“The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To” (2010) By DC Pierson
Actor and comedian DC Pierson’s debut novel is a surprising, subtly sophisticated story that blends bluntly honest teenage angst with rich science fiction. It’s an unlikely combination, and it’s admittedly uneven, but the intelligence and distinctive voice carry it through some of the bumpier patches.
Darren is an awkward teenage boy who has trouble making friends. When he meets Eric, he’s convinced he’s found his soul mate, a fellow introvert who loves to draw and is obsessed with science fiction. Before long, though, Darren starts to realize that something is wrong: Eric doesn’t sleep, and never has. While Eric’s malady has some advantages (such as a deep knowledge accrued while everyone else is catching z’s), it also comes with drawbacks, namely a shadowy government organization that may or may not be trying to capture him for scientific study.
The synopsis makes the novel seem more like a sci-fi potboiler, but at its core this is a coming-of-age novel, and a very good one. Pierson’s coolest trick is the subtle way the prose matures with its characters. The first act of the book is peppered with an accurate teenage patois of “ums” and “ahs,” but by the second act, as main character Darren gains experience and insight, the writing grows more experienced and insightful. It all builds up to a satisfying, hard-earned finale that strikes just the right note between fantasy and grim reality. This is a great, under-the-radar read for anyone looking for something truly unique.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Directed by George Miller
George Miller’s post-apocalyptic franchise came roaring back into theaters after a 30-year hiatus, sans Mel Gibson but with more than welcome replacements Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. Mad Max: Fury Road is a burst of pure cinema, endlessly enthralling and imaginative. It’s rare to see a film with vision and ambition in the age of cookie-cutter blockbusters, but Miller and his crew make it look easy.
The plot is minimal: Max (Hardy) has been captured by the menacingly grotesque Immortan Joe and is being used as a “blood bag” by his cancer-ridden soldiers. On a trek across the endless wasteland, Max escapes his confines and crosses paths with Imperetor Furiosa (Theron), one of Joe’s trusted generals who decided to defect, with Joe’s harem of beautiful slave women in tow. This simple premise serves as the fuel for what is essentially a two-hour car chase, with real-life stuntmen performing jaw-dropping feats usually reserved for bland CGI.
The world is richly detailed and imaginative, and the story line, though conveyed through minimal dialogue, is rich and engrossing. Hardy is fine in the lead, but this movie belongs to Theron, who rises immediately to the upper echelon of action stars with her fierce performance.
Honestly, I have a hard time believing any movie will be better than this in 2015.
“I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” (2005) By Bright Eyes
Conor Oberst, the singer-songwriter behind Bright Eyes, had a remarkable run in the early- to mid-2000s, turning out one brilliant album after another. In 2005, he released two of those wonderful albums at the same time. “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” and “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” both dropped on January 25, 2005, the former album an homage to folk and country music and the later featuring experiments with electronic instruments and sampling.
“Digital Ash” is a terrific album in its own right, but “Wide Awake” is perfect. There isn’t one weak track on the album, not one song that feels rushed or out of place. It manages to be both sweepingly epic and completely personal, as concerned with the pitfalls of modern American life as it is with the plight of junkies trying to find meaning in existence.
Oberst is one of the best songwriters in music today, and he cuts to the core in tracks like the wildly romantic “First Day of My Life,” the melancholy “Lua” and the ebullient “Road to Joy.” On “Land Locked Blues,” Oberst teams up with Emmylou Harris for one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written, an elegy for the end of a relationship: “A good woman will pick you apart/ A box full of suggestions for your possible heart/ But though you may be offended, and you may be afraid/ Don’t walk away, don’t walk away.”
Each of these titles is available at the Blaine Public Library. To reserve a copy, visit the local branch or go to wcls.org.