Book Review: Swan Song

I meant to read The Stand.

Stephen King’s magnum opus had been on the reading pile for some time, and at 1200 pages, it seemed like the perfect thing for the long and inevitably dull plane ride I was about to take. I added the book to my Amazon cart and was about to proceed to checkout when I got distracted and a series of clicks led me to this book called Swan Song by Robert McCammon. I’d never heard of it, but if the reviews were to be believed, it was something to swear by: a well-imagined post-apocalyptic epic with a terrific cast of characters, clocking in at over 850 pages. One guy compared the writing to that of Richard Matheson.

“Once upon a time, man had a love affair with fire.”
“Once upon a time, man had a love affair with fire.”

I bought Swan Song instead The Stand.

I started reading it on the plane. An hour zipped by and I was nearly a hundred pages in. It was good. Disarmingly good. Some cynical part of me waited for McCammon to run out of steam, or tricks, or whatever the hell he was using to power this magnificent show, but it never happened. The further I read, the better it got, and the more annoyed I’d be at having to stop for other things (like dinner). It was some of the finest escapism I’d ever experienced.

Escapism is a four-letter word to many people, which is regrettable and exasperating in equal measure. I addressed this attitude at some length a few years ago, but for the purposes of this review it should suffice to say I think escapism can be a very good and healthy thing, and that it should be encouraged, particularly where children are concerned. It is a way of better understanding reality. In A Slip of the Keyboard, Terry Pratchett argues that “fantasy should present the familiar in a new light… It’s a way of looking at the here and now, not the there and then.

Fantasy is the Ur-literature, from which everything else sprang – which is why my knuckles go white when toe-sucking literary critics dismiss it as ‘genre trash.’ And, at its best, it is truly escapist. But the point about escaping is that you should escape to, as well as from. You should go somewhere worthwhile, and come back the better for the experience. Too much alleged ‘fantasy’ is just empty sugar, life with the crusts cut off. (p. 100)

Swan Song isn’t fantasy, not in the typical sense of the word, but it gets “the point about escaping” right at just about every turn. McCammon’s world achieves an otherness that is alien yet familiar – a frame over which he stretches a canvas streaked with fairytale hues and flecked with western, sci-fi, horror, allegory, and old-fashioned romance. It’s a story of good and evil, of beauty and hope in the midst of terrible violence, peopled with characters who will haunt your heart long after you’ve moved on to other things.

To go into greater detail would be to spoil the experience, which would make me a terrible person. That’s not a copout, either. It’s just the truth. If I haven’t already convinced you to read Swan Song, I never will. But I hope I have.

Unnecessary Goodness

Expanded thoughts on the movie Chef and what it says about food and the prodigality of God:

Jon Favreau plays Carl Caspar, a chef who quits his job at a well-to-do LA restaurant after a heated exchange with its owner. Desperate to make ends meet without sacrificing his creative integrity, Caspar starts a food truck. The rest is movie history.

With smart and frequently hilarious writing, a snazzy soundtrack, and a talented cast (special hat tip to John Leguizamo as Caspar’s buddy Martin), the fun factor is already high with this one. But since I can never leave well enough alone, allow me, if only for a few paragraphs, to wax ineloquent about one of the things that put Chef a step above mere entertainment for me.

Continue reading here.

Two Words

I read Psalm 82 this morning and was impressed by how fitting a meditation it is in light of recent events, from the SCOTUS ruling, to #PPSellsBabyParts, to this appalling NY Times piece.

God stands in the congregation of the mighty;
He judges among the gods.
How long will you judge unjustly,
And show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Defend the poor and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy;
Free them from the hand of the wicked.

They do not know, nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are unstable.

I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.”

Arise, O God, judge the earth;
For You shall inherit all nations.

Matthew Henry points out that “to do unjustly is bad, but to judge unjustly is much worse, because it is doing wrong under the colour of right; against such acts of injustice there is least fence for the injured and by them encouragement is given to the injurious. It was as great an evil as any Solomon saw under the sun when he observed the place of judgment, that iniquity  was there.” (Eccl. 3:16; Isa. 5:7) Should not the leaders of the land tremble under such a scathing indictment?

And yet we draw encouragement from this, above all: Justice is coming. The One dispensing it cannot err and will not be stopped. Henry again: “This we are to believe and to comfort ourselves with, that the earth is not given so much into the hands of the wicked, the wicked rulers, as we are tempted to think it is. (Job 9:24) But God has reserved the power to himself and overrules them… There are two words with which we may comfort ourselves and one another in reference to the mismanagement of power among men: one is Rev. 9:16, Hallelujah, the Lord God omnipotent reigneth; the other is Rev. 22:20, Surely, I come quickly.”

Courage, dearheart.


This past weekend, some friends and I watched Jon Favreau’s Chef (2014). Perhaps I’ll attempt a more in-depth review at a later date when work deadlines aren’t breathing down my neck; for now, just know it is a fantastic film. Behind all the drool-worthy food stuffs and toe-tapping, finger-snapping music, there’s a story about family with some meaningful things to say about fathers and sons. It’s funny, wise, and refreshingly non-Disneyesque. Queue it up after the kids are in bed. You’ll thank me later.

"But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think." – Lord Byron


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