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 think I may have to take a break from my Pulitzer Prize novel endeavor. This is the fifth ever winner of the fiction price (doled out for a "novel"I think I may have to take a break from my Pulitzer Prize novel endeavor. This is the fifth ever winner of the fiction price (doled out for a "novel" in those days). I've read the first five in order of their win, beginning with Earnest Poole's terrific His Family, but each subsequent read I've liked less and less. However, a curious thing happens: as I'm reading a particular book, I find myself nostalgically reminiscing about the previous one and liking it so much better in hindsight. Perhaps my quick succession of readings hasn't allowed me much time for depth of thought. In fact, while reading this book, I went back and raised my score on Alice Adams! (Isn't that a Goodreads no no?!) So while my gut says to rate One of Ours two stars, I'm going to rate it three. Perhaps when I finish writing this review I'll feel better about that.
Claude Wheeler is the titular character, a young noble farmer in the heartland of America living amidst the dubious intentions of the townsfolk around him, including his siblings who seem not to be as earnest as he is about living a life full of goodness and character. His early years are difficult as his goodness of character separates him unnecessarily from his peers and his female counterparts. A farming accident brings romance to his life, yet the romance is devoid of passion, something he is not yet mature enough to realize. When this all develops into a loveless marriage because his new bride agrees to marry him in the hopes of saving his soul and converting him to her ultra-Christian views, his life becomes sad and pointless. His wife feels this too, and she all to quickly jumps at the chance to join her sister on a Christian mission in China. Abandoned so early in marriage, Claude chooses to enlist in the fight against the Germans in World War I and is shipped off to Europe for the latter half of the book. (view spoiler)[There he fights the good fight and dies a noble death amidst men he finds far more honorable than any he met at home. (hide spoiler)]
On the heels of the previous four Pulitzer winners, this all comes across as somewhat tired. Wharton explores the loveless marriage in The Age of Innocence, as does Earnest Poole in His Family, while Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams pursue themes of feigned morality in middle America. I'm ready for an early Pulitzer winner that does something other than call into question the moral fiber of the American landscape, or at least one that does so in far more engaging terms (The Great Gatsby comes to mind). I appreciate Cather's concepts here, but I think I'm ready for a change of pace for a bit!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I have conquered number four on the Pulitzer list!
Alice Adams is certainly dated, particularly surrounding the language and characterization of the peI have conquered number four on the Pulitzer list!
Alice Adams is certainly dated, particularly surrounding the language and characterization of the peripheral African American characters in the book. The title character is a woman on the cusp of the upper class; her father has toiled away in a job with little prospects for significant advancement while his nagging wife reminds him constantly about the material comforts they owe Alice in order for her to land a husband. Sound familiar? It certainly is reminiscent of the literature that marks the dawn of women's suffrage, but it's not nearly as well constructed or fluently written as some of the prominent fiction that is more widely read and taught....more
I have conquered book #2 on the list of Pulitzer Fiction (Novel) winners! Woo-hoo! And this one wasn't such a pleasant experience. While The MagnificeI have conquered book #2 on the list of Pulitzer Fiction (Novel) winners! Woo-hoo! And this one wasn't such a pleasant experience. While The Magnificent Ambersons covers many of the same themes as its predecessor on the Pulitzer list, Ernest Poole's His Family--those of the shifting moral centers, the transition from small towns to urban centers, and the spreading of American wealth--Tarkington's novel focuses on a rather unsavory protagonist in George Minafer, a spoiled Midwestern brat whose doting mother of their hometown's historic Amberson clan succeeds at nothing more than creating a monster of an adult whose eyes are closed both to source of true happiness and the changing American economic landscape of the early twentieth century. When the family inevitably loses its financial holding and exposes the irony in the novel's title, the dynamic elements of George's character come too late establish redemption. The last 10% of this book was engaging, but not enough for me to give it more than three stars. I'm not looking forward to reading Tarkington's Alice Adams when I get to Pulitzer #4!...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 was a very disappointing read. It won the Pulitzer Prize last week, so I tore through it, expecting the caliber of recent winners Olive KitteridgThis was a very disappointing read. It won the Pulitzer Prize last week, so I tore through it, expecting the caliber of recent winners Olive Kitteridge or The Road. Instead, it was more like Gilead, which won several years ago. Long and boring (although less than 200 pages), Tinkers melodramatically focuses on the final days of the protagonist's life as he reflects on his early years with an epileptic father who deserts the family. The narration confusingly shifts from a third person narrator to a variety of first person perspectives, changing from past to present tense with little clarity or rationale. I wasn't the biggest fan of this book obviously. Peppered throughout are underdeveloped references to clocks, more contrivances than motif.
I just read this for the third time in order to teach it as part of a dystopian literature class full of second semester seniors. So many of my studenI just read this for the third time in order to teach it as part of a dystopian literature class full of second semester seniors. So many of my students claimed this was the only book they liked reading in high school English (both sad and terrific at the same time) and several actually said they'd like to pay the "lost book" fee in order to keep their copies! I had a truly fantastic group of students with which to enjoy this book again, and I found it even more rewarding and just as difficult to put down as the first time I read it three years ago. This morning I was finishing the final pages while covering a study hall, and I was sobbing uncontrollably at the novel's closing. This book is about as near perfection as it gets....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
This book came heavily recommended from someone whose view on books I usually trust wholeheartedly, and I was pleased upon my initial reading. From thThis book came heavily recommended from someone whose view on books I usually trust wholeheartedly, and I was pleased upon my initial reading. From the outset, Kennedy Toole paints a hilariously depressing portrait of American life, which I think is what earned this novel the Pulitzer Prize back in the early 80s. The protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, is an obese esoteric hypocrite, and his endeavors throughout the novel to avoid work and effect political change are still relevant nearly three decades after the book was first published. Ignatius is that quintessential American stereotype, spending far too long in college and then refusing to work because no job suits his level of education. (He also lives at home with his beleaguered mother in New Orleans, spending his hours "abusing" himself sexually and jotting down notes on a yellow tablets of paper that he assumes will eventually all be published as some genius manifesto.)
As with most good satire, much of the book is highly offensive. And as with most offensive humor, I didn't take too much notice of how offensive it was until it hit close to home. At one point, Ignatius meets a "degenerate" homosexual in the French Quarter and lights upon the brilliant idea that if gays took over the political establishment and the military, he could easily effect world peace. He says to himself, "'The power-crazed leaders of the world would certainly be surprised to find that their military leaders and troops were only masquerading sodomites who were only too eager to meet the masquerading sodomite armies of other nations in order to have dances and balls and learn some foreign dance steps.'" Ignatius then progressed to organize a political movement of New Orleans homosexuals, of which at the initial rally he encounters hostility in the form of three brutish lesbians relegated to the kitchen because they don't know how to have as much fun as their male counterparts, as well as further insult when he unplugs a record player supplying the Ethel Merman soundtrack to the party. (Oh, and there is a basement with a shackled young man dressed as a sailor.)
This is the sort of fodder upon which Kennedy Toole draws for his humor, and nearly every element is equally disparaged. Taking a step back, I can see the hypocrisy exposed by his stereotypical treatment of these characters, and it is somewhat depressing and shocking. The treatment of black characters in this book is especially interesting given the events with their real life counterparts in New Orleans over the past few years. And this is where A Confederacy of Dunces earns its five stars with me. I find it just as compelling and humorous as Heller's Catch-22, and that novel is enshrined as a paragon of satire. This book is definitely a nice departure from the usually depressing verisimilitude of the novels I typically read, and I'm so glad it was recommended to me!...more
This was a really interesting read. I think I would benefit from rereading it in a shorter time span. I spent about two months reading it I think, andThis was a really interesting read. I think I would benefit from rereading it in a shorter time span. I spent about two months reading it I think, and since it is written as a series of short stories that overlap and in the end offer a full portrait of the title character, leaving too much time between reading certain stories makes it harder to remember who certain characters are and how their lives intersect, mostly peripherally. I'll be rereading this again before I teach it in the fall, so I'll try my theory out then. I think this WILL be a great book to teach; there is so much to discuss in it. Strout offers us glimpses of the main characters through each story only to contradict our initial interactions with later perspectives from other characters. My students will likely be reading it in three or four sections, so it will be interesting to discuss their ideas about Olive and her life as Strout reveals different aspects through her stories.
I would definitely recommend this for a summer read. I don't know that it's a monolithic as some of the other recent Pulitzer winners, but it's certainly an interesting read. (If you're in a book club, this would make a great selection!)...more
I just finished rereading this (I think for the third time) for a class I'm teaching right now and it's still so good. The kids get so much out of itI just finished rereading this (I think for the third time) for a class I'm teaching right now and it's still so good. The kids get so much out of it and it's such a brilliant piece....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