Part 2: Ghost Stories. A senile, deaf, lonely old man muses on his past while drifting in and out of dementia (the transitions between past-present and confusion-lucidity are brilliant; it's an absolutely believable portrayal of what might be behind the disjointed ramblings of an elderly man with dementia). Once a hockey star with NHL potential, he lost his family, his future, and his happiness to a knee injury and an indiscretion with his brother's wife. A portrait of a life wasted.
Part 3: The Country Nurse. A lonely nurse meddles in the lives of her patients and their family members, including the old man from Ghost Stories and the boy from Tales from the Farm. The relationships between characters from all three stories are highlighted.
Jeff Lemire has a grubby but effective black-and-white illustration style that is easy to get lost in. It's a stolid book, thoughtful and poignant and sad and bleak and powerful. There are a very few happy moments, all the more potent for being so rare.
The opening sentence of THIS book: "John Matherson lifted the plastic bag off the counter."
So yeah, that was strike one. Strike two was when I realized that the foreword was an arm-waving fear-mongering piece of pap written by none other than Newt Freaking Gingrich.
At that point I was just looking for an excuse to quit reading, but--amazingly--there was no strike three. Forstchen recovered the ball, crossed the neutral zone, drove the lane and split the uprights.
Okay, it's not contending for book-of-the-year. His prose doesn't get any better and the book is comprised mostly of 1)dry lectures on history, nation-building, public health, and introductory law, and 2)maudlin monologues about noble sacrifice and conservative heroism (LOTS of the latter).
What can I say, the dry lectures were interesting. Forstchen digs into EMPs and demonstrates just how dependent we are on abundant power and easy transportation. He exposes the pamperedness of 21st century first-worlders and posits some pretty convincing die-off scenarios and survivor conflicts.
All told, it didn't hold a candle to Lucifer's Hammer or World War Z but it was still mentally delicious for an apocalypse nut like me.
Rodriguez hits another homerun, beautiful illustration with plot points always sneaking into the background. Keeps you on your toes. I love his mindscapes, wonderful things happen when someone busts out the head key. LOVE the little hero in Tyler's head that keeps his fear and rage under control and allows him to function.
This is Hill's first real foray into a period setting; his Olde Americain Englysh wasn't great but wasn't terrible; he managed to avoid it becoming a distraction. The "Lovecraft" hints are finally starting to be relevant...I kind of wish I were more versed in the lore of HP so I'd know if I were missing anything.
Ellroy uses this odd convention where he drops nouns and verbs in order to convey action or mental leaps. Sometimes it's effective, other times it's just...dense:
Ed, staked out at 1st and Olive. His father's shotgun for backup, a replay on his hunch.
Sugar Ray Coates: "Roland Navarette, lives on Bunker Hill. Runs a hole-up for parole absconders."
A whispered snitch: the speakers didn't catch it, doubtful Coates remembered he said it. R&I, Navarette's mugshot, address: a rooming house midway down Olive, half a mile from the Hall of Justice Jail. A dawn breakout--they couldn't make Darktown unseen. Figure all four of them armed.
Scared--like Guadalcanal '43.
Outlaw--he didn't report the lead.
James Ellroy: "No time for predicates! Thinking! Running and shooting!"
His dialogue is unsurpassed, however. There's an utterly fantastic scene in which the protagonist interrogates three suspects who are innocent of the mass murder at the heart of the story but are guilty of another horror. They can't alibi themselves without sealing their own doom. Best part of the book, amazing dialogue.
I've never experienced such a concentration of colorful slurs: "fruits", "jigs", "yid", "schvartzes", an abundance of N-words--it was relentless (and often quaint). The background racism of the time was displayed in all its foul glory: "Leroy, if she's dead and she was colored you can cop a plea. If she was white you might have a chance." This stuff was jolting in that it wasn't held up for scrutiny; it was just always there, oozing from every chapter. While the stream of offensiveness served the setting and characterizations wonderfully well, it was more than a little off-putting...but worth it, I think.
In the first chapter, the protagonist as a middle-aged man visits his childhood home for a funeral, and it's BORING...which accents the utter richness and simplicity and innocence of childhood when memory comes crashing in on him. It's like that moment when Dorothy steps out of her black-and-white house and everything is in color.
It's a powerful illustration of childhood. He's sad that no one shows up at his birthday party but he's even happier to be able to bury his nose in a book. He knows that "naked" is bad, although he doesn't really understand why. He knows that children explore but adults take paths and always know what to do. He is confused that grownups take wonderful delicious things like peas and put them in cans and make them repulsive, and he has simple faith that his new friends will protect him when the monsters come.
It reminded me strongly of Coraline at first: a bright young child's family is endangered by a sneaky supernatural fiend, and adults won't or can't help. But where Coraline is about empowerment, Ocean is simply an acknowledgment of the wonder and terror of being a child.
Reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane really made me relive my own childhood...Gaiman tapped into some magic when he wrote this.