The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. Stunning, my favorite book of the year. The story takes place in North Korea. The author says he’s only ever been there once. Hard to believe.
“Now take my hand,” he told me. I put my small hand in his, and then his mouth became sharp with hate. He shouted, “I denounce this citizen as an imperialist puppet who should be remanded to stand trial for crimes against the state.” His face was red, venomous. “I have witnessed him spew capitalist diatribes in an effort to poison our minds with his traitorous filth.”
The old men turned from their game to observe us.
I was terrified, on the verge of crying. My father said, “See, my mouth said that, but my hand, my hand was holding yours. If your mother ever must say something like that to me, in order to protect the two of you, know that inside, she and I are holding hands. And if someday you must say something like that to me, I will know it’s not really you. That’s inside. Inside is where the son and the father will always be holding hands.”
He reached out and ruffled my hair.
BIlly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. At the height (depth) of the Iraq war, a squad of soldiers made famous by an embedded Fox News reporter’s video is invited to attend a Dallas Cowboys game.
For the past two weeks he’s been feeling so superior and smart because of all the things he knows from the war, but forget it, they are the ones in charge, these saps, these innocents, their homeland dream is the dominant force. His reality is their reality’s bitch; what they don’t know is more powerful than all the things he knows, and yet he’s lived what he’s lived and knows what he knows, which means what, something terrible and possibly fatal, he suspects. To learn what you have to learn at the war, to do what you have to do, does this make you the enemy of all that sent you to the war?
Their reality dominates, except for this: It can’t save you. It won’t stop any bombs or bullets. He wonders if there’s a saturation point, a body count that will finally blow the homeland dream to smithereens. How much reality can unreality take? He’s in somewhat of a daze as he passes off the last program and starts walking toward the curb, hands fisted in his pockets to hopefully hide his crazed erection. Thank you! the nice people call after him. Thank you for your service!
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. A creepy guy’s creepy wife goes missing, and the plot swings back and forth wildly. Great until the not-completely satisfying end.
Dorothy has one of those ’70s kitten-in-a-tree posters— Hang in There! She posts her poster with all sincerity. I like to picture her running into some self-impressed Williamsburg bitch, all Bettie Page bangs and pointy glasses, who owns the same poster ironically. I’d like to listen to them try to negotiate each other. Ironic people always dissolve when confronted with earnestness, it’s their kryptonite. Dorothy has another gem taped to the wall by the soda machine, showing a toddler asleep on the toilet— Too Tired to Tinkle. I’ve been thinking about stealing this one, a fingernail under the old yellow tape, while I distract-chat with Dorothy. I bet I could get some decent cash for it on eBay— I’d like to keep some cash coming in— but I can’t do it, because that would create an electronic trail, and I’ve read plenty about those from my myriad true-crime books.