Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A disappointing movie

I watched [Rec] last night. Ehhh. I was hoping for many more creepy scares. There were quite a few good ones, notably when a character is left to a terrible fate, but like the similarly shaky cam Cloverfield, the film had lots of slow parts. This though is a feature, not a bug. The sub-genre is tly called found footage which means it is supposed to be the footage found by investigators after the fact. The thing is, looking at clues like that is a job, not entertainment.

If you are not familiar with the story, a news reporter goes to a fire station at night to show what their nights are like. After showing the tedium of the job, they get a call to investigate a wounded woman. They visit an apartment complex, get attacked by the injured woman and then find the authorities have sealed off the building. This is of course bad news. The bad decisions pile up and so do the bodies. There is an interesting backstory that would have made for an fun movie on its own, but this is tacked on at the end.

This one isn't easy to see, you might just want to check out the disturbing last five minutes (below) or maybe see the American remake called Quarantine. Or maybe not. The people who liked [Rec] do not appear fond of the remake.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart is easily one of the best books I have ever read. So I am THRILLED that a collection of his writing called Stories Done has been released. The book is about the 60s, which sounds great, but from him I would probably read a book about visits to the nation's finest convenience stores.

The Times of London some time ago published this interesting Murder map of London of 1888, the year of Jack the Ripper.

Here is an article that will get you thinking and probably fretting. David Streitfeld writes about how the availability of low prices online continues to wear away at the bookstore world. I had no idea that Olsson's was gone from DC. I need to start spending more book dollars in town.

This on the other hand will make you chuckle, or perhaps just ruefully shake your head. Foreign Policy Magazine lists their top ten worst predictions about the year 2008. You just knew Jim Cramer would make the list.

Mark Bowden, of Black Hawk Down fame, has a long piece in the Post about Somalia and how bad it is there.

Monday, December 29, 2008

AA Gill is Awesome

There are some travel writers, like Rory Stewart of the Places in Between fame, who focus so little on themselves that they seem to vanish from the page. AA Gill is not one of those writers. His giant personality, opinion and humor threaten to crowd out whatever subject is at hand. When he is focused he can be quite acerbic, although generally in a witty manner. In AA Gill is Away, his takes on Japan (populated by aliens who are trying hard to look human) and Germany (the section is titled Hunforgiven) flirt with offensiveness, but the humor wins out.

You can tell when he is truly angry when the humor disappears. He thunders at the pharmaceutical industry for it's limited investment in tropical medicines as he watches a Ugandan girl undergo a spinal tap and a Uganda boy take arsenic based medicine to test for and treat sleeping sickness. This and his harrowing visit to a Sudanese refugee camp are highlights of the book.

It's not just multinational corporations that get his goat, it is also communism. While I have read of the tragedy of the disappearing Aral Sea (bad economic policy managed to kill the fourth largest lake in the world,) Gill shows the terrible effects on the people still living there.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Gill also manages to convince a pornographic film company to let him write an adult film and goes to see it shot. The story is hilarious but also told quite straight. His treatment of the actors as real people alone sets the story apart.

This recent restaurant review will give you a sense of whether you will like his writing. Here are many more. Here is an enjoyable interview with Gill on restaurants and food.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Samuel Huntington RIP

Samuel Huntington is dead at 81. While he wrote a number of books that are highly regarded in the academic world, including the Soldier and the State and Political Order in Changing Societies, he is best known in the public sphere for his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order.

After the end of the Cold War, one of the biggest questions in international relations was whether the evolving system would be more or less prone to interstate conflict. Huntington's thesis was that cultural differences among civilization groups would make the coming decades more rather than less conflict prone.

In the public space, one of the principal competing ideas was that a globalizing meta-civilization would be too focused on making money to allow for interstate conflict. The standard bearer for this argument was of course Tom Friedman.

This an argument that can and most likely will go on for decades. Both sides can easily say that we just don't know yet how things will turn out. The economic crisis will likely create new arguments as well. It's the rare big think international relations book that breaks into the public debate, so it is makes Huntington's passing all the more sad that we will not have any more of his provocative ideas.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cheating with conclusions

My enjoyment of two good books, Nobodies and Violent Politics, was marred by a frequent problem in nonfiction writing. In both cases, the authors tell one story in the body of the book and then use their argument to make sweeping, not entirely supported arguments in the conclusion.

In Nobodies, John Bowe shows how globalized labor markets have made possible work conditions that amount to slavery here in the United States. He then uses the conclusion to make a number of indictments about globalization as a whole. In Violent Politics, William Polk investigates a series of insurgencies from the American Revolution to the War in Iraq, arguing that insurgencies are principally wars against foreign invaders and that they nearly always succeed. Like Bowe, Polk has a larger agenda, arguing that the United States is about to find itself in multiple insurgencies across the world and must pull back.

In neither case does the author effectively make an argument, instead they merely state them. If the point of the Bowe book was the globalization is on the whole negative, then the book should have made that argument. If the point of the Polk book is that U.S. foreign policy is overly aggressive and tending towards imperial commitments, then he should have argued that in the book itself.

The most effective conclusions are in some ways boring. For me, the best use is a restatement of the argument and addressing some potential implications. At some level Bowe and Polk do this, but they venture to far from their subject matter.

This is not a terribly important complaint, really. Conclusions are usually boring recitiations of the book's arugument that let you get the gist of the book without reading all of it. These are both good books that are just a little better if you skip the end.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry merry

I hope all our enjoy time with their families these days. We used the pause in the storm to get to our destination. Take a look at's year in photos and the incredible Hubble Space Telescope Advent calendar.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A serial killer for Portland

Seeing as how winter has shut down Portland making it difficult to enjoy the season, it's a fine time to read a book about Portland, or at least a thriller set in Portland. Chelsea Cain's Heartsick is a solid, entertaining serial killer story set in Portland. You might think all the life has been squeezed out of the serial killer genre, but Cain manages to tell a new and engaging story. It seems someone is killing school girls and the police have to call up damaged cop Archie Sheridan to solve it. For reasons that are not immediately apparent, Sheridan agrees to be shadowed by reporter Susan Ward.

The initial set up is reminiscent of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, with a cop visiting the brutal serial killer he caught and who brutalized him. Cain is aware of this, even directly referencing the book, but she takes a different tack. Her killer is in some ways even more malevolent than Lechter and the cop here and the relationship between the cop and killer is more twisted.

I thought the plotting and the resolution of the plot threads were excellent. Cain does a good job in moving the story forward and in misdirecting the reader. The only thing I didn't like about the book was how she dealt with Portland. You can't go a few pages in the book without running into some kind of reference to the city, usually a place name or fact about the town. Susan Ward, who worked as a feature writer, is given to spouting random facts about the city when conversations run down. There is so much, it feels like Cain saw this as her one shot at promoting the city.

All this information is interesting, but doesn't create the sense of the city that someone like George Pelecanos does with DC or James Ellroy did with his (nightmare version of) Los Angeles. Cain has written a followup novel called Sweetheart and I hope she will write more. I also hope she dials back on the name checking and helps people understand what life is like here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another wasted spot in the Netflix queue

I can see how people didn't like the Ruins, the novel, as it was grim and depressing, but it is hard to see how anyone could like the Ruins, the movie, as it was a compressed version of the story with nearly all the best parts removed.

The book quickly got the characters to the titular Ruins where they find themselves trapped and then hunted, but a teasing, slow moving enemy. The best part of the book was seeing how these characters dealt with their impossible situation. The characters are trapped on the roof of a ruined Mayan temple with threats all around. The overall feel was one of horrid claustrophobia. While they may feel safe from the enemy outside, it is the one within the Ruins that is truly terrible. This foul enemy is quite cruel in the book as well, it is both intelligent and wicked in its taunting of the trapped tourists.

The movie, which finishes in an all too quick 90 minutes, has no time for characters or for atmosphere. Instead, the story barrels along showing us the happy tourists turned into trapped, scared and then dead tourists. We see some flashes of cruel menace in the monster among the Ruins, but for the most part, it is without character, and could be any other faceless killer.

Scott Smith, author of the book, wrote the screenplay which makes me wonder if the director ripped his screenplay down to the barebones or if he has a different viewpoint on what made his novel work. If you are considering watching the movie, don't. Read the book instead.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mixed scifi

It makes me happy that there is an entire blog devoted to the possible HBO series based on George R R Martin's Song of Fire and Ice books. Winter is Coming will have all your rumors, news, speculation and opinion that you need while you wait for A Dance with Dragons. There are so many characters and plots in the Song of Fire and Ice series that I really should start back at the beginning. That is really hard to do with Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Name of the Wind being so neglected and unread on my bookshelf.

Ultimate Iron Man brings two great nerd tastes together, the Marvel Ultimate universe, a reboot of the entire universe allowing for new origins, and Orson Scott Card, he of Ender's Game fame. Card takes the reboot charter pretty far and goes with his theme of powers and responsibility thrust on children. In this case, Tony Stark is not just a millionaire playboy, but a mutant millionaire playboy who gains super strength at birth. I was never a huge fan of Iron Man, so this didn't bother me. I can see how it might offend the fan base though. I enjoyed it. It is no Ultimates, but it is worth a read.

Star Wars novels, which bookstores segregate into their own subsection of the already ghettoized science fiction section, are not on the top of my reading list. They seem to focus on unnecessary backstory and gap filling. That said, when I see that horror novelist Joe Schreiber has a Star Wars (horror?) book coming out called Deathtroopers, well I admit I get a little excited.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Whole lot of shittin' going on

While mostly a laughing or smirking matter in the developed world, shit is a serious concern for many in the developed world. A sixth of the world population lacks what is called clean water, which is a nice way of saying that their water is polluted by human waste. This pollution kills millions of children each year from diarrhea alone. Rose George explores the world of shit management, or as it is usually called, sanitation in the excellent Big Necessity.

Rose is funny, she has a way with people, and she writes well. This helps explain why a book about something as potentially dry as innovations in sanitation is such good reading. She makes a strong case that access to waste free water is an important issue and that the way to do it is with low cost technologies suited to the local culture and economy.

The big story is that the developing world will need to find some other means that the flush toilet infrastructure of the West, and that, the West can learn a thing or two from the developing world. The costs and resource requirements of the Western system are impractical for most of the world and so a number of solutions have arisen. She does however talk about the highest end toilets, those from Japan. In the US, you can relieve yourself Japanese style with the Neorest.

In some cases, as in the Chinese night soil approach, the waste is used to grow food. George notes that China has managed to feed it huge population for four millenia without exhausting the land thanks in part to the rich fertilizer produced by people themselves. Another approach is the biogas digester which uses the methane produced by fermenting excrement to power villages. She also shows how disgust is an important tool in convincing people to adopt new means of dealing with waste. In India, promoters of new sanitation means helped the amount of shit deposited in a village each year. As the villagers worked it out, some vomited in reaction.

George occasionally gets a bit too detailed, but for the most part, she keeps the discussion at the right level and moving at the right pace. I suspect many people will buy this as a gag, but it is a serious book that makes key debates in development accessible.

Mean, nasty parents

In more ways than one. Every parent has stories of unfortunate kid's names from playgroups, the kid's museums or the grapevine. The oddest I have heard before was Forrest Jedi. I thought that kid was going to get razzed something serious. I think little Adolf Hitler Campbell takes the cake, or perhaps not, as his local bakery won't write his name on his birthday cake.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Separation

A good deal of alternate history focuses on wars ending differently. In The Separation, Christopher Priest also looks at a war, but in a most unusual way. Here Priest examines a pacifist alternate history and also questions history itself. Depending on your read of the book, you could argue that it is not an alternate history at all.

The book starts with at a slow book signing by a British author of popular military histories. He mostly writes about the "German War," which ended in 1941 with an armistice between Britain and Germany (the unfortunate Russians thereby bear the full Nazi effort). At this point, most alternate histories would have Britain falling directly under a Nazi heel or living under a quisling class of anti-Semitic Tories. Instead, Britain is prosperous and free. Priest constructs a reasonable reason for this that reminded me quite a bit of some Niall Ferguson's ideas from the Pity of War.

As the historian gets up to leave, a woman leaves a memoir that the historian is seeking . He is trying learn more about someone who appears to have been both a bomber pilot and a conscientious objector. As it turns out, the one person is two, twins, and each has a diary. Unfortunately for our historian, the stories tell very different stories of the war. In one, the war ends as it does in our world, in another it ends in 1941.

(Spoilers ahead)

At one point, one of the characters calls Churchill a master of the manipulation of history. The creation of history, both as actor and as interpreter, is a major theme of the book. The framing device is the use of history, the pacifist and conventional interpretations of World War 2 are set apart as separate realities. And the major characters are concerned about how they are impacting history. One interpretation of the story is that the time lines are creations that reflect the desires of the characters to validate their choices. Priest ends the book quite ambiguously, so other interpretations, including the intersection of universes are also possible. I think that Priest is also arguing that the quest to fully understand history is not possible and that interpretation and mystery will always play a part.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Anger is an energy

Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein, is my favorite book of the year by far. It is a lengthy, detailed, yet entertainingly written account of the rise of Richard Nixon and his relationship with the "Silent Majority." Perlstein argues that Nixon recognized that many in the U.S feared the impact of black anger, changing sexual mores and the rejection of much of American culture by young Americans. Nixon stoked these fears and spoke to them. The Democrats tended to exacerbate these fears rather, playing into Nixon's hands.

One of the most interesting aspects is the intense anger that people on both sides felt and the alarming level of, and celebration of, violence as an extension of politics. Perlstein shows the frightening reaction to the Kent State and My Lai killings. As the word came in as to what really happened, many letter writers applauded the actions of the soldiers.

On the other side, the Yippies called for the murder of parents and at least one prominent leftist cheered the Tate murders, as the victim was merely a pig. Political enemies were viewed as essentially inhuman and not only should one not be sad that they died, but in fact they should be happy. While the demonization of political opponents is a problem that continues down to our day, we have nothing remotely similar to the broad acceptance of violence in today's political culture.

Be sure read to read Ross Douthat's conservative critique of the book. Here is author Rick Perlstein speaking with David Frum about the book on

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A few upcoming movies which probably won't be good

Hmm, the new remake of Friday the 13th (trailer here) does not appear to really be a remake of Friday the 13th. We have the mother's voice over but the killer of this movie does appear to be the killer of Friday the 13th. The original movie wasn't bad with a few good surprises and some good lines (Kill her Mommy!) And it has the best explanation for why the drunk, sex crazed teens must die in all horror films. Of course it is crazy person reasoning, but at least it has some logic to it.

The new Terminator might not be terrible. I would be mad if Christian Bale spoiled his good movie streak. The line about this not being the future his mother told him about is odd.

Given my never ending love for films with Satanic/demonic threats, the Unborn looks fun. The dog with the human mask is creepy as is the use of the creepy contortionist crawling taken from the Exorcist deleted scene. But my favorite part is that Stringer Bell is an exorcist. The end of the movie looks quite a bit like Prince of Darkness, which is a good thing.

Tropic Thunder

I watched Tropic Thunder for the first time the other night and thought it hilarious. If you saw it in theatres, consider getting the DVD just for the actor's commentary. Per his character's comment, Robert Downey Jr. stays in character through the commentary, to the surprise of Ben Stiller and Jack Black. See the fake ads for his character Kirk Lazarus for the best supporting actor.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Gun Seller

Hugh Laurie is best known in the states for the TV show House, but his acting character began way back in the 80s. His comedic work in the likes of Blackadder and a A Bit of Fry and Laurie. So it isn't surprising that his only novel to date (another may or may not be published in 2009) is a comedy of sorts. The Gun Seller is humorous spy thriller. It is not a spoof in the Austin Powers vein, but it is more like an Ian Fleming story with a hero known more for his dry wit than his dry martinis.

Laurie keeps the humor verbal and observational rather than situational. He therefore is able to tell a straight thriller story, while also writing hilarious dialogue. The main character, Thomas Lang, is a former soldier who falls into a conspiracy involving drugs, weapons, the CIA, and global terror. The action is fairly cinematic sweeping from London, to the countryside to the Alps and farther on and involves a number of exciting action sequences. Laurie's use of humor also distracts the reader from the action and provides for an extra jolt of shock when the plot moves forward.

This is a spy story in the Fleming heroic mold, as opposed to the Ambler murky mode, or the Le Carre morally ambiguous mode, or the McCarry lonely spy mode. It's also a post-Cold War spy story, a period from which we haven't yet seen a really great spy story emerge.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Wow, this has to be the dirtiest skit ever performed on SNL. Not quite as funny as Dick in a Box, but still quite funny. Looks like SNL still has some spunk (sorry).

Stephen King has his list of the top books of 2008. He cheats a bit, especially with his number one, the novels of Robert Goddard, which stretch from 1986 to this year. Still, I am happy to see this under-rated novelist getting such high profile attention. The book pictured is In Pale Battalions which is excellent. I need to go get some more of these books. He also has Nixonland on his list, which you really need to read.

Foreign Policy has a story on the top ten news stories you missed in 2008. Mostly bad news of course, including the story that the production of solar panels is environmentally hazardous.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A mess o' graphic novels

I spent my reading time over the last few days on graphic novels. I quite like reading them, but I have a devil of time telling which ones to read. I have been relying on Amazon best of lists for awhile. I also have found luck with Powells end cap displays and the featured comics at the Multnomah County Library. Here are the recent reads.

Apocalypse Nerd by Peter Bagge. I know Bagge's work mostly from Reason magazine where his comics tend take potshots at both the right and left in an amusing way. This book is much darker than that work. The story focuses on two Seattle guys returning from a camping trip to find that Seattle has been nuked by North Korea. They quickly go into survival mode and find that morality is dependent on civilization. The light, goofy art is at odds with the subject matter although it helps lighten the tone quite a bit.

Too Cool to be Forgotten by Alex Robinson. In this book, a 40 year old goes into hypnosis to stop smoking and wakes as a teen in the 1985. Once there he recalls that in 1985 he smoked his first cigarette, so that if he says no he will be cured. Of course, there may be other reasons he started smoking. I found the best parts to be the adult recalling with regret the choices made in high school.

Strangeways: Murder Moon
by quite a few people. This one is a werewolf story set in the post-Civil War Wild West. The art is black and white, which makes for some confusion in places, but is otherwise excellent. The story is underdeveloped with frequent unresolved allusions, but it should please horror fans.

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill. The name is terrible, but this is a great graphic novel. It collects the first six issues of the Locke and Key comic, hence the subtitle. The art in this book is excellent with great transitions, horrific images and characterizations. Hill is an accomplished novelist and short story writer, so it isn't surprising that the story here is excellent. The final pages are clearly a set up for the next set of stories, but this is a complete, and satisfying, story in and of itself. The book has a trailer which you can see here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Life is fun and I wish you were here

Most crime series continue past their expiration rate into decadence. There are exceptions and among the most painful is the Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr. The original trilogy, now packaged as Berlin Noir, features Gunther as a PI in Nazi Germany and then in the immediate aftermath of the war. Kerr recently wrote another book and has another is in the works. What was particularly appealing about the first books was the claustrophobic feeling of dread creating by the Nazi backdrop.

In Child 44, Tom Rob Smith has written a similarly excellent portrayal of crime investigation in a totalitarian state, but the state in this case is Stalinist Russia. Leo Stepanovich Demidov begins the story as a war hero now serving in the secret police. When his superiors prevent him from investigating a murder of a child by pursuing someone he learns is innocent , he begins to question the state and pursue his own agenda.

Kerr's books emphasized the dread the state created and Smith serves up plenty of that, but he also provides an equal dose of terror. The state Smith portrays considers all they arrest to be guilty and they arrest quite a few people, often due to whim or grudges. Torture is a run of the mill activity. There is so much destruction it is a wonder there are any people left standing at the end of the book. Still it is a reminder of how horrid the Stalinist state truly was. The oppressive East German regime of The Lives of Others is the liberalized version of the liberalized version of the state in this book.

The book was long listed for the Booker which is a rare accolade for a crime novel. I suspect it was the depiction of the Stalinist era as well as the effect on interpersonal relationships that won him the honor. The relationship between Leo and his wife plays out quite differently than in other genre books as do the relationships between superiors and inferiors. Politics in the office are a tad more dangerous than in the LAPD. There is so much good about what Smith does that you can't really complain about the fact that the big reveal will be fairly obvious to crime novel fans. The final elements of the ending will cheer fans of the Berlin Noir series.

This is a debut novel which makes it all the more remarkable. We will have to wait for the sophomore effort, but it looks like we have a new author about whom to get excited.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

This is it boys, this is war

Happy news from Hollywood. Those making film treatment of World War Z will, as best as they can, maintain the unconventional structure of the book. The framing device of the book is the collection of first hand accounts of the Zombie war for a UN report. This means the story hops across the globe with essentially no character continuity. It works wonderfully, as author Max Brooks, has dozens of great ideas crammed into his skull, which he can develop for 20 or so pages before moving to the next. The script writers could have easily picked a few of the stories for an intimate zombie movie with doomed love stories, but instead they decided to try and show the global scale. Bully for them. (via SF Signal)

In an afterword, Brooks notes that he was inspired to use his approach after reading John Hackett's The Third World War. That book also tells the story of the war by moving from location to location in Europe to describe a potential war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Tom Clancy also adapted the approach and story to make the more successful, as well as better written, Red Storm Rising.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Butchery on Bond Street

The American 19th century, and particularly the crimes of the 19the century, is being revisited by a number of authors. The Devil in the White City, Sin in the Second City, and the Murder of Helen Jewett showed us their was more to pre-World War 1 era than the Civil War. In Butchery on Bond Street, former attorney Benjamin Feldman considers the murder of Harvey Burdell and the trial of Emma Cunningham for the murder.

Burdell and Cunningham were lovers, so she was quickly blamed as the killer. In detailing the lead up to the murder and the trail Feldman shows the unfortunate fate of women who lacked a husband or family to support them. When you add in the corrupt and often lawless nature of mid-century New York City, Cunningham truly had the deck stacked against her.

Feldman conducted extensive primary research which allows him to give a detailed view of the press and society frenzy that surrounded the case. His legal background serves him well here. This book will appeal to fans of New York history and to crime shows. It seems our national lust for crime theater, in art and in real life, is nothing new.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Books vs. music

I was enjoying a Rolling Stones murder song today and I realized how much my reading and musical tastes diverge. The murder song in question, Hand of Fate, is a terribly underappreciated Stones song in the vein of a Jim Thompson story. While there is this overlap, I am much more likely to listen to an arty rock song, like the almost unbearably arty Ottoman by Vampire Weekend (how much you ask? Just now I listened to that song four times. For real) than I am to a Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, DMX or Ice Cube song about killing.

What is the big deal with that? Well well over half (and let's be honest nearly all of my nonfiction) of my fiction reading involves killing. Give me James Ellroy at the top of his game over all of the Booker prize winners (except J.G. Farrell -- more killing!) any day of the week.

When it comes to music, I shun the violent for the erudite word play of Oxford Comma or the Morrissey songbook. Sure, I love Shellac, Slipknot, 1980s Metallica and the Misfits, but I would trade most of them for the witty and learned words of SM.

I can't really explain why I take such different approaches to these different art forms, but I do.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Bring on the body count

In first quarter or so of Ron Rash's Serena, I thought the book was over-hyped. Sure, the writing was good, and I thought the demonic Serena was fascinating, in the manner of a poisonous snake. These feelings fell away as I read late into the night and started anew Thanksgiving morning. I brought the book with me to my mother-in-law's, hoping I might steal away for some quiet reading time. No such luck, but just as well, as I would have distracted.

The book opens as Serena and her newlywed husband George Pemberton arrive at his North Carolina lumber camp. The arrival is a tad awkward as his pregnant former girlfriend is waiting for him, along with her furious father. The unhappy and violent results of the encounter sets the tone and the principal conflict for the book. The Pembertons rule the camp like feudal lords and have as much regard for their loggers as a medieval baron might for his cannon fodder. Whether by accident or by plan, the life expectancy in the camp isn't terribly high.

Perhaps because the death toll is so great, Rash avoids depicting all but the most important of deaths. Instead he uses a Greek chorus consisting of a few lumberjacks discussing lumber camp goings on, which include the latest victims of the Pembertons. This both keeps the plot movie and it allows Rash to concentrate on the warped Serena and the crumbling George. The character of Serena is nearly too much. She is part Ayn Rand wet dream, part Lady MacBeth, and part Keyser Soze. It helps that Serena is mostly spoken of, rather than shown. This helps prevent her descent into cliche.

Despite the period setting, the book is definitely of the moment. The Pembertons and their allies are racing to cut as many trees as they can before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is created. As that becomes more challenging, Serena turns her eye to the unregulated Amazon. The environmental message is clear, but so is the criticism of the market unbound.

Avoid reading the fly leaf cover. Far too many spoilers. Of course, I read it and still loved the book.