I continued my summer of reading literary thrillers with Will Fergusen’s 419. I was late to the party on this one, with folks suggesting I read it for years. Something about it made me resistant to reading, and it wasn’t until it was the *only* book to have come in to the library from my list of requests that I gave in and picked it up. That 419 is terrific only (once again) proves that I am ridiculous for following my arbitrary whims when it comes to book covers and gut feelings.
It follows a sort of three part structure with three distinct characters and plots that (eventually and inevitably) insercet. All story lines are tied to the Nigerian economy. The effect of having the three distinct threads is to demonstrate in character and plot the complexity of the titular 419 scheme. I say complexity and mean both in how such a scheme is set up and executed, but also – and more importantly – the moral ambiguity of the scheme as the reader comes to appreciate the motivations of those setting up the scheme, just as we come to sympathize with those who fall victim to it. It is in this complexity that 419 does its best work – demanding that the reader simulatenously occupy multiple points of sympathy, and rendering all positions around the issue as at once explotited and powerful.
There were a few parts in the initial descriptions of the Nigerian oil economy that I found dragged; likewise in the initial scenes of desert crossing. I suspect this had as much to do with the contrast between these opening scenes and the opening scenes in Calgary, which are plot heavy and familiar as it did with the return to an emphasis on setting and mood as opposed to plot. I also found the characterization of Lauren a bit thinly drawn: her moodiness and loneliness felt declarative rather than earned, and I was annoyed with her more often than I ought to have been when the aim was to cultivate my sympathies.
Putting these minor complaints aside, the novel offers an (at times) gripping exploration of global economic inequalities without it feeling like you’re reading a book about global economic inequality (always a plus). And it has a snappy little mystery to hook you in, so if you’re at all resistant (as I was), give it the first 30 pages and you’ll be snagged.
For the first time in the eight year (!) history of Literary Vice I am planning to take a holiday from posting (just for the months of July and August). Emphasis on planning. I may still insist on writing a couple of reviews.
But! I don’t – at all – want to leave you without reviews to read. So. This is my call for guest authors. I’d love for *you* to write a review in your own style, in your own voice, of whatever it is that you like to read. Who knows. Maybe we’ll make having guest authors a thing.
- You are willing to write an original review;
- You are not marketing a book in writing your review;
- Reviews need to be submitted by June 28 so that I can prepare a scheduled release date for the post.
Questions you might have:
- Length of review is entirely up to you (most of my posts fall somewhere between 500-750 words);
- You can review something I’ve reviewed in the past and dis/agree with my reading of it (in fact I think a review disagreeing would be fun);
- You can review any genre (given my propensity to only review fiction it might be nice to have some non-fiction reviews. That’s a lie. Who would that be nice for?!);
- You can review something you think I should read and make the argument for why I should read it;
- No compensation. Just glory.
Other things you want to know? Questions or concerns? Send me a message at email@example.com or however you best like to get in touch with me.
Please let me know by June 11 if you’re interested in writing a review, so that if no one is interested I can do a scramble to figure out what to do instead. Please don’t leave me to scramble. I am not well coordinated and scrambling will likely lead to a bashed up knee or something.
Yours in reading,
Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs was on the New York Times list for the best books of 2016. I went through the list and requested books at the library, most of the list had a wait list dozens, or hundreds, deep. Not so for The Association of Small Bombs. It was on the shelf at my preferred location. Maybe because I was requesting books the same day the list came out? Or maybe because readers are silly and thought they wouldn’t like a book about terrorism in India? Whatever the case: be me and get yourself to the front of the line to read this one. It’s terrific. Continue reading
I’ve only ever posted book reviews or book talk here, so I recognize I’m breaking with expectations. But I’m using this as a shameless platform to plug the new blog project I’ve started (not to fear, Literary Vice continues without interruptions – I’m neck deep in A Brief History of Seven Killings which is (no spoiler) not at all brief).
The new blog is Pregnant Pause for stories about being not-pregnant. You can read more about the project (and some of our first stories) (and find out how to contribute) on the site, but here’s a teaser: Continue reading