Reviews: The Daemon at the Casement; Frankenstein, Part II

 

“Daemon” is delightful, a real achievement in tone and imagination, worthy of the source material (Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”), a rollicking, well-researched sequel with an ingenious denouement.  Loved it.  I am a big fan of M. Reese Kennedy’s books, all so very different from each other, but this is my favorite.  Would make a great movie.

— Patrick Coyle, December 12, 2018

 

The first thing the reader should do is put out of his mind any preconceived notion of the Frankenstein monster of the movies. In this novel – and in Mary Shelley’s original – the creature is not a grunting illiterate. Here, he has a name: Franz P. Frankenstein. He is also an intellect on par with an Oxford Don. In both books, the creature got the “right” brain as Igor didn’t drop the correct container.

Kennedy picks up where Shelley’s book ended and follows a few threads as he fleshes out the story brilliantly. Originally the creature wanted a female companion. Victor Frankenstein’s breach of his promise to create one is what drove the monster on his murdering rampage and to Victor’s ultimate death.

This novel is a classic love story between two societal misfits. An eight foot creature who happens to be a genius and sensitive murderer falls in love with an abused woman who has her own serious and multiple physical challenges.

What is love? What is the nature of marriage? Important questions when considered from the point-of-view of Franz; a person with no childhood or puberty.

If you don’t want to read Mary Shelley’s brief novel, I’d recommend the 1994 movie directed and starring Kenneth Branagh. One of the screenwriters for “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” was Frank Darabont who wrote “The Shawshank Redemption.” To enjoy this book it is not necessary to do either or both as Kennedy covers the essential points in about the first ten pages.

Kennedy’s pace and plot is more suited to today’s modern novel – but in a remarkable accomplishment – some of the language is similar to Shelley’s style. I found Shelley’s work slow-going at times with its flowery and wordy style. In both novels, letters play an important role.

I won’t give away more of the plot, but suffice it to say that there are many dramatic and even cinematic chapters in the book. I’m looking forward to the movie!

The author acquired a deep knowledge of horses and carriages for the book and that was an impressive period detail.

And do not be put off by the fact that the book is self-published. As the author noted at page 152, there is a distinction between publishers and learned men. This novel is way better than what is on today’s best seller list. Recall Tom Clancy’s first novel, “Red October” and John Grisham’s first self-published book, “A Time to Kill.” I’ve read both and Kennedy’s is way better.

This book has my highest recommendation. It is an instant modern classic!

— David D. Begley, December 13, 2018

Reviews: The Little Life of Richie Millipede

 

Unlike other species, humans are too long at becoming self-sufficient. Specifically, we are interminably powerless over our own pooping. Plus the head is too big for the birthing process, it should not be so bloody and painful. We can’t even sit up on our own for six months. Not practical or profitable. The world’s best and brightest scientific minds are rounded up (and paid handsomely) to solve this problem for the BioSpore Corporation by charismatic leader Chuck Hansen. Create smaller humans–then speed up their development until they catch up. (Not a spoiler, all this is revealed early.) What follows is a wildly imaginative, drily hysterical, sad and satisfying delineation of the experiment as told though the lens of one of the scientists, Jill, and one of the resulting tiny humans, Richie Millipede. Along the way there is line dancing, games of Monopoly, track and field, birdsong, and a sublime production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in miniature. M. Reese Kennedy is a skilled satirist, blithely juxtaposing innocence and evil and allowing his reader to decide which is which. (Chuck Hansen? Charles Manson? Lots of fun guessing games in this novel.) But what makes “The Little Life of Richie Millipede” great is the human element, the acknowledgment that love is as elemental to our survival as oxygen and the lengths the main characters go to find it. I read the book in one sitting and am still walking around with it a couple days later. It made me laugh, think, and it put a lump in my throat that is still there.

— Patrick Coyle, September 4, 2017

Dear Alexander Payne:

Buy the movie rights to this book before Steven Spielberg does. Yeah, it’s that good.

It is Mary Shelley meets Kurt Vonnnegut meets Tom Wolfe. Frankenstein was not possible when Mary Shelley wrote her novel, but with today’s technology something like that is truly possible with gene modification and splicing. The book is not science fiction because what happens in the novel might even be possible today or very soon.

I won’t give away the plot but as the blurb on the back says, “seven newborns enter the world, optimized, minimized and cocooned in glass.” Imagine a baby born with a full set of teeth. The genesis of the Genesis Project (a division of Biospore) was engineers with too much venture capital (quickly cashed out in the public markets) trying to solve problems that don’t exist. Of course, the science project goes wrong but maybe in a way you didn’t imagine. BioSpore is a classic BCG quadrant company and Google follows that model. Tons of money thrown at dozens of projects. Most fail but the ten percent that score are mega winners.

The book is very visual and there are many opportunties for CGI and real special effects not involving blowing up things. I especially enjoyed the footnote about PrismView tied up in litigation for years. (Yes, clever and appropriate footnotes throughout.) That’s today IP world and it is a real tragedy. The author provides much witty dialogue. Think Tom Wolfe here.

BioSpore is run by an Elon Musk type guy but instead of harvesting federal tax credits and milking the federal government, he has decided to run a company that is a cross between Interxon and Celera Genomics that deals with biology. One theme is “don’t mess with Mother Nature” and that is especially true when the project is unhinged and divorced from ethics. The rocket scientists – in trying to fix a non-existent problem – didn’t think everything through. And, yes, that whole Google “Don’t Do Evil” narrative is totally fake as some people are starting to figure out.

The fun and games section of the novel is true fun and games. People will connect with that. The pop culture references are a total hoot. I laughed several times during my quick reading. Some potty humor too for the common touch.

For the movie script you might consider foreshadowing how crazy the Genesis Project was by leading with Project StopValve; a reverse Darwinism solution that breached all FDA protocols. The CEO can have a more prominent villian role in the movie.

The author’s real world business experience shines through as the details are accurate. His father and grandfather would have appreciated the use of a trust at the end.

People are told not to judge a book by its cover, but they do. The book cover doesn’t really represent what the book is about and is my only criticism here. While the artwork is well executed, I think it is somewhat misleading.

What happens to our little hero at the end is, of course, interesting and can be made more dramatic for the screen. It shows our common humanity and desire for freedom.

Converting this novel into a movie can be Payne’s magnum opus. A picture with Big Meaning but a light touch. Christian ethics made plain in a common-sense way that doesn’t bash science. Did the genetically modified newborns have souls? Science project or humans? Those blessed with a Jesuit education have the ability (and maybe the duty) to lead and comment on true social justice in order to avoid potential disasters down the road that could actually happen soon and not in 2100.

Best picture, baby!

David D. Begley, September 4, 2017

Reviews: The Plague of Dreamlessness

 

The Plague of Dreamlessness review — The Common Room, Winter 2013

 

Simply brilliant! After I completed the novel I went to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and gave the following the toast: “From the state that brought you Willa Cather, the city that brought you Henry Fonda and the high school that brought you Alexander Payne and Richard Dooling, we welcome Kennedy into the Pantheon of the Gods. To Kennedy!”

Only problem was that Meryl Streep wasn’t with me and the author was in Australia.

By way of full disclosure, M. Reese Kennedy a/k/a Mike Kennedy and I attended Omaha’s Jesuit high school for two years before Mike went to an east coast prep school. Jeremy, a main character in the book, was my freshman year lab benchmate in science. The author has a very good memory as Jeremy was knowledgeable about both urban architecture and future Cornhusker footballers. The final incident in the book regarding Jeremy was well known to me and somewhat infamous. I sure would like to know who the other grade school classmates were including Eileen O’Reilly.

The Omaha of the 60’s and its geography is also accurate. I attended the Catholic grade school to the southeast of his and we also had schoolyard fights started with the challenge of “Choose.” One minor and forgivable error is that the main staircase at Barat Academy of the Sacred Heart is not marble but wood. The school is little changed from the author’s short time there as a grade schooler.

His Grandfather Andrew’s house sits across the street from Barat; the highest elevation in all of Omaha. Andrew, Sr. did, in fact, walk two miles to work six days a week. He was a stern taskmaster but reputedly very kind to all children.

Putting aside my Omaha and personal connection to the author, this really is a great novel. And recalling our days together in high school, it is also his authentic voice. Lots of laughs and three very clever plot lines brought together at the end.

The big question is whether The Plague of Dreamlessness is a Deep Metaphor, something somewhat grounded in historical fact or something Mike completely made up. Hard to say and all three options are plausible.

Turning dreams into a commercial enterprise seems like it could be the next big thing. Same for really, really extreme body piercings for fun and profit. There is a madcap sense to the novel but as we have seen in modern times, stranger things have happened.

— David D. Begley, February 12, 2016

 

Kennedy’s amazing debut novel demonstrates all the elements required for a great book – intriguing subject material, fascinating characters, a well-engineered storyline and beautiful prose.  He explores the nature of dreams, relationships and spiritual issues in captivating style.  Remembrances, in particular, offers deliciously descriptive writing, plunging the reader into the curious world of a young boy in Omaha past; a character who proves integral to the common theme of coma.

Kennedy masterfully orchestrates this triple narrative symphony – the three narrative streams, distinctly different in tone and pace, allow the author to punctuate the reader’s experience and adeptly create tension.  These cleverly intertwined threads ultimately reach an exciting and synchronous climax and achieve a very satisfying resolution.

— Louisa Heard, September 14, 2012

Reviews: The Artist in the Pines

Reader Comments from San Carlos, California, Book Club Meeting, October 14, 2014:

  • I found this to be one of my favorite books. This is story telling at its best.
  • The book and the discussion was the BEST. GREAT READ!!! I particularly enjoyed the Q&A, which provided substantial insight into how the author developed this story.
  • Thanks much for sharing this delightful book. I enjoyed reading it.
  • Thanks for sharing this sweet book. It is a tribute to Van Gogh and yet, at the same time, a book that affirms man’s humanity to man. M. Reese Kennedy is a sweet man for writing this uplifting story.
  • It was a wonderful read and I loved it. A treasure of a book!
  • Delightful book and your personal information about the author made it even better.
  • Incredible job of relaying to us all about the author and how he came about writing this great book. I hope you relate to him how much we all loved the book.
  • I found this book to be very clever. Impressive writing style.
  • When reading this book, I thought it could have been a true story.
  • Impressed with how the author integrated the influences of Shane and Van Gogh.
  • I particularly enjoyed that the story was written in the 1st person.

 

This gently paced, lusciously lyrical tale is fabulous – poetically descriptive and entirely addictive. Personal tragedy and the human response are explored through a charming tale of a father, his son, and a most unlikely third party, as the intriguing plot seamlessly unfolds.

The characters are cleverly and subtly developed using memoirs, real-time reflections and revealing interactions with each other. They are charming and flawed – authentically human – and it is inspiring to see them embody some of the more noble of human qualities.

It is clear from the first paragraph that the reader is in for a literary treat – beautifully crafted sentences flow together in a most enjoyable and captivating prose – and will be most reluctant to put the book down!

A timeless piece of art that more than meets the expectations set by the beautiful cover that encloses it.

— Louisa Heard, May 27, 2014

 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great story. The book is rich in descriptions that are a delight for the senses and a vast exploration of emotions from the gentlest of love to rage and revenge. There are laugh out loud moments, some very poignant statements, and important lessons.

–Linda Gates, May 21, 2014

 

M. Reese Kennedy perfected the love story between father and son by way of the artist in all of us. I enjoyed the narrative his writing style is descriptive, and the underlining gift to the reader was the love experienced between a father and his son.

I recommend the book. A love story, with a twist, told by a gifted new writer. The book cover is lovely to look at and the words inside reflect the beauty of the cover.

— Mary M. Reese, May 5, 2014