The Night Country by Stewart O’Nan

Book: The Night Country

Author: Stewart O’Nan

Type of Book: Literary fiction, fiction, novel, ghost story

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s a wholly modern ghost story and part of the selection of books that I reread every few years or so. I do my best to read this book at least every other Halloween.

Availability: The edition I own is the 2004 Bloomsbury edition, which isn’t easily obtained, but the novel itself is still in print and you can get a copy here:

Comments: Stewart O’Nan is a pretty mainstream author and I doubt he’ll come up too often on this site in the future, but I couldn’t let another Halloween go by without discussing The Night Country. O’Nan is not a particularly odd writer and his stories can be remarkably prosaic but he is a master of characterization and his characters never fail to appeal to me in a very direct way. Mr OTC keeps me in middle class splendor, but I have some very working class roots (as does Mr OTC, for that matter). O’Nan captures perfectly the life of the man who clocks in and works an hourly wage. He depicts relationships in a tender manner that lacks sentimentality. His novel Last Night at the Lobster was a revelation to me – I discussed it on my old and now defunct site, I Read Everything, and that book alone cements O’Nan as one of my favorite mainstream writers.

But it was a bonus read because The Night Country was already in my to-be-reread-until-I-die rotation. I’m going to force myself to write as concise a discussion as possible because I don’t want to run the risk of spoiling this novel for anyone because I think just about everyone who reads here will like this book, and I hope you all read it after this review. That’s going to be hard because this book causes me to want to go on at length and explore every line. Let’s see how succinct I can be while honoring my desire to rave.

Here’s a quick synopsis: A year prior on Halloween, a car with five teenagers caught the attention of a patrol officer and tried to outrun him. The officer gave chase and the car crashed, killing three of the teenagers inside, gravely injuring one, while one walked away with few injuries. Marco, Danielle and Toe (real name Christopher) died. Marco is narrating this book while Danielle and Toe serve as a sort of third-person Greek chorus, chiming in with opinions and dark humor when they feel the need. Kyle suffered brain damage that rendered him child-like, and his mother is trying to hold on to hope now that she has a son who will be mentally a grade-school boy the rest of his life. Tim, who sustained no harm in the wreck, is groping through as he grimly plans to recreate that terrible night as best he can this Halloween. Brooks, the cop who gave chase in dangerous conditions, has lost everything – the esteem of his fellow officers, his wife left him and he is being forced out of his home because he can no longer afford it. Brooks senses that Tim is not going to let the first anniversary of the accident pass without some dark action but has become so uneven at performing his job that the reader has no idea how (and if) he can help Tim come out the other side of Halloween.

This book is a traditional ghost story, in a way, in that the dead come back to comment on the living, but this is a ghost story full of meta. The ghosts know they are ghosts and at times find the whole thing very tiresome but they have no choice in the matter – when the living invoke their memory, they are summoned and they cannot refuse. The three dead teenagers find themselves being pulled all over town the Halloween the year after their death and sometimes it’s miserable and sad, but sometimes the teens snark on the nature of being a ghost, invoking Dickens’ Marley, moaning and rattling metaphorical chains. But the teenagers know the fallout their deaths have caused Tim and Brooks. They also know how their deaths affect Kyle’s mother because she’s been faced with a death of her own – the black-jean-and-leather-jacket-wearing son she raised, the rebellious boy who listened to death metal, is now a shuffling, clumsy teenager who needs supervision constantly. He can’t even tie shoelaces anymore and must use velcro sneakers. He has a part time job at a supermarket that he maintains because he and Tim work together and Tim supervises him closely. But Kyle also must ride the special education bus, is gaining weight at a rapid clip and it can be said the old version of him died in that car Halloween a year ago. But his mother knows three families lost their child and feels that she must feel grateful because her child lived, even though she knows, really, that he died, too.

Tim especially feels disembodied in his life. Danielle was his girlfriend and because she wanted to sit in his lap that night the two of them moved to the backseat. Had he remained in the front seat, he would have died. Instead Danielle was thrown from the car and Tim doesn’t have a single visible scar remaining of that night. But his psychic scars tell him in no uncertain terms that he and Kyle should have died that night and is on a mission to set right that cosmic oversight. He’s going through the motions and no one but Brooks seems to understand that Tim is not okay, that he is not handling all of this well, that he needs far more from his parents than they realize, but Brooks has issues of his own. His entire life has fallen apart because he blames himself for what happened that night and so do many others.

After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones

Book: After the People Lights Have Gone Off

Author: Stephen Graham Jones

Type of Book: Fiction, horror, weird fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Ultimately this may not be an odd collection but this book creates the feeling that the reader is consuming something wholly new. Too often originality in content and voice in the horror genre are somewhat odd, sad to say.

Availability: Published by The Dark House Press in 2014, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I already know, writing the first sentence of my discussion for After the People Lights Have Gone Off, that I will be using the delete key quite a bit. I find it difficult to put into words why some stories in this collection were the literary equivalent of throwing a lead weight over the side of a ship and why some stories soared, excellent examples of literary horror at its best. Some of Jones’s stories were so perfect that I felt that familiar pull of envy that comes when I read something so wonderful that I wish I had thought of it first. But some of Jones’s stories were impenetrable for me, leaving me wondering if he missed the mark or if I was just too dense to understand what he was trying to convey. Ultimately I decided I just wasn’t the sort of reader to appreciate those stories, that taste was at issue and not talent.

The hell of it is, this has been a pretty dense year for me. Sort of muddy and brackish. I don’t feel as on the ball at the moment as I have in years past. But what made me decide that my divided reactions are righteous was analyzing why I am so divided about the stories in this collection. The answer is that while Jones has a distinct voice, he is also a malleable writer who is moving around within his chosen genre. The stories that have a familiar ring to them are written in a style that makes them seem fresh, but Jones also ventures out into new territory, with strange ideas and storytelling techniques that can be maddening when one is the sort of reader who needs the conclusions to be neater. Jones may luck out and find readers who love every bit of his work, as he twists the horror genre into new shapes, but chances are he’s going to end up with a substantial number of readers who love it when he’s wearing a particular storytelling hat but less so when he puts on another.

One hat that Jones kept on throughout this collection is the “weird” hat. Much of this collection could be considered weird fiction, which may be one of the reasons why some of the stories didn’t work for me. I like weird fiction, as a rule, but this horror subset lends itself well to muffled storytelling, mushy conclusions, entire story lines that can be up for interpretation. I’ve been clear in the past how I feel about such writing. That sort of remote remove in writing irritates me because it is too often a cop-out, a lazy attempt to force the burden of storytelling onto the reader. Jones, when his writing is up for interpretation doesn’t echo the laziness of others who write this way, and this entire collection is refreshingly devoid of irony, but even purposeful, earnest writing that employs this sort of post-modernist equivocation will likely always ring false to me.

In the Sky by Octave Mirbeau, translated by Ann Sterzinger

Book: In the Sky

Author: Octave Mirbeau, translated by Ann Sterzinger

Type of Book: Fiction, literary fiction, novella

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This book reached into my chest, grabbed my heart with both hands, and wrung it out.

Availability: Published in 2014 by Nine Banded Books, you can and should get a copy here:

You can also get a copy directly from the publisher.

Comments:  This book broke my heart. There are books you read at moments when you need to read them and this was one of those sorts of books for me.  I was left feeling unsettled the first time I read In the Sky, and read it again to see if I could pinpoint what this book was trying to tell me.  The second read was more of a revelation, and I’m not going to discuss the reasons in any real depth because, even though I discuss books in a confessional manner, this book caused me to consider my life in a manner that I prefer not to discuss overmuch.  As much as I tend to treat this site like a diary, even I have parts of my mind that don’t need to be shown because the contemplation trumps the discussion.  That should be in itself an excellent reason for any regular reader here to read this book.  A book that helps me cauterize my continual brain bleed is a rare, interesting, compelling book.

Mirbeau is a genius.  He portrayed with great intensity a quietly malignant life, a person rotting inside because of tension and fear, a person for whom a blue sky is a crushing reminder that there is no freedom, only a mocking emptiness that can never be filled.  This is a book about a man who died while still living, who kept dying long after the disease had eaten its fill.  That Mirbeau never finished this novella makes it all the better a representation of the life half-eaten, half-lived, never complete. Ann Sterzinger is also a genius to be able to read these words in their original French and convey such exquisite misery so precisely yet with such raw, bleeding emotion.

Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

Book:  Penpal

Author:  Dathan Auerbach

Type of Book:  Fiction, short story collection, horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it is both excellent and terrible.

Availability:  Published by 1000Vultures, you can get a copy here:

Comments: If you are a Redditor and subscribe to “nosleep” then chances are you are already aware of Penpal and Dathan Auerbach.  Dathan posted a series of stories to “nosleep” that became so popular that he expanded them, eventually self-publishing the stories as Penpal, using his Reddit name, 1000Vultures, as the name of his publishing company.  The book has had moderate success and has even been optioned for a film.

Nosleep and the phenomenon of “creepypasta” have expanded into YouTube serials wherein voice actors read the stories, but it has to be said that most of the stories that get posted and then turned into audio-videos are mediocre.  Some are so bad they are of the “then who was phone” variety.  But sometimes some excellent gems are posted to the subreddit.  For example during the summer of 2014, Reddit user natesw posted an account of how his dead girlfriend was talking to him via Facebook chat.  It was a creepy and well-executed story, and it went viral.  Unfortunately going viral was probably the story’s undoing because it caused an influx of people into nosleep who had no idea how the community worked and didn’t read the sidebar rules.  You see, nosleep operates as if all the stories posted there are true.  Even if they aren’t true, they are true.  The readers interact with the author of the story as if the author is the protagonist or in some manner part of the story, and the author responds in character when replying in comments.  Natesw’s story got so barraged by people unclear on the concept of nosleep that he more or less abandoned it.  Newcomers were analyzing exif data trying to disprove his story, doing their best to track him down on other social media sites and doxx him to prove it was a hoax and it all got quite ruined for those who understood what was going on.  Luckily, Dathan’s stories didn’t fall victim to people unclear on the concept until the stories had enough traction that such nonsense didn’t affect them, but if you Google any element of this book, one of the autofill menu items will always be “is penpal based on a true story” or some variant.

But such is the risk of engaging in writing and theater online – if you do it well it will be indistinguishable from real life to those who never read the community guidelines.

Penpal is the story of a young man’s very disturbing childhood, and his attempts to make sense of what happened to him and his friends.  The first two chapters are golden, truly creepy and leaving the reader with the task of deciding the reality of the situations the author presents, especially in the first chapter, “Footsteps.”  The first two chapters are not in chronological order – “Footsteps” takes place when the narrator is six, “Balloons” takes place when he is five – so I am going to discuss “Balloons” first because it will make this discussion easier to follow. 

Pinkies by Shane Hinton

Book:  Pinkies

Author:  Shane Hinton

Type of Book:  Fiction, short stories, flash fiction

Why Do I Consider This Book Is Odd:  Because it’s not immediately clear which Shane Hinton wrote this book.

Availability:  Published by Burrow Press in 2015, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  Shane Hinton has a bit of Jon Konrath in him, or maybe Jon has a bit of Shane in him.  Or maybe they both have a bit of someone I have yet to read in them both. But this collection shows that Hinton has an eye and ear for the absurd in daily life, though he ventures into the speculative more than Konrath does.  And I only mention Konrath because I found myself chugging NyQuil Cough formula like it was soda the other day and ended up having a bad dream about that infant-mouse-covered snake on the front of this book.  In my dream the snake had charmed the mice like a sort of reptilian Charles Manson and they were ready to do his bidding, except I also think the snake was female. A lot of it I’ve forgotten, which is probably a good thing. But I did have the nightmare. That much I do know.

Before I begin to discuss this book in earnest, I want to mention that there is some interesting meta going on in this collection, and meta I have seen in other books recently.  I don’t think it’s happening enough to call it a trend, but this summer I managed to read three books wherein the characters were named for the authors.  Hank Kirton named a couple of characters in his short story collection Bleak Holiday after himself.  Brian Whitney’s Raping the Gods sports a protagonist named Brian Whitney, which may be because the book is autobiographical (and I am afraid to find out if it is indeed autobiographical).  And every male protagonist in Pinkies is Shane Hinton.  One story boasts dozens of Shane Hintons.

I can feel the desire to go on at extraordinary lengths rising up because I genuinely enjoyed this collection, so I’m going to limit myself to the stories I liked best.  Every story works on some level – there wasn’t a clunker to be found – but I decided to limit myself to four of the sixteen stories in this slim volume.  Let us all cross our fingers that such a measure keeps my verbosity more or less in check, but I think it’s safe to say this is going to be very long, because this is a good collection and because this is the first book review on Odd Things Considered and I feel self-indulgent with celebratory bookishness.

Down Where the Devil Don’t Go by Paul Bingham

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  Down Where the Devil Don’t Go

Author:  Paul Bingham

Type of Book:  Fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because one of the stories is entitled, “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Hollywood”.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2014, you can get a copy here:

Or you can order it directly from the publisher.

Comments: My love for short story collections has been firmly established by now, so, in spite of the picture of the deformed kitten on the cover, I was already inclined toward liking this book.  I was somewhat disappointed.   Bingham’s prose style is similar to my own when I write fiction – Bingham relishes ridiculous and horrible details yet writes about them in a spare, concise manner.  He eschews over-use of adjectives and adverbs, which gives his prose an immediacy, a sort of direct punch that doesn’t get dragged down by needless scene setting or excessive characterization.  This is not beautiful prose; rather, this is effective prose.  But even as the prose is effective, I still found it difficult to like this collection as much as the solid writing would ordinarily inspire in me.

The book consists of four stories and the first, “Population I” verges dangerously into cliched territory, yet is the best story in the collection. 

NVSQVAM (nowhere) by Ann Sterzinger

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  NVSQVAM (nowhere)

Author:  Ann Sterzinger

Type of Book: Fiction, literary fiction

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Oh, this book…

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Amazon currently has this book on sale for Kindle for $2.99.  That makes it almost impossible not to take a look.

Comments: There are two reasons to read this book.  The first reason is because Sterzinger nails a specific social dissatisfaction I tend to associate with the sorts of men who really love Jonathan Franzen, a sort of Lester Burnham-esque unhappiness that can only be cured by having sex with a much-younger woman and sneering at the daily grind and everyday domesticity.  She distills this generational malaise through a single character and refuses to show us the way out, because, most of the time there isn’t one.  The other reason to read it is because it is so very funny.  Seriously, Sterzinger has the sort of intelligent, acerbic wit that I imagined I had back when I was a drunk.

I think this is a book that will read differently to every person who picks it up.  Women of a certain age (hi!) will want to take the protagonist and swat him with a newspaper until he stops pissing and moaning about his life and either accepts it or changes it in a meaningful way, and I wanted to swat him all the more because Lester (yep, Lester) Reichartsen is himself a man of a certain age.  He embodies the Gen-X confusion-burnout that I see plaguing so many of my age-peers, coupled with a longing for an edgy past because their passivity and entitlement meant they ended up in a life they really never wanted but didn’t have the balls to reject along the way.

In the beginning, Lester is just one of those people.  You know, the ones to whom everything happens and they actually do very little.  They feel very put-upon.  Lester is more or less living a life he hates that he feels happened to him due to no actions or faults of his own.  He hates everyone around him – especially his only child and the religious mid-westerners who surround his college town – and the only things he really accomplishes, aside from a prolonged, drunken nervous breakdown, are taking long walks and engaging in an affair.

Though I find Lester largely irritating and unlikeable, he is not unique in his passive, seething uselessness.  Jesus, so many young people born to baby boomer parents ended up like this.  Almost all of us were latch-key kids, the post-Reagan economic state seemed hopeless, and we had Pearl Jam running across the stage in baggy shorts making millions of dollars moaning about their mothers, which was sort of understandable because so many of us were raised in divorced, single-parent, female-headed households. Some young men raised in such an environment felt buffeted by fate, as if everything they wanted would never happen and they entered a post-collegiate life with no idea what to do next.  Get married?  Yeah, that worked so well for our parents.  Get a good job?  But aren’t we supposed to find our bliss and honor our talents?  Didn’t our parents raise us to honor our deep individuality (while giving us little assistance in determining how to put that individuality to use)?  Get a factory job?  None are left.  The world changed so much in such a short period of time that all the lessons many Gen-xers were taught were obsolete the day after they became adults.

It’s tempting to write Lester off as a self-involved crap-fest of a human being, but even as I wanted to grab his nose between my index and middle finger and twist it violently, I felt a certain level of empathy for him.  He almost seems like an embodiment of the sentiment expressed in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club – we were all told we were going to be rock stars and when that didn’t happen it pissed off large segments of this generation. So many of us feel like we have failed our families, ourselves and especially our past, idealistic selves.  What do we do about that rage and real failure? To avoid that sense of failure, wounded egos become passive, taking paths of least resistance, so they can say that they aren’t responsible for anything in their lives – that’s how we end up with Lesters.  Lester Reichartsen is a self-absorbed, largely useless asshole but he’s our asshole, my generation’s asshole.  You can’t hobble large segments of a generation and then hold them completely responsible for limping. 

Middle of the Road: I Like Being Killed and Vampires in the Lemon Grove

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I really enjoyed my first attempt at writing brief discussions (well, for me they were brief) of books that had some odd element but were not good or bad enough to trigger my verbose need to discuss them in depth. I’m not sure why – maybe it was the thrill of completing an entry in a single sitting – but I’m going to keep doing it until I inevitably lose interest and go back to writing five thousand word entries for everything I read.

This particular entry is surprising because I adore short story collections. It’s really hard to disappoint me with short stories, mainly because even if there are one or two clunkers in the collection, there are bound to be a couple of stories that soar, and you can focus on those stories rather than focus on what didn’t really work. It’s strange that I found two separate short story collections completely lacking in merit, and, worse, these two collections came from authors whose other works appear in my long list of favorite books.

And this isn’t really a Middle of the Road entry because I am panning both books. I like both of the authors so much I don’t want to devote an entry to both books and give excruciating detail to prove my case as to why these are not so great.

Considering Suicide by Andy Nowicki

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  Considering Suicide

Author:  Andy Nowicki

Type of Book:  Non-fiction, unexpected polemic

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because, surprisingly, I finished reading it and didn’t want to burn it when I was finished.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2009, you can get a copy here:

Or you can get a copy directly from Nine Banded Books.

Comments:  As a woman with decidedly liberal leanings, I often find it difficult to read extreme right wing political and religious ideas and not want to debate or refute them.  But lately I’ve been trying to take the perspective of enjoying that which is unusual in some manner without accepting or rejecting it in terms of my own philosophy and morality, which I should have been doing all along, really.  Being open to that which I consider bizarre or strange or completely mad is more or less the purpose of this site, polemics included.

It’s just that too often those who write polemics present them as proven theses rather than admitting that they are, in fact, just presenting their very personal beliefs as an attack against a rival ideology.  Diana West’s ridiculous The Death of the Grown-Up comes to mind.  A polemic against what West believes to be cultural childishness caused by us evil liberals, West’s book savagely attacked modern customs.  However, instead of lashing out against a culture West found deficient, she attempted to provide proof that bolstered her intense opinions and completely destroyed her premise because each piece of “evidence” she used to show the degeneracy of modern America was open to lots of interpretation.  That which West felt genuinely showed American culture to be childish proved nothing more than her own entrenched opinions.  What could have been a coherent savaging of modernity became an “old man yells at cloud” moment wherein West felt that by using sources that showed that Cary Grant wore camel hair coats and tourists wear fanny packs and some guy felt Look Who’s Talking Now proved John Travolta is immature and Bill Gates wears ball caps and Jack Nicholson was edgy around 40 years ago and similarly irrelevant and strange citations that she had made a prima facie case that America lacks the gravitas of black and white films from the 1950s.  Her attack was lost in an ocean of trivial “facts,” her momentum destroyed as the reader was forced to decide if ball caps are really a sign of the fall of Western Civilization, and she came across less as a seasoned polemicist than a cranky racist who holds a grudge against anyone who was not raised in the Diana West household.

A polemic is not a proven thesis – it’s just one side of a very passionate argument.  Those who believe as the polemicist does will find truth in the attack, and those on the other side will not, but the polemicist’s case is seldom helped by source citations because an honest polemicist knows that his or her attack exists in the realm of opinion, not fact.  Just as there was no way to prove that liking Maya Angelou meant one was childish (and trying to do so made it clear that West really resents anyone but white folk like her having any cultural influence), there was no way for Nowicki to prove that a return to Judeo-Christian (mostly Catholic) mores and 1950s standards of behavior will prevent cultural suicide.  I appreciate that he didn’t try, that he kept this book in the realm of the polemic.  While I really disagree with the premise, I still can appreciate this book for what it is – Nowicki’s intense reaction to a society in which he finds little merit.

Nowicki also has an advantage over failed polemicists like West in that he manages to create a personal experience for the reader and is quite accomplished at wielding a mild sort of black humor.  The first half of the book, entitled “Diary of a Suicide,” was quite engaging and I rather wish this book had not included the second part because the second half abandons humor and the personalized experience fades as Nowicki merges into the strident opinions that make a good polemic.  In a sense, this book really wouldn’t be a polemic if Nowicki had not included the second half, and my liberal leanings definitely influence my dislike of the second half, but even so I think most people will find the first part of the book a very good read.  So I think I will concentrate on the first half of the book.

An unnamed diarist is recording his attempts to shuffle through a world that alienates him.  He considers suicide not as an abstract representing a world killing itself but as a genuine consideration of a man who does not want to live in a world in which he finds no value, a world that is actively destroying everyone.  The diarist is itchy, in a way that reads very true to me, because this sort of despair caroms from noble disenchantment to self-disgust to fantasies of base vengeance.

The diarist, as I mentioned already is itchy.  Twitchy, even.  There is nowhere he feels comfortable and there is no way for him to feel like he is doing the right thing because he never feels right anywhere he goes and all the people around him just make everything worse.

It is amazing how difficult it can be simply to find a physical location where one can sit comfortably and write about suicide!  You spend more time getting in and out of the car, driving from spot to spot, from the library to the bookstore to the mall.  Yes, the mall!  Everywhere you run into obstacles.  Mostly in the form of other people disrupting your concentration with their chattering idiocy.  It would be much easier if one were able simply to stay in one’s house, away from everyone else, away from it all.  Yet somehow this simply will not do.  If I just sit around my house to write, I feel somehow like I’m in prison.  What a strange circumstance – even a misanthrope feels he must be out and about, “with” people in a sense, rather than holed up, alone.  I can neither fathom it or explain it.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Tampa

Author: Alissa Nutting

Type of Book: Fiction, Ripped from the Headlines, hebephilia

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, because I had to create the category “hebephilia” just for this book…

Availability: Published by Harper Collins in 2013, you can get a copy here:

Comments: My friend Jessica and I have very similar reading tastes in fiction so when I saw her mention on Facebook that she was left uneasy by this book, I knew I needed a copy. Jessica is not one to be nonplussed, so I was intrigued. I have to say her reaction was on the mark.

Before I begin discussing this book in earnest, here is a brief synopsis: Celeste Price, who is definitely a stand-in for the real life hebephile Debra Lafave, is sexually attracted only to fourteen-year-old boys, preferably before they start puberty. This is especially problematic because she is married to an older man and has just begun a job teaching 8th grade English. Celeste is in her early 20s, quite attractive, and a complete sociopath, wearing her mask of sanity and passing muster with other adults but engaging in risky behaviors, like very public masturbation. Preying on the children in her classrooms, she soon has an adolescent boy in her grasp. I don’t think it is a spoiler to reveal that Celeste eventually is hoist by her own petard (or rather busted out because her lusts make her sloppy) and comes to a very bad end because that should pretty much go without saying. In a sense, it doesn’t matter how this book ends because the reason to read this book is to get a good look at the inner workings of a sociopath.

I feel very much like this book hits a discordant note, but it also occurs to me that I feel this way because Nutting got Celeste absolutely right. She nailed Celeste. And that is why the book was fascinating, forcing me to read it in two sittings, and left me feeling empty and disturbed.