I liked this book more than I wanted to. With a male author writing in the voice of female teenage narrator, one who struggles with decidedly female i...moreI liked this book more than I wanted to. With a male author writing in the voice of female teenage narrator, one who struggles with decidedly female issues (like prostituting herself), but in the end I found the fictional perspective of young Emily Sheppard intriguing and even a little endearing. Emily is the only child of two nuclear power plant employees, one of whom likely was the inadvertent cause of a nuclear meltdown in northern Vermont. That's all antecedent action though, and Emily details for us her life on the run from what she suspects to be a very angry public looking for someone to blame since those most culpable have died in the explosion. In the end, I found Bohjalian's creation to be believable, and one that I enjoyed reading.(less)
I honestly could not wait for this book to end. Had it not been the last in a series of four books (and based on the way this one ends, it might not b...moreI honestly could not wait for this book to end. Had it not been the last in a series of four books (and based on the way this one ends, it might not be the last), I probably would have ditched it after the first few chapters.
The Life As We Knew It series begins with an asteroid hitting the moon, pushing the natural satellite closer to Earth, which in turn wreaks havoc on the Earth's tides, somehow creating new volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and generally insane weather patterns. (It's all a bit like that ostentatious film The Day After Tomorrow.) The science--as flawed as it may be--kept me focused through the first book. I thought what was happening to the planet was interesting, even though it was being drearily narrated by a hardly believable adolescent girl. The second book took us to a concurrent third person perspective with a family in New York City, a shift in setting from the first book's rural Pennsylvania. I liked this the best of the series, especially when Pfeffer returned to the horrid diary format for her third book when the characters from the first two books come together.
The trouble with this fourth book is that Pfeffer attempts to turn it into a full-blown dystopian society, but she's no Margaret Atwood and fails in the process. This fourth novel opens three years after the close of the third, and Jon, who aged 12-14 in the previous books is now 17, living in an "enclave," a gated community on what was once a college campus where only the most elite of society are allowed in and provided a quality of life in many ways better than their pre-asteroid existences. The residents are called "clavers" and their entire way of life is supported by the masses outside the gates, called "grubs." Jon, his step-mom, and his half-brother gain access to the enclave through a free pass obtained by other characters in the second book, but the rest of his family now live as grubs.
This all sounds like appropriate dystopian fare of the young adult variety, but Pfeffer constantly hits readers over the head with a big club that reads, "This is a metaphor for class and race!" The clavers treat grubs like eighteenth century American slaves, and there are even laws preventing mixing of the classes through marriage. Initially, the dichotomy between the two seems one of mutual existence; the grubs needs to work to afford food, but then things quickly take a turn to an outright master-slave allegory, a transition that left me a little befuddled since the two portions of the book didn't seem to totally match up. When Jon's step-mother Lisa repeatedly threatens to take away her domestic's food allowance because she didn't clean the floors well enough, it simply doesn't ring true with the woman she was before and it certainly becomes far too flimsy when Lisa makes a tremendous sacrifice for these very same grubs near the end of the novel. Likewise, Jon's character is certainly peripheral in the first and third novels, but he is nowhere near the monster he's become as this book opens, nor does his transition back to goodness halfway through the book make sense given his earlier choices.
This book would probably entertain an adolescent who has devoured the series up until now, but for readers with discerning eyes, it might leave you feeling empty and hollow, yearning for the moment you'll turn that final page and it will all be over.(less)
I literally knew nothing about this book when I picked it up other than that Entertainment Weekly has selected it as one of their "must list" items a...moreI literally knew nothing about this book when I picked it up other than that Entertainment Weekly has selected it as one of their "must list" items a few months ago. I was happy to so quickly became enamored with the contentious family drama that plays out just beneath the surface over the course of a weekend heatwave in 1970s England. The novel explores some of the tensions of the women's liberation movement of the day, the strife between Ireland and England, and younger generation's liberation from their parents' soul-twisting commitment to God and country. A great read!(less)
Unfortunately, Pfeffer returns to the awful epistolary "Dear Diary" format for this third installment in the Life As We Knew It series. Still, the sur...moreUnfortunately, Pfeffer returns to the awful epistolary "Dear Diary" format for this third installment in the Life As We Knew It series. Still, the survival story and the return of the protagonist from the second book (here as a supporting character) was enough to keep me interested. I'll pick up the last one now that I've come this far, and thankfully the first person narrator swears in the final pages that she's no longer going to be keeping a diary. I hope that means a third person perspective in the fourth book!(less)
Thank goodness Susan Beth Pfeffer drops the stilted diary narration for this second installment in her Life As We Knew It series. The third person lim...moreThank goodness Susan Beth Pfeffer drops the stilted diary narration for this second installment in her Life As We Knew It series. The third person limited perspective is far more suitable for her slightly far-fetched post-apocalypse scenario in which an asteroid pushes the moon closer to Earth. (I've done some Google research, and most of the scientific community is certain that an asteroid with the power to do that would obliterate the moon before it pushed it out of orbit.)
In this sequel, Pfeffer focuses on Alex, the seventeen-year-old son of Puerto Rican immigrants living in New York. The cynic in me sees flaws in her characterization of course. This book is clearly written by an older white lady, one who has focused in on a model minority Latino family of devout Catholics. The four children are exemplary first-generation Americans with nary a sign of a negative stereotype. The older brother Carlos is an enlisted young man on the West Coast, Alex is vying for valedictorian as he rides a scholarship at a private and prestigious Catholic school, Alex's younger sister Bri is on the fast track to becoming a nun, and his youngest sister Julie is precocious but harmless. For some reason, this urban Puerto Rican family had little knowledge of the impending asteroid impact, although the white middle class family in Pennsylvania in Life As We Knew It knew all about the celestial event (although no one knew about the disaster to come).
Beyond some of those issues, the novel itself is an interesting meditation--albeit a fairly tame one--on how widespread disaster might affect an urban center like New York. Although I took great issue with some of the literary aspects of Life As We Knew It, I had the same feeling about the story itself. Both are fast-paced reads, and this one is definitely slightly more adult. In the first novel, everyone, including the family cat, survives the ordeal, but here, some of the major player don't make it out alive. I'm hopeful that Pfeffer is aging the storyline with her audience as she moves through what is currently a series of four books. These are still quite young adult, as neither volume ever reaches the macabre depravity of more adult apocalyptic fare like Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Just as with the first novel, there's optimism here about how innocence may be preserved in the face of tremendous destruction of societal structure, even the local pseudo-mafioso has a heart of gold and takes special care of Alex, admiring his pluck.
I'll continue with the series I think, and I admire the ways in which this might introduce younger readers to one of my favorite genres. As an adult who enjoys some of the more hardcore stuff out there though, I'll continue to be a bit snobby about works like this.(less)
Four years into teaching a course on dystopian literature, I finally got around to reading this, arguably one of the first young adult works in the ge...moreFour years into teaching a course on dystopian literature, I finally got around to reading this, arguably one of the first young adult works in the genre. (Granted, I was pushed to pick it up now by the impending release of the big budget film adaptation.) Knowing that it is read widely at the middle school level, I stupidly questioned its literary weight. My bias was proven incorrect as I sped through this easy-to-read but hard-to-grapple-with story.
With it's story of a boy coming of age in a society of sameness, the novel pits comfortable living against the freedom of choice; it's definitely something that all adolescents should read, and then something that adults should revisit. I understand that some malign the ending, but I love that Lowry's cliffhanger ending leaves it completely open to interpretation. I sort of want to avoid reading the sequels for a while to revel in my idea of what befalls the protagonist and his precious cargo.(less)
Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorite novels of all time, and her Oryx and Crake trilogy is excellent. When I came across this series of three chapters browsing the "Kindle Shorts" website, I purchased it immediately and devoured it in three days. Written for the online site Byliner in an effort to bring back serialized fiction, the story picked up steam after the first chapter when fans wanted more, including television producers who want to turn the story into a series.
The world of Positron is a new society in which victims of the world's failing economy and rising crime rates willingly enter a walled compound where a large prison fuels the local economy. Every citizen has a counterpart with whom they trade places once a month, first living in the outside world of relative freedom in a government-provided house, then incarcerated while providing the type of manual labor that helps society function. There is of course a dark underbelly to this world and nothing is as it seems.
There are trademark Atwood motifs here, principally her thematic focus on the ways in which sex motivates our every move and the ways in which society's attempts to clamp down on our voracious sexual appetites only serves to fuel them, but Atwood is one of the great authors who can write about this potentially seedy topic without making the literature feel seedy itself. The characters here aren't as clearly drawn as in her dystopian novels, but they are amusing and realistic, their internal monologues providing a light-hearted humor that underscores the dark gravity of their situations.
I'm eager for future installments, and I look forward to a potential television series based on Atwood brilliant creations!(less)
I loved just about every minute of this book. Framed by a fancy dinner out at a trendy urban Dutch restaurant, the story focuses on the protagonist's...moreI loved just about every minute of this book. Framed by a fancy dinner out at a trendy urban Dutch restaurant, the story focuses on the protagonist's interactions with his wife, brother, and sister-in-law. Through the main character's inner-monologue and various flashbacks, we come to understand the true nature of the relationships at play during dinner, and nothing is at all what it seems. I had no idea the places this novel would go, so I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't yet read it, but aspects of it are both hilarious and unsettling, and the Koch calls into question how strong the bonds of family really are, especially in the face of our sense of civil duty and responsibility.(less)
Early on, the narrator of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells us that "everything was always something, but something--and here was the rub--could ne...moreEarly on, the narrator of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells us that "everything was always something, but something--and here was the rub--could never be everything" (5), and this sets the tone for the type of existential philosophizing that takes place throughout the book. Paul O'Rourke is a dentist who is desperate for a sense of belonging and community, the type that he never received from his broken family structure and something that he sees as possible only in the religious faiths of those around him. The problem is that his epic pragmatism dictates that he believe in nothing as an atheist. He tries to find solace in doomed affairs with women and their families, cultural Judaism, and an obsession with the Red Sox, but he discovers each leaves him feeling just as empty as before, a discovery that is often foisted upon him by others.
As he makes his way through the early twenty-first century, the social connectivity of the Internet only makes matters worse. At one point, he tells another character that "streaming all the clips of [other people living their lives], commenting on how lucky they are to be doing all those things, liking and digging and bookmarking and posting and tweeting all those things, and feeling more disconnected than ever? Where does this idea of greater connection come from? I've never in my life felt more disconnected. It's like how the rich get richer. The connected get more connected while the disconnected get more disconnected. No thanks, man, I can't do it. The world was a sufficient trial...before Facebook" (32). So when a website and various social networking accounts start popping up online in name proselytizing something that looks suspiciously Biblical, he is sent on a wild goose chase to discover who has stolen his identity and why this new version of himself is questioning the integrity of his unquestioning atheism.
Over the past few years, Ferris has become one of my favorite contemporary authors, and while this book doesn't quite soar to the heights of his first novel Then We Came To The End and neither does it create the page-turning suspense of his second book The Unnamed, he does create some terrific commentary through sardonically engaging characters and utilizing the all the tools of fiction at his disposal to compose a thoughtful and cohesive piece. The story is set in New York, a city the narrator describes as having "almost nothing else to offer" but "eating and drinking," which prompts him to contemplate "what it was like in lesser cities, or the suburbs, or the small rural towns where so many people are clerks or farmers" and to conclude that this is why the "country has become a nation of fat alcoholics and the nurses and therapists who tend to them" (38). Morbidly honest commentary like this sprinkles Ferris's work and keeps me thinking and reading and hungry for more.(less)
I still have yet to read or see The Silver Linings Playbook, but a friend had done both and was excited to read this newest title by Matthew Quick. Th...moreI still have yet to read or see The Silver Linings Playbook, but a friend had done both and was excited to read this newest title by Matthew Quick. The Good Luck of Right Now is a fine read, but I wasn't totally engrossed like I wanted to be. The novel is told through a series of letters to Richard Gere, written by a middle-aged man who clearly resides somewhere along the functional side of the mental disorder spectrum, and the plot loosely follows his experiences following the death of his mother who has clearly served as a codependent in his disease for all of his nearly forty years. There are a few interesting side plots here about the narrator's biological father, a domestic abuse scandal, and a self-defrocked bipolar priest, but when some of the plots come together in the final portions of the story, it wasn't rewarding enough. It's not that I wouldn't recommend this book, just lower your expectations before you pick it up and read it quickly.(less)
This super quick short story is characteristic of McCann's revealing sketches of characters trapped in impossibly devastating circumstances. The focus...moreThis super quick short story is characteristic of McCann's revealing sketches of characters trapped in impossibly devastating circumstances. The focus here is on a divorced mother raising a adopted son whose placement along the spectrum of autistic social disorders. Once her son goes missing one night, McCann reveals through the mother's limited third person narration her memories of choosing to take in and raise such a challenging child. The missing person plot line is wrapped up in the end, but the meaning is really found in the parent-child bond that is developed between these two individuals with no biological connection.(less)
The many reviews claiming this is a "thriller" are more than misleading, but that didn't keep me from enjoying this meditation on a classic missing pe...moreThe many reviews claiming this is a "thriller" are more than misleading, but that didn't keep me from enjoying this meditation on a classic missing person's case. Layering levels of veteran affairs, adolescent females psychology, and the American Dream, Oates explores the causes and effects of nineteen-year-old Cressida Mayfield's disappearance over the seven years that follow that fateful night. Much like Oates's other fiction, the initial story has a "ripped from the headlines" feel to it, but the thematic content runs far deeper.(less)
This short story prequel to Ness's "Chaos Walking" trilogy directly precedes the action of The Knife of Never Letting Go. As a currently free download...moreThis short story prequel to Ness's "Chaos Walking" trilogy directly precedes the action of The Knife of Never Letting Go. As a currently free download from Amazon's Kindle Store, it's a fine read that answers some of the questions raised by violent Viola's arrival on "New World," and it doesn't spoil any plots of the coming books. If the trilogy is even mildly intriguing, this is a quick and easy read to help validate those feelings!(less)
Mohsin Hamid is making a name for himself writing in the second person. I totally enjoyed the perspective in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and here he...moreMohsin Hamid is making a name for himself writing in the second person. I totally enjoyed the perspective in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and here he uses the style in a totally different way, depicting the story of a young Asian man's rise from poverty to wealth in the form of a self-help book. The man ("you") makes conscious choices to supposedly improve his life, choices that are augmented by fate and chance. His counterpart is a woman with whom he feels intimately entwined, a woman who makes her own dubious choices to escape her circumstances. As they each progress toward fame or affluence, the story exposes the corruption in "Rising Asia" that ironically forces individuals to compromise their morality in order to better themselves.
While I wasn't quite as entranced by the storyline as I was with The Reluctant Fundamentalist, this latest novel has plenty in it to keep a reader interested and turning pages.(less)
Karen Russell is truly bizarre. Her work isn't unsettling necessarily, just strange. I find myself bewildered by her magical realism while reading, an...moreKaren Russell is truly bizarre. Her work isn't unsettling necessarily, just strange. I find myself bewildered by her magical realism while reading, and it's not a wholly pleasant experience. After the fact though, I end up nostalgically thinking back on her stories as experiences I relished for some reason. Her work simply needs to simmer for a bit with me, and that is what I believe will happen with Sleep Donation. The world she constructs is an odd one: an epidemic of insomnia is slowly killing off the population, and the narrator must beg and plead with uninfected sleepers to donate their hours of slumber. While reading, I found myself hung up on the mechanics of the donation, which is described in terms similar to blood donation. How exactly is sleep extracted? How is it then implanted? The questions (and the lack of answers) need to be ignored to truly enjoy the novella though, and I think this is why I tend to find actually reading Russell's work less enjoyable then simply thinking about it.
The plot is complicated with the discovery of an infant universal donor whose parents are torn over whether to give consent to repeated donations, an infected donor who threatens to dismantle the entire donation system, and a little bit of corporate espionage. Thankfully, the book is short enough that I didn't become too perturbed by my pragmatic questioning of the plot (unlike Swamplandia. Still, I'm not quite sure what it's all about. Surely there are questions here about the moral ethics of medical donations and the for-profit model of healing the sick, but that seems a little too simple for Russell. I'll probably figure it out after the simmering is complete.(less)
For some reason the National Book Award winners have left me feeling somewhat flat the past few years. I read them with an anxious anticipation that I...moreFor some reason the National Book Award winners have left me feeling somewhat flat the past few years. I read them with an anxious anticipation that I will embark on some voracious reading journey, only to be deflated by cold characters in overly complicated life scenarios. The experience of reading The Good Lord Bird was no different for me. The concept sounded exciting: historical fiction focusing on a young adolescent black boy unwittingly teamed up with uber-abolitionist John Brown. I tend to steer clear of reviews prior to reading books, so I wasn't prepared for the cheekiness of the portrayal of the historical figures, at least as seen through the young first person narrator's perspective. John Brown is a crazed zealot ignoring all reason and rationale as he plunges into a war that it seems like only he is fighting, while Frederick Douglass is a lecherous polygamist. The cast of characters--both real and imagines--is dizzying, and I found myself consistently confused by who was which and what was why. Still, upon further reflection after finishing the novel, I found myself smiling over McBride's attempt to take an often short paragraph in the history books and turn it in something more real, although that effort is thwarted by the foreign culture and context of a barely developing American landscape just a few years before the Civil War. Thus, my initial two stars was bumped up to three.(less)
This book should be required reading for all parents, not only those with daughters. Rosalind Wiseman lays out clear explanations of how what she call...moreThis book should be required reading for all parents, not only those with daughters. Rosalind Wiseman lays out clear explanations of how what she calls Girl World works, both in isolation and its intersection with Boy World. Not only does she define the various forces at play, she provides adults rationale and even scripts for what to say in various scenarios so that parents can raise intelligent, beautiful, caring, and independent young women. This is my new manual for how to help my daughter reach her greatest potential.(less)
I found the nearly 500 pages of this book a little daunting, but Ness does a great job creating suspenseful scenes and plot twists that propel the rea...moreI found the nearly 500 pages of this book a little daunting, but Ness does a great job creating suspenseful scenes and plot twists that propel the reader forward at a swift pace. He captures the voice of this thirteen-year-old boy as he journeys through an unknown world, and the staccato sentence structure that punctuates the excitement throughout helped endear me toward the story, although at times it was a little trite as geared toward the intended young adult audience.
The story of young Todd Hewitt living on a planet where mind-reading is essentially possible in the form of hearing others' "noise." There is no hiding in this world where even animals expose their every thought, and still Ness keeps some questions explicitly unanswered until late in the novel. Still, when the big reveal takes place, I wanted something a little more substantial. Perhaps I need to read the two sequels to be totally satisfied on that front.
The book is essentially a gateway piece to bridge the gap between lighter and younger fare where all's well that ends well and more gruesome stories like The Hunger Games. I enjoyed most of the reading in spite of its deficiencies, and at some point I may pick up the sequels to see how the cliffhanger ending.(less)
Sonia Sotomayor is totally awesome. This memoir details her early years all the way through to her ascension to the position of federal court judge, a...moreSonia Sotomayor is totally awesome. This memoir details her early years all the way through to her ascension to the position of federal court judge, and she details her challenges and triumphs with poignancy and eloquence. She's a brilliant woman whose life experiences that she details here led her to be one of the important voices on the highest court of the land today, and she's an inspiration for everyone, especially for young people of color. This is a quick and engaging read!(less)
This dystopian story is written in Lee's trademark poetic prose, a beautiful style that enhances the folktale quality to the plural first person narra...moreThis dystopian story is written in Lee's trademark poetic prose, a beautiful style that enhances the folktale quality to the plural first person narration. Still, given the different world depicted here, the style makes the book that much more work as the reader navigates the societal elements he's playing with. This is a North America with three tiers of hierarchical life: the uber-elite are Charters who lived in walled cities and live a decadently luscious life of consumption; the Facilities are working-class centers similarly protected by walls but life there is characterized by endless toil in service of the Charters; and finally are the lawless Counties where violence, sickness, and starvation touches nearly everyone.
Fan, hailing from the new Baltimore fishery Facility B-Mor, is our heroine, searching valiantly (although at times somewhat passively) for the father of her unborn child who has disappeared due to his immunity to a ubiquitous epidemic of something that is suggested to be cancer. On her travels through the Counties and Charters alike, Fan's story takes many bizarre twists and turns, many that are surely rooted in the realities of our society's superficial commercialism, but finding this meaning required a lot of effort.
This is not nearly as gripping a dystopian story as the dozens of other popular in the genre, but it's an interesting meditation on the potential future of America.(less)
I finally did it! It took me nearly two months, but I conquered this nearly-800 page book! Woo-hoo!
Much of this book was enthralling and enjoyable. Th...moreI finally did it! It took me nearly two months, but I conquered this nearly-800 page book! Woo-hoo!
Much of this book was enthralling and enjoyable. Theo Decker's misfortune is monumental, as his mother is killed in a New York City terrorist bombing and the barely adolescent boy make a series of shell shocked decisions in the aftermath that set his life on a difficult path as he strives to cover up his theft of a major piece of art, The Goldfinch.
Theo's story is captivating in the adolescent years, as his fears about the theft serve as symbolism for the internal dialogues all adolescents endure as their lives and bodies change forever. Of course Theo's life is pushed to the extremes, forced to live with a father who walked out on him years earlier and who has no desire to be a parent, and Theo quickly attempts to take over of his own life, only to see it spin wildly out of control again and again.
I found the final portions a bit more difficult to get through. Theo and an old friend engage in some pretty far fetched shenanigans in the underworld of European art thieves, but given the preceding 500 pages, Tartt had to wrap it all up somehow.
I'm sure if I had read this book in a graduate-level seminar with an erudite professor who could walk me through the intricacies of this vast tome, I...moreI'm sure if I had read this book in a graduate-level seminar with an erudite professor who could walk me through the intricacies of this vast tome, I would have loved it. Of course, I read this on my own, late at night, and quickly. As a friend suggested to me once, this is essentially how my high school English students must experience books from time to time. I read it because I felt like I had to, and although there are many moments in the book where Atkinson's literary prowess resonates, I too often came across characters and plot devices that left me scratching my head in confusion, and rather than stopping to clarify meaning, I did what most of my students must do: I read on.
The premise is intricately complicated of course, so that led to my continual feeling of stupidity while reading. The story follows protagonist Ursala Todd as she is born one snowy night in February 1910 and proceeds to immediately die, only to be reborn in the following chapter as though nothing had happened. This wouldn't necessarily require Herculean concentration in itself, but of course Atkinson's chronology isn't linear. She bounces back and forth from 1930 to 1910 to 1914 and back again. Particular as Ursala reaches adolescence and beyond, when she reaches her demise at the close of a chapter, the narration typically would shift back to some earlier point in the story to show a divergent storyline if a different choice is made or a different circumstance is introduced. Because of this, I found myself confused by whether or not a particular character had committed a particular action or revealed a particular secret in the portion I was reading. Had I endless time, it would have been great fun to map this all out, and perhaps this is why the novel is at the top of so many "Best of 2013" lists. The people who are paid to read and review these books for a living, who spend their days reading and re-reading books like this, probably had a lot of fun figuring out the complexities of the various storylines. I am a full-time working dad though, so it wasn't so much fun for me.
While I was reading, I kept thinking, "What is the point all of this?" At times Ursala acknowledges her previous lives and deaths, and at other times, she seems ignorant of them. Sometimes it was merely an echo of a memory that steers her clear of someone who had wronged her in an earlier incarnation of her life, and with such inconsistencies I wonder why we're supposed to care about all of this. Ursala's brother at one point asks, "What if we had a chance to do it again and again...unit we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?" (446), and later another character tells her, "I heard someone say once that hindsight was a wonderful thing, that without it there would be no history" (474). These somewhat heavy-handed references to Atkinson's themes don't add up to enough for me, especially when Ursala starts pontificating on the ways in which the world would be different if Hitler had never come to power--and Hitler does become a prominent character during a few of the story's disparate plot lines.
With all that said, this isn't a waste of time. Two of the more lengthy storylines in particular had me quite captivated, so much so that when Ursala died at the end of them and then Atkinson hit the reset button, I was pretty miffed. The focus on the effects of war is poignant and revealing, and I'm sure from a British historical perspective this novel captures an important element of the historical zeitgeist, especially in London. I'm not unhappy that I read it, but it's not something I'll be recommending to many friends.(less)
I loved this book. The characters are complex contradictions who stumble through life as their history of friendship pulls them together as often as i...moreI loved this book. The characters are complex contradictions who stumble through life as their history of friendship pulls them together as often as it pulls them apart. The longevity of the story--several decades--gave me plenty to savor as I went through periods of loving and hating the characters' choices, always with anticipation of what was to come though.(less)
While on the surface much of this book sounds like it should be trite and contrived, it simply works. The titular Burgess boys are Jim and Bob, escape...moreWhile on the surface much of this book sounds like it should be trite and contrived, it simply works. The titular Burgess boys are Jim and Bob, escapees from Maine living the high life as lawyers in New York; the former in insanely wealth, helping the rich stay rich, and the latter is a Legal Aid attorney, helping the poor and downtrodden. Initially, they seem to have left behind Bob's twin sister Susan and the shadows of guilt over their father's death when they were all children, but when Susan's son Zach makes an incredibly stupid decision, one that disrupts the delicate balance between hearty Mainers and the newly relocated Somali refugees, the boys are pulled back home and the reality of their ties to their hometown and each other are revealed to be both strong and strained.
Strout explores various narrative perspectives, seemingly inconsistently, yet each contributes to the central themes of her novel. Her characters are flawed and imperfect, and she simultaneously makes them endearing and horrifying. The book read incredibly quickly, and I admit loving every minute of it.(less)
I do love dystopian literature of all sorts, both in the vein of government oppression, and with end-of-the-world scenarios like this one. The writing...moreI do love dystopian literature of all sorts, both in the vein of government oppression, and with end-of-the-world scenarios like this one. The writing is fairly sophomoric, and the main character a sniveling and pathetic articulation of a teenage girl, but the storyline kept me focused and turning the page for hours at a time. The science is a little iffy behind Susan Beth Pfeffer's plot where an asteroid smacks into the moon and knocks it into an orbit closer to Earth, rising tides, obliterating coastal populations, and activating dormant volcanoes that spew sun-blocking ash into the skies. I found society to be a bit more polite than I would expect under the circumstances as families die of famine and wild bouts of influenza, but this is a young adult novel, after all. This loss of society as we know it is fairly peripheral here, as the focus here is on sixteen-year-old protagonist Miranda as through her diary she details the aspects of her family's attempts to survive the catastrophic changes to the environment and climate.
With all that said, I'm sure I'll read the other three books in the series!(less)
This novel is often endearing, and at times a little vapid. Protagonist Don Tillman is "on the spectrum," as socially awkward as he is purportedly bri...moreThis novel is often endearing, and at times a little vapid. Protagonist Don Tillman is "on the spectrum," as socially awkward as he is purportedly brilliant, and his romance with Rosie Jarman shows a humanizing side to his emotionless disposition. Following an adult version of the adolescent characters in wonderful books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close isn't quite as charming, but the storyline is ripe for a Hollywood adaptation as the next big rom-com. (In the author's note at the end of the text, Graeme Simsion actually writes about how the idea started out a screenplay.) A quick read, good for beach reading or lounging about during a vacation, I'm not unhappy that I spent time with it.(less)
Like many, I picked up Solomon Northup's tragic memoir so that I might experience it authentically before seeing the much-heralded Hollywood adaptatio...moreLike many, I picked up Solomon Northup's tragic memoir so that I might experience it authentically before seeing the much-heralded Hollywood adaptation. Perhaps it's the lack of an American Literature Survey course on my varied transcripts, but I have to admit having never heard of Twelve Years a Slave prior to the seeing trailers for the movie. Eclipsed by Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in many a high school classroom I'm sure, this piece is surely just as powerful and provides a varied perspective on the life of a slave as seen through the eyes of an educated free man from New York state. The story is beautifully horrific of course, as told in Northup's eloquent prose, and his story is a terrific contrast to the stereotype of the uneducated African held in captivity waiting for a white savior to release him into freedom. To be sure, a white ally is key to Northup's return home, but it is his own ingenuity, perseverance, and tenacity that truly free him.(less)
I had incredibly high expectations for this book. I've never read any of Dave Eggers' fiction, but being a fan of his nonfiction and coming off the he...moreI had incredibly high expectations for this book. I've never read any of Dave Eggers' fiction, but being a fan of his nonfiction and coming off the heels of his Pulitzer Prize nomination for A Hologram for the King, I was excited. I knew the basic premise of The Circle, but had steered clear of reviews for the most part.
The novel starts out with such potential. I wouldn't say it's strong necessarily, but it does have promise. Mae is a recent college graduate in her early twenties who thanks to an old college pal is hooked up with a job at a very Google-like computer firm called The Circle. Her early interactions in customer service are laughably uncomfortable with a seemingly mocking satire of corporate life in the age of social media. She's chastised for not reading email quickly enough, and she must keep track of an increasing number of computer screens, each displaying different aspects of her Circle life.
After Mae is caught doing something fairly innocent (yet still illegal), she's coerced into taking a drastic step into the new age of digital transparency. This is where the book plots a steady course for jumping the shark. And jump the shark it does, even as Dave Eggers incorporates an actual shark that one of the Circle bigwigs brings back from the Mariana Trench, one that is so lethal that with "a series of urgent thrusts" it can break through a "coral arch and extract" a precious "seahorse, which had no defenses and was eaten in two bites" (476). The shark is a heavy handed stand-in for The Circle itself, as its skin is so translucent it "allowed an unfettered view into its digestive process" (308). Initially, I gave credit to Eggers for attempting a bit of literary symbolism, but late in the book a character hits us over the head with the meaning when he shouts, "All this. The fucking shark that eats the world" (480).
What becomes so problematic is the sheer believability of the second half of the book where characters pitch their wildest technological dreams to The Circle and have them quickly turned into reality. These people might as well be wishing for the release of wild unicorns and geese that lay golden eggs for the veracity of their ideas. I understand that in a world with Google Glasses and tiny iPhones you can wear on your wrists, there is much to be marvel, but some of the things detailed in this book are simply preposterous, like a computer that knows when a weapon--any weapon--has entered a building.
Eggers really got my eyes rolling though when Mae's college chum Annie volunteers for PastPerfect, a computer program that identifies an individual's family for generations in all records on earth, including surveillance cameras, random tourist snapshots, written documents, and more. Not only does she discover some unsavory bits about her ancient family, she realizes some utterly ludicrous information that alters how she views her parents. Annie becomes yet another heavy symbol for the book, one who realizes the folly of The Circle's "completion" far too late and pays the ultimate price.
Part of me wishes Eggers had simply written a piece of nonfiction on the subject, done some research and put his position out there front and center. The dissenting voices here are clearly the author's harbingers of doom, including Mae's ex-boyfriend Mercer who details in a long rambling letter to her that "we need options for opting out" (368). His fate is sealed when Mae is fooled by the thought that Mercer will be filled with "admiration for the wonderful power of the tools at her disposal" when she essentially puts on Mickey's sorcerer's hat and creates a technological Fantasia of havoc in Mercer's life (458).
The biggest issue I have with the book though is Eggers' choice of protagonist. This is a young girl who isn't very bright. She's romantically bamboozled several times, even engaging in sexual relations in a bathroom stall at work with a man she barely knows simply because he's so manly and mysterious. She forsakes her parents without pause, and her final moments in the novel make me wonder whether she's been lobotomized between chapters.
With all that said, Eggers raises some great questions here and this is an incredibly swift read. This reminds me a lot of Dan Brown, only slightly smarter.(less)