Book Review: "Cadillac Beach" by Tim Dorsey

"Cadillac Beach" by Tim Dorsey is another in Dorsey's series of novels that center on the psychotic Serge A. Storms and his band of wayward friends. This novel gives the reader a bit more of a glimpse into Serge's history than the other novels have afforded thus far. This is accomplished by making Serge's beloved grandfather one of the main characters via a series of flashbacks. What this teaches us about Serge Storms is both horrible and hilarious.

As always, Dorsey tosses in some real history with the antics of his insane, Florida history obsessed anti-hero. In this novel, the main historic focus is on a jewel heist that happened decades before, when Serge was just a little boy. As it happens, his grandfather was involved in the heist before his alleged suicide. The manic Serge decides to not only prove his grandfather did not commit suicide but also find the still missing jewels from the heist. Of course, he has some other unorthodox things, such as restoring the reputation of the CIA, on his to-do list.

Along the way, there is murder, mayhem, obsession, overt drug use, really weird intercourse, mob hits, mob plots, government stakeouts and much more. It is like a cornucopia of craziness. "Cadillac Beach" is definitely a good addition to the Serge A. Storms series. However, like the others, there is little to distinguish it from the rest. Tim Dorsey seems to have settled into a rut of novels that are practically cookie-cutters of one another. That is not so much of a complaint as an observation. "Cadillac Beach" is just as interesting as the others are, though one must wonder when the story will wear thin.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: Departure Lounge by Chad Taylor

"Departure Lounge" by Chad Taylor is a dark novel with several intertwining seedy undertones. The style is nonlinear. The story is told from the largely apathetic perspective of a career criminal. The stories that make up Departure Lounge's plot are never fully told.

Chad Taylor manages to write a novel about moments, instances in several people's lives, without ever telling a story from start to finish. In this way, it is an interesting novel. However, it is not for everyone with its confusing chunks of life knitted together with snippets of a missing girl's impact on those she left behind.

"Departure Lounge" is essentially the story of two things, the disappearance of a teenage girl and the real life crash of a passenger plane into the side of a mountain. These two events tie all other events in the novel together. However, the girl, Caroline May, is hardly fleshed out as a character. The crash is sloppily tied to her disappearance, but it is never clear why anyone suspected it had anything to do with the girl or whether it actually did, in the end. The crash seems to be used simply as fodder for attention. It was a high-profile crash that could have easily been replaced in the novel as virtually any other made-up tragedy. The fact that it is completely non-essential to the story line that it be that crash or even a crash at all leaves little other explanation for it.

The only thing that keeps this novel from being akin to the jumbled thoughts of a flu-ridden migraine sufferer is the narrator. Mark is an ex-con who has a bad habit of breaking into places and stealing things. He also, inexplicably, spies on women a lot. Through his eyes, we see that he is relatively unemotional about the process. The descriptions of his exploits make the book worth reading. Still, he is slopped in with the other untied strings in the novel and the effect is supposed to be profound. Instead of providing the emotional moments that help a reader catch up to such emotional events, they are told piecemeal with only scant tendrils of emotion pulling the reader in. In short, it could have been better, given the topic matter.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: "Atonement" by Ian McEwan

"Atonement" by Ian McEwan is a novel about a huge mistake a young girl made that haunted her into adulthood. It follows her mistake and the lasting impact it has on her life and that of her sister. In short, it is a book about confessing lies and cowardice, long after such a confession can make a difference.

Briony is the main character of the novel, though it centers on the story of her sister Cecilia and Robbie, the love of Cecilia's life. Briony is a particularly selfish individual, but the extent of her selfishness is not known until the end of the novel. She starts the novel as a young girl, hoping to impress with a play she has written for her family's enjoyment. The story focuses on her propensity for fabricating fantasies from snippets of reality. As a result, she is unable to see reality for what it is or accept it when she cannot understand or does not know what is really happening. Instead, she substitutes her fantastic daydreams and convinces herself she must be right.

The beginning of the novel also follows a series of interludes between Cecilia and Robbie, each of which Briony misunderstands. Because of Briony's misunderstandings and the inability of Cecilia and Robbie to vocalize the truth, Robbie is condemned for a crime he did not commit. Briony is his sole accuser and bears false witness against him. Cecilia knows Robbie is not guilty and abandons her family when they stand behind Briony's accusations.

All of this happens in the first part of "Atonement." Unfortunately, Ian McEwan drags his feet a bit here. He is overly descriptive, making it possible to remove much of the first part and still tell the story successfully. In a funny turn, he later attributes the same overuse of prose to his main character. It almost seems as though this is his confession to his readers. It seems like a way of saying, "Yes, I know that I am wordy. Please bear with me, as my story has merit." He is right, if that is really what he is saying. The book is certainly worth reading. It just takes a little perseverance to wade through some of the more descriptive parts.

Most of the rest of "Atonement" follows Briony through nursing school in the midst of World War II, Robbie's experience as a soldier in World War II and the love Cecilia and Robbie have for each other. Briony eventually comes to realize the impact of her mistake, hoping to fix it. Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that her "Atonement" follows the same pattern as her mistake itself. The reader wants to encourage Briony to do the right thing. It is natural to want Cecilia and Robbie to have the life they deserve together. Apparently, it is what Briony wants too. The ending clears up any misconceptions the reader has about Briony, however. It is impossible to say any more without giving away the best part of the novel -- the true nature of Briony's "Atonement."

Shelly Barclay