I picked up this book with high expectations, considering that some writers I really admire and enjoy had good things to say about this book. Almost rI picked up this book with high expectations, considering that some writers I really admire and enjoy had good things to say about this book. Almost right away, I found myself irritated. I kept reading, though, because I wanted to believe that the brilliance and humor I'd heard about would appear, but it never did. At the end I found myself grasping for reasons to appreciate it, but I failed. Even the much-vaunted class/gender/social analysis did nothing for me. You mean to tell me that sometimes women get into crummy relationships with guys who use them? And that sometimes we have to do things we don't agree with ethically to survive? You don't say.
But the biggest issue for me is the fact that the lead character, Nita, was completely insufferable. I know that "likability" in fictional characters is something a lot of people debate, this idea that you somehow have to like a character for them to be worthwhile, but this is the thing - you are asking your reader to spend several hours with a character - not just WITH them, but intimately connected, like Borg-style brain melding with them - and so you should at least do them the courtesy of providing them with a character who is sympathetic or interesting in some way.
Listen, I really want to like books that people write. I don't have high standards for them. I really don't. I just ask that you entertain me, or that you make me think, or you make me feel something. That's all I want out of a book. Yet this book did not manage to achieve any of those goals, and that makes me sad, especially since it seems like Drake spent a lot of time working on this book.
P.S. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who didn't like this book. I was worried that maybe I missed something that everyone else saw, but I see now that, no, lots of other people didn't like this book either....more
I was curious to see how Udall, who I could tell was a Mormon based solely from his last name (is that bad of me? oh well), would handle a novel aboutI was curious to see how Udall, who I could tell was a Mormon based solely from his last name (is that bad of me? oh well), would handle a novel about Mormon fundamentalist polygamists. I grew up a Utah Mormon, and my recollection of the polygamists is....well, I didn't have much of a recollection beyond that they were kind of like the oddball, embarrassing cousins everyone tried to pretend were not related to us. Mainstream Mormons are not the most upfront about acknowledging the existence of the polygamists and the connections between the two communities, is what I'm saying.
I finished the book last night, and my verdict is that he handled the sprawling Richards family with sensitivity and imagination. Instead of making them into caricatures - the downtrodden wives, the dominating patriarch, the hordes of squalid children - Udall turns your expectations on their heads and offers up a family in which the patriarch is a bumbling doofus, the family is a tapestry of alliances and divisions, and the wives are the competent glue that keeps the whole clan together. I thought this was kind of a funny critique of patriarchal systems, in which the father figure is invested with all power and authority as God's representative on earth, even if he is a total dope, while the women are subservient to the patriarch in all things, even if they could crush him with their blistering intellect and titanium will. Obvious, sure, but then the fact that such a belief system persists in about a zillion different manifestations tells me that even the most obvious, bone-headed critique is still necessary.
As a result, Golden could be quite annoying, so passive and baffled by the world around him, but I think that's realistic, because seriously, there are people on this planet who are just like that. I know it would be nice if all characters in all books could be likeable at all times, but the truth is, people just aren't that way. The good news is that people can change, and that sometimes it takes unimaginably painful events to force that change, which is something that is reflected in this book.
I will say that I didn't love the ending, and that's because I was absolutely rooting for a particular outcome involving Trish. (I won't say any more so as to avoid spoiling.) The third perspective, that of Rusty, the outcast 11-year-old boy, crushed me. And...how to put this delicately, there was an exchange of sorts between Trish and Rusty toward the end of the book that had me seriously sketched out. Anyone else who has read this book, you know what I'm talking about?
That's a pretty minor critique, though. Ultimately I found this to be a very enjoyable read, with the right mix of literary quality, in terms of writing and character development, and flat-out good storytelling. It's been a while since I read a literary novel that had me wondering what was going to happen next and how the hell the characters were going to get themselves out of whatever mess they'd gotten themselves into. ...more
I'd only ever seen the movie, and thought John Cusack's character came across as a colossal ass of epic proportions. (Not just a colossal ass, and notI'd only ever seen the movie, and thought John Cusack's character came across as a colossal ass of epic proportions. (Not just a colossal ass, and not just an ass of epic proportions. He was a combination of the two.) Enough time had passed and I was not really wanting to read any of the more "literary" novels I have kicking around, so I found this on my Kindle and gave it a go.
Let's just say the main character doesn't benefit much from a literary treatment. How to describe Nick? He's a Nice Guy (tm) who is crippled by insecurities and self-doubt. He's a manchild who is pathologically self-centered. (I mean, really, going to your ex-girlfriend's father's funeral and trying to envision how you can best position yourself to get her back is pretty fucking low.) He's self-aware enough to know that he's being a total ass and that he is in part responsible for his own shitty life, but not self-aware enough to actually do anything about it.
In Hornby's defense, I don't think he was trying to say, Hey, look at this misunderstood sad man and take pity on him and maybe even have sex with him! He was saying, This is an actual person in the world and this is how he thinks.
I also thought Hornby nailed the dynamics of a troubled, flailing relationship pretty accurately. I'm hardly an expert on All Things Romantic, but my tender age belies the fact that I've got several years of marriage - to two very different men - under my belt, and I've seen a thing or two or five. I've seen enough that some of the exchanges between Nick and Laura left me wincing in discomfort.
I only gave it three stars because, despite the quality writing and the realistic characters and depictions of relationships on life-support, I found Nick so odious as a character that I just wanted to be rid of him forever and ever. I feel for anyone who deeply identifies with that character, but maybe even more importantly, I feel for anyone who dates anyone who deeply identifies with that character. Maybe this book could be a romantic red flag? Like, if you are dating a guy and he's all, "My favorite book is High Fidelity," you can take that as a cue to go to the bathroom, where you can crawl out the window and run far, far away. Just a thought....more
Several months ago, the mug shot of a criminal suspect landed in my work inbox. When I opened the email, I was so shocked that I gasped out loud, thenSeveral months ago, the mug shot of a criminal suspect landed in my work inbox. When I opened the email, I was so shocked that I gasped out loud, then giggled nervously as I quickly closed it. The young man was horribly disfigured, to the point that his face looked like the creation of a special effects artist in a horror movie. I saw his face in my mind for days afterward, sometimes seeing it in odd shadows in half-light rooms, and each time I was revolted. My very visceral horror was compounded by my shame at seeing myself laid bare as a superficial, shallow person, then furthermore at my deep sadness when I tried to imagine what that kid's life had been like, how alienated he must have felt from the rest of the world, how much cruelty he'd seen, or maybe how much pity. Imagine dealing with the transient sociopathy of early adolescence that way. I know I had my share of shit flung in my direction, and the only thing "wrong" with me was that I was exceptionally tall and had glasses.
Reading this book gave me a glimpse of what I had tried to imagine, about how it would feel to know that the one thing about yourself that you could not hide is something that inspires people to treat you as if everything about you was wrong and defective and unworthy of love. Good lord, it broke my heart to read this book. Yet it was so good and so essential and so beautiful. Grealy's background as a poet who studied at Iowa shone through every page. No superfluous words, no excessive sentences, every image and every observation flawlessly rendered. Several times I put down the book to luxuriate in a perfectly-turned phrase or to consider a particular idea. The book is slim, about 220 pages, but the content within is substantial.
I'd heard a bit about her relationship with Ann Patchett before reading this, and also about her fatal drug overdose, and I'd worried that this knowledge would color my experience of the book, you know, the way knowing about David Foster Wallace's suicide leaves many of his readers combing his essays and fictions for clues. That external knowledge surfaced from time to time, but for the most part, the book was so beautifully written that it was easy to immerse myself in Grealy's world as I read. ...more
I picked up this book thinking I would lose myself in a few hundred pages of fun trashy summertime reading. I got maybe about twenty pages in before rI picked up this book thinking I would lose myself in a few hundred pages of fun trashy summertime reading. I got maybe about twenty pages in before realizing that, for all the scandalized pearl-clutching this book inspired after its publication, I was essentially reading a proto-feminist novel, like "The Feminine Mystique" but with butt sex and abortions. This book came out around the same time as Helen Gurley Brown's "Sex and the Single Girl," which I haven't read, but I imagine each book covers some of the same territory.
One character attaches herself to wealthy men in an attempt to live. Another one settles herself in for a life of cuckoldry because she can't seem to wrest herself away from the first man she loved. (I know that word is only used to describe men who are cheated on by their wives, but I really don't think it should be gender-specific.) The only one who didn't find herself dependent on men in someway ended up being a sociopathic addict.
Sure, it was trashy, but it was also so bleak, to read about the limited lives these women had, even despite the privilege and wealth their show-business careers had amassed for them. Everyone was always trying to work some angle or other, trying to figure out how to best manipulate situations and people in their favor. Honest, authentic human relationships were a sign of weakness and vulnerability. What a lonely, mercenary way to approach the world! And yet, if the world of pop-psych relationship self-help is to believed, it's the only way to get what you really want out of life.
I knocked off stars for a couple of reasons. One, Anne Wells was maybe the biggest Mary Sue to ever Mary Sue. I mean, she makes Bella Swann seem like a fully-realized flesh-and-bone human being. It wasn't until the end of the novel that I started seeing her behave with anything approaching complexity. All of the characters were pretty cardboard but Anne Welles was the worst. Two, the writing was okay - not horrible, because it was at least readable, but not great, either, and in some places pretty overwrought and turgid.
Susann does get serious props for writing frankly about things that were considered shocking and unseemly - drug addiction, plastic surgery, lesbianism, bisexuality. She even writes about the conditions inside mental institutions, in ways that made me think of "Women and Madness." She was definitely a woman ahead of her time....more
I picked up this book thinking it would be an interesting dissection of noir but instead found myself quickly immersed in an epic investigation of theI picked up this book thinking it would be an interesting dissection of noir but instead found myself quickly immersed in an epic investigation of the history of Los Angeles and its relationships with organized crime and the LAPD. This is absolutely not the kind of book I ever read, not least of all because it had to do with organized crime, which is a topic that never fails to lose my interest (an opinion I recognize puts me in the minority of Americans). And yet I tore through this book in a few days.
Buntin needed a way to organize his narrative, so he focused on two pivotal iconoclasts - gangster Mickey Cohen and LAPD chief Bill Parker. Between these two men he was able to write about the extent to which organized crime wove itself into the fabric of American society (and in the process showing just how slender the line between crime and legitimate business truly was), about the history of problems faced by the LAPD in its dealings with Latino and black Angelenos, about the evolution of the modern police force, about the persistent fears of Communism and the way they shaped the perspectives of very powerful people. I particularly found it fascinating to see how a certain kind of police force was necessary to deal with organized crime, but how that kind of police work outlived its usefulness as the mob receded from prominence, and also to see how deep the roots of organized crime go in the history of the U.S.
The writing wasn't the best, unfortunately, but that shortcoming was amply compensated for by the fact that the story was just so fucking compelling. It was also very freaky at times, with debates over public safety and terrorist infiltrations and racism very closely mirroring the things we hear and see today. Seeing the language used today echoed by public officials who lived and worked half a century ago gives one quite a bit of historical context, which is something we are very much lacking in our modern dialogue about the world....more
Oh my goodness, I'm not sure I can articulate just how much I loved this book. So sad, so heartbreaking, so beautiful. The novel was thick and filledOh my goodness, I'm not sure I can articulate just how much I loved this book. So sad, so heartbreaking, so beautiful. The novel was thick and filled with digressions on art, psychology, history, but it never felt like a drag to read, and in fact I was terribly sorry when I read the last sentence. The characters seemed so real to me that I took delight in their happiness and felt my heart ache at their sadness. At one point I actually put the book down and wept, I was so devastated. (Thank god I was alone at the time.) I can count the number of times I've cried while reading a book on one hand, and I've only flat-out wept one other time. (That was during the end of *small voice* "The Time Traveler's Wife. So embarrassing. *small voice*)
If I had any criticism it would be that the ending almost seemed like it was part of an entirely different book, and it definitely had an element of "ripped from the headlines" true-crime drama. (I won't say which headline because I don't want to spoil.) So it was a bit odd to go from this meandering meditation on family and love and heartbreak to a crime story, but I suppose a book's gotta have a plot, and "I fell in love then lost everyone and everything I loved" is not enough of a plot for most. But still, it's a very minor criticism and not anything worth seeing as a detraction from my very enthusiastic five-star rating....more
What a wretchedly awful book, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is a beautifully-written book about some very ugly people.
Over the coursWhat a wretchedly awful book, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is a beautifully-written book about some very ugly people.
Over the course of this tiny book, a man goes from having everything we are supposed to want - career, family, respect, money - and proceeds to trash it all for the sake of his sexual obsession with his son's fiancee.
I can't really say I ever felt terribly empathetic with the narrator, or with Anna Barton for that matter, but I was fascinated by the lengths to which they'd go for their affair and more than slightly horrified by the emptiness and detachment with which they viewed those around them.
By the story's end, when the narrator is detailing the conditions of his personal ruin, I felt no sympathy for him, because he had made a deliberate choice halfway through the book to pursue the affair no matter the cost. Fortunately I don't felt like Hart or the narrator expected anyone to feel bad, either.
It does provide us with a glimpse into the mind of a kind of person that seems all too common in this world, though. I mean, just check out all of the politicians who have self-destructed in their pursuit of sex. As much as I'd like to say that no one could possibly be so foolish and self-centered, we have way too much evidence to the contrary, that lots and lots of people are absolutely this foolish and self-centered, especially when it comes to sex.
P.S. If you are squeamish about sex writing, don't worry about this book. Hart elides over much of the sexual content, so you are left imagining the vast majority of what's going on....more
I loved this. Most times when I read a literary journal, I end up skipping through anywhere from a quarter to a third of the journal. This time I readI loved this. Most times when I read a literary journal, I end up skipping through anywhere from a quarter to a third of the journal. This time I read the whole thing.
Standouts for me were: "The Dreadful Mucamas" by Lydia Davis, "The Sex Lives of African Girls" by Taiye Selasi and "Zlatka" by Maja Hrgovic. I didn't much care for Rachel Cusk's "Aftermath," but I really enjoyed everything else....more
I give up. I'm halfway through and I just can't bring myself to care. I have to flip back and forth between the story and the family tree in the frontI give up. I'm halfway through and I just can't bring myself to care. I have to flip back and forth between the story and the family tree in the front of the book, which really disrupts my reading flow, and I am just really not caring all that much about any of the characters in the book, with the exception of maybe Charles (ironic considering the book's title and subject).
I'm really disappointed in this, because I liked the idea of a novel that tells the stories of several generations of women in a family. I've often thought about the way we play out the life stories of our parents and our grandparents, and how our children and grandchildren will play out our life stories, so it's a narrative thread I'm really fascinated by (and part of why I really enjoyed "A Visit from the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan), but this book just didn't grab my interest.
Maybe if I had hung in until the end...but honestly, I've got about fifty unread books clamoring for my attention. And you know what? Life is too short to spend it reading books I don't care about.
Again, no rating because I don't feel it's fair to rate a book I haven't finished....more
I have so many thoughts about this book, I'm not even sure where to begin. Let me start with the fact that it was way enjoyable to read. Des Barres haI have so many thoughts about this book, I'm not even sure where to begin. Let me start with the fact that it was way enjoyable to read. Des Barres has a writing style that isn't terribly polished yet is very fun and enthusiastic and even has moments of literary brilliance. I can see why she was so drawn toward performing, because she's got the spark of an artist in her soul. And it's a very juicy read, with lots of sex with rock stars (which is exactly what you would expect from a book like this). Some of the sex was depressing, like the times she hooked up with Keith Moon, who is maybe the saddest rock star ever. Some of it was odd, like her two hook-ups with Waylon Jennings. And some of it made me seethe with envy, like the fact that she had an affair with Mick Jagger in the early 1970s. (He was smoking hot back in the day and I would have totally let him. DON'T JUDGE.)
I knocked it down a star, though, because as juicy of a read as this was, I couldn't help but think the book was lacking a bit of the self-awareness you'd expect from a memoir. I don't mean that I wanted her to renounce her earlier ways and drop feminist theory all over the place, but I did think it was rather odd that every rock star she was around was OMG THE GREATEST EVA and that her love for all of them was a passion for the ages. I mean, that was fine and even pretty awesome when it came in the form of the journal excerpts from her adolescence and early adulthood, but writing retrospectively as a full-grown woman? I guess I expected more distance, less drooling. But, if that's how she really felt, then I'm glad she put it out there in such an honest way.
That aside, I admired the way Des Barres was frank about her sexuality and her pursuit of pleasure. That's still pretty revolutionary these days, even with all of the hand-wringing over our pornified society and whathaveyou, so I can only imagine how daring it was in the late 60s and early 70s, when people were still having small aneurysms over men with hair longer than their ears. I also liked reading it as kind of a snapshot in time between the years of Beatlemania, when it really became acceptable for teenage girls to express desire, and the 1990s, when girls were no longer that impressed with boy rock stars and decided to become rock stars themselves. And finally, it was nice to read an account of the rock courtesan lifestyle that wasn't all depraved and filled with weird sex shit involving sea creatures and stuff. I know that's a pretty low bar to surpass, but that kind of thing is why I am avoiding rock bios by any members of Led Zeppelin or Motley Crue....more