The progression of virus scares have been a perception of thrillers for years. The idea comes from the aspect of perspective. How do we view the mortality of the restructuring of cells that threaten our very lives when we ourselves can’t see the process per se. “Cold Storage” [David Koepp/Ecco/320pgs] is an interesting approach to the genre because even though it has a wider scope potential, it reads so fast that it almost seems like a short story or part of an anthology. It’s purpose is clear though it feels more like an exercise in storytelling perspective. The story follows a fungus that perhaps fell from the sky or was introspective in a vision of primordial goo. The unique aspect is that its only function and thought with whatever it hosts is too spread its fungus through whatever means necessary…and it is usually destructive. The first instance is in a village that is obliterated. It is a investigated by an off grid team in Trini and Roberto who seemed to have been cleaning up messes of a viral and biologic nature for years. Their interaction has a “Castle” vibe to it which really resounds as they bring their skills to a third world town that has been decimated. The story is not one of overarching details but an interesting basic human interaction which underlies what is actually going on. This progresses to its wrap up before jumping a ton of years to the restarting in a way of said threat. However, it is approached with much less interesting main characters. As soon as Roberto and Trini re-enter, the pace picks up. The story uses a very compacted and geographically focused point of storytelling in going from a wide world view to the inside of a storage company which is built over another secret. What sets it apart is almost showing internally how the fungus is thinking by taking over a cockroach, a rat, a deer, a man. The body horror structure of it brings to mind something like “The Thing” but places it in a much more accessible point of impact…a self storage facility in the middle of Kansas. The eventual resolution is fairly uncomplicated but specific almost as if the writer was testing the audience to see if they were listening. Koepp, who has written many screenplays and adapted “Jurassic Park”, is so focused on the essential mechanics of the story he is telling that that is really all there is yet it is entertaining nonetheless.
By Tim Wassberg
The progression of “Fled” [Meg Keneally/Arcade/408pgs] is one of abstract strife but undoubted perseverance. While the conclusion of the book reflects more in the idea of admiring lives that are only given praise in hindsight, the journey of Jenny Gwyn in the book is a great tale. This book would make a wonderful series and character study especially in the days of series like “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” but with a decidedly darker tinge. The travails and discussions of today didn’t exist on the ship that Jenny was sentenced to after being convicted of stealing from a women of stature in England. Rather than hang, she is sent on a ship where both men and women are carted as slaves, cheaper than labor, to help work colonies in border lands in Australia. The colonies could be anywhere. It is simply a prison from which there is no escape. The vividness of the times on the boat and even on land have a sense of intensity about them. Jenny knows how to survive and while not being overtly assertive or aggressive, realizes how to make her life work and how it can go wrong. She marries a man who is both admired of her but also misled on his own importance. This to and fro is the pulse of the book. Jenny is mostly right but she also wants her husband, who is the best fisherman in the colony to live up to his standard. But jealousy among others and the inherent politics of class, greed and avarice definitely play into the proceedings. This is not “Lord Of The Flies” but people simply surviving on the edge of society where society still thinks it has a foothold. It is reminiscent of the house Martin Sheen visits in the director’s cut of “Apocalypse Now” It is real and yet almost imaginary…a hell from which there is no escape. And yet plans are made.
The dexterity but also vignettes of optimism which Keneally captures in small details with the fish, Jenny’s eventual children and the natives give voices to that desolation and helplessness that “Lost” sometimes had but also hope that can be quickly quashed. The eventual escape through both folly and punishment from the island references “The Bounty” but also brings to mind Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat”. The details as they traverse the sea in a boat that should not is made beautiful by the simple visions and repairs that are done along the way. While it might sound mundane in the writing of this review, it is not. It is existential without pretending to be….dramatic without resorting to melodrama. The struggle between life and death as well as ego is an interesting conundrum as played out on the boat as seen by Keneally. There is a rescue of sorts but the way it plays out adheres to the true nature of the characters leading them from the brink of salvation back into the depths of hell. Without giving the ending away, the book relays the possibility of redemption in a certain fashion. While this is admirable and does keep in time with the real life aspect of Mary Bryant, it almost comes off too neat. The ending epilogue the author admits is a fabrication and it feels so since it lacks the authenticity of the rest of Jenny’s journey, not to spite it but rather to try to give it meaning. But in doing so, it belittles her suffering in a way. Three-quarters of the book is fantastic while the last quarter feels like a moderate tack. Nevertheless it is a fantastic female-centric story that plays across the board both tugging at the heartstrings but also providing a sense of adventure even in a dark context. In many ways there is a parallel to Netflix’s recent “Lost In Space” with the matriarch pushing through with logic and emotion pushing at each other. Granted it lives in a different time but the same universal truths remain constant.
By Tim Wassberg
The aspect of the carnie lifestyle and the essential types of life it portrays has possibilities but it all depends on the balance of the lives shown. In “American Carnival” [David Skernick/Schiffer/ 128pgs], some of the lives shown are interesting and the poses natural and telling. But there is not really as much context for what is being shown. Granted the book is a collection of photographs of various fairs and carnivals between 2010 and 2015. Some of the images are undeniably textured for sure but it would have been better with perhaps one or two more sentences with each one. Skernick speaks of panoramic photographs but these seem more large format wide angle. Panoramas from a more specific point of view bring to mind imagery that actor Jeff Bridges has captured on his movie shoots for years. One specific photo the author here captures has is a swing ride where the panorama didn’t quite gel so some of the riders are half cut out. It is not really abstract as seen in the digital age. It comes off more as sloppy. A couple of the photographs like a pizza maker smiling, two carnival game girls showing their foot tattoos and an elephant handler responding to the stinky part of his job have a certain humor that again would be better keyed in by context of a story or verbage. There are a few photos like of a swing ride from the top of a funhouse or a slide just before a storm which have a lyricism but also a one sentence story behind them. There is some interesting potential here but so much more possibility especially in layout and structure that could have been done.
By Tim Wassberg