This book is definitely a lot of work, but it's worth it. It requires a slower, contemplative pace, one that mirrors the introspection of the narrativThis book is definitely a lot of work, but it's worth it. It requires a slower, contemplative pace, one that mirrors the introspection of the narrative voice. Julius is a Nigerian-American psychiatrist living in New York and literally wandering the city aimlessly in search of himself. His musings while walking the city streets range from flashbacks to his childhood in Africa, biographical anecdotes of classical musicians like Mahler, and little-known historical facts about the Big Apple. Nothing really happens, but in the end I felt satisfied at having had the opportunity to sit inside this man's head for a few hundred pages. The novel provides some great insights on race, culture, and identity, as well as an excellent walker's tour of NYC....more
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 limThank 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....more
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 neEarly 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....more
Red may on first glance seem like a gimmick of a play in which Logan uses the eccentric Mark Rothko to convey some tired positions on the balance of cRed may on first glance seem like a gimmick of a play in which Logan uses the eccentric Mark Rothko to convey some tired positions on the balance of commerce and art, yet there is far more depth to this play. The conceit is simple enough: Rothko has hired a bright-eyed and idealistic assistant named Ken to help him complete the series of murals he has been commissioned to paint for New York's Four Seasons Restaurant. Over the course of the play, Rothko conveys his many conflicting thoughts on art as he teaches his young protege the ins and outs of the business of art. At several points, the two reference a painting hung on the fourth wall, so that the characters are speaking directly to the audience. The opening lines of the play have Rothko telling Ken to look at this imagined painting, to "get close. Let it pulsate. Let it work on you...Let it wrap its arms around you; let it embrace you..." (9). On the surface, his comments are the banal thoughts of a dramatized artist's idiosyncrasies, but beneath that are Logan's comments about his own craft and art. Playwriting is a form of artistic expression that cannot survive without it being commercialized to a certain extend. Is a play being absorbed as art if it isn't being performed? Can a play have longevity as a piece of art if no one will pay to see it? I found myself consistently asking these questions as I read the play, and they helped move the play beyond the same old questions about whether artists must suffer for their art to a more important level....more
There's much to like in this collection of short stories loosely connected by the same narrator of Díaz's other major works, but at times I felt the aThere's much to like in this collection of short stories loosely connected by the same narrator of Díaz's other major works, but at times I felt the act of reading a bit labored and the content a bit one-note. It's a similar refrain as the protagonist deals time and again with the conflict of his Latino machismo and his esoteric scholarship, but it's an important one nonetheless. The pseudo-novel felt at its best in its final story, "The Cheater's Guide to Love," a metafictional exploration of a Dominican writer who leaves New York City to pursue a job teaching writing at MIT (yes, that's something Díaz did in real life), but upon reflection I liked the book more and more. It's the type of book that ripens when the reader puts some distance between the stories. Díaz is certainly an intriguing voice in the contemporary literary scene, so I look forward to hearing from him again!...more
Stop what you're doing right now, and go read this book. It's quite simply the most fun I've had reading a book in a long time. Simon Rich has createdStop what you're doing right now, and go read this book. It's quite simply the most fun I've had reading a book in a long time. Simon Rich has created a biting satirical look into the religiosity of our society, one that bitterly touches upon our consumer culture, corporate America, and even an insanely funny focus on Regis Philbin that had me laughing so hard I was crying. I'm not sure what else I can say to make you go read this book, so just do it!...more
This book is a fine read, although I was expecting something spectacular from all the press. It starts out strong, but I found the entirety fairly monThis book is a fine read, although I was expecting something spectacular from all the press. It starts out strong, but I found the entirety fairly monotonous. The premise is one that seems totally familiar: a blind jury selects an Muslim American as the winner of a 9/11 memorial contest and chaos ensues. The expected players are here: the obdurate architect in question, the stoically liberal-minded and affluent widow whose husband died in the towers, the mayor's savvy political adviser, the moronically ambitious governor, the unscrupulous journalist...the list could go on and on as the shifting narrative focuses on the different cast of characters throughout. There's even a stand in for horrid Ann Coulter who takes in a grieving brother who inadvertently sets of a tidal wave of violent headscarf-pulling across the nation.
Initially, this all plays as expected: it's a pathetic portrait of our own realities in America, the emotionally-charged assumptions and the commercialization of division. The setting is in some sort of alternate universe two years post-9/11 where Rudy Giuliani isn't the mayor, George Pataki isn't the governor, and the President--only referred to once as the man "who had once owned a baseball team" (207)--plays a minimal role in the rhetoric; with this touch of speculative fantasy, I began to wonder about the validity of the dream, especially since it did not in fact play out this way in history and also because Waldman's story so closely resembles the actual events surrounding Maya Lin's selection as the architect for the Vietnam Memorial in DC, an event also mentioned just once when one characters questions whether "Maya Lin wanted that statue of the soldiers near her memorial" (138). The final chapter however does provide some narrative brilliance that can only be achieved by a novel, at least until the revelation of a character's identity turns maudlin.
It probably sounds like I mind all these issues much more than I did while reading the book. It was certainly a quick read for me, and it raises some excellent points about the disunity that still exists in our still-healing nation; these just aren't necessarily points that I think are anything new more than ten years after the fact....more
I picked this up after reading a series of articles on The Help in Entertainment Weekly. The articles focused on some of the more socially problematicI picked this up after reading a series of articles on The Help in Entertainment Weekly. The articles focused on some of the more socially problematic elements of the book (and film), essentially because it is another story where a white savior provides freedom for a collection of oppressed black folk (a la Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird). Entertainment Weekly suggested Childress's novel as an authentic voice written by an African American woman within the time period in which it is set. On those fronts, it soars. Through more than sixty monologues, Childress creates a smart and sassy character in Mildred, an unwed African American woman in New York who works as a domestic for the city's upper class white families. While the Mildred's homeland in the South battles desegregation, she combats a much more insidious form of racism, like the employer who carries her pocketbook around with her whenever Mildred cleans her home which prompts Mildred to claim, "'I understand. 'Cause if I paid anybody as little as you pay me, I'd hold my pocketbook too.'"
The comedic responses like this are often coupled with some down-home learnin' doled out by good ole' Mildred herself, and the elitist whites all too often come down off their pedestals to see eye to eye with the narrator, like when one woman asks Mildred for her health card and Mildred turns right around to ask for health cards of the woman, her husband, and her children. Yet in moments like this the story devolves a bit into the realm of unbelievable. I found myself wondering how often Mildred loses a job because of her sass (a plot line explored thoroughly in The Help actually), and how often their political and social views are changed by her self-assurance. Due to the dramatic monologue structure, some of these character and plot elements are never fully realized, and much of those pieces are what makes The Help so engaging as an overall narrative.
This is unfortunately where the book falls short though. In focusing solely on Mildred's voice as she sits and chats with her neighbor and friend Marge every night, there is really no thorough narrative; this is really just a lengthy character sketch. The introduction to the novel suggests that the chapters were originally serialized in various periodicals, and in isolation I'm sure they come across far less preachy than they do in totality. The true merit here is in Childress disproving the myth of the passive and accommodating black woman of the 1950s: when Mildred tells Marge, "I don't want anybody toleratin' me because the word tolerate is tied up with so many unpleasant things," for example, she channels a twenty-first racial sensibility five decades early. This makes the book readable, but the lack of a through plot here left me wanting more....more
After a recent disappointing experience reading Shteyngart's first novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook, I only read Super Sad True Love Story becauAfter a recent disappointing experience reading Shteyngart's first novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook, I only read Super Sad True Love Story because several friends had said they loved it even in spite of disliking the other. I did have to initially overcome the confusion of narrators that are far too similar between the two novels--and narrators that are far too similar to the persona of Shteyngart himself as I experienced at a reading a few months ago--but once I let go of that frustration, I ended up enjoying my experience with this book.
I won't say I loved reading it, only because Shteyngart's vision of the near future is incredibly scary in that it plays upon elements of our society that are already here: a sexually-desensitized youth culture, socialization ruled by technology, indecipherable boundaries between corporations and government, among other frightening elements. (Although the accuracy with which he paints this dystopian reality gives me hope that educated people do in fact see where we're headed, I wonder how those less politically-minded view these ideas.)
The politics here are all humorously represented for the most part, which certainly makes them much more palatable. Most people wear small "apparati," which constantly stream news, gossip, announcements, and scores about other the owners of other nearby apparati, including credit scores, net worth, personality, and even "fuckability" (89), with scores being ranked based on who is within the immediate vicinity. Along the same lines, New York City is lined with Credit Poles which announce one's credit scores to the world.
Much of the sexual humor is crass--major retail stores include AssLuxury and JuicyPussy--but the cavalier manner in which these elements are conveyed is precisely where the commentary lies. The pendulum of American sexuality in this world has swung as far away from Puritan repression as possible. A minor character, Hartford Brown, streams "a political commentary show intermixed with his own hardcore gay sex," providing coverage of "the Governor of the People's Bank of China-Worldwide" on a visit to America's all-powerful Secretary of Defense Rubenstein while engaging in various sex acts "on top of...a yacht near the Dutch Antilles" (155). One of the main characters compares a love interest to "the old man who molests teens on the beach" in "those porns [they] used to watch when [they] were in kindergarten" (226). These nonchalant references to explicit sexual acts that occasionally pop up throughout the narrative are clear indications of a sexually numb society.
And this quotidian approach to sex is precisely why the true love story of the novel is so super sad. Lenny and Eunice, the authors of the narrative's two epistolary strands, are in many ways totally reprehensible. And yet their love affair thrives, albeit unhealthily, amidst all the dysfunction and dehumanization of their society. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, we should all be so lucky, for as with all great dystopian fiction, the true commentary here is that love can thrive under such similar circumstances in our own world....more
Even though I laughed out loud several times while reading this novel, Shteyngart's first, it is a painfully long satirical romp that could not sustaiEven though I laughed out loud several times while reading this novel, Shteyngart's first, it is a painfully long satirical romp that could not sustain its sardonic wit over the course of its whopping 500 pages. The irony begins with the title, which has nothing to do with a sexy and stylish young immigrant as the cover art would suggest but rather a nerdy Russian-born Jewish American whose self-deprecating demeanor and loose scruples hardly provide for a compelling protagonist; in fact much of Vladimir's antics border on the offensive, including his numerous acts of adultery, cheating on the likes of live-in girlfriend and full-time dominatrix Challah, wealthy socialite Francesca and her uber-liberal parents, and Midwestern girl-next-door turned terrorist Morgan. Perhaps his struggles with understanding the trappings of heterosexual romance stem from an early determination that "a man and a woman can claim to love one another, they may even rent real estate in Brooklyn as a sign of their love, but when they take time out of a busy day to walk through the air-conditioned aisles of a drug mart to pick out a nail clipper together, well, this is the kind of relationship that will perpetuate itself if only through its banality." In spite of these amusingly awkward thoughts on the subject, he is strangely successful in attracting the opposite sex, albeit usually women with questionable pathology, which makes it all the worse when he so quickly self-destructs these liaisons.
Similarly, his homophobic reaction to an indecent proposal from a closeted drug czar and his subsequent attempts to evade said suitor in which he dupes a psychotic Russian immigrant and starts a ridiculously successful expatriate pyramid scheme in Eastern Europe provoke further feelings of ambivalence for the subject matter. These situations all provide the perfect setups for some hilarious punchlines, but lack sufficient character development to create a truly engaging overall narrative. Along the way he learns the inherent truth in the "useful axiom: it is far better to be patronized than to be ignored" and his father relates to him that "ultimately...making compromises may be a necessity, but it's the constant weighing and reweighing of these compromises that becomes an illness." Little pearls of wisdom like this, each slightly twisted with a wry smile, are peppered throughout the text in a strained effort to amuse.
The entire work reads like The Corrections meets The Namesake as Shteyngart captures the mocking tone of Franzen early twenty-first century work and Lahiri's immigrant-in-search-of-identity sensibility, the combination illustrated in the omniscient narrator's initial assertion that at the end of his journey, "he would have reached, all by himself, the final destination of every immigrant's journey: a better home in which to be unhappy."
This all is perhaps simply due to my particular tastes when it comes to satire: I like it short and sweet. I am the type of person that relishes Yossarian's plight in Catch-22 but wishes that Heller has stopped at 200 pages. (I adore Voltaire's Candide for example.) Shteyngart has a terrific wit, one that I look forward to experiencing in his well-reviewed Super Sad True Love Story, but one that becomes overly politicized and far too personal in this first novel for my liking....more
When I began this collection of interlocking short stories, each written in its own style (one written entirely in PowerPoint slides), I huffed and puWhen I began this collection of interlocking short stories, each written in its own style (one written entirely in PowerPoint slides), I huffed and puffed and rolled my eyes. This trend where one stories peripheral characters become the focus of another is all the rage these days in contemporary fiction, and while it often is done to superb effect (as with Rachman's The Imperfectionists or McCann's Let the Great World Spin), I wasn't anticipating finding yet another excellent example of the genre. However, I found myself quickly won over by Egan's bewitching characters and haunting depictions of the reality of our relationships. As a friend pointed out though, several aspects of the book feel as they though they were the result of a variety of graduate level creative writing assignments--the novel's title included--yet several of these devices contributed to a depth of meaning that truly moved me in the end. Her final chapter, set twenty years after 9/11, couples a technologically enhanced post-terrorism world with tender commentaries on memory, marriage, and parenthood to near perfection in the final pages. This is definitely worth reading, but get to the end before you make any final judgments!...more
I want to enjoy reading Chang-rae Lee more than I do. His prose has a lyrical quality that is gorgeous at times, but his narratives leave me feeling aI want to enjoy reading Chang-rae Lee more than I do. His prose has a lyrical quality that is gorgeous at times, but his narratives leave me feeling a bit cold and aloof. Native Speaker is a worthy read for a variety of reasons. It is an interesting character study of the Korean American man struggling with societal racial tensions and familial responsibilities. This is all overlaid with some late-developing political intrigue when the narrator and protagonist Henry Park begins working as a spy for up and coming New York politician John Kwang, an older Korean immigrant possibly making a bid to replace the white mayor of New York City. The interplay between Park and Kwang providing a great structure for the final hundred pages of the book, and I wish Kwang had been introduced as a counterpart for Park earlier. The many flashbacks to Park's past, including his struggles with his immigrant parents and a Boston-born white wife, could only have been strengthened with the scaffolding that the Kwang storyline provides in the late part of the novel. This would be a great book to read in a graduate seminar, or as a friend suggested to teach as a companion to Invisible Man, but I think I suffered a bit simply reading it for recreation....more
Definitely not my style of novel, The Age of Innocence only mildly held my attention with its themes of societal hypocrisy in the upper class, a commeDefinitely not my style of novel, The Age of Innocence only mildly held my attention with its themes of societal hypocrisy in the upper class, a commentary that may have been intriguing in the 1920s but seems tired in the twenty-first century. Archer Newland and Ellen Olenska are slaves to their positions in New York's elite stratosphere, yet their paralysis to act on their passions, especially when the option to do so without hurting anyone avails itself to them, inspired lots of eye-rolling on my part. While the Puritanical values of America still deaden us in many ways, the style of Wharton's writing isn't as engaging as postmodern texts on the same themes. (However, I am incredibly happy to check off Pulitzer winner number three off my list and move on to Alice Adams!)...more
This was totally a guilty pleasure. LuPone expends a lot of energy in these pages trying to rationalize all of her rumored diva-licious behavior overThis was totally a guilty pleasure. LuPone expends a lot of energy in these pages trying to rationalize all of her rumored diva-licious behavior over the years, yet so many of her explanations actually prove the stories true. At the same time, the justifications she offers also provide insight into why actors (especially theater actors) are so imbalance; they do suffer miserably at the hands of megalomaniac producers (mostly men) who will do anything to make a few dollars. The memoir takes readers chronologically through LuPone's slow rise to Broadway fame, detailing her years of horrible reviews and struggles in mediocre projects and failed productions (as well as some zany stories about being visited by Eva Peron's ghost). Clearly, this quick read is definitely a must for Broadway fans!...more
I've almost always loved the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction, yet I've only read the most recent fifteen or so winners. Reading His Family began myI've almost always loved the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction, yet I've only read the most recent fifteen or so winners. Reading His Family began my quest to start at the very beginning and read through all of the titles I've missed. Back in 1918, this was the very first winner for the "Novel" category (one that was replaced by "Fiction" in 1948). Because this isn't necessarily one of those classic texts, I expected the book to be dated and stale, but I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong!
The book follows Roger Gale's later years with "his family": wife Judith has long since passed away; eldest daughter Edith lives a very traditional early twentieth century life with a workaholic but caring husband who provides for their large brood of children; middle daughter Deborah toils endlessly working her way up to celebrity as an educator revolutionizes schools for underprivileged children; and youngest daughter Laura is the social butterfly, much more concerned with parties and men than maintaining tight family bonds.
The setting is the 1910s in Manhattan, just prior and during World War I, and the island itself becomes a symbol for all the shifting values that Roger witnesses in the growth of his family over the course of a decade or so. At several points in the book, Roger looks out the window of his lower Manhattan house and sees "the cliff-like wall of the new apartment building, with tier upon tier of windows from which murmurous voices dropped out of the dark: now soft, now suddenly angry, loud; now droning, sullen, bitter, hard; now gay with little screams of mirth; now low and amorous, drowsy sounds. Tier upon tier of modern homes, all overhanging Roger's house as though presently to crush it down." As Roger feels the overbearing presence of the modern architecture rising around him, his house stands firm in its traditional structure, just as he himself stays true to his moralistic and virtuous ideals in the face of daughters' changing views of their role in society. And this generational gap, at times both heartbreaking and revelatory, is at the heart of the novel's meaning.
Early in the text, Roger remembers his wife long ago opining, "I wonder if it won't be the same with the children as it has been with us. No matter how long each one of them lives, won't their lives feel to them unfinished like ours, only just beginning? I wonder how far they will go. And then their children will grow up and it will be the same with them. Unfinished lives. Oh, dearie, what children all of us are." Such prophetic lines create a true sense of timelessness in the novel; the shifting points of view that age forces upon us are at the center of the novel. He later remembers Judith suggesting that he "will live on in [their] children's lives," and he begins "to get glimmerings of a new immortality, made up of generations, an endless succession of other lives extending into the future.
The book not only focuses on generational relationships, but also comments effectively on spousal ones. Each of the daughters is married during the course of the novel: one twice, one widowed, and one delayed. On the eve of one marriage, Poole personifies the Gale homestead, suggesting that it draws the daughters "together closer than they had been in many years. But only because they felt themselves on the even of a still deeper and more lasting separation as the family of Roger Gale divided and went different ways." As the family connections expand and new male adults are brought into the fold (and later children), the language surrounding these changes is beautiful and timeless.
Obviously there are many levels of complexity to the central themes of the story, and most of them are intriguing and engaging to read. The only portions that dragged for me were those focused on the beginnings of the war. While I wholly understand Poole's intention in employing these points (a text set in New York at this time would be inauthentic to not include reactions to the Great War), the elements that the war brought into the story don't gel as well with the other layers of themes of here.
I do truly wonder why this book isn't more widely read. It's certainly just as good as some of our more canonical texts!...more
This extremely readable novel moves beautifully from a small town in Ireland to the rising middle classes of mid-twentieth century Brooklyn. NarratedThis extremely readable novel moves beautifully from a small town in Ireland to the rising middle classes of mid-twentieth century Brooklyn. Narrated in the third person limited perspective of protagonist Eilis Lacey, the story quickly absorbed me in Eilis’s maturation. Her tribulations are hardly the sort that has become typical of the American immigrant experience in literature; no one ever takes advantage of her unassuming kindness and innocence (save for a couple of Brits who lock her out of the bathroom during a vomit-inducing night during her first transatlantic voyage), and in fact several strangers altruistically tutor Eilis in the informal practices of America culture and society. At times the narrative reads almost as a fairy tale of good tidings and unbelievable luck, and when true tragedy finally strikes Eilis’s life, it too becomes a beneficial element of her journey, opening a door to a deeper understanding of her own hopes and desires.
What makes this story unique from other immigrant tales is the perspective of the narration. Taking a somewhat objective voice yet focusing solely on Eilis’s thoughts and actions, the story allows us to wait in breathless anticipation for the next inevitable turn of Eilis’s growth. In her departure from everything she has ever known—her family and her homeland—Eilis is allowed to reinvent herself in a way she never could have had she stayed with the people who had known her since birth. I found myself constantly reminded of my own move across country to college and the wonderful sense of possibility in independence coupled with the debilitating fear of losing the anchors of a shared personal history. When Eilis returns to Ireland late in the novel, her struggles to decide where home now lies—either in Ireland or America—her poor choices are entirely forgivable considering the difficulties she has found in securing her new identity.
I found the overall story moving, a nice balance of the unrealistic idea of the American melting pot and the difficulties in which any exile forces us to face our own character in ways the comforts of home never will. ...more
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a more sophisticated The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time sprinkled with a dash of A HeartbreakingExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a more sophisticated The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time sprinkled with a dash of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Part postmodern fairy tale and part bildungsroman, the story follows Oskar Schell, a pre-adolescent on the autism spectrum grappling with the death of his father who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Oskar unwittingly stumbles upon a mystery that sets him on a path to discovering the pathology of father-son relationships, the difficulties of marriage, the power of communication, and the altered realities of living in a post 9/11 world.
I absolutely loved this book. I found Oskar an endearingly quirky character, and I relished reading his wonderful narrator’s voice. The story takes some unexpected and fantastic turns that I would be far less forgiving of were it not for Foer’s substantial talents in creating an intricate story that really speaks to contemporary American society. I won’t get in to too much more because I don’t want to spoil it for people who have yet to read it! Just go read it!...more
This is a swift read about a Pakistani student at Princeton who is snatched up post-graduation by an elite business firm in New York City just beforeThis is a swift read about a Pakistani student at Princeton who is snatched up post-graduation by an elite business firm in New York City just before 9/11. The typical American immigrant themes are here--living between two worlds, feeling at home in neither--but the lens of September 11 provides for some intriguing riffs on the old refrain, as he considers himself "a modern-day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war." The story unfolds as an extended dramatic monologue as the protagonist Changez tells his tale to an American traveler in Pakistan years after the events of the story. The narrative conceit is amusing, but becomes strained when Changez reveals things that seem rather unrealistic given the parameters of his meeting with a stranger; for example, he reveals the specifics of two sexual encounters with an American woman during his time in New York with explicit detail. Likewise, the cliffhanger ending seems unnecessary although it does reinforce (although with a heavy hand) some of the major themes of the book. Even still, Changez's point of view provides for some great commentary on America, like his suggestion to his companion that "as a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums...Such an America had to be stopped in the interests not only of the rest of humanity, but also in your own." Certainly worth the read though, especially since it's so short....more
I picked this up after a friend recommended it as one of his all-time favorite novels. I had just seen the film version; the movie was good, but not gI picked this up after a friend recommended it as one of his all-time favorite novels. I had just seen the film version; the movie was good, but not great, so I felt reading it immediately following would be okay. The result was totally rewarding!
The novel's narrative voice is absolutely brilliant, something that's virtually lost on screen. The internal conflict of every character is vivid and enticing, and while the wife character April is still by far the most sympathetic, Yates doesn't truly vilify anyone--yet at the same time he paints these horrendous portraits of suburban stagnation, hypocrisy, and misguided egotism.
I find books like this so amazing: written just after--and set in--the height of our American identity's decade of nostalgia (the 1950s), this book exposes the fallacy of that period in history, suggesting that the only person who was truly happy was the ignorantly blissful American white male, the one who refuses self-reflection and believes in his own feigned greatness....more
I read this book solely because it won the National Book Award last year. In the beginning, I was reluctant to warm up to McCann's style, but luckilyI read this book solely because it won the National Book Award last year. In the beginning, I was reluctant to warm up to McCann's style, but luckily the style changes from chapter to chapter as we follow the various people affected by the events in New York City on August 7, 1974, when Philippe Petit walked a tightrope wire between the World Trade Center towers. Each chapter is somewhat disjointed initially, but in the end, McCann weaves the stories together in an incredibly beautiful way, offering layers of meaning as we get further and further into these characters' stories.
The first story follows two Irish brothers' immigration to New York City. The narration is the type that I find difficult to connect with, but the plot of the story propelled me forward. Then as I read each subsequent story--one focusing on grieving mothers of Vietnamese casualties of war gathering in a Park Avenue penthouse, another focusing on a genealogical line of prostitutes in the Bronx--I found myself immersed in McCann's depiction of 1970s New York, almost a character in itself standing in the shadow of what would come nearly thirty years later with the fall of the Twin Towers. (In fact, there is a photo in the middle of the book of Petit walking the tightrope, an airplane flying overhead and appearing to disappear into one of the towers. It's a truly haunting photo now, appearing to connect August 7, 1974, to September 11, 2001. Likewise, his treatment of the effects of Vietnam are echoed in the wars following 9/11.)
Nearing the final chapter, I was ready to give this book a mere three stars, but then the final story, the only one that takes place outside of the 1974 time frame, is so moving and gorgeously written, that I had to bump the review up to four stars. It all comes together in the end, some might say in a heavy-handed way, but I feel that it brings a perfect finality to the disjointed narration of what comes before it....more
I've tried to steer clear of my friends' reviews of this book until I finished and wrote my own review, but I did notice the first few lines of Jenny'I've tried to steer clear of my friends' reviews of this book until I finished and wrote my own review, but I did notice the first few lines of Jenny's that basically say, "I didn't hate it." And I totally agree. I didn't hate this book. At times I was a little frustrated (and maybe even a little bored), but the last half of the book really caught me off guard and I became much more invested.
I suppose my problem was I didn't catch on to the author's intent early on. Actually, I'm not sure I still do. This is supposed to be "the brief and wondrous life of Oscar Wao," but I guess I never really saw what was so wondrous about it (although his life is brief). What I did like about this book was the attempts Diaz makes at presenting the "Diaspora," a term Diaz's narrator uses to characterize the Dominican immigrant identity. He mixes in this sophisticated vocabulary with Dominican slang and colloquialism as a representation of that contradiction of two very different worlds, a contradiction mirrored by and in the American and Dominican settings in the novel. As I'm sure everyone who has read this book makes sure to tell people, it uses footnotes. Those footnotes use the same kind of contradictory style; some follow a very traditional footnote methodology, presenting information as fact from a very distanced and dispassionate perspective, while others present hearsay, gossip, or narrator commentary using the same informal grammar and vocabulary mentioned above.
My big problem with the book was the narrator though. For the first half of the book, I kept thinking, "Who is this guy?!" He writes from a first person perspective with intimate knowledge of the characters, but unless I missed something early on there is no indication of who he is until halfway through the text. And then even at that point, he talks about himself as though we should already know who he is. In the final pages, he seems to have been writing about Oscar for some sort of his own personal journey, but if that's the case, I needed more information about who "Yunior" (the narrator) was to be truly convinced.
And of course this won the Pulitzer Prize last year. I can see it I guess. I wouldn't characterize it as nearly as good as the previous few winners like The Road or March, but it does have this sort of edgy style that those books lacked, especially the latter. Perhaps there is a need for balance in the grand scheme of Pulitzer-Prize-land and this one does that much in the same way The Known World did I suppose, although that one I just plain hated!...more
I just read this for the first time since sophomore year of high school...although come to think of it I may not have actually read it then. I just stI just read this for the first time since sophomore year of high school...although come to think of it I may not have actually read it then. I just started teaching it to my own sophomores, and in rereading it I'm struck by how subtle so much of the meaning is here. I know my students are going to struggle with that. But it's a great read, and I need to do some serious considering of how I'm going to access so many of the mature nuances for my students so that they both enjoy it and think critically about it. (Not much of a review, but such are my thoughts at 11:00 on a school night...)...more
Oh my god. How did I go 31 years without reading this book?!?! I'm starting it with my sophomores next week and I cannot wait! It's so good! Why wasn'Oh my god. How did I go 31 years without reading this book?!?! I'm starting it with my sophomores next week and I cannot wait! It's so good! Why wasn't this taught at Leigh High School?!?!...more