These are questions David Ambrose poses in his 2000 book, The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk. The title refers to Luis Buñuel's surrealist film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, in which some friends are trying to have dinner together, but their plans are constantly thwarted by disturbing events, odd scenes involving other characters, or their own bizarre dreams. None of these interruptions cause the friends to give up the idea of sharing a meal; they relentlessly continue their efforts, despite the illogical or impossible nature of what's happening around them.
Like a viewer who tries to make sense of that movie, a reader must figure out the actions of Ambrose's characters, who may not be what they seem. Brian Kay is a middle-aged man with brain damage caused by a viral infection. He remembers everything before the virus, but he can't turn experiences since then into permanent memory. Susan Flemyng, Kay's neurologist, conducts research in visual memory in Washington, D.C. When the book opens, she is enjoying close relationships with her father, husband, and young son. Charlie Monk has difficulty remembering events from his youth. He's currently a James Bond figure working for an agency so secret it doesn't have a name; Charlie takes instructions from a man he knows simply as Control. In between his super-heroic feats, Charlie relaxes in Los Angeles with beautiful women and good wine.
"Chuang Tzu was a Chinese sage who lived twenty-five hundred years ago. He told once of how he dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly who now dreamed he was a man. People have been telling that story ever since, because it represents something that mankind has always known instinctively--that we can never be sure whether the outside world corresponds to the picture of it that we have in our head. We can't even be sure that the outside world is actually there."While The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk isn't a ghost story, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw comes to mind. Ambrose cleverly and energetically twists his futuristic thriller's plot, and the reader will need to interpret what has happened. This is one of those books that provoke thinking about the nature of evil.
|After choosing his identity and memories, this shopper|
should choose a good memory-foam mattress.
The latest such disappearance is Rainey Teague, Sylvia's 10-year-old son, last seen looking into the window of Uncle Moochie's pawnshop. A few days later, the kid is found. Oh, man, you'd never guess where. This is the point in the book when I visited the likker cabinet for a glass of bourbon and settled deep down in a comfy chair to savor Stroud's vivid writing, oddball characters, black humor, and crazily complex noir plot.
This gothic thriller isn't for everyone. It's not a soothes-you-to-sleep read. If you appreciate dark humor, lyrical writing, and a plot that's spooky as hell, master storyteller Carsten Stroud wrote it for you. Let's hope very hard we'll see a sequel.
Note: I received a free review copy of Niceville.