Genre: Literary Fiction? Science Fiction? Mystery? Everything combined?
Published by Dr. Cicero Books
I was given this book for review by the publisher. Thank you, Sorry for the lateness. I guess I can say this is an Advanced Reader’s Copy, because it was given before the publishing date.
Here is a Dr. Cicero Book, a third one to appear on this blog, the second one to be read by me, and the third one written by John M. Keller, who is the author of Know Your Baker and the short story collection, A Bald Man with No Hair and Other Stories. That’s a run on sentence, most likely. This is the summer of small press, but it seems like that’s all I have been reading for the past few months. I don’t regret that, because a lot of these writers destroy the boundaries or some of them stay in, but manage to scrape the borders a bit. What I’m really trying to say is that they’re a breath of fresh air. At first, I felt bad for not finishing Know Your Baker, because I kind of felt that I missed out on a great writer, despite that’s in my kindle, but then I read A Bald Man with No Hair and Other Stories, which had all of the elements I enjoyed, character driven or the whole concept of human life, with a twist of a bit of magical realism, some absurdity, or just odd coincidences or luck. Here’s his third novel.
Well here’s the plot, I don’t want to spoil anything, so here’s the Goodreads synopsis:
From the author of Know Your Baker, John M. Keller’s second novel explores the gated city of Beverly Hills, Brazil, capital and seedbed of the world’s soap opera industry, sitting halfway between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, a place no one ever goes to or leaves, where admission depends upon meeting a beauty requirement. Sylmara, a young actress on the brink of becoming the city’s next great export, is shocked when her celebrity aunt, famous for her award-winning breasts, and in whose footsteps Sylmara is poised to follow, leaves the community without telling anyone and immediately turns up dead. Will Sylmara follow suit by leaving, also dying in the favelas just outside the gates?
Hopefully, this review doesn’t sound like a disaster, because currently, as I type on this keyboard, I’m in that hyper mood, where it’s hard for me to concentrate and I feel like running around the house. (This was a Saturday afternoon, putting this here in case this gets posted the next day)
This is a novel that feels like one of those literary fiction novels where the writer questions the world that surrounds us, studying our interior and exterior. While reading this novel, I thought of a ton of different books and movies that shared that fear of the future and that one change that will impact people forever, losing our humanity. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, a Young Adult Science Fiction novel, that takes place in a future where teens have the choice to have plastic surgery and live in a “pretty” fantastical world. Of course, there’s something sinister lurking underneath all of that. I also thought of the infamous director M. Night Shyamalan and his movie The Village, which in my opinion was his best movie, where people are barricaded in a small village and fear what is outside the borders of their home. All three of these stories explore the human nature. I kind of have a hard time explaining this without sounding like a broken record or spoiling the plot.
The novel is told through three different perspectives (in third person view, allowing the reader to witness the events through their own eyes). One is through Sylmara, who aches for the real world, who leaves the walls of the fantasy land of Beverly Hills, to find out why it exists. The second perspective is through Jucélia, who leaves the bad parts of Brazil to live in the more glamorous, crime free land (Taking place years before). Her perspective explores her relationship with all the she men loves and the choices that will affect her life forever. The other perspective is through a man named Edmond Foreman, who is a workaholic of sorts, a perfectionist, who strives for the best of all. Only to lose everything he thought was important to him. As you read on, everything pieces together, a sort of quilt that eventually formed Sylmara and Beverly Hills.
Most people would assume that this novel would be a science fiction or a post-apocalyptic novel. Like Uglies, the plastic surgery or restorations were made to push up people’s ego, self-confidence, and images in order to ignore reality, however, there is always that one person who is in control of all of this. So in a sense, ignoring reality and pain is a sort of brainwashing, because most of the time there is someone behind the scenes, who has the privilege and the skill to create the facade and the dream. There is no such thing as a fantasy or a better reality because they are both constructed by the hands of reality itself, the cruelty, the coldness. The people of The Box and the Briefcase are all trying to escape a world of violence, sickness, and the general ugliness of the human race. Hence is why they trapped themselves in a city filled with pleasures and perfection. People can fulfill their materialistic needs, their shallowness, and never have to worry about getting robbed and murdered.
However, the main character, the whole entire equation is Sylmara and the others are the answers, the reason why Beverly Hills exist. She is one of the people who noticed that ignoring the real thing is just as sinful than enduring it. That’s why novels like this are possibly some of the most haunting, because it’s coming soon. People are already doing it, especially the ones that are privileged enough and have the money to do it. They always say “Money doesn’t bring happiness,” that saying is almost a cliche, since it is overused and no matter how many times you say it, someone will either disagree or just continue on in their own world. I honestly feel like I’m not doing justice for this novel with this review.
I find novels like The Box and the Briefcase (it’s a long title, please excuse me) to be quite haunting (and better than the other sorts of media I compared it to) because it seemed a bit more realistic. In real life, people are trying to escape the poverty and achieve fantasies in accessible containers and surgeries. We go to the mall and consume everything, buy, buy, all the objects that we probably don’t need, like designer purses that are actually pretty ugly despite the Gucci tag, shoes that are hard to walk in but scream FASHION! and clothing that doesn’t even fit us but scream SEX APPEAL! or LOTS OF CASH! Then we shoot pictures of people and exaggerate their features and slap them on billboards. We all look up and say I want that nose bridge, those cheekbones, those breasts. I don’t want wrinkles or age spots, or a flat nose or a nose that’s too big and pointy, or a certain skin tone, and I want that trimmed magazine body.
We want to look good, in the unreal fantastical way, human dolls, and then we forget that we can have that disintegrate when the fatal sicknesses come in. We want all of this perfection and in reality, we look fine, we’re doing fine most of the time, and there is nothing we can do about it. The Earth will still rotate on and all of this beauty and material items are temporary, as soon as the crust of the Earth opens and explodes, none of that will be around, including us. What I’m saying has already been said and written multiple times. However, what most people don’t notice is that we lose ourselves in all of this, even now, as we stare at iPads all day and play Flappy Bird (except for me,I just read till my eyes explode and then I play Super Mario Galaxy and lose all of my lives by falling into the same hole over and over and not learning from my mistakes.) We lose what makes us human, imperfections are the reasons why life can be so fascinating and so disgusting. A plastic being is a despicable being. Well, that’s a little cruel.
What more can I say? Well, I will say that this novel, compared to Keller’s previous ones, his writing has grown a lot more matured, a lot more confident in its sentences. I guarantee that this blog has so many punctuation and grammar mistakes that the sentence above would seem odd coming out of this hulk of text. Keller has used words to discover the meaning of life and to understand our inner flaws. He also used words from a variety of different languages in his stories, which in my opinion is one of the best ways to envelop a reader into a country and a culture. Oddly enough, some people find that alienating, I’m not sure why, that never bothered me. Then I noticed that most of the people who say that are typically quite ignorant of other people’s cultures, but I could be wrong. The whole novel itself is a lot different from his other works and possibly maybe his best so far. I hope this review all makes sense, I don’t even like to call these reviews sometimes, because they kind of aren’t compared to the more popular, professional ones. It’s more like my thoughts, the ones that floated in and out of my ears as I read it. Well, that’s it I guess, don’t be a moleque or be a good moleque. I searched that word online and found the definition, and probably used it wrong. 再见! (Goodbye) I don’t speak fluent Chinese, yet, maybe ten years later.