This novel explores the disparity between who we are in different areas of our lives; how we can be competent, even gifted, in one area, and stunted a...moreThis novel explores the disparity between who we are in different areas of our lives; how we can be competent, even gifted, in one area, and stunted and behind in another.
Jill, the main character is a strong force (with occasional bouts of insecurity)in the classroom. Her personal life is another story. She clings to a relationship that has explicitly been converted to friendship with no-strings sex, but is unable to hear what her ex-boyfriend is telling her about how he sees her now. She clings stubbornly to what she hoped this relationship would become, a soul-killing experience for her, and sometimes for the reader as well, since most of us have deluded ourselves at one point or another.
Jill is able to give great advice to her students, but has more trouble taking the right steps in her own life. Some readers found this frustrating; I found it realistic. I prefer my protagonists human.
This is a well-written, affecting story about a very specific character at a crucial point in her life. I think readers who are just starting careers (particularly teaching), and are struggling with relationships, will appreciate it. I enjoyed it, even though I'm looking at what I was like at that age through the lens of several more decades of life. I look forward to reading what Kells writes next.(less)
By now, I would have thought that the chance of coming up with a non-cliché male geek misfit character would be very slim. But Gabriel Roth has beaten...moreBy now, I would have thought that the chance of coming up with a non-cliché male geek misfit character would be very slim. But Gabriel Roth has beaten the odds. His protagonist, Eric Muller, is real enough to walk off the page, and stays with you long after you’ve finished this book. Eric is a geek, but a very successful one: he’s sold his computer profiling program to a bigger company and made himself a Silicon Valley millionaire.
Roth structures the story in alternating chapters: the present, in San Francisco, then back to Eric’s formative years: designing a computer game on a Commodore 128 with his junior high school friend, Nicky Boont, and getting to know uber-nerd Bill Fleig, which changes his life forever.
Eric, like most teenaged boys, is obsessed with girls. But once he enters high school, where he changes classes, his math proclivities give him a systematic way of approaching the problem:
I began by gathering data. Accounting for overlaps, my seven classes plus homeroom contained forty-six distinct girls. I listened for their names during roll and wrote them in a notebook, along with a quick notation indicating something about their physical appearance to remind me who was who. Once I’d got the names I started pruning. I wasn’t picky. To the least desirable girls I applied a litmus test: Would I prefer to be involved with her or to graduate high school without ever acquiring a girlfriend? That knocked out seven and left Rita Bambrick, whose head looked like one of the Easter Island statues, on the borderline.
Despite growing up and becoming considerably more self-aware, Eric’s quantification of social and emotional issues continues, at least until he gets involved in a relationship with Maya. She has an issue from her past that’s so big it can’t be worked out mathematically. It’s an intensely satisfying reading experience to watch Eric rise to the occasion.
Though there are some very painful issues in this story, the humor keeps it from being overwhelmingly bleak. All of the characters, even the minor ones, are fully drawn — Eric’s delusional, manipulative father alone could populate another book. It has everything I look for in a novel, and I was truly sorry to turn the last page.(less)
As author Nathan Englander says on the jacket flap “If you, like me, have often wondered ‘How did Gary Shteyngart get like that?,’ Little Failure is t...moreAs author Nathan Englander says on the jacket flap “If you, like me, have often wondered ‘How did Gary Shteyngart get like that?,’ Little Failure is the heartfelt, moving, and truly engaging memoir that explains it all.”
I think his story would be compelling even if you haven’t read his novels. Anyone who has ever felt like a nerd or a misfit will find something here to identify with. From his first novel, Lenin and His Magical Goose, written at age five, on commission from his grandmother (the rate of pay: one piece of rubbery Russian cheese per page), through his enhanced status with his fellow students when he’s asked by a teacher to read aloud from his science fiction, to his return to Moscow with his parents, where he puts together a few more pieces of his parental puzzle, this is an unforgettable story. I loved it.(less)