I always start the year off with a Ken Bruen book. This year, I started with a short story issued by Mysterious Press. The story is about a young man in New York who is never named but narrates the story. His father has died, which thrills him beyond belief. They did not have the best relationship. All his father leaves him is a book with one word on the cover: “Virtue.” Inside, his father had written several poetic quotes in an attempt to educate himself. Our protag is not impressed. He has more important things to worry about, like running the Khe Sanh Club and banging his boss’s mistress Cici. The time is approaching when he and Cici need to take down their boss, Brady. But as he reads the surprisingly sage advice of his dead father, he finds his life spiraling out of control.
This narrative poem was written anonymously by Wilde while he served time in Reading Prison for homosexuality. (Yeah. That used to be a crime. And America was actually the more forward thinking country on the topic back then.) During his sentence, he witnessed the hanging of a man convicted of murdering his wife. During his stay on death row, the man maintained a rather jaunty attitude for someone condemned to die. What starts out as a tale of one man’s journey from dock to gallows becomes a meditation on prison life and the effects of the death penalty on those tasked with its execution.
Though written by an English humorist (Wilde’s infamous wit is understandably absent here) at the end of the 19th century, as the tale drags on, you can almost here Johnny Cash, he of “Folsom Prison Blues” among other songs about convicts, either reciting the words or warbling them over a mournful acoustic guitar. Indeed, it might have made an interesting edition to the American recordings.
by Stephen King
Even by Stephen King standards, The Dark Tower series is weird. We have Roland, the nearly immortal spaghetti Western gunslinger marching across time and his dying world toward the mysterious Dark Tower, which stands at the center of time and space. In Book 1, The Gunslinger, he chased a wizard named Walter across a desert and under mountains in a world that looked like a Salvadore Dali painting come to life. In Book 2, The Drawing of the Three, Roland comes to our world and picks up two new gunslingers, a recovering heroin addict and a schizophrenic woman whose legs have been cut off below the knees. Oh, and the boy Roland let die in Book 1? He saves him from his killer in this one.
Yes, King is screwing with time. And the consequences are that Roland (and the boy, Jake) remember both timelines. The paradox threatens to drive him insane. Together with Eddie and Susannah, his new companions, he retrieves the suddenly not-dead Jake from the New York of Eddie’s adolescence. And if Roland’s going mad, think about how bad Jake has it. He remembers dying. Twice.
The group presses on to Lud, a city in Midworld that bears a striking resemblance to New York in some ways, only centuries after the Apocalypse. They are in search of a train. In typical King fashion, the train is sentient. And bipolar. And a bit passive aggressive.