A Year in Books--SHALLOW GRAVES
I have never been good at maintaining New Year's resolutions. Sure, I'll try to eat better and get back into running, but then the first couple storms of January set in and I find myself going full (bi)polar bear; consuming calories, hunkering down to wait out the frozen hell pummeling my apartment and shaking my hundred-year-old storm windows. This year, instead of resolutions, I made promises to myself. One was to really push the Domesticated Primate website and get it active and the other was to read one book per week.
In regards to the first promise, well, here we go. I have begun receiving submissions from individuals who I've reached out to who have offered to write weekly/bi-weekly/monthly features for us and they will start appearing here this very week so stay tuned for that. These guys are good writers with interesting perspectives and I am truly honored to be able to share their work through our site here. I have decided that my contribution to the blog will be a short review/commentary on the book that I have read that week. I have decided to call this feature, "A Year in Books."
Considering this is the inaugural post here on our newly updated site, and it also happens to be the last day of the first week of 2018, I have decided to share my first book as well as a partial list of what books are to follow. So here it goes:
A YEAR IN BOOKS
The first book in A Year of Books was SHALLOW GRAVES: The Hunt for the New Bedford Highway Serial Killer by Maureen Boyle.
This was my first-ever experience reading true crime. I am a serious fiction-head, the majority of the little non-fiction reading I do usually being in philosophy or psychology. So, this was an entirely new experience for me. That being said, I enjoyed it. I can see the attraction to it, the undeniable pull we experience when hearing about a truly grisly real-life event, the want to understand a chaotic and violent world. The experience has left me open to reading more true crime, though it did not fully convert me.
In truth, I chose this book as a means to do some research as I am currently writing a novel which features the New Bedford Highway Killings as a tangential (though significant) plot point. Interestingly, some portions of an alternative explanation for the killings--which I had heard from a local source--did feature in the book, though it stuck to the publicized version of events, focusing on Kenneth Ponte as well as a few other individuals as the most probable suspects.
For the most part, the book was an easy read and the material was fascinating. Though I did have some problems with it. For one, the author had a tendency to punctuate her paragraphs with short and ominous sentences. Admittedly, I am unsure if this is the norm in true crime writing, but these little dramatic stabs like, "this felt bad, very bad," felt like that part just before a commercial break in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries where the narrator says something portentous or curious just to keep your butt in the seat.
The author's descriptions of addicts and their lives sometimes fell into caricature or sweeping generalizations, and her structure was confusing. We would start learning about the personal life of one of the victims, and then switch to the investigative side of the story, only to briefly return to the victims story a few chapters later. Considering the way the investigation panned out (as illustrated in the book), I can see why the author would have trouble organizing all of these facts into a completely coherent structure, but sometimes it felt like it was leaning into sensationalizing over clarity. Throughout the book I was often confused as to whether what I was reading was journalism or something like the Fincher film, Zodiac. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the author was holding out hope to auction off the film rights to this story.
In short, I believe the writing was clear enough to breeze through, the structure could have used a more coherent vision, and it benefited from centering around a particularly violent and strange series of unsolved crimes. Though there are a few spots where the book sags, like toward the end when it abandons the story of the highway killings entirely and focuses on the ins and outs of Kenny Ponte's legal troubles.
The book may have suffered from my lack of interest and/or experience with true crime, but I would absolutely recommend this to someone with an interest in those fields or a curiosity about the strange local history of Domesticated Primate's home, New Bedford, MA.
So, here's where I rate the book I guess. On a scale of 5 bananas, I would award SHALLOW GRAVES a 2.5 bananas out of 5.
WHAT'S TO COME?
I'm going to try to read 52 books this year, one for each week. Having finished SHALLOW GRAVES, I will now be moving onto the next selection,a short fiction novel entitled THE BODY ARTIST by Don Delillo. I have begun compiling a list of books for the year. They are mostly first-time reads, but the list is also peppered with re-reads as well as some half-reads that I have pledged to re-start from jump.
Here's a list of what I have so far, in no particular order. Any recommendations would be helpful, especially for books that aren't written by white males (as the majority of my collection falls into that category and I need to make a concerted effort to change that.)
LENIN 2017--Slavoj Zizek, BLOOD MERIDIAN--Cormac Mccarthy, CIVILWARLAND IN BAD DECLINE--George Saunders, APE AND ESSENCE--Aldous Huxley, MINGUS, A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY--Brian Priestley, DUNE MESSIAH--Frank Hebert, GLOBAL DISCONTENTS--Noam Chomsky, THE YAGE LETTERS REDUX--Burroughs & Ginsberg, THE MASTER & MARGARITA--Mikhail Bulgakov, HADLEY LEE LIGHTCAP--Sam Sweet, THE SELLOUT--Paul Beatty, SEVEN AUTOPSIES OF NORA HANNEMAN--Courtney Morgan, RUNNING EAST--Theo Green, WATERSHIP DOWN--Richard Adams, LOLITA--Vladimir Nabakov, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE--B. Traven, WORKING--Studs Terkel, and more...