Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stephen King's Joyland - It's No Shutter Island

Okay folks it's been, let's see, almost a year since my original Joyland Post, shameful.

Hey, this is not Salon folks. I know where I stand with my limited audience who've long taken a hike. It's ok, the only point of this Blog is self-serving, to get things off my chest. Or, to delay my impending doom with one last reason to live before I put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger at least twice. Heck, if readers want real entertainment they'll go to real blogs and sites like the aforementioned Salon, or who knows where.

But now that I mention it, I stopped logging on to Salon because their pages load up too slow. Hmm, is it their site or just my old Remington, I mean Gateway acting up? (I wish this was a joke).

Don't ask, but yes, I'm still using an old Gateway laptop from the 90's. Hey, it matches my 1991 Chevy Blazer. I just can't part with either of them. (Really?)

Okay, enough nonsense. Let's get to the juicy review I've put off for almost a year. As my dear mom used to say: "If you've got nothing good to say, don't say anything at all." Hmm, come to think of it, that might have been Confucious. I always get them mixed up. (I love you mom.)

All right, let's face it, the only reason I'm posting here is because my life is about to end, once again. At least it feels that way. Suicidal meditations always inspire me to write. I have no where else to turn. How else can I say farewell to this cruel world? I mean, how many times have I picked up that gun?

Here's a tip for the youngsters out there (not that any of them are reading this). Lord forbid they look away from their video games for two minutes. They seriously must know something I don't. My boys are beyond hooked, with no hope in sight.

Youngster tip of the week:
"You'll start to take life seriously only when you're free-falling off a cliff."

That's a gem. Write it down and don't ever forget it.

Again, I digress. Can you blame me? I've got too many issues to deal with and they all seem to take center stage at the worst times. I'm not sure I even want to talk about Joyland anymore. I've got far more interesting things going on.

But let's get to it shall we? It's not even a real review folks. It's a bit of criticism, but first, let me say that I loved Joyland. Especially the first half, despite the odd opening. For the life of me, I still don't know why Stephen King would open a novel this way when he had so many opportunities to really make it more interesting. Oh... almost forgot. He's Stephen King. He can open a novel any way he wants and get away with it.

No worries, Mr.King, I forgive you. In fact,  I re-wrote your opening to Joyland at least three different ways (in my own mind) just to prove to myself I know a little about writing and how to open a story that hooks readers from page one. I kept referring to Les Edgerton's Hooked, over and over just to make sure too. I'm so proud of myself. But don't worry Mr. King, I won't reveal my clever and poignant opening to anyone. I wouldn't want to embarrasss you.

Besides, my own legion of readers would lambaste me for even trying to mess with a master storyteller like Stephen King. I'm sure there's a method there somewhere.

Okay, I loved Joyland right? I sure did and I want to say that up front because I wasn't thrilled with the ending. Aside from the meandering opening, the beginning of this story is quite masterful, as I recall. The funny carny jargon, the spot-on characters. The main character's quirky POV and interesting backstory. Loved all of that. Enjoyed the setting and how all the characters played off each other, and so on. Great first half of the story until the middle started to drag and become predictable. And then... the ending came.

Suspenseful glissen tone here.

I don't know about you, but for me, endings are what I live for. (Thank you Mr. King for nudging me just a little closer to grabbing that gun once again.) Right. After an ending like this, I was not only dissapointed, but depressed beyond all reason. I quickly tried finding another reason to live. That's why this review took so long. I've literally been depressed and ever so close to my breaking point after reading the ending to Joyland that the trauma has taken me many months to recover.

Oh, the horror of it all folks. I'm always trying to find one good ending. One brilliant ending that will put my life in perspective and make life worth living, if only for one more day, or until the next great ending. Stephen King, what have you done to me?!!

Are you kidding me? Joyland ended with a wimper. I hate when stories end that way. You know what I mean? They just end, as in, there's no more to read and you're waiting for that big moment to hit you like a, well, a ton of bricks? (nice cliche) But it never does because you see the bad ending approaching from miles away.

It's almost as if King ran out of good ideas and decided to finish this story in textbook style. No real surprises here. Just a run of the mill formulaic ending. A well-written ending, but not an eye-opening, jaw-dropping, head-spinning moment where you say: "Fucking A, what a twist." That's what I say when a story ends like Dennis Lehane's, Shutter Island.

I know, I know, it's rude to compare authors this way. It's not even fair, but what can you expect? I'll never be the same after Shutter Island. From now on, I expect all good mysteries to end like this. I'm spoiled. Dennis Lehane has ruined my reading life! And I'm not even crazy about Lehane's stories, mind you. And I know he's written a lot of books, but Shutter Island is the only one I know, or I can remember.

Stephen King's Redemption
Not so with Stephen King novels folks. Let's rattle them off: Carrie, his first and most brilliant. Uh, The Green Mile, another masterpiece. How about Misery? One of my favorites! Cujo, Duma Key. C'mon folks, you gotta love Stephen King novels. The list is endless. He's not the King of Mystery for no reason. Or is it the Master of Mystery? I could never keep those straight. I'll have a talk with his publicist.

Okay, okay, this is not a kiss Stephen King's ass discourse. He has enough fame and fortune and doesn't need any help from me. I just hate writing bad reviews. Not that this is a bad review of Joyland. Far from it. It's a mixed review, for sure, but mostly positive, as it should be because like many of King's other novels, Joyland is still a classic. At least half a classic, that is. Or a full-fledged classic with reservations. Hmm, that's not working.

Let's just call it a somewhat classic work, with the hope that Stephen King might someday re-write a satisfying ending to Joyland "a la" Shutter Island, and re-release it. Is that even allowed?

I don't think so.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hellman-Chang: Stand Back, Shut Up And Listen

I can't think of anything else these two friends from Brooklyn could possibly be thinking in front of an audience of would-be entrepreneurs. These guys, (C'mon, they're from Brooklyn) Daniel Hellman and Eric Chang, a.k.a., h/c, (yes in lower case) mind you, must have a pair of solid walnut balls hanging over the entrance of their Brooklyn workshop. If not, it's probably a safe idea to go for it now guys. Hang away my friends, you deserve it.

Let's face it, it's rarely the time you see a couple of old friends from "the good hood," Bushwick Brooklyn, that is, literally make a name for themselves with as much pinache as Hellman and Chang have. But what should we expect? It's 2014 after all. This is the new age, at least according to Imagine Dragons it is. The days of the Old Yankee Workshop have come and gone. Forget plywood, MDF, and veneers, these guys are from the Owen Wilson school of woodworking. As in, Meet The Parents, that is. We're talking solid wood here. Hand sculpted wood, no less.

Truth be told, I snatched one of their full page ads (this is a cow town, nobody can afford this kind of stuff here anyway.) from a design magazine at the doctor's office. (Excuse me but I forgot to charge my phone.) Tore it right out of the magazine and tucked it into my jacket. Forgive my disbelief, but I just had to see if these guys were any good. I mean, who markets a furniture line covered in sawdust dressed in fancy Canali business suits?

Umm, Hellman and Chang, of course. Who else would have the wooden cojones to do such a thing? Absolutely brilliant. Again, what would you expect from a couple of Northwestern and NYU grads? Take note business majors, these guys have h/c furniture showrooms in dozens of countries. No, they're not your typical week-end woodshop warriors, like some writers I know. Let's face it, my best work is still on paper. Too bad, I'm a tinkerer at heart.

But these guys, they actually have a business plan. They design and make exquisite high-end furniture and market it to celebrities and other rich folk. Of course. Think about it, even cheap furniture is expensive, so make it much better, price it accordingly, and they will come. No problem. It's not rocket science folks, it's just good business.

If nothing else, h/c serves as a great example on how to start-up and launch a luxury furniture line with amazing success. The secret? Quality workmanship, good marketing, and even better publicity. That's the advertising trifecta folks. It works every time, plus it doesn't hurt to be handsome and stylish.

Now ultra modern furniture is not my cup of tea, I'm a shabby chic kind of guy, but I can appreciate great design when I see it, and h/c furniture is inspiring. But let's put things in perspective. This kind of success doesn't happen over night. In fact, this kind of success doesn't happen at all, unless you decide to make it happen. Then again, most folks are not ready for anything like this, in more ways than one. But for those of you who are, take the leap of faith. You just might surprise yourself.

It's apparent that Hellman and Chang have taken that leap, and they've finally arrived. Now staying on top is the hard part, but I'm sure they'll do fine as long as they diversify and keep expanding. In other words, never stop designing, because as you already know, endless selections are the lifeblood of any business. And, as long as you keep your heart and soul in it, you can't go wrong.

C'mon guys, you still gotta love the smell of western cedar in the morning. So roll up those sleeves and keep on cutting.

I really think they're on to something folks. Or, as Donnie Brasco would say: Forget about it.