Reviews in 200 Words

Archive for the ‘Novel (Guest Punch by Steven Woods)’ Category

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

In Fiction, Novel (Guest Punch by Steven Woods) on June 24, 2011 at 12:07 am

It’s hard to say which is scarier: not knowing where you’re going, or not knowing where you’ve been. Ren is a young boy who knows neither. He controls the present by stealing things, because he can – a stump where his hand should be is a better misdirect than any magician uses. He lives in the orphanage run by monks who believe the boy’s deformity is the devil’s work. It’s easier that way – right? When a man arrives interested in adopting Ren and bridging the span from past to present, the boy is hooked. “What’s the thing you want most in the world?” the man asks. “A family,” Ren answers. But at what cost? The boy is swept off to a world of hustling, grave robbing and theft, and guess what? He fits right in – he’s a natural. Hannah Tinti tricks us into reading a love story – with the purest intentions. Her characters are deeply complex: we’ve got compassion for the criminals and conceit for the men who serve god. And then – just as fast – the characters fall back into old habits. Tinti seems to prove that each of us is flawed in some way—that a relationship of any kind accounts for the defects.

-Steven Woods


Kockroach by Tyler Knox

In Fiction, Novel, Novel (Guest Punch by Steven Woods) on March 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Imagine waking one morning to discover that you’re human.  Two legs instead of eight – tough armor replaced with flesh. What do you do? Adapt. Fear and greed remain the two primary drivers of life. Consider whether or not desire for something outweighs the fear of getting it. Consider risk. Now you’re thinking like a cockroach. Learn English from the hustlers, whores and people on the street. Self-preservation is much easier in this world – there isn’t a shoe big enough out there to crush you. And what happens after base needs are met? Back to greed, baby! More. More! MORE! But don’t be fooled, Kockroach is more than kitschy “tip of the hat” to Kafka. It’s a retelling of “the prodigal son”…an exercise in defamiliarization…a sociological commentary on the current state of leadership. Every rise needs a first step. The instinctual life of hiding by day, eating and fucking at night is replaced with societal nuance, posturing and formality – all utterly foreign to the insect you once were. And maybe, it’s not such a big change.

-Steven Woods

True Grit by Charles Portis, reviewed by Steven Woods

In Novel (Guest Punch by Steven Woods) on January 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm



Read True Grit before you hear too much. Or don’t. What Charles Portis, Henry Hathaway and the Coen brothers seem to agree on, is that this is a tight little story: worth retelling. You might have to decide why for yourself. What was the last book with literary “weight” that proved to be entertaining? Snobs might look at True Grit as fluff, and treat it as a guilty pleasure before they run back to the bookshelf for more Heidegger, Dickens or whomever they force themselves to read in the name of intellectual elitism. But this is more than just entertaining. It’s written with laser-sighted focus and driven through a precocious 14-year old heroine who wants to bring her father’s murderer to justice. My name is Mattie Ross, of Near Dardanelle in Yell County. My family owns property, and I don’t know why I’m being treated like this! This young woman experiences the wide berth of “gray” between the poles of black/white or good/evil and emerges understanding that life owes nothing. Still, despite her loss-realization, Portis won’t let Ross off easily and makes even the innocent pay for trespassing into the dark areas of the human psyche.

-Steven Woods


God’s Pocket by Pete Dexter (1995) Reviewed by Steven Woods

In Novel (Guest Punch by Steven Woods) on December 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Think Eddie Haskel transformed from ass-kisser to failed egoist with a penchant for mock-bravado.  It’s not hard to believe that just because Leon Hubbard is largely hated by his almost incestuous community, his mother thinks the world of him. Don’t villains always have loving mothers? It’s not hard to believe that when he turns up murdered, not many are too broken up to put him in the ground. “You ever climbed out on a roof and look down, and for just a breath somethin’ inside you said, ‘Jump’?  Leon Hubbard is what that voice looks like.”  Pete Dexter puts you right in the middle of the murder scene – tells you, “who dunnit” – and then bends the constructs of morality in on itself to make you wonder where karma fits into the grand scheme of things.  Or, if karma fits in at all. But – assuming Leon Hubbard got what was coming for him – the ripple effect sweeps through the entire neighborhood of God’s Pocket in Philadelphia where it’s them against everyone else.  It’s life against death. It’s family; and you protect family, no matter what.  

-Steven Woods

Paris Trout by Pete Dexter–Reviewed by Steven Woods

In Novel (Guest Punch by Steven Woods), Novels on July 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Paris Trout is like a sucker punch in a dark, crowded bar.  Stop several times.  Ask yourself, “What the fuck just happened?”  Much like watching two people fight, regardless of our proclivities towards violence, we’re gonna stay and watch…err read.  Paris Trout is a figure caught in dead space as time moves forward.  Things always weighed more when they were dead, and the weight of Paris Trout is yoked around the neck of everyone he contacts, especially you.  Great writing shows you a story rather than tells you, and buddy – Pete Dexter takes you so close to the action that you need a drink and a hot shower at the end.  It takes place in a small Georgia town where the murder of a young black girl begins a string of events that pulls back the curtain and illuminates an unapologetic soul whose ugliness transcends racism and exposes the worst trait in humans:  indifference.  If it sounds familiar, be sure, you’ve never read a book like this before.  Dexter’s characters are beautiful and flawed – just like us – but Paris Trout is someone you never want to meet.