Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Immortalists

The Immortalists
by Chloe Benjamin
Pub Jan 2018

 How would your life change if you knew what day you'd die? Four siblings bored of summertime visit a Romani mystic and leave with information that will change all of their lives. The story unfolds like a modern day Greek tragedy - bursting with a weird sort of self-propelled cosmic irony. So even though there was plenty about this book that I did like, it was basically everything happening between the plot lines. The bulk of the story kept me pretty bewildered. First off, going against all human instinct, none of the characters even try to rebel against the prophecies that they say they don't believe in. I'd understand this for a few of them to throw expectations to the wind but all four just full blast steer into the skid. Of course it's cliche to reject fate, but that's only because it's so painfully human to do so. On top of that, none of the characters --main or side-- were very likeable (barring Robert the dancer, he was great). Even the most rational ones of the bunch just dove headfirst into some nonsensical situations making it harder and harder to suspend disbelief as things unraveled.

 Now, what I did like. Each character had well-crafted, unique interpretations of the idea that "thoughts have wings" that there is power in "mind over matter." So much about our perception of reality not accessible to our conscious mind and this was explored beautifully. From her discussions of the placebo effect in medicine to physical and psychological forcing of a magicians illusions, this was where Benjamin's reflections on mortality and free will really shone through.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sons of Cain

Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present
by Peter Vronsky
To be Published: Aug 2018

“Justice withers, prison corrupts, and society gets the criminal it deserves.”
- Lacassagne

Putting to rest the idea that serial killings were an epidemic of the 20th century, historian Peter Vronsky sets out to explore the ancient and not-so-ancient history of pattern murderers across (mostly Western) societies. What I found most interesting is the argument that these crimes hold a mirror to the society and cultural conflicts of their time.

Murder, necrophilia, or cannibalism may not have been seen as ethical dilemmas until primitive homo sapiens began to develop a fear or reverence of death. But once cultural taboos were in place, the fantasy and delusions of serial murderers manifest as a reflection of their time. For instance in Medieval Europe, these types of murders were often attributed to supernatural causes such as werewolves, vampires or demonic possession. The pathologically cruel were welcomed into the folds of Inquisitions and witch hunts. Then, the Industrial Age and destabilization of the rural workforce incited an slew of murders targeting servants and working girls etc. This book was a fascinating recap of Western History through the observed patterns of serial murder. From World Wars to Civil Rights Movements to technological advancements, each generational wave brings forth new varieties of and new explanations for these human monsters. But the song remains the same...

This book relies heavily on historical research and mountains of statistics. While definitely a strength, it should still be consumed critically. Vronsky is typically forthright in identifying sources and defining variables, but there are times I found myself paging through the References and left feeling a bit misled by the phrasing of his interpretation. This doesn't detract from the entertainment of the book overall, but I'd be cautious before citing any hypotheses as fact. That said, he does a fantastic job of name-dropping other books on the subject giving the reader plenty of opportunity to read up on it themselves!

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Check out the author's website to order or get more info