I knew nothing about this period in history before I opened this. Ha Jin does a great job of bringing it to life through the character Yu Yuan. The reI knew nothing about this period in history before I opened this. Ha Jin does a great job of bringing it to life through the character Yu Yuan. The result makes the prisoner of war experience personal, even universal. The pace of the book drags in places (the abduction), which might just echo the experience of captivity, but it made me consider jumping ship....more
It's hard to know what to make of this. Gary Stewart starts out looking for his birth father, and ends by concluding Dad was the Zodiac killer. His suIt's hard to know what to make of this. Gary Stewart starts out looking for his birth father, and ends by concluding Dad was the Zodiac killer. His suspicion isn't a total stretch, but it's hardly conclusive, either. He blames his failure on the police, who wouldn't turn over records to him or compare his DNA to partial DNA collected during the police investigations of the killings. Neither thing might have supported the premise here. But a "no" from police, who say it to journalists all the time, isn't the same as collusion. It could even be reasonable, under many circumstances.
I'm more troubled by the huge liberties taken in the first portion of the story, with which the author and his co-writer take a lot of literary license. Much of it isn't anecdotal or hearsay. It's a few facts and a lot of speculation.
In the end, almost all of the people who know what happened are dead. (Two victims survived; did Stewart make an effort to contact them?) And the "evidence" may not rise to the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt threshold. More ambiguity would make the book easier to swallow....more
There's a great story here, but the casual writing style got on and stayed on my nerves. Multiple points of view and many characters didn't help thingThere's a great story here, but the casual writing style got on and stayed on my nerves. Multiple points of view and many characters didn't help things, either. Still, the story is like nothing else I've read. Oh, the novelty!...more
After reading Stephen King on the art of writing, I wanted to sample his fiction. While I enjoy mysteries in a variety of forms (legal, medical, policAfter reading Stephen King on the art of writing, I wanted to sample his fiction. While I enjoy mysteries in a variety of forms (legal, medical, police), I've steered clear of the supernatural genre till now. There's a good story here, but it didn't need almost 700 pages to tell it. This would have been more palpitation-inducing and faster-paced (which admittedly might not have worked for the beginning of the tale) had it clocked in under 500 pages, I think. I might still try Misery, since I enjoyed that movie. Or not. There are so many other books I want to read. ...more
The Sound of Things Falling is a thoughtful, delicately constructed indictment of the violence that enveloped Colombia for decades and the inescapableThe Sound of Things Falling is a thoughtful, delicately constructed indictment of the violence that enveloped Colombia for decades and the inescapable fear that resulted. In Juan Gabriel Vasquez's novel, our lives aren't our own:
"Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps even depends on it. ... The mirage of dominion over our own life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy, the sovereign right to determine what is going to happen to us next. Disillusion comes sooner or later, but it always comes, it doesn't miss an appointment, it never has. When it arrives we receive it without too much surprise, for no one who lives long enough can be surprised to find their biography has been molded by distant events, by other people's wills, with little or no participation from our own decisions."
And, in a country where violence is the norm, damage is inevitable. Vasquez's characters untangle the threads that connect them to each other in an effort to seek answers. But, often, all they find are dead ends. The only consolation is to be present to each other in their sorrow and misery:
"Experience, or what we call experience, is not the inventory of our pains, but rather sympathy we learn to feel for the pain of others."
The writing in this book is memorable:
"In the darkness of the bedroom I though of that, although thinking in the darkness is not advisable: things seem bigger or more serious in the darkness, illness more destructive, the presence of evil closer, indifference more intense, solitude more profound."
"The early morning filled up with Maya's weeping, soft and fine, and also with the singing of the first birds, and also with the sound that was the mother of all sounds, the sound of lives disappearing as they pitch over the edge into the abyss. ... I'd fallen out of the sky, too, but there was no possible testimony of my fall, there was no black box that anybody could consult. ... Human lives don't have these technological luxuries to fall back on."
I don't understand, however, why Vasquez finds it necessary to smear Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It diminishes this otherwise fine book....more
A fairly grisly whodunit by a veteran reporter/editor. The most interesting parts of this for me were the primers on Japanese social mores and the couA fairly grisly whodunit by a veteran reporter/editor. The most interesting parts of this for me were the primers on Japanese social mores and the country's law-enforcement and judicial systems, very different from those in the U.S./U.K. Richard Lloyd Parry gets a little verbose at times, but he covers a long period here. For all that, it's a fairly quick read. I think this was recommended by the New York Times. ...more
Really solid advice for writers, illustrated by anecdotes from Stephen King's own work. The author shows rather than tells, and the tone never becomesReally solid advice for writers, illustrated by anecdotes from Stephen King's own work. The author shows rather than tells, and the tone never becomes pedantic. ...more
A wickedly funny look at the consumer mindset that defines and mostly swallows us, from the viewpoint of three eclectic characters whose stories conveA wickedly funny look at the consumer mindset that defines and mostly swallows us, from the viewpoint of three eclectic characters whose stories converge at the end of the novel.
Elwin is an academic whose specialty is dead languages. He's dealing with the end of his marriage and his father's loss to Alzheimer's. Matty and Taldmadge are squatters who live on others' throwaways in New York City. Dave is a self-made entrepreneur who buys loans deemed irredeemable and is married to a Sept. 11 widow.
In Want Not, we are what we eat, what we drive, what we wear, what we buy and what we discard. We also are what or whom we love, and what we remember. These characters find unexpected windfalls, and sometimes less is more. The high moral ground shifts from character to character.
The details of New York, especially the Yankees game, all ring true. Jonathan Miles' writing is mostly unobtrusive. Occasionally, it sings:
"With a sudden, powerful chill, causing her to stand and step away from the boxes,it occurred to Sara that this, rather than the Fresh Kills landfill, where the ashes and debris from the World Trade Center had been buried, and rather than the plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, where Brian's tombstone overlooked a narrow rectangle of unturned earth, was Brian's true burial ground: that this ten-by-fifteen-foot [storage] unit, stacked high with domestic debris, was his mausoleum."
"Nurses glided past the open doorway, their crepe soles whispering sffft sffft to the floor tiles. A telephone rang in a distant room, an old-fashioned analog ring: the past calling to say hello."
"The two of them talking of -- of what? Of the children, the neighborhood or campus gossip, or of beautiful sunlit nothingness -- the nothingness that comes after two people have co-existed for so long that nothing new can ever be spoken, nothing save goodbye."
"Yet beneath his palm he could feel his heart beginning to calm, resuming its old elegant cha-cha rhythm."
This struck a nerve because I'm settling two estates and recently closed a small business and I'm overwhelmed by others' stuff. And I have my own stuff. Right now, it has the upper hand. This book makes me want to write a different ending. ...more
Andrew Greer's novel is so enchanting and thought-provoking that I didn't want it to end.
The book's narrator, Greta Wells, is able to slip through timAndrew Greer's novel is so enchanting and thought-provoking that I didn't want it to end.
The book's narrator, Greta Wells, is able to slip through time portals, with the help of electro-convulsive therapy, from a 1985 in the throes of the AIDS epidemic to the lives she would have led in 1918 and 1947. There are recurring characters in each time, and Greer makes a persuasive argument for the ways in which the times shape character.
Greer's tale moves along at a good clip. The characters are interesting and three-dimensional. The writing is thoughtful and lyrical.
"That is how magic works. It takes the least likely of us, without foreshadowing, at the hour of its own choosing. It makes a thimblerig of time."
"The dying have a way of looking at the rest of us in this strange way, as if we were the ones merely mortal."
"There almost has to be a heaven. If other worlds surround us, just a lightning bolt away, then what would stop us from slipping there? If love has left us, well, then there is a world where it has not. If death has come, then there is a world were it has been kept at bay. Surely it exists, the place where all the wrongs are righted."
"It was ordinary life, with all its troubles, and only when they were jolted off the rails for an instant did they see how odd, how beautiful, everything around them was. Jolted by love or death. They would never consider that it might disappear."
"We forget that when the dead come back to life, they come back with all the things we didn't miss. The bad cooking and the late arrival and the habit of hanging up the phone without saying, 'I love you.' They aren't fixed; they're just back."
"It takes so little to make us different people."
"There almost has to be a heaven, so there can be a place where all things meet. Where time folds in, a lifted tablecloth after the meal, and gathers all the scattered crumbs of life."...more
I've enjoyed Roz Chast's cartoons in the New Yorker for years. This graphic memoir is brilliant, making me laugh aloud one minute and weep the next. AI've enjoyed Roz Chast's cartoons in the New Yorker for years. This graphic memoir is brilliant, making me laugh aloud one minute and weep the next. As a lifelong word person, I'd not understood the appeal of the graphic novel. This makes me rethink things. Chast is better able to convey the pathos of her parents' end in her medium. It doesn't trivialize the experiences, because she's the main target of her pokes and jibes. And, her interior monologue rings true. I made that journey a little more than a year ago, and see myself in the panels. (Accidentally gave Mom too much Ativan, though it was the recommended dosage, and had to deal with hours of hallucinations while wondering whether I'd hastened her near-end. My brother and I have never laughed so robustly.)
This is a super-fast read. I started and finished it between frenzied bouts of snow shoveling while marooned at home because of icy streets and single-digit temperatures. And, I might read it again, as the cold front overstays its welcome.
The portrait of Chast's mother might come across as harsh. She appears to have been a harridan. But, the bedside sketches included in the book show her through a more forgiving lens. I see my parents, and the range of their final sufferings, there. ...more