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Jamesland

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3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  432 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
Jamesland, the buoyant second novel by Michelle Huneven, critically acclaimed author of Round Rock, is a witty, sophisticated, and deeply humane comedy of unlikely redemption.

When thirty-three-year-old Alice Black discovers a deer in her dining room after fighting with her boyfriend, she wonders if she’s going crazy. Pete Ross, forty-six, knows he’s crazy. He’s wrecked his
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Published (first published 2003)
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Marvin
Aug 06, 2009 Marvin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
I don't think I've gotten such pleasure from a book about everyday people doing everyday things since Anna Quindlen's Blessings. It's a difficult book to summarize. This brilliantly written book is full of dysfunctional individuals, but unlike so much contemporary fiction, it focuses not so much on the dysfunctional behavior as on how these isolated individuals learn in the course of the novel to function almost as a supportive family, or in the words often thought by probably the most dysfuncti ...more
Emily
Jan 13, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
Between 3 and 4 stars- I really enjoy Hueven's writing style,and sometime's it's so Nice to read a book that ties up loose ends and gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. I liked the philosophy bits, and I'm a huge sucker for characters, so I enjoyed those as well. That being said, some parts are a too unrealistic, and the characters' faults are almost universally erased or turned into virtues by the end of the book - I was very happy reading it, but in retrospect I'm less content. Still a good ...more
Amy
Mar 09, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-books
I can't decide between 3 and 4 stars. It's a quirky book, which I liked. Characters who are unbearable and annoying at first somehow quickly become endearing and likeable, despite the stupid things they say and do. Drags a bit at points, but includes well-described and delicious-sounding food.
Judith
Jun 28, 2014 Judith rated it really liked it
Noting again the food in this book, I was not surprised to find that Michelle Huneven is a restaurant critic; what I didn't know is that she is such a 'spiritual' critic. The deep examination of spirituality through the character Helen, a UU minister is more satisfying than the deep examination of spiritualism through the William James descendant Alice Black, but I read both carefully. Many phrases made me gasp at their beauty and many made me smile at their wit. I think the book is too big and ...more
Hanje Richards
May 22, 2015 Hanje Richards rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I am a Michelle Huneven fan, and am glad I finally read this book after being put off the book by the cover (yes, I do judge books by their covers). A good story. I think it will be especially appreciated by Unitarian Universalist ministers and their spouses/partners and friends. There is stuff in there that you just can't make up. You will find yourself smiling and/or cringing at times. It is so real, so honest. This is not for everyone, but I am thinking that at least some of my friends will e ...more
Jennifer
Mar 17, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
I ended up really liking this book, though it didn't grab me right away. I'm so glad I persevered, because the quirky story of three people trying to make it in the world (Pete's constant refrain: "How do people live in this world?") is both funny, off-beat, and eventually absorbing. That a "successful" life can be lived to many different ways never fails to interest me, and on that note, the book does not disappoint.
Allyson Faith
Feb 04, 2008 Allyson Faith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second time I've read this book. The first time was about a year and a half ago, and I loved it. I recommended it for my book group this year, which is why I read it again. I still enjoyed it very much, though it didn't have the same sense of discovery that it had for me on my first reading. I think the characters are all compelling, and the questions about spirituality and one's life, of love, loss, and redemption, are all ones that resonate with me.
Ed
Nov 30, 2007 Ed rated it really liked it
This book has such a good heart that it is easy to overlook its shortcomings.
Glen Creason
May 05, 2017 Glen Creason rated it it was amazing
Depth of knowledge in several fields by author gave characters depth and spiced the story up delightfully. Her prose just flows and the off-kilter heroine just seems more human the more flaws she exposes. An unsung LA book
Marion Kleinschmidt
Sep 17, 2014 Marion Kleinschmidt rated it really liked it
Insane characters are insanely hard to write. In this novel, Michelle Huneven does it convincingly, truthfully and poignantly - and still manages to be hugely entertaining along the way. She succeeds at manifesting psychological (psychic?) states of being in the physical realm, getting us under her characters' skin and making us inhabit the whole set of oddballs presented. We recognise ourselves in them, hilariously, uncomfortably.
Other enjoyable features for me were the non-cringy sex scenes, t
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Emily
May 04, 2010 Emily rated it really liked it
Jamesland was a total surprise to me as I'd picked it up having heard nothing about it and found the cover copy to be completely vague.

There are essentially 3 main characters in this book: Alice Black (an aimless young woman who happens to be a descendant of William James, lives at her crazy aunt's house, and has just broken up with her boyfriend who was and is currently married to a movie star), Pete Ross (an overweight, formerly acclaimed chef in his mid-40's recovering from going off the dee
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(Lonestarlibrarian) Keddy Ann Outlaw
If you like oddball characters, this book is for you. I especially enjoyed reading about a Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister named Helen Harland who is struggling with her first church assignment. I found her LA congregation to be a bunch of party-poopers, rarely displaying the liberal humanism UUs are known for (I've known quite a few UUs and officially became on in midlife).

Luckily Helen finds a friend outside of church, one Alice Black who is despondent over the breakup of her affair with
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Patty
I picked this book up because of Shelf Awareness. This is a daily email produced for the book trade and also useful (in my opinion) for librarians. There is lots of good info in this publication, but my favorite part is the Book Brahmin. A couple of times a week, they ask an author a variety of questions from "On your nightstand now", to "Favorite book when you were a child" and lots of other questions. The last question is usually "Book you most want to read again for the first time" and that i ...more
Carol
Jan 29, 2013 Carol rated it really liked it
After I reported an early morning sighting of a stag rising up from my garden to a friend, she steered me to to this book, where the deer and the William James references play. I liked it a lot.

Tore through it over the weekend, in fact, just to see what would become of the cast of struggling folks, including a Unitarian Universalist minister with congregation troubles, an underachiever breaking up with a married man, a suicidal chef, an aging movie star, and a confused elderly descendent of Wil
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Margee
May 12, 2014 Margee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A truly engaging treat for lovers of books by Richard Russo, Anne Tyler, or A. M. Homes, this character-driven slice of life centers on Alice Black, a young denizen of a handed-down historic home in LA's Griffith Park; an original neighborhood bungalow hidden away by neglected jungles of garden, yet containing precious Limoges china and fine antique silver in its aging cabinets. The place just happens to nicely mirror Alice's own present state: somehow seedy, but possessing great promise. She's ...more
Rachel
Aug 21, 2010 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Descendant of William James, Alice Black lives in LA's Los Feliz and is involved with the husband of a beautiful movie star. Helen Harland is a Unitarian minister struggling to involve and inspire her new congregation who don't want too much "God talk". Pete Ross has come out of a psychiatric hospital for slashing his wrists after breaking the computer monitor of his ex-wife in a rage. He's living with his mother- a recently turned nun.

Compassionate and joy filled book about flawed and unique pe
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Leah Lucci
Jul 08, 2013 Leah Lucci rated it liked it
This good-but-not-great book is about a depressed girl with possible psychic powers (?), a Unitarian Universalist minister with a dwindling flock, and an enraged man who lives with his former-catholic-priest mother.

The characters are believably unraveled -- think "Silver Linings Playbook" style unpleasant crazy instead of "Garden State" quirky-crazy. There are a few side-characters that add some quirk flair, though, so if you need that, there is some (especially a transsexual who steals every s
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Deborah Katz
May 21, 2008 Deborah Katz rated it it was ok
If LA was Nova Scotia, and dreary like The Shipping News then this little "OMG the world is so small and full of charcters!" story about Los Feliz would be a bit more...tolerable?

I don't know though. The East Side does have a lot invested in its own sense of quirkiness. I guess if L.A. was Nova Scotia then Griffith Park could plausibly be the 2-degrees-of-separation enclave the author so desperately wishes it was.

Although the relationships between the characters would still be painfully improbab
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Peggy
Aug 10, 2010 Peggy rated it liked it
The least favorite of the three I have read bu this author. The characters were not a slikeable nor the plot as well developed, but it did have its interesting moments. Some of the characters were odd, Helen, the minister of the community church who isn't sure she believes in God, And Aunt Kate, who has been writing her book about her family for many years, and of course, Alice, who aunt Kate can't keep straight which Alice she is. Didn;'t get the symbolism of the deer, just like Alice couldn't ...more
Jeannine
Sep 19, 2011 Jeannine rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this, got pretty involved with the characters, and will be happily puzzling through their interactions and what they meant to the story for at least a few days. Huneven brings the L.A. scenery to life (even the concrete river), and the food descriptions are luscious. Spiritual, religious, and archetypal themes, questions of sanity, and ways of healing are at the heart of the book and yet it is not at all heavy-handed, didactic, or New Agey. ("What's wrong with New Age?" asks on ...more
Kathleen
Jun 21, 2010 Kathleen rated it liked it
In Los Feliz, California, a group of dysfunctional people come to the Unitarian Church and begin a relationship, as Helen's congregants. The symbol of the deer is strong and keeps cropping up in the story. Alice's Aunt Kate is all caught up in her ancestor, William James. Alice likes sleeping with married men. Pete's mother has become a nun in mid-life, and Pete struggles with sanity. What is their destiny?
Joey Diamond
Jan 24, 2014 Joey Diamond rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
If there was a song I kept wanting to listen to, I would say that was a good song. I wanted to keep reading these book, I liked the characters and wanted to see their obvious narrative arcs completed, but this is not a good book. It is completely unsubtle and full of boring passages from the Minister's kooky ecumenical sermons and from some book about William James. If you want your dysfunctional characters to learn about love and letting go and whatever, maybe find a more nuanced way.
Robin Taylor
Nov 17, 2015 Robin Taylor rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed Huneven's compassionate treatment of characters who live life in such a hot mess. She throws together a woman drowning in a bad relationship with a married man; a man trying hard to save himself after hitting rock bottom; and a spunky Unitarian Universalist minister, whose congregation is not quite ready for her. Good humor and transcendent insight abound.
Susan
Mar 27, 2012 Susan rated it really liked it
After reading Blame, her latest, I was driven to read everything else she has written. Jamesland had compelling characters but she lost me occasionally with all the William James and religious references. So I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Blame. But I am going on to read her first book anyway because she is the most exciting writer I have come across lately.
Jessica Jackson
Dec 11, 2009 Jessica Jackson rated it it was ok
This book was too much for me. The prologue grabbed me, but I wasn't impressed with the rest of the book, or the development with the "deer" aspect. Jamesland is full of cliches, but lacked realistic characters and character development. For a book that starts out so promising, with characters so broken, I was sad to see she tied a bow on with the ending.
Gregg
Jun 28, 2008 Gregg rated it liked it
I bought this book from my local bookshop, Skylight Books, because the little handwritten card under it said it was the product of a local writer and featured locations from the neighborhood I had just moved to.

I found it to be a good character study, but probably had more interest than the average reader because of the mentions of so many nearby locations.
Erin
Jul 29, 2014 Erin rated it it was amazing
Reminded me a lot of Richard Russo's writing, except set in CA instead of upstate NY. Great book, I enjoy Huneven's writing very much. Good pacing, excellent character development. I felt like I got to know each of them and liked them and cared about them. It unfolded so wonderfully - this is one of those books that you don't just read, you inhabit it.

I'll be seeking out more of her books.
cubbie
Jan 30, 2009 cubbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i really enjoyed reading this and the characters make you like them. i'm not entirely sure how i feel about some of what i perceive the deeper messages of the book to be, but i enjoyed it. i especially loved that it had a lady uu minister. she was awesome. she's sort of who i used to want to be when i grew up.
K2 -----
Aug 23, 2010 K2 ----- rated it liked it
I like this author, went back to read this after someone said this was better that Round Rock. I'm not so sure. I thought it was a bit squirrelly especially toward the latter third of the book. She has an awkward was of introducing her characters. I still think that BLAME is her best work so far.

Emma Adams
Jul 21, 2012 Emma Adams rated it really liked it
Despite some infrequent and brief brushes with chick-lit tendencies, this book was Huneven doing what she does well, nudging disparate characters towards one another in meaningful ways, with literary flourishes and moments of near-poetry sprinkled throughout. I love a multi-dimensional character, who struggles with his of her psychology and philosophy, and lucky for me, so does Huneven!
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I am the author of four novels.

I was born in Altadena, California just a mile from where I live now. I college-hopped (Scripps, Grinnell, EWU) and landed at the Iowa Writers Workshop where I received my MFA.

My first two books, Round Rock (Knopf 1997) and Jamesland (Knopf 2003), were both New York Times notable books and also finalists for the LA Times Book Award. My third novel, Blame, (Sarah Cri
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