"Every immigrant is the person he might have been and the person he is"
Charles Wang left China for the American dream and made it big. He's been livin"Every immigrant is the person he might have been and the person he is"
Charles Wang left China for the American dream and made it big. He's been living it up ever since and he has the vain, empty, emotionally distant family to prove it. But now he's lost everything in the financial crisis of 2008 and is taking his family on a road trip across the country to the home of his oldest daughter in New York state (who is recovering from her own fall from grace), where they can figure out their next step. No more mansion in Bel Air. No more privilege. No more fame or notoriety. It's supposed to be a madcap, darkly comic road trip, but in the end it's just tiresome and annoying.
There are a lot of things to be irritated by in The Wangs vs. the World, and chief among them would be the insanely self-involved and self-righteous characters. There's also the crazy presumption that putting a globalist spin on the 'unhappy family spirals out of control' premise would make it feel fresh and new. It doesn't. And for the full rundown of why this book is awful, check out my full review on my blog....more
Every reader knows the sensation of getting really excited by the idea behind a book, but then finding the execution is totally meh. When it happens iEvery reader knows the sensation of getting really excited by the idea behind a book, but then finding the execution is totally meh. When it happens it's natural to experience denial. You try to like it in spite of itself. You make excuses for the problematic areas. In your head, though, you keep thinking about how you would have done it differently, or how you would have restructured it if you were the editor. That was my experience with The Girls.
If you want the details on exactly why (including a riff on The Virgin Suicides, an explanation of how Cline's narrative structure does her an incredible disservice, and, um, slippery armpits), check out my full review over on my blog. ...more
The sumptuous details of working in a restaurant and living in New York City when you're new and young are so good they're almost pornographic. But ouThe sumptuous details of working in a restaurant and living in New York City when you're new and young are so good they're almost pornographic. But our unreliable narrator doesn't want us to get to know her very well, which makes it difficult to see why she's supposed to have such potential as a server and as a person. All we see is a mess in the middle of a shame spiral. It also means the central love triangle fails to illicit much.
For an extended review with much more comments and thoughts, check out my blog.
Two half-sisters arrive at a castle on the coast of Ghana in the 1700's. One is the wife of the white commander and lives above. One has been kidnappeTwo half-sisters arrive at a castle on the coast of Ghana in the 1700's. One is the wife of the white commander and lives above. One has been kidnapped and is imprisoned below, waiting to be shipped to America as a slave. Through generations, Homegoing explores the impact of the slave trade--not only on the people but on the countries, and for generations after slavery itself was abolished. It is a powerful and heartbreaking novel as well as a profoundly observed one. Possibly the best book of 2016.
Annie Proulx's work up to now has been many things, some of them seemingly contradictory: terse, blunt, sharp, dista"All must pay the debt of nature."
Annie Proulx's work up to now has been many things, some of them seemingly contradictory: terse, blunt, sharp, distant, poignant, violent, humane, and more. With Barkskins she claims an entirely new term for her collection: sprawling.
Clocking in at more than 700 pages, Barkskins begins with the stories of René Sel and Charles Duquet, Frenchmen who arrive in New France (or Canada, as we know it today) as indentured servants in 1693. René Sel is a strong and able woodsman who adapts quickly to his new life while scrawny and sickly Charles Duquet has a significantly tougher time. Just when you begin to suspect Duquet might not be long for this world he escapes from servitude and strikes out on his own, driven not only by hatred of his seigneur but by his own ambition to succeed: "He wanted great and permanent wealth, wealth for a hundred years. He wanted a fortune to pass on to his sons. He wanted his name on buildings... to establish a family name. The name Duquet would change from a curse to an honor."
René Sel is also fluid, but in a markedly different way: "Again he felt himself caught in the sweeping current of events he was powerless to escape. What could he do against the commands of more important men?" This sensation is one he will pass on to his children: "Were not René Sel's children and grandchildren as he had been, like leaves that fall on moving water, to be carried where the stream takes them?" And so we have the story of two men who shall be entangled for generations to come: one who feels powerless to stop the flow of history as it comes at him, the other madly fighting the current in an attempt to shape it to his own advantage.
In keeping with Proulx's grasp of the ebb, flow, and frequent cruelty of time, there are births, deaths, marriages, divorces, sudden disasters, betrayals, economic collapses--all perfectly in step with the way the world actually works. Deaths have a tendency to come suddenly and are often gruesome. From 1693 to 2013 the families of Charles Duquet and René Sel don't follow a false narrative constructed for the reader so much as they follow the natural flow of history and life. The business that is Charles Duquet's legacy doesn't grow into a monolith, it faces difficulties as the fledgling United States endures fires, wars, disasters, and more--you know, all the things we know as history.
In the end, I confess I wanted to like Barkskins more than I actually did. I would still make the case that Proulx is one of the great masters writing today. Her savage wit is so dry one could almost breeze right by some of her most hilarious turns or phrase without realizing how gutting they are. But there's no denying she kind of boxes herself into a corner and one plotline definitely drags under the weight of the burdensome thematic material it must carry.
"Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life." -- Hermann Hesse...more
“As Hegel said, tragedy was not the conflict between right and wrong but right and right, a dilemma none of us who wanted participate in history could“As Hegel said, tragedy was not the conflict between right and wrong but right and right, a dilemma none of us who wanted participate in history could escape.”
The Sympathizer promises to redefine the way you think about the Vietnam War. The narrator, a man of twisted, complicated loyalties, is meant to provide access to multiple viewpoints. The problem is that the narrator is so passive that none of these viewpoints really click or coalesce into anything meaningful.
The language is flowery and oddly sexualized, and while that does get better as the novel progresses it never really goes away. The plot itself meanders. There's a large digression where the narrator gets a job as an advisor to a Hollywood film about the Vietnam war that could ultimately be erased completely for all the meaning it ultimately has to the plot. All of which make it very difficult to care about this Sympathizer in the end.
You can find an expanded version of this review over on my blog.
“Getting blown up happened in an instant; getting put together took the rest of your life.”
Louise Erdrich has made a career out of writing novels abou“Getting blown up happened in an instant; getting put together took the rest of your life.”
Louise Erdrich has made a career out of writing novels about Native American people, usually hinging on a crime of some sort, and with just a sprinkle of magical realism (although Erdrich herself objects to that term). It's a practice that has served her well in her career, shining a light on people and stories traditional media or literature tend to outright ignore. It makes her work feel important, raw.
LaRose should, by all rights, fit right in with this theme. In the opening pages Landreaux Iron is stalking a deer but accidentally shoots and kills the son of his friend and neighbor, Peter Ravich, instead. Grief threatens to tear both families apart until Landreaux gets an answer from the sweat lodge and decides he must offer his own youngest son, LaRose, to Peter and Peter's wife, Nola. LaRose ends up stuck between two families, the one he was born into and the one that has claimed him--which he feels obligated to protect from grief and tragedy.
The problem is nothing really happens. That description is the most exciting thing about the book. The action mostly stagnates and can't get going. If you were invested in the characters their grief might be considered compelling, but for some odd reason none but two of the characters are developed beyond their most basic outline. The two that are chosen for development, Nola and her daughter Maggie, have an interesting subplot involving Nola's suicidal depression, but ultimately that's all it is: a subplot. The main action is taken up by Landreaux, Peter, and LaRose, who are treated as nothing but ciphers. There are also lengthy digressions into the Iron family's history to explain the generational history of the LaRoses as well as a subplot involving a preacher who will be familiar to anyone who read The Round House, but in the end they don't bear much fruit.
There's also a troublemaking addict named Romeo who is intended to bring about the endgame, but even he is neutered by insignificance. His plot and character arc is predictable and the endgame he brings about is pallid, which means the novel goes out with a whimper instead of the bang that might have saved it.
LaRose is technically well-written but is missing heart. It has a terrific set-up for conflict but it all fizzles out with alarming speed. These are not problems Erdrich usually has with her novels, and I'm definitely hoping it won't become a recurring one for her.
“Who would have thought at this time in our lives that we’d still have something like this. That it turns out we’re not finished with changes and exci“Who would have thought at this time in our lives that we’d still have something like this. That it turns out we’re not finished with changes and excitements. And not all dried up in body and spirit.”
Addie and Louis are quiet, decent people in the beginning of their 'twilight years.' Both widowed, they've been living alone for a long time and although they are not friends, they've known each other and inhabited the same circle for decades. They knew each other's spouses when they were alive. They knew each other's children and saw them grow up. Now Addie surprises Louis by showing up at his house with a proposition of sorts: come over to her house each night and sleep in her bed.
This isn't a love story, though. It's about two people connecting and finding comfort in each other--even if that comfort is simply in lying beside each other and talking. It's a simple story and sparse, in true Haruf style, but it resonates. That Addie and Louis know their arrangement cannot last (everything is fleeting at their age, after all) only makes it all the more profound. That Haruf wrote it as he himself was dying only enhances that. This is a novel that is beautiful and filled with grace for its very simplicity.
“I just want to live simply and pay attention to what’s happening each day,” Louis notes toward the end of the novel, and by the end you will, too.
If you're looking for a book that will make you incredibly mad at the healthcare system, this is the novel for you. If you're already mad or have beenIf you're looking for a book that will make you incredibly mad at the healthcare system, this is the novel for you. If you're already mad or have been burned by America's healthcare system, there's a chance this novel could be a fist-pumping endorsement of your experience--except how could a novel about a young mother and wife dying of cancer be described as a fist-pumping anything? Chances are that if you're already mad, as I am, there won't be much of anything new to glean from these pages at all other than the human story. And oddly, there just isn't much there. The doctors, insurance people, and fellow patients in the waiting room are given more depth than the central characters and their closest friends. It was as though Bock, who based this book on his own personal experience after his wife was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the birth of their child, couldn't deal with the more personal aspects of his own experience so he deliberately kept the main characters at arm's length from you. That Oliver is something of a jerk doesn't help, nor does Bock's odd decision to make "insufferable NYC hipsters" the only real character trait he's willing to ascribe to both Alice and Oliver.
Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book to review by Amazon....more
On the surface it would be easy to read and digest (perhaps even to dismiss) The Turner House as a simple fa“Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do.”
On the surface it would be easy to read and digest (perhaps even to dismiss) The Turner House as a simple family saga. To do so would be to miss the point entirely, and to miss an incredibly layered portrait of America, Detroit, racial politics, and more.
The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street in Detroit for fifty years now. They raised thirteen children there and survived many hardships to stay there. But now their matriarch is old and not well, and the house is worth only a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children (grown and with children of their own now) must decide what to do, but each Turner has their own motive, their own history to cling to or let go of, and their own future to face up to. Letting go is never easy, but time never cares much for sentiment. Time moves on whether you let go or not.
Flournoy tells their stories in beautifully weaving chapters--focusing in on some characters, glancing over others. The quilt that emerges is comforting and familiar and deeply resonant. Turners are renowned for their stubbornness, but that trait comes out in many different forms from person to person. One may be stubbornly self-destructive, another may be stubbornly dutiful, another may be stubbornly bitter, and so on.
What is perhaps most astounding about The Turner House is that it says so much about so many profound topics without ever feeling too preachy. It may dip a toe in those waters here and there, but it never stays long. That Flournoy can balance such an impossible number of themes without losing focus is nothing short of incredible--and when I turned to her author photo and saw how young she is, well, I admit I felt a pang of jealousy for her talent as a writer. This girl is going places. And I for one can't wait to see where she goes next.