This one really struck a chord, in the way it pondered questions over half of a lifetime about the meaning of friendship, talent, and the trajectory oThis one really struck a chord, in the way it pondered questions over half of a lifetime about the meaning of friendship, talent, and the trajectory of life. I'd say it's primarily Jules' story, though some of the others had a bit of an arc and occasional informal POV. Wolitzer does a fantastic job writing teenagers (I'm very intrigued by her young adult foray now,) the peculiar brand of insecurity, cockiness and response to trauma. Though personally, I didn't see quite the degree of her MC's more positive, wry attributes as her friends did until she was in her twenties.
The book spans from when Jules was a grieving teenager, dropped in on this artistic camp where she met her group of lifelong friends who revived her, to a middle-aged woman who'd been through marriage, childbirth, career changes and the aftermath of old insecurities and secrets. With subtle grace, Wolitzer guides her character(s) through this world where so much changes but some things remain the same. I had a sense when reading that I was truly experiencing a life, the visceral way things appeared when they were happening, and the way people keep returning to them even as new experiences are layered on.
Some peripheral characters--or sometimes just a story thread of theirs--occasionally stood out to me as being less fully formed. I didn't really feel like Jonah's transient brainwashing by a religious cult really rang true to me, though if any character showcased the negative effects of drugs, it was him. Also, although the story by default had to focus on this group of friends and a little bit into their offspring, the rest of their lives felt a little sketchily drawn. I found myself wondering a bit about if and when Jules saw her mother and sister, and her sister was particularly one dimensional. I felt that way, too, about Ash and Ethan's son, Mo, but I'm sensitive about how people on the autism spectrum are displayed, and perhaps a bit biased in my disappointment that Mo didn't remind me more of myself. He's a bit more traditionally on the spectrum than I am anyway.
There wasn't much Judaism in this book, though I got my book signed at the 2014 DC Jewish Literature Festival, and the friends who comprised the group of "Interestings" all came from the tribe. There was an amusing moment when Jules was meeting her husband, Dennis, for the first time at a dinner party, and her friend was explaining how he wasn't at all artistic; not fully or partially Jewish. :p
The novel is pretty heavy until the characters are in their mid-30s to early 50s, and presumably life finds an even keel. But although this is literary fiction, predictably the plot ramped up a bit for the ending, with secrets unleashed, midlife-crisis career changes, and the unleashing of pent up relationship drama that these issues inevitably bring out. I suppose it might be a little too literary to let these characters just trundle on forever. In real life, we are often shook up by sudden alterations out of the void of normalcy, and the past catching up to us in various ways. Come what may, I think what intrigued me most was Jules's quest for meaning in her life, this churning mixup of how she responded to the talent and fame of her friends, but how it was really, always, about the relationships she forged....more
I liked the ending. :p. Maybe I'm a bit biased because the epilogue chronicled one of the main characters skydiving as a form of rejuvenation after moI liked the ending. :p. Maybe I'm a bit biased because the epilogue chronicled one of the main characters skydiving as a form of rejuvenation after mourning, which is the main theme of a short story I had published, hee. I guess Divakaruni and I were on the same wavelength!
But overall I found this sequel to be disappointing. I had hoped it wouldn't disseminate into overwrought love affairs, and instead deal more concretely with the relationships and character development between Suddha, Anju and Sunil, but that didn't happen. Divakaruni even introduced another character to fall head over heels for Suddha, as if she didn't have enough admirers; a man who literally has no dimension other than obsessing over her.
I assume the intent here was to probe how these characters deal with mourning, but it was so badly handled. Instead of fleshing out Anju's depression or Sunil's estrangement from his father, Divakarumi relied on annoying writing conceits, like guiding us, in third person, on how we should feel about these people, or relating their lives to the major current events stories of the mid-90s. Ultimately, save for a few occasions, they felt less real than characters on a midday soap opera.
I liked the first book, which had a much stronger narrative and sense of self. This one could have been much better....more
It didn't take long after starting this book to realize that the CBS miniseries could never do it justice, that the beautiful narrative and charactersIt didn't take long after starting this book to realize that the CBS miniseries could never do it justice, that the beautiful narrative and characters drawn from lyrical faith, hardship and identity would never transfer to a diet coke spectacle that centered mostly on the siege of Masada. In fact, most of Hoffman's story takes place well before the siege, giving voices to the women of that vanquished period.
The story was told in four parts, from four narrators in the four years leading up to the siege. Perhaps I was hasty but I loved Yael, the unloved daughter who found her first strength in the desert and then a new life in Masada. But all of the women went through multiple lives and experiences, in this pre-scientific way of understanding the world. And like how women make new rituals and modern midrashim today to carve out our place in Judaism, these women, like Diamant's in "The Red Tent," had their own goddesses and rituals to exist entwined with the religion that men sometimes held separate from them.
As I grieved for various hardships, I found comfort in the rich versatility of Judaism that connects us to our past yet allowed us to survive long past the destruction of the great Roman Empire that cast us into the second Diaspora. I loved the juxtaposition of the holidays I know well (the Romans finally reached Masada on Passover, the time that I finished this book,) and the ways that the people who lived much closer to those biblical origins celebrated them.
If I were to complain about any aspect of Hoffman's work, it might be that her narrative style had me feeling slightly removed from her characters, or maybe it's just the passage of centuries that makes them less accessible than modern protagonists. Either way, these women were alive to me, as mythology made into flesh and bone, as the arbiters of a female-centric story of my people that history has often passed by in silence. And I suppose you can tell how much I loved the poetic lyricism of the novel, as it's slipped into my review. :p...more
Admittedly, this was a strange book for me to read. I'm used to Allegra Goodman as an adult writer, heavy on character nuance and murkier with plot. FAdmittedly, this was a strange book for me to read. I'm used to Allegra Goodman as an adult writer, heavy on character nuance and murkier with plot. For her YA dystopia, she had to turn this formula on it's head.
That's not entirely fair to her main character, Honor, who, unlike most contemporary heroines, doesn't have to break away from her parents to be rebellious, but rather to be normal. Through Honor, we see the allure of fitting into society in order to avoid ostracizarion, a paramount for dystopian fiction and present day grammar school. I also like how Goodman played with the idea of memory and control--one of the many similarities to "The Giver," but in Goodman's world, Honor had some past memories that flitted in and out in subtle ways, with hints and ultimately a revelation about how this society, or corporation, I should say, was eradicating them, and what that meant to their larger agenda,
In a way, this dystopia reads about what would happen if extremist environmentalists took over the world after catastrophe. I really loved Goodman's conceits about altering stories with dangerous weather, or "ceiling"/sealing the islands in protective domes. The "forecaster" became a code word for an antagonistic prophet; the corporation that now ruled the remains of Earth was headed up by the "Earth Mother." But this person, as illustrated by the imagery of a recycling school marm, may not have referred to an actual person, but rather the personified ideal of the corporation, a tangible deity for the people to follow. I Am using this word specifically, because at the beginning of the novel, certain pledges (another smart conceit by Goodman-- altering the words of modern day songs and pledges to fit the corporation,) were referred to as a religion.
I might be a little biased on this one, seeing as Goodman is a Jewish writer who touches on many Jewish themes in her adult work, but I saw illusions to another religion here, too. On the macro, metaphorical level, most Jews living in diaspora would understand the struggle between culturaism and assimilation. On a darker note, there are strands of Judaism that fervently adhere to enforcing community norms at the expense of indiviualistic thought. But even on a specific level I thought I found little niggles...could "Greenspoon" be a stand in for "Greenstein"? Were the candlesticks that Will and Pamela unpacked used for shabbos by distant relatives? And of course there is the issue of thee orderlies, an underling class of those who have had their humanity stripped away, being tattooed with identity numbers.
Ultimately there was little to no character development that didn't serve the plot, which was disappointing. And as the New York Times Sunday Book Review pointed out, although Goodman gave a lot of examples of how current day society was destroyed and/or converted post-Flood, there's little insight into the past devastation of our apocalypse, and why those of us who survived might willingly give up personal control, and crave an all-encompassing corporation to look after our safety. By the time we get to Honor's story, the corporation is mostly built on lies and fear.
I have to give props to Goodman's scientific mind, as always, for all of her meteorology and nature details. Also I'm intrigued by the style of writing--an omniscient voice where the narrator occasionally adds an anectodte about how things are "now" vs at Honor's time. Most dystopian novels seem to be told in the present, as the revolution significantly alters the society, but perhaps Goodman is hinting, ironically, perhaps, for a post-Flood apocalypse story, that not everything about the world Honor lived in will be washed away....more
Thank you to Penguin Group, which gave me this book at the end of a YA fantasy panel at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. :)
I really enjoyed it overall, tThank you to Penguin Group, which gave me this book at the end of a YA fantasy panel at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. :)
I really enjoyed it overall, this clever and haunted retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale. Was a bit of a treat to go back to early medieval Ireland, a time and place I know little about, and be thrown into the world of Irish chieftains, Norman invaders and Latin translations.
It's relatively low on fantasy, but Marillier wrote the host with spooky undertones (and speaking of B&B, I especially liked the haunted/spyglass mirrors). I also thought in the beginning, when we, along with Caitrin, knew less about the machinations of the plot and backstory, that there was a somewhat Gothic and mysterious feel to her stay at Whistling Thor. I appreciated Caitrin's characterization the most then, her inner struggle between confidence and curiosity, and the fear and lingering depression remaining from her own familial tragedies.
The love story was a little on the schmaltzy side, especially in terms of narrative writing style, and sometimes I thought Anluan was a bit too moody, though maybe I'm not giving his unique situation enough credance. Near the back half of the book, there was some convenient plotting and last-minute realizations to tie things up appropriately, and the villains, though strongly realized when we were in their heads, had some pretty one-dimensional, fairy tale like motivations. Perhaps to be expected, and insofar as "whodunnit" plots go, I thought this had a good one.
I guess my final quibble would be the weird juxtaposition of Caitrin leaving at the dawn of a siege to put her own legally and mentally complicated family affairs in order, but make it back in time for the final battle, I guess a couple months later. Sheesh, that woman needs a vacation from having to solve everything from natural to supernatural conundrums. :p. But I really liked the characters, decently drawn for being secondary, and a peek into Caitrin's profession as medieval scribe/makeshift librarian, hee....more