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William H. Payne "William H. Payne" RSS Feed (Chattanooga, TN)
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The Vegetarian: A Novel
The Vegetarian: A Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $10.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Purloined Person, February 23, 2016
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This is a work of lucid genius. The main character, Yeong-hye, is a non-person, an empty set; more than vegetative, she is as silent but persistent as vegetation itself. Like Mssr. Mersault, she stops making choices, except that she makes one choice at the beginning of the book to stop eating meat, and this choice alone is enough to cut off her person-hood, to the extent her person-hood was accorded much value in the first place.

The novel's three parts are narrated by Yeong-hye's apathetic husband, neurotic brother-in-law, and chronically depressed sister. All three are unable to assign meaning to Yeong-hye's non-meat status, so they are invited to use her as a blank slate for their own failing identities. The husband sees her emptiness - and refusal to eat meat - as an emasculation, so he delivers her to her true patriarch, her father, a war hero, who replaces the husband's ineffectual self with actual brutality. The brother-in-law sees Yeong-hye's perfect nonchalance as a blank canvas for his puerile video art, which slowly degenerates into nothing but lust, including lust for self-abnegation. The sister sees Yeong-hye's gradual recession from the world as the perfect symbol for her own dark, subservient mentality, and she wonders, starkly at the end of the novel, if there is any waking up from the dream that has captured her sister but reveals no meaning.

The novel is not short; it is simply precise. And for the love of god, it is not about vegetarians. Like Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter," The Vegetarian is about the angle and limitation of human perception when a symbol won't reveal its meaning. Yeong-hye's plausible but completely surreal status as a non-assertive person gives every aspect of the narrative an allegorical double. Psychologically, the narrators, or meat-eaters if you will, cannot prevent their tentative searches for meaning and identity from turning them into absurdly cruel predators where Yeong-hye is concerned. By insisting on her existence, they cannot help but erase her. This is the nature of meaning: we must impose our own selves on the meaninglessness of symbols or simply admit that the whole thing is an inconsequential dream. The author's prose does everything to accommodate this interpretation. It is even, matter of fact, carefully paced storytelling, nearly devoid of metaphor, except where there is opportunity to over-describe nature, which is a purposeful over-investment in the beautiful but possibly empty image. The story carries you along, and that is all except for what you have to feel about it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 3, 2016 9:40 AM PDT


Submission: A Novel
Submission: A Novel
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $11.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Miraculous Lament, November 25, 2015
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Advantaged Westerners are isolated units of consumption - elementary particles, as you know - untethered to any system of meaning, other than the bottomless entropy of the 'free' market. Don Draper can repackage the fringe culture of the 60s to sell us Cokes. Doe-eyed Hollywood actresses can sell us on saving the whales or eating a vegan diet. Nationalist demagogues can sell us xenophobia when the news is scary. They can all do it in unison, six of one, half dozen of the other. So, why can't moderate, Islamic fundamentalists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, sell us on their theocracy? Who would get in the way?

This is the premise of Soumission, which is a consistently paced and amusing novel of ideas. It is not, as some news articles suggest, a hilarious, allegorical romp, tinged with Islam-phobia. Don't expect that. Houellebecq uses the brand that is Islam as a bait and switch for a more serious thought puzzle. Houellebecq's main character, Francois, is another iteration of Houellebecq's typical main character who has, in his mid 40s, become lost in the hedonic shuffle of neo-liberal society. Francois is a professor at Sorbonne III, who has carved out a middling academic career for himself by transforming his love of French author J. Karl Huysmans into an area of expertise. However, the study of Huysmans' transformation from decadent philosopher to Catholic moralist does as little to sustain Francois' search for meaning in his own life as his annual flings with young, female students. As France's divisive political arena pits the nationalists against the socialist and makes way for the apparent compromise of Islam, Francois finds himself sans career and terribly lonely in a world with which he never connected.

A number of reviewers parse Houellebecq's political scenario and find it wanting. This misses the point. Houellebecq's plots and terrible dialogue only nod toward verisimilitude because it is the tenuous intellectual filter of the person telling the story and not the story itself that provides the entertainment in a Houellebecq novel. Houellebecq's narrators have the wonderful quality of being oddly detached from the moment while also being lovingly devoted to its details and particularities. Francois pays extremely close attention to everything happening around him, but he is never appropriately swept up in the moment.

My favorite scene in the novel occurs in the elegant chambers of the new Muslim provost of the Sorbonne, Robert Rediger. Rediger is grooming Francois to convert to Islam and continue his academic career in the new, Saudi-funded version of the university. Rediger expounds on the decline of the West and proclaims that Europe reached its zenith in the late 19th century and has been headed downhill ever since. Inwardly, Francois agrees; however, he agrees on the grounds that, having recently read Madame Hortense, certain sexual practices from the 19th century have apparently been forgotten in modern times. This thought is so inappropriate and out of context in the face of the philosophical diatribe facing him that it makes Francois seem like a sad, glorious hero of total disgust, detachment, and disappointment. And this, folks, is that role that Houellebecq plays in modern letters.


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Sloan C-100500-K Flushmate Flush Valve Cartridge Assembly
Price: $20.85
25 used & new from $17.72

5.0 out of 5 stars It's all about the vacuum!, April 24, 2015
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Easy repair. Works perfectly.


The Laughing Monsters: A Novel
The Laughing Monsters: A Novel
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $9.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Africa, December 1, 2014
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Denis Johnson seems to go out of his way to cater to my literary tastes. He draws up characters who revel in dissimulation and personal decay, mock-Romantic abnegation in the face of the status quo, and J.P. Donleavy-style schadenfreude and lechery that is gently poignant, sometimes even moving, and he does it with sentences that are carefully placed, cleanly written shots, one after another, to keep the pace just right. How miraculous.

The Laughing Monsters is no literary revelation in the Denis Johnson canon, but it is a good and quick read in the style that I enjoy. The LMs is the story of two damaged, but ridiculously puerile men, Roland Nair, the narrator, and Michael Adriko, his nemesis and soul mate. Nair arrives in Sub Saharan Africa to team up with Adriko for a triple-crossing, ill-defined money making adventure that eventually strands the pair in the Congo, which is understood to be a post-colonial metaphor for anarchy, hell, and human delusion. We are informed that both men share a chaotic past in the secret services and military operations in Africa and Afghanistan, but that is less important than the fact that these guys are pair of world class troublemakers and Johnson knows enough about foreigners in Africa to make it seem real.

The weaknesses of the novel(la) are plentiful, though they detract little from its entertainment value. The character of Davidia, Adriko's fifth fiance, is present throughout most of the novel but never grows a third dimension. This is a novel in which the author is interested in the love/hate relationship between the dudes, and the great opportunity that is a complicated female foil with a real voice is just dropped. More seriously, Johnson is exploring compelling geo-political territory in Sierra Leone, Uganda, and the Congo, but he is retreating into poetic miasma and detaching intrigue so quickly, that it's almost as if he is afraid of the material he is working with. One knows from reading Seek that Johnson is very familiar with African travel, but his hesitance to leave the world of his slick characters' views detracts from his authorial omniscient.

On the whole, I suppose Johnson set out to write a fast, broad-brush-stroke adventure, and he accomplished that. I'm now looking forward to something more substantial.


The Bone Clocks: A Novel
The Bone Clocks: A Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missed connections, October 17, 2014
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David Mitchell is fascinated by how the forces of world history inform the present and by the way the present maps possible futures. He is also an expert at inhabiting characters and fleshing them out with their own original voices, enriched by the astoundingly accurate details and images of their lives. In Cloud Atlas, Mitchell joined these two aspects of his literary project almost seamlessly, but in the Bone Clocks, he doesn't quite pull it off.

The Bone Clocks is about Holly Sykes, the lower mid class daughter of a British pub owner, Hugo Lamb, an amoral Cambridge lad, Crispin Hershey, the bad boy of British literature, Dr. Marinus, resurrected (literally) from Jacob de Zoet, and to some extent, Ed Brubeck, Holly's baby daddy and an Iraqi war journalist. Each character's life, to varying degrees, is interrupted, altered, or haunted by immortal souls who travel across history like the author himself.

Sykes and Hershey are the only two characters with whom the reader connects, and the only characters who really connect with each to other to any significant degree. Sykes runs away from home after her first sexual encounter, loses her baby brother, publishes a novel, roams the world, and braves the future. Hershey architects the decay of his own life with snarky aplomb. They meet, as writers, later in the novel when their lives are in strange form. Lamb's and Brubeck's sections stand alone very nicely, but they don' t connect those characters with the rest of the novel other than through some absurd post-facto plotting. The Marinus section is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy train wreck.

I love fantasy writing and am not a genre snob, but the fantasy section of this novel is a failure. Mitchell's immortal characters solve every conflict with array of pscyhic powers (like using your disembodied soul as a flash light) that will fatigue even an avid Dungeons & Dragons fan. The reader loses connection with the characters during this section, and, all and all, it could simply have been removed, leaving a perfectly interesting novel.

Mitchell has the ability to traverse the thick black line between ingenuity and imagination seemingly at will. It's an enviable gift. There's no reason for him to commit to arduous, Haruki Marukami mega plot, so hopefully his editor will stop him next time!


The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Late Capitalist Gothic Novel, June 3, 2014
This page-turner is the late capitalist iteration of the the Gothic Novel. It's an orphan Annie story about a vulnerable boy who is simultaneously delivered and doomed by a famous dutch master's painting of an equally (and obviously) vulnerable little birdie that is chained to a bar -- and is now chained to a novel with hundreds of pages of plot twists.

The Gothic Novel is almost inseparable from the definition of the novel itself. It's the great grandma of all genre fiction. If you are not aware of the Castle of Otranto, the Mysteries of Udolpho, or Jane Eyre, just note the formula: a sympathetic childish character is cut adrift in a social milieu of minor nobility or 2nd tier aristocracy that appeals to the reader. A non-stop barrage of pseudo-paranormal disasters leads to Romanticism with a capital 'R.' The advantages of this form are endless. The author can rely on 'suspension of disbelief' to pleasure the reader's transcendental tastes and appetite for plotting while avoiding the intellectual traps of self-aware irony or verisimilitude. It's Stephen King, to a degree, but with Donna Tartt, the story is unfolded with researched precision and expert facility with language.

Theo, the main character, is an empty shell who weathers a surprise disaster every 25 pages with poignant innocence and a fairly reliable voice. As many reviewers have pointed out, Theo's voice is at its most rich and imaginative in the first two sections of the book in New York and Las Vegas. In these parts, the cultural capital that is all things Manhattan and the deeply nihilistic friendship with Boris, the implausible Russian sidekick, come alive with hints of real experience from the author. The rest of the novel unfolds in a more clockwork and contrived fashion, but, as with a Stephen King novel, you've been sucked in by the plot! So, for example, you just have to see how Theo survives art theft violence in Amsterdam. What could possibly happen next, you ask?

The fact that this novel won the Pulitzer Prize is a glorious monument to the intellectual poverty of our times. The Goldfinch is more profound than US Magazine but not as intellectually othering as the average episode of the Daily Show. And you know why it won a prize. Drawing on the Pierre Bourdieu analysis of class consciousness, the novel is packed with tags or 'cultural capital' that reels in the narrow slice of readers who recognize (or think they recognize) the trappings of surplus wealth in Manhattan. While these educated types relish the opportunity to critique this culture as something potentially alienating, they also prize this culture as the zenith of everything there is to know about culture by cultured people: Art History! Europe! Money! Tragic (yet harmless) debauchery! Post-Colonial Disenfranchisement! And it was disarmingly fun to read! Congratulations to the one percent for producing another novel by them for them. No real ideas advanced - check. No real criticism of American society - check. I basically enjoyed reading this ornate book, but I'm sorry they gave it the Pulitzer Prize.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 13, 2015 11:15 AM PDT


Mountain Trails Grand Pass Tent - 10 Person
Mountain Trails Grand Pass Tent - 10 Person
Price: $129.99
7 used & new from $129.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bold move . . ., October 31, 2013
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I have usually purchased tents with an eye towards backpacking and weathering harsh conditions. I was hesitant to buy a monster family tent because I think they are generally difficult to set up and likely to be messy and leaky. This tent is neither of those things. It is very easy to set up, and even though it is enormous, there is nowhere for water to pool up and sit on a seam. If you're camping with little kids, especially for multiple nights, this style of tent makes things so much easier. The price is amazing too. It comes with flimsy little stakes, so I would recommend ordering a pack of stakes to go with it.


The Son of Neptune (The Heroes of Olympus Book 2)
The Son of Neptune (The Heroes of Olympus Book 2)
Offered by Disney Book Group
Price: $7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars book reveiw, September 12, 2013
It was a well comprehended book. It sucked me into the story.It felt so real.
I can't wait till the fourth book comes out.He makes us want to read more by leaving us on a cliff-hanger.

-haydn payne


Tinkers
Tinkers
by Paul Harding
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.36
655 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intricate, cold, and distant, August 1, 2013
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This review is from: Tinkers (Paperback)
This is a carefully wrought piece of highly poetic prose describing the experience of an old man, George, dying in his bed at home, surrounded by his family. Over a span of a few days, George's mental process gradually fragments and floats back to his childhood. The author compares this process to descriptions of George's hobby, repairing antique clocks. Using clever excerpts from a fictional 18th century book, "The Reasonable Horologist," the author expands the clock imagery into an elaborate, Tim Burton-like tableau. From there, and most importantly, the author uses George's clock/death process to move into the story of George's epileptic father, Howard, working as a tinker, selling his wares in rural Maine. As Howard's sideways, supercharged mind encounters nature as a surreal temptress, the author is able to disgorge a tapestry of imaginary Maine in the early twentieth century. Howard's meanderings make the suffocating process of George's clock/death seem almost secondary, just as the "plot" of this novel, is secondary to the incredibly language abilities of its author.

This novel demonstrates deep thought and top-tier poetic ability. However, it does not invite real engagement from the reader the way a well-told story ought to. Frankly, if it were longer, I might not have finished it. The characters are too alien to inspire any empathy, and there is no sense that the author cares about them as anything more than vehicles for puzzle-box meditations on the meaning of everything. Having just finished Denis Johnson's "Train Dreams," in which the story and the poetry blend together beautifully, I was acutely aware that this novel was missing something. Roland Barthes talks about authors acquiring a certain "grain" in their storytelling voice that gives it character. This author has a cold, over-crafted, Iowa Writing School voice that screams talent without communicating much else. Maybe if Harding took some time away from Harvard to tell stories around the campfire, he would find a more connected tone.


Tenth of December: Stories
Tenth of December: Stories
by George Saunders
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.81
379 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ingenious and Incomplete, February 6, 2013
A George Saunders' short story collection is like a Bad Religion album. Yes, you can expect the same formula every time, but the formula is so tight and exquisitely executed that you will delight in every second of the 43 minutes that it takes you to get through it. Saunders' writing is the gold standard of Iowa Writing School reserve. Bare bones character and plot speak volumes with deeply compressed points of view, unadorned language, and delicately placed satirical tropes. Most importantly, Saunders is a laser-focused psychologist and social critic who can direct more loathing mixed with empathy at the American middle class in a single short satire than Franzen can manage in an 800-page doorstep.

That said, this little collection does not deserve the rave reviews it got. The characters and ideas that were undeveloped and incomplete in "Pastoralia" remain so. Saunders is still in the land of ingenuity, not imagination. In the absence of the novel that is owing from Saunders, his "Puppy" story is a but a cheap shot; his keen eye for inner pathos is but a promise unfulfilled. Behind the mishaps of Saunders' lost and amiable characters is Saunders' real and unfunny despair and disgust. Clearly, many of the above reviewers felt estranged by the weight of some of the stories, and Saunders seems anxious to dance away from his characters and change venue before his brush strokes have even dried. Saunders needs to put flesh on the bones of his lost souls and stick by their sides, even if doing so would be deemed uncool by the Iowa Writing crowd.


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