Month: September 2021

Book review – Billy Summers, by Stephen King

Title: Billy Summers

Author: Stephen King

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Stephen King’s stories sometimes aren’t so much about the journey but the people and places we encounter along the way, and Billy Summers may fall into that category. Not that there’s an issue with the story. King knowingly, overtly – his protagonist knows the narrative he is playing out – lets us know this is the story of a hitman lining up his last hit and hoping to bag a retirement nest egg in the process.

Of course it’s going to go wrong, of course the hitman is going to try to save his neck, maybe take some revenge, right some wrongs. There will be complications.

But this is not, as Summers himself says, a Sly Stallone movie. King keeps it down to earth – with the exception of one little decorative aside, a nod to one of King’s early great successes – and provides the signature touches to freshen up this well-worn path.

STEPHEN KING READS FROM BILLY SUMMER

at youtube

King’s hitman is softened for the reader, a Marine with Iraq under his belt, a man with, as one character remarks, a moral code. He is fallible. What’s more, Summers is well read, a budding writer. And so the story swings, in beautiful rhythm, between key events in Summers’ past and his current predicament. Summers, well versed in the genre of his life, has an almost meta awareness of the role he is playing out, the dichotomy of being, if not a bad man then not a good man, who only kills bad men for his living. That awareness and his experimentation with writing allow for occasional ruminations and insights into the writer’s life, and reminders that this is not a Hollywood script – if he is writing the story of his life, it is not a fanciful tale; likewise, this tale in which he is starring is not fanciful.

Further elevating the story is King’s ability to present human characters – the warmth of relationships, the care for each other – and that sublime power of description. If a scene is a paint by numbers image, Kings know he needs fill in only sections 3, 4 and 7 for the reader to get the full picture, whether its street-to-street fighting in Fallujah or an unassuming rental in a middling neighbourhood of a nondescript American town.

And so we have it: set up, incident, aftermath, leading to the inevitable final comeuppance and the question of will he or won’t he, and the damage done along the way. And finally there’s the conclusion and the epilogue, which are pure killer.

Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung

Jason is Ballarat Writers Inc. publicity and communications officer

Review copy provided by the publisher

Book review – The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton

Title: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

Author: Dawnie Walton

Publisher: Quercus Editions, 2021

The Author

Dawnie Walton is an American freelance journalist and fiction writer living in Brooklyn, New York.  Walton’s status as a low-profile celebrity and storyteller has been significantly boosted by her debut novel, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev.  If you have a watch list for authors, Dawnie Walton is worth putting on it.

The Book

From page one Walton draws the reader into the lives of the characters inhabiting this book.  Love them or loathe them, you will get to know them.

There are effectively two interconnected narratives running through this book. The most obvious is the retrospective stories of Opal Jewel and Nev Charles, rock stars, who had collaborated, infamously, early in their careers.  The second is the personal journey experienced by high-flying magazine editor Sunny Curtis as she pieces together the lives of Opal and Nev for a book intended for publication in conjunction with Opal and Nev’s reunion performance.

Walton has Curtis present the underlying story of Opal and Nev as a series of interviews with them and their contemporaries. This gives the reader a broad view of the pair and is a convenient way of dealing with the expanse of time.  Curtis, who is the interviewer, is connected with the Opal and Nev story through the father she never knew.  Gradually Curtis learns “the truth” behind the defining incident in the early careers of Opal and Nev.

This is a very complex piece of writing, but a delight to read. It is easy to follow – the complexity comes from the multi-layering and intertwining of the stories of the major characters, including Curtis.

10 books about music and musicians, selected by Rebecca Kauffman

at the guardian

On the bell curve of normality Opal and Nev are both outliers.  The struggle for acceptance is a dominant theme.  In some ways the protagonist in this book could be the marginalised, and the story arc, how they come to grips with their struggle for a place in society.

To me this book shows us that love, ambition, jealousy, empathy are all common human traits, regardless of background; shades of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice “if you prick us, do we not bleed”.  However, there is no stepping away from the everyday struggle of black people, especially women, to overcome implicit bigotry and bias.

I thought Walton did a fantastic job in developing the characters; by the end of the book I was concerned for Curtis, she still has a lot to learn. As for Opal and Nev, I was less forgiving, especially Nev. Opal’s self-honesty is redeeming. This is probably not the result Walton would expect, but each to their own. We value diversity provided it is respectful, which I think is the point of the story.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson

Ballarat Writers Inc. book review group

Review copy provided by the publisher

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