge as one into a story that is completely bonkers. I finished this book quickly, as Crouch is notorious for ending his chapters on mini-cliffhangers.

After the first few chapters, I thought that I had figured out the basic plot structure and I would be able to predict how the rest of the plot would unravel. I was proven so wrong. Crouch’s work is always a puzzle that eventually comes together, touching on the nature of time, memory, death, and what happens when we try to manipulate the forces of nature. Although plenty of people in power have the best intentions, Crouch makes sure to let readers know that human beings should not play the role of God. I really want to talk about what is happening in this book, but I’ve decided to keep this review spoiler-free. Once the truth is revealed, things go off the rails quickly. While some of the science behind the phenomenon doesn’t make sense, I’m electing to forgive Crouch as I was so wrapped up in the story.

Blake Crouch On The Book We Can't Stop Listening To | Audible.com
Blake Crouch

Admittedly, I found sections to be a bit cyclical and repetitive — there are only so many times that you can read about failed attempts to save the world. However, on reflection, I can see how this narrative tool helped his readers recognize the futility of the situation of saving humanity from itself. Also, I found that the resolution to the problem was handled a little too neatly. I thought Barry and Helena’s love story was handled well, as I didn’t expect that aspect to work in the middle of such a mindbender of a novel. Crouch has definitely stepped up his game in writing strong female characters. Helena was a well-rounded character, and I loved the idea of exploring whether two people could be soulmates over continuous lifetimes. Trust me, it works.

Helena had altruistic intentions of developing a technology to help people retain their memories, inspired by her mother’s battle with dementia. Her good intentions are twisted by a ruthless benefactor with disastrous results that create the “False Memory Syndrome.” Crouch definitely liked hitting his readers over the head with the moral lesson that people need to just leave things alone. The book postulates an interesting question: would there be a point in my life that I would return to in order to change the future? The road not taken is often an interesting proposal. However, I agree with Crouch’s conclusions that we have to accept the bad moments with the good times.

I can definitely see this getting adapted into a movie or Netflix series. Since I enjoyed this novel so much, I’m considering reading the next installment of The Wayward Pines trilogy since it will be a while before Crouch releases another book. If you are looking for a thrill ride of a novel, check this one out.

“What’s more precious than our memories? They define us and form our identities.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.