John Wayne Cleaver, a teenage boy who lives above his mom’s mortuary and doesn’t think like other boys his age. He is three years short of being diagnosed a sociopath. He takes unusual interest in serial killers* and enjoys helping his mom with embalming. He lives by a set of self-imposed rules designed to tame his darker side even though he thinks his destiny is to become a serial killer. He is the son of Sam, after all.
When a string of gruesome murders hit the town, John immediately takes interest and begins bending his rules. He worries that the killings are tempting him, and he doesn’t want to kill anyone. That’s what the rules are in the first place. Using his knowledge of serial killers, John begins to hunt the murderer – but as his investigation deepens, the lines between his two sides become blurred until he’s unsure whether he’s trying to stop the killer or protect potential victims.
Author Dan Wells did a phenomenal job capturing the internal struggle of this sympathetic sociopath while building external tension. I can appreciate a main character who doesn’t understand where people are coming from; I’ve had the same problem for years. I thought Wells did a beautiful job delving into his psychology. John is emotionally detached, and he strives to fit in, but how normal can you be if empathy doesn’t come naturally?
At first, I didn’t want the killer to be an actual demon. I preferred the metaphor, the idea that the murders were so brutal that only a demon could have done it. I like to think that Wells brought the metaphor to life – made it literal as a statement. When people can’t make sense of madness, they call it evil. By the end of the book, I thought that the demon was a clever departure from status-quo thrillers.
The bottom line is that I love this book! Though the main character is in high school, there is enough carnage that this is not a young adult book, and I like it that way. It brought me back to my “true crime phase” when I questioned how much social behavior is just acting instead of sincerity. ”I Am Not a Serial Killer” keeps the reader guessing what will become of the killer while escalating John’s psychological involvement with the case; it’s a double-whammy!
* I don’t like “obsessed” because I own a shelf of true crime books, wrote papers on serial killers throughout high school and frequented the Crime Library enough to make my mom nervous; everybody has this phase, right?
Why is “Slaughterhouse 5” so amazing? Because it’s about time travel? Yes, a novel concept (pun not intended), but I think that “Player Piano,” Vonnegut’s first novel, deserves more attention because it’s true… or, at least, is on its way to becoming true. I started reading “Player Piano” over Summer 2011 but found myself interrupted by college. A year later, I picked it up again the day after finals and finished the book within a week.
Set is set in a future where technology has automated production and industry in the name of progress and reduced citizens to mere consumers, “Player Piano” follows Dr. Paul Proteus, an engineer at Ilium Works on his path to self discovery. With a bit more humor, the novel also tracks Dr. Alyard, a diplomatic liaison attempting to “sell” the fruits of industry (civilization! progress!) to the Shah of Bratpuhr.
Proteus, who begins the novel as a career man on the fast track to a coveted promotion, begins to have reservations about the system. By all accounts, the systems leaves all citizens well fed and wanting for nothing, but Proteus, with the reader, begins to notice that the system does not allow them a basic human need: purpose.
It took me a week of contemplation before I realized why I loved this book so much: because it is about Enlightenment, human purpose and human nature. A running theme in the novel is Proteus’ desire to live free of machinery battling his desire for comfort, which (I think) follows Immanuel Kant’s theory of mental maturity and human nature. Kant says that humans are perpetually in conflict between a desire to be rational, independent beings and a base urge to find the easiest solution and pleasure. While Proteus eventually accomplishes his freedom by buying an antiquated farm, he is shocked by the effort that comes with the lifestyle he’d so long romanticized and gives it up as a passing hobby. Similarly, when we attempt to make choices without relying on the guidance of others, previously easy decisions become harder to make and we are faced with a temptation to return to our old patterns of behavior.
I think “Player Piano” addresses some of humanity’s big questions by drawing parallels between living independently and fighting fate. Here are some questions I pondered after this novel:
- Can the mechanism of fate be overcome by men? Is there free will?
- Is culture all-powerful in human life? Can men change society or are they just cogs in the machine?
- What is the worth of humanity? What does it mean “to live”?
Willa Cather’s novel “O Pioneers” transports you through time into the untamed prairies of the West and into the heart of the men and women who first conquered the wilderness with their plows. It is a story of sacrifice, of love lost and of resilience in the face of sorrow.
The story follows the life of young immigrant Alexandra Bergson as she takes over the family farm upon her father’s death. She faces resistance from her two brothers Oscar and Lou, who are ashamed of standing out from other farmers and of their origins, and criticism from the surrounding landowners. Alexandra, in her endeavors to raise her youngest brother, Emil, into a man not burdened by the soil, puts aside her personal happiness.
The novel faces criticism for its meandering plotline and lack of typical conflict-resolution formatting. That flaw, however, is its brilliance. The story flows in waves and lulls of action, weaving the scenery into a character that develops alongside the pioneers that work it and changes with every springtime, birth or death. It follows the path of real life rather than a constructed formula, which is part of the poetry in the words.
Cather captures the mentality of the characters exquisitely, detailing the pain and happiness of their rugged existence with sincerity. You can neither grieve nor smile entirely for Alexandra or her family, because each person is uniquely flawed. Their choices live with them and are as complete a character as the backdrop against which they live their lives.
It was a beautiful book. Read it.