Mini Reviews: More Tales of the Unexpected, The Keep and Uglies

Monday, July 22, 2013

More Tales of the Unexpected
by Roald Dahl

Most people know Roald Dahl because of his wonderful stories for children. From Matilda to James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the BFG, Dahl has enthralled generations of kids. But somehow most people have missed out on his short stories for adults. He published multiple collections in this vein and this one is a perfect example of his work.

The book reminds me of short stories from both Ray Bradbury and Flannery O’Connor (LINK TO BOTH). He tends towards a darker view of the world and people in general. Some of the stories are creepy, like The Sound Machine and the chilling Genesis and Catastrophe. Others like The Umbrella Man and Vengeance is Mine Inc. are quirky and fun.  

The slim book contains the following stories:
The Sound Machine
Georgy Porgy
Genesis and Catastrophe
The Hitch-hiker
The Umbrella Man
Mr. Botibol  
Vengeance is Mine Inc.
The Butler

BOTTOM LINE: If you’ve never read any of Roald Dahl’s adult stories this is a great place to start. The man had a wicked sense of humor and a style of writing that people have adored for decades. I’d also recommend his nonfiction memoirs Boy and Going Solo.

The Keep
by Jennifer Egan

Danny is a lost soul who never manages to grow up. After living in New York for years bouncing from one job to the next he finds his life to be empty. He travels to Eastern Europe to meet his cousin Howard who is trying to open a hotel in a rundown castle. Their complicated history makes their relationship tenuous at best.

The atmosphere is perfectly set, a creepy castle in Eastern Europe, a dark trauma from the past returns to haunt the characters, sounds perfect. Unfortunately the plot quickly becomes weighed down with unnecessary side plots. There’s Danny’s obsession with technology, Howard’s complicated marital life, a crazy baroness living in one tower of the castle, etc. Each of these elements could be interesting, but together they create a bit of a mess.

Just when the plot does hook you it changes gears completely and we find a new set of characters in a writing class in prison. This drastic switch never quite meshes with the feel of the other plot line. Egan works to bring the stories together, but it just doesn’t feel right. Then at the end she tries to wow us with a “twist” that’s not as shocking as it should be. We switch narrators one more time in the final chapters and it once again feels like an entirely new book.

BOTTOM LINE: I admire the writing style, but the story itself never comes together. The author couldn’t seem to decide on a narrator and so the book feels like three separate short stories smashed together. Try her much more successful book A Visit from the Goon Squad instead.

by Scott Westerfeld

Tally lives in Uglyville. She is an “Ugly,” someone who hasn’t yet received the surgery that all individuals get at age 16 to make them into a “Pretty.” As she watches her best friend enjoy his extravagant new lifestyle as a Pretty she can’t wait until it’s her turn. All of that changes when she makes a new friend and learns there might be a world outside the city life she knows and there might be some hidden secrets to the life of a Pretty.

This one felt like a completely cookie-cutter dystopian novel. Take one misunderstood girl. Add an unnecessary love triangle. Pick a random dystopian elements where the whole society is being deceived about something. And voilà you have a young adult dystopian novel. While I've enjoyed many of these in the past this one just fell completely flat. The characters feel like cardboard cutouts. I couldn't even make myself care what happens.

I do like the idea of a society where everyone receives the same plastic surgeries so there is a visual equality. It's an interesting idea for a dystopia but in execution it felt very forced. I will say I think this book would have been a great precursor to the Hunger Games series. It’s almost telling the story of how the Capital society became what it is.

BOTTOM LINE: I won’t be reading the rest of the series and this isn’t one I’d recommend.


Brooke said...

Really need to read something from Dahl's adult works. As for Uglies, so glad to hear a negative opinion. Too many YA dystopia - need to be able to skip the not-so-great ones!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brooke - Yeah, I think I've reach my YA dystopia limit for awhile!

Andi said...

I started reading The Keep but I haven't finished it. Egan just misses for me, it seems. We'll see.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Andi - It doesn't get any better : (

Jillian said...

Everybody loves Uglies, so I am very excited to see someone who actually doesn't. At first I thought it was just me... it's probably a good read for some, but for me, it just didn't do anything. There wasn't anything original about it at all.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jillian - That's exactly it. There wasn't anything about Uglies that felt original.