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
The aspect of noir is making it feel connective. Usually the progression involves an anti-hero depending on the trajectory of his redemption. Trying to make this meld as an after thought; of a person searching for some sort of epilogue is usually where the story ends. That is why Blake Saunders in “River Of Salt” [David Warner/Freemantle/256pgs] is refreshing in a way. In escaping the wise guy elements of Philly and basically betraying his brother enough to get him killed, Saunders ends up on the coast of Australia running a bar and playing surf music. While this doesn’t sound like the best of set ups, there is always darkness in small communities and the true nature of human behavior reflects there as well. Between shakedowns on a regional level, hookers ending up dead in hotels, marital trysts that go wrong, young love that goes off the rails and other shenanigans, the situations in this novel come off more than a little bit in the vein of a soap opera but maybe one closer to “Riverdale” with its sparks. Doreen, as the foil to Blake, is both strong and vulnerable with a second life permeating that gives her even more texture than Blake. Even Nalder, the cop, always looking out for himself, is well built in terms of dimensions. Everyone has flaws. In this story everybody makes wrong decisions at a certain point but that makes the texture richer, even if it seems to connect and clean up a little too nicely. That said, both the internal and external struggles that permeate “River Of Salt” have their own strengths.
By Tim Wassberg
In an unusual progression, teasing this kind of book is interesting possibility. Like perhaps “The Martian” as a way to refine the story, this is not a bad perception though the aspect of formatting in the manuscript is definitely off. That said, “A Memory Called Empire” [Arkady Martine/Tor] has the beginnings of an interesting story that brings to mind both the political elements of the “Star Wars” prequels and some of the inner working technology of “Minority Report”. The narrative follows a new ambassador coming down to the city center of the universe which is ruled by a specific kind of society where rules and speech are dictated with certain word use and prose, perhaps as a push to a higher form of consciousness. The lead character Mahit recently has been placed as ambassador for her government after the loss of the one before her. What makes this interesting is that a back up of his consciousness is implanted in her brain through a brain stem “imago” which blends their knowledge. A scandal in terms of what happened before he is found dead builds both inside and outside her head. When she and her local liaison begin to investigate, connections start to unravel. Despite a shaky first few chapters, the story engages she cause of the relationship between the liaison and the new ambassador. However, the essence of world beyond a texture of colors and structures hasn’t quite been fully formed yet but an interesting start.
By Tim Wassberg