Monday, November 26, 2012

An Assassin's Tale by Reev Robledo

An Assassin's Tale (A Short Story)
The Bible, a critically acclaimed book that is well-known throughout the world, actually makes good literature, especially for adults. You've got political intrigue, adultery, drama, love and a whole plethora of themes in just some 1,500 pages (average estimate). However, besides the well-known stories of its take on the creation & the end of the world and of a demi-god who walked the earth, this book has a number of characters that are rarely mentioned in the homilies of priests on Sundays.

Take, for example, Ehud.

Judges 3:15 (from Holy Bible: New International Version)
"Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite."

The story of Ehud, the hero of this short story's work, is condensed in 19 short verses in the Bible. It tells of his purpose, his actions, and how he carried on his task as “deliverer”. His story there is given as is – straightforward and simple. This book gives breath and form to this left-handed unsung hero.

I love how the first-person viewpoint of this story gives us so much more to work on than his 19-verses-of-fame. Through Ehud’s eyes we see not only his thoughts on his supposed role, but also his everyday life, his people, his land. He finds a tiny clover amongst the weeds. He feels awkward in his dignitary clothing. He is humbled by the touch of a man with the markings of the Men of Valor. These little things bring life to a faceless, unknown character, whose existence might have just been very important in the history of the Israelites as Jacob and David were.

The storytelling is spot on, although I felt overwhelmed by a number of seemingly unnecessary details here and there. (In particular, I’m talking about the scene with the Iron Forger. Although I had to admit that such details, such as that of the sycamore apple, did very much help in bringing a scene forward.) However, the pacing is balanced, driving us on with an upbeat take of a thrilling action scene, while quietly, furiously taking us through an unnecessary long talk with a foolish leader.

There is not much to say about a short story such as this, but I AM very interested in the book this story is allegedly to be a part of. The concept is definitely interesting, and well-executed. It’s a great read, while not exactly religious in nature.

(Outtake: After reading Ehud’s story as noted in the Bible, another faceless hero is mentioned. “After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.” That is all that Judges 3:31 has to say about him.)

An Assassin's Tale by Reev Robledo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide by Aaron Goldfarb

How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide
(This review has been spoiled by too many f-bombs. Religious tolerance is advised. Parental nonguidance is necessary and recommended.)

His name is known in every household. His face is on the covers of every magazine. Women constantly fawn over him, fighting to get his sole attention. Yep, Stuart Fish sure has got it all. In his head. While looking over his horrible apartment, lucking it out with unemployment pay, and lying post-coitus in bed with a terrible-looking hag.

This is pretty much the story-slash-guidebook of a bona fide failure in life. When Stu says he’s a failure, he notes it based on his firsthand (*laughs at inside joke, then laughs at inside-inside joke*) experiences – from How to Fail to Write a Cohesive Introduction, to How to Fail to Make Your Parents Proud of You, to How to Avoid Your Ex in a Small Town, and to the ever-popular How to Fail to be Normal. Oh, and you bet your How To Fail ale that Stu’s great at failing.

He’s also great at telling you his story at being a failure. He’s offensively humorous, sarcastically intelligent, and humbly arrogant. He’ll list down (in bullet points!) his failure-certified step-by-step tips (see How to Fail in Love, How to Acquire the STD that’s Right for You or How to Masturbate at Work). He’ll speak in the rare second person while penning a tale of erotica to give you a better *ahem* feel of How to Fail in Bed. Why, he’ll even leave you footchapters, instead of footnotes, so you don’t even have to glance at the bottom of the page or flip to the back of the book for additional information! (He happily advises you, though: “Don’t skim them, asshole.”) He’s the caring kind of narrator – hitting you in the face with his casual mention of books such as Catch-22, Grapes of Wrath and A Scanner Darkly, while cautiously serving you a creampie of horrible sex, Jewish slumlords and fake titties. He also uses big words (like “loquacious”) because he’s the type of guy to use words like “loquacious”.

(For those with Kindles – I heard that, at least for the Kindle e-book version, the author has even hightlighted/underlined his most important pieces of advice for the common non-failure. As I was reading this via Kindle App, I could see no such emphasis, although italics and emboldened text were here and there.)

As you probably guessed by now, this book is definitely not for the people who get shocked at politically incorrect sentence enhancers and herpes-laden pederasts. Heck, this may not even be a book for successful networkers, over-40 golf players, or married lesbian lovers who live in high-rises at Upper West side. This is a book that is written with the unemployed, alcoholic, drug addict, unemployed alcoholic drug addicts and other rock-bottom failures in mind.

This book is also quite a wild ride around Manhattan, though with a brief by succulent look at Hollywood too. Set in the heart (or posterior) of the Big Apple, the book shows us glimpses of Stu’s best-remembered (recommended?) places: cheap bars, sleazy apartments, crammed subway cars, and more cheap bars. Don’t expect that he’ll take you to a church though, considering his atheistic stance. Forget about marveling at the wonders of a government-related establishment (except maybe the courts or prison), since he’s got a ball to bat with all those entanglements political leaders seem to enjoy. (So with him, definitely forget the idea of bonding yourself in the eyes of the church and the government, i.e. marriage.)

At the end of all the crass, highly opinionated anecdotes, this book dwells on the ups and downs of a late-twenties/early-thirties man who tries to make it big in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Behind all the bravado of a seemingly failed life, Stu guides the audience into his morning rituals, his loves and losses, and his head and heart. Sure, it looks like a book written by the Rudest Person On Earth, but its brutal true-to-life stories mirror everyday annoyances that we all experience one time or another (maybe even everyday for some most of us). While nothing really seems pristine in Stu’s world, his imperfections and irritations are something akin to our own restlessness and wishes for better days.

All in all, the book is well-written, well-informed and charming in its roguish language. It’s got enough depth, useless information and timely advice that is quite interesting to chew upon (especially with a watermelon martini). There are life lessons to be learned here, although it will probably take a very open mind to absorb whatever those lessons may be. Great read, but try to leave your muddy self-righteous shoes next to the passive-aggressive junk pile while you’re reading this, all right?

PS: This is more like a 4.75 for me, so I'll leave this as a 4-star read.

How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide by Aaron Goldfarb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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