Allegiance is a really gorgeous story, and it may be that having it ahead of time ruined the others for me because they didn't feel as sharp in compar...moreAllegiance is a really gorgeous story, and it may be that having it ahead of time ruined the others for me because they didn't feel as sharp in comparison. I did also like the title story, Boys and Girls like you and me, but in some of the other stories I felt that the character motivations were somewhat lacking or underdeveloped, and that the characters just weren't as present and interesting as they were in the last two stories. (less)
With a lot of these stories, I found myself not realizing how well they were working until I got to their final notes and found myself totally blown a...moreWith a lot of these stories, I found myself not realizing how well they were working until I got to their final notes and found myself totally blown away. (less)
So good. I bought this on a whim (by which I mean I can't walk into a bookstore to buy someone a present without walking out with a book for myself,)...moreSo good. I bought this on a whim (by which I mean I can't walk into a bookstore to buy someone a present without walking out with a book for myself,) and read the first five chapters in the bookstore coffee shop, because I opened it while I was on line, and couldn't bear to put it down. There were a few moments toward the end of the book where the tone or structure of the book changed in a way that I at first thought was a misstep, but within a few pages, the narrative would win me over again, and I'd realize that the shift hadn't been wrong, it had just taken me a second to catch up with it. A very smart book, with very lovely sentences, but ultimately as interested in character and narrative as it is in loveliness and intelligence.(less)
Really interesting and vividly depicted book. The only thing I missed a little bit was that the author seemed to take for granted a bit that her mothe...moreReally interesting and vividly depicted book. The only thing I missed a little bit was that the author seemed to take for granted a bit that her mother's family history was public and available, and so the sections about her mother's life and her mother's family in this book sometimes left me with more questions than answers. (less)
I was kind of anticipating being dissapointed in this book, so it was a pleasure to finally get around to reading it and find that I couldn't stop. Th...moreI was kind of anticipating being dissapointed in this book, so it was a pleasure to finally get around to reading it and find that I couldn't stop. There's a constant reward at the sentence level, but I also thought it did a good job of moving forward on the level of narrative, and of being about both people and ideas. The lack of a fifth star is only because the resolution of the not Brazilian Brazilian boyfriend subplot felt comparatively rushed and underdeveloped-- not that it couldn't have worked, but that some crucial scene or chapter that would have grounded it was missing. (less)
I am still thinking about what to think about this book. I think three stars is the average of loving it/hating it/being pissed off by it in ways that...moreI am still thinking about what to think about this book. I think three stars is the average of loving it/hating it/being pissed off by it in ways that were sometimes thought provoking and sometimes less so. (less)
I thought a book of funny anecdotes about a hapless woman in her 20’s would be fun light reading, because who doesn’t love hapless women in their 20’s...moreI thought a book of funny anecdotes about a hapless woman in her 20’s would be fun light reading, because who doesn’t love hapless women in their 20’s. I don’t know, maybe some of these stories would be funny if your best friend was telling them over margaritas, but I didn’t them especially hilarious or insightful or revealing. I also felt like the author came across as not particularly likeable, so it was sometimes hard to care about the stories as much as I might have. I was trying really hard to like her, up until the part where she talked about undertipping cab drivers as if it were funny, and then I didn’t feel obligated to even pretend. I don’t know, I guess I feel like there’s a difference between screwing up because you have good intentions, or even stupid intentions that you’re quite passionate about, and screwing up because you have vague purposeless intentions or just aren’t that interested in other people, and throughout this book it seems like all of the author’s troubles stem from the latter. Despite having been and possibly still being a hapless woman in my twenties, I just couldn’t relate to or empathize with her, perhaps my 20’s got a lot better and more functional when I cut ties with all the people I knew who were all haha I’m so selfish/bad at life/vaguely inappropriate, and isn’t that hilarious/interesting/special, and this book made me feel like Sloane Crosley was one of those people and I had for some reason paid money to hang out with her. (less)
**spoiler alert** I picked this book up about 4 times, and left the store without it because something about the jacket copy was off-putting. Maybe it...more**spoiler alert** I picked this book up about 4 times, and left the store without it because something about the jacket copy was off-putting. Maybe it was that the central plot twist of the book seemed really obvious just from the jacket summary, and I wasn’t sure it was enough to sustain a novel that long. I’m glad I finally picked it up though: when this book is good, it is very very good. It’s descriptions of relationships—both romantic and familial—are generally quite well rendered and lovely and excruciating. I liked the way each chapter began with a snippet of essay—they never seemed to cutely to directly address the following chapter, but the sum of them, along with some of the insights about the application process and specific kids applications, served to underscore this sense of there being such a difference between who people think they’ll be when the world is full of possibility, and the less romantic adults that most people eventually turn into and alternately hate and comfort themselves for becoming, which is kind of what Portia’s problem is when we meet her. Most of the writing is quite lovely, and the characters are well drawn and sympathetic. I felt like the admissions talk got a bit redundant as the book went on. No matter how lovely the writing is, you don’t really want to read the same point, or the same description of the admissions process 18 times, especially since, as the book jokes, everyone who’s ever left college admissions has written a tell all book, so it’s not exactly like she’s giving away secrets here. I get that part of it is we’re supposed to empathize with the fact that people ask Portia the same questions over and over again, but I really don’t think we need to see as many of these conversations as we do, especially when they slow down the more interesting stuff and start to feel a bit tedious. The bigger issue, for me, was that the central plot twist felt a bit unrealistic—Tom felt kind of hollow and underdeveloped, compared to the rest of the characters, and I wasn’t quite convinced by what happened between them in Europe. It seemed kind of unrealistic (especially after the book made a big point of how in demand health white newborns are in adoption circles), that the baby would have ended up with grocery clerks who couldn’t afford a home computer. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the emphasis on the adoptive parents being Armenian—it seemed at times like the book was leaning on this as the potential reason that the parents were unable to connect with their son, or value education, which was kind of bizarre and uncomfortable. I thought Portia’s big sacrifice made sense on her end, but I was a little bit less sold on the idea that Princeton was the only place Jeremiah would be happy, however in love with the school he was, and I thought there were other ways she could have helped him. But perhaps I’m biased because the only time I was at Princeton they were handing out champagne in the streets and I ended up drinking cheap beer in the basement of an eating club while the whole room sang along to The Sweater Song, and I probably missed the magical transformative educational properties of the school. (less)
I made a rule once that I wouldn't review any books written by my friends, because it seemed ethically questionable and potentially awkward, but I am...moreI made a rule once that I wouldn't review any books written by my friends, because it seemed ethically questionable and potentially awkward, but I am breaking it for this book, which is brilliant and beautifully written and manages to be about the big questions of what it means to become a nation, or to be part of a nation, without losing sight of individual characters and their private, immediate, and haunting moments of trauma. It's not light or easy reading, but it's hard to put down once you've picked it up. (less)
Sometimes when I become particularly frustrated with books, I leave them in the airplane seat pocket on purpose. I hope whoever got on the plane after...moreSometimes when I become particularly frustrated with books, I leave them in the airplane seat pocket on purpose. I hope whoever got on the plane after me enjoyed this book more than I did. There was a lot of interesting set up, but there were a lot of characters, and they were constantly transitioning from one version of themselves to another, and so I never really fel connected to any of them. Because we rarely got to see or understand the transitions-- they'd want one thing when we met them, and a different thing when we saw them again three chapters later-- some things felt not credible, or just not as moving or compelling as they would have been had the characters been better established. (less)
The star system feels inadequate here, as I'm still trying to sort out how I feel about this book. I wouldn't have read it if a colleague hadn't loane...moreThe star system feels inadequate here, as I'm still trying to sort out how I feel about this book. I wouldn't have read it if a colleague hadn't loaned it to me and asked me what I thought, but I'm glad I did. So, maybe 4 stars for the first section, 3 stars for the middle, 2 stars for the end? 5 stars for both audacity and seriousness of purpose that makes that audacity fee artistic rather than crass, 2 stars for spending way too much time thinking about faux George Bush's penis?
The opening section of the book is beautifully written, and the characters there feel alive and more emotionally honest than a lot of the transparently drawn from real life characters from later in the book, which is interesting. Although I haven' read her source material and don't know how much of this section, beyond the car accident, is based on fact, I imagine that there's less documentation of this phase of Laura Bush's life than any other, and thus this is the section where the author relied most firmly on imagination.
I should say though that reading this section made me uncomfortable at moments because I wondered about the ethics of imagining the inner life and adolescent sexuality of a person who is a) still living b) a stranger. I'm usually not squeamish, in reading or writing, about real life conflating with fiction. It was strange for me to feel any sympathy toward Laura Bush for any percieved violation of privacy, when I don't always stop myself from using the personal tragedies and shortcomings of people I know and love as jumping off points for fiction.
When we get closer to the historical present, the book loses something for me. Maybe because the only book I want to read about W is a book called George Bush, Condi, and Sarah Palin run off to an island and are never allowed to appear on television or affect US policy again. But I think it's because the "Charlie" character (the one loosely based on Bush), never quite feels real or sympathetic on the book's own terms, and I'm never entirely convinced by their relationship. I don't believe this book is, as some people called it, a tawdry smear campaign. I think it honestly is sympathetic to and curious about how the person the author presumes Laura Bush to be ends up married to the person she presumes George Bush to be. The problem is I think the books works through this question for 600 pages, and the author can't answer it. Ultimately it seems to come down to good sex and a lifelong fear of confrontation. I'm not sure it's a satisfying explanation. I think in general writing sex scenes is a strength of Curtis Sittenfeld's. I wasn't crazy about Prep of the Man of My Dreams, but in both of those books I was impressed by her ability to write sex scenes that conflated the emotional and the physical, that were vivid enough to not feel like the fictional equivalent of a fade to black, but not overdone to the point of feeling indulgently pornographic. But in this book the sex eventually starts to feel like overkill, like it's standing in for something rather than adding something.
But the larger problem of the book, and the part that makes the ending (which I won't give away) feel comparatively flimsy, is that it's not until the end that we have any sense of politics being a matter of life or death. And I guess I find it hard to believe that a person as sympathetic and insightful and intelligent as the author has tried to make Alice Blackwell could go her whole life without having to grapple with that. Well before the presidential stage, people's lives hang in the balance when government policy is made. The issue is too neatly sidestepped, until it's addressed in a way that feels contrived. There's a bit of a misdirect toward the end, and structurally I understand the need to set it up that way, but I actually think the confrontation that we think we're getting is more interesting than the confrontation we actually get. Whereas the first confrontation would have greater repercussions in terms of actually changing something, the actual ending involves an empty gesture, one that nods toward suffering but offers no possbility for a different outcome.
I think this book, as invasive as it feels, may be too in love with Laura Bush-- too unwilling to see her as anything the author doesn't want her to be. I enjoyed reading this book on the whole-- there was a lushness of prose, a narrative suspense even when cerain conclusions were inevitable, which is hard to pull off. It's a better book than Prep, which I also gave 3 stars. But I don't think I undestand anything better than I did when I opened it-- who a person would have to be to disavow their politics completely (not as a child, but at 31!), to marry a man who makes racial slurs and is unsympathetic to suffering, how a supposed agnostic stays married to a born again christian and raises their child as such. Ultimately, I'm not sure the book understands the emotional dynamics of this either, or at least, it didn't portray them convincingly enough for me. (less)