An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic

Review by Paige Ambroziak

There’s an intelligent and exquisite beauty to Daniel Mendelsohn’s writing. He’s clearly an educator, a deep thinker, a keen critic, and a writer in tune with an effective mode of conversation. I was taken with AN ODYSSEY from the start—once I had gotten used to his writing style, which emulates ring composition with miniature strokes that are amusing as the read goes on.

I was moved to tears by the end of the work, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. It’s part memoir, part self-exploration, part lesson in all things Homer (if you’ve never read Homer, what the *heck* are you waiting for?), but its strength lies with the gentle hand he uses to show how similar we are to the ancients. If you appreciate Homer’s “Odyssey,” you will certainly enjoy this read, and I’d wager take away a trove of antique treasures.

I’ve taught the epic to college students, and found many parallels to my own journey. It requires a certain amount of stamina and patience to lead students to discover the epic’s textual tapestry on their own. Despite how well one may know a text, there are always new things to uncover. Teaching a text seems to teach us this if anything. Continue reading

The Perfect Wife: A Novel

Review by Paige Ambroziak

JP Delaney quotes Ovid’s myth of “Pygmalion” at the opening of his novel, but as I read it I couldn’t stop thinking about Victor Frankenstein. This is a domestic thriller with a side of sci-fi. The main character is — for all intents and purposes — an emotionally advanced AI that is capable of empathy. (Creating an AI with empathy seems paradoxical since empathy is unique to human beings, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes.) It — or AI-Abbie — is also capable of recalling moments from the life of the woman of which she’s a “replica.” I won’t rehash the synopsis but essentially a man pieces together a prototype of his dead wife to bring her back to life. That seems the gist of the story. Or so you think …

I love reading AI fiction, which isn’t always done well because it’s difficult to make AI’s “real” to the world they’re set in. Often storytellers deal in the future to make it easier. Delaney’s story is set in the present time, which presents several problems. We obviously can buy into the AI idea. We see it in the news and advancements have been made. We’re already having conversations about the rights of sex robots and whether it’s acceptable to create ones with rape settings. So the reader gets this world. And of course Abbie’s husband, Tim, is a tech bazillionaire with carte-blanche to experiment on/with/for whatever the heck he wants. We’ve seen that, too. We live it. But one of the silliest leaps Delaney makes — and one that makes me incredulous — is that AI-Abbie is so lifelike people mistake it for the dead wife. Um, what? This happens several times and is actually an important plot point. This doesn’t work and isn’t going to work no matter the suspension of belief for fiction. The story falls apart with that alone. Continue reading

Little Darlings: A Novel

Review by Paige Ambroziak

I went into “Little Darlings” knowing it was a supernatural thriller inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales, but I didn’t realize I’d experience such textured prose. Golding’s ability to spin a story with language is beyond skillful. She’s downright gifted. She pulls you in. Well, actually, she kind of grips you, her text’s curling tendrils clamping down and jerking you inside. The wince-worthy details, the evocative descriptors, the elegant way she describes some of the most gory moments of bodily harm due to childbirth, all of it feeds your imagination. Her writing calls to mind Neil Gaiman’s. There’s a layering to the work of both writers that makes the reader feel as if she sinks into their stories, like feet in quicksand or hands into mud.

Here, Golding sets the stage for a psychological thriller that has you questioning her main character’s delusions. Are they delusions? Is she reliable? She’s sleep-deprived, literally drained of her sustenance, and her husband’s behavior toward her may be categorized as abusive. After delivering her twin boys, she’s kind of abandoned, at least mentally. It’s no wonder she experiences what she does. Golding does such a valid job of making insanity plausible. If anything, this story is a cautionary tale for pregnancy — not motherhood. It’s the trauma of delivery that leaves the scars. Continue reading

Minor Confessions of an Angel Falling Upward

Review by K.P. Ambroziak

This is one of the most interesting, intoxicating, and innovative books I’ve read in a long time. It’s a journal, a confession, a celestial manifesto for the Fallen. But it’s also a throwback to all the great writers of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, those who lived on the edge of art and admission, paving the way for deep meditation and mental masturbation. Tortured thoughts and explicit scenes steeped in a rich vat of lush vocabulary, all make up this devil / vampire / possessor’s confessions—think Marquis de Sade (who makes an appearance), if he were a vampire.

But this isn’t an easy read, nor is it a read for those who’ve spent a lifetime ignoring the core of romantic literature and its predecessors. The wealth of literary, religious, and philosophical knowledge Planner Forthright possesses is astounding. One can believe he’s a fallen angel if only for the immense head on his shoulders. His voice is emotive and stilted at once, and his honesty would have anyone too embarrassed to read his words aloud. But he’s also shared more here than one could ever hope, teaching his reader about the ways of God and the power he’s usurped, a potency that may well have been split evenly. Planner tells us he is heir apparent to the Universe herself, but has no interest in power. If he had a talent, he says, he’d pursue it to the exclusion of all else because “forsaking one’s gifts, when you are lucky enough to have them, is one of the greatest crimes.” Continue reading

Book One of A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones

Review by Paige Ambroziak

George R. R. Martin’s prose is fit for more than simple storytelling in this postmodern saga. I use the term postmodern in the sense that Martin is deliberately mixing different styles, but also his work seems self-conscious and respectful of earlier conventions. He has layered his narrative with myths and stories going as far back as antiquity, and though the medieval elements of the world he has built are evident, it is these earlier mythologies woven into the fabric of his characters that seem to tout his mastery at making a neo-medieval novel. Whether you’ve known about the series since the first book was released in 1996 or you discovered it with HBO’s Game of Thrones television series, the first installment of A Song of Ice and Fire has much to offer, and much to love, for any literary taste.

And this is why it is so wonderful. For even the snobbiest literary critic can’t deny that this work of genre fiction, or fantasy, or the more recent highbrow moniker speculative fiction is a novel for the new age. As verbose as this first book may seem (it clocks in at 298,000 words and is one of the shortest of the series), it is a festival of language and characters and settings that are mixed in such a manner as to take nothing away from the narrative. Continue reading