Greetings from the Buckeye State...specifically the town of Knockemstiff. This town does, indeed, exist (I have been there on a lark) and the author i...moreGreetings from the Buckeye State...specifically the town of Knockemstiff. This town does, indeed, exist (I have been there on a lark) and the author is a native who escaped, but could not forget the place.
These are desperate characters trapped in the holler. Some aspire to life beyond but many are terrified of the thought of leaving. The town is a blend of hilarity and treachery, violence and pathos. I am not sure how I feel about this book yet. But it has a quirkiness that will probably stick in my memory when I am done.(less)
Falling Man is my first encounter with Don DeLillo. This is almost unbelievable because I have been an avid reader all my life and I worked as a libra...moreFalling Man is my first encounter with Don DeLillo. This is almost unbelievable because I have been an avid reader all my life and I worked as a librarian for 14 years. DeLillo has been placed in the pantheon of Great Writers of Our Lifetime. His reputation precedes him. Perhaps this is why Falling Man did not turn out to be the read I was expecting.
But how does one address 9/11 in fiction a mere 7 years after the fact? Can we even begin to sift through the emotions of the event and catalog them in a novel? Surely, as a society, we need to try. 9/11 is part of our collective experience...yet outside the realm of personal experience for all but the people who were in Manhatten that day...the living and the dead.
It felt like DeLillo kept the characters at arms length...as if nobody should presume to know what it is to have experienced that morning first-hand. I felt the emotion in the writing when DeLillo was not discussing the central characters. When I tried to see through the eyes of the people at the nexus of the story, I felt numb. This may have been intentional.
There were moments where I knew I was in the hands of an accomplished writer, worthy of the praise that has been heaped upon him. But I cannot say that the book resonated with me.
I will read more of DeLillo's work. His emotionally spare and not altogether likeable characters may ring true in a narrative that lends itself more to a post-modernist take on life as it is, rather than life as we may wish it is. Although I would never wish to despoil the tragedy of September 11, 2001 with a Frank Capra-esque cast of saintly do-gooders--when hell wreaks itself on earth, it takes us all in equal measure-- I needed just a little more to hang onto with this book. I suspect that this is my weakness rather than Mr. DeLillo's.(less)
This is a tough one for me to rate. My snobbish side wants to give it 2 stars because I consider it to be one of those "Lifetime Channel" books...Take...moreThis is a tough one for me to rate. My snobbish side wants to give it 2 stars because I consider it to be one of those "Lifetime Channel" books...Take the "bookish" chick from Beverly Hills 90210 and make her the mom character. Maybe the daughter from Gilmore Girls could portray the teen daughter. I cannot deny a certain soap operish feel to the story and the characters. This is a genre I have resisted. I know I am a middle aged housewife and it is time for me to begin relating to the suffering midlife mom role...a person haunted by the past and mired in a present that is all about the drama of family/domestic life.
Perhaps it says something about me psychologically, that I rarely read this kind of book...preferring the drama of murder, mayhem and suspense.
However, one cannot live by PBS alone. At least once a year I get sucked into one of those Lifetime Channel flicks. And I enjoy the experience immensely. The mannered Spelling School of acting and the melodramatic--bordering-on-tasteless plots are a guilty pleasure. It is the same with reading. Sometimes you just need to chuck the Booker Prize nominee in favor of some all out chick lit. And there is nothing to be ashamed of either!
The good news is that this title is a very respectable example of women-centric-family-drama fiction. The characters are not all likable (but I see this as a positive). Unlike other reviewers, I did like the character of Leigh. I saw her as a decent and tough person who was baring up rather well under the circumstances. I do not think that the book was misleading about the point of view of the narrative. The teen girl accidentally killed someone at age 18. Although it would be interesting to know how this affected her later in life, it is enough to try to comprehend, as the reader, how this would affect yourself or one of your own kids.
I think the main demographic for this book is middle aged moms. We read the book and immediately put ourselves into the role of the main character (the middle aged mom) -- just as we occasionally put ourselves into the over-the-top lives of soap opera characters. It is easy enough for a mother to think 10, 20 or 30 years into the future where the lives of their kids are concerned.
As a 40-something, Leigh has the perspective to understand, bleakly, how hard it can be to shake the past and how something tragic can and will follow you through life. I believe her back story (dysfunctional and neglectful mother, etc) is a counterpoint to the very different sort of tragedy that befell her privileged and much loved daughter, Kara. Tragedy can strike anyone in myriad forms. Conversely, as a teenager, Kara is only beginning to understand the inter-related patterns of life. She is aware that the accident has impacted her life forever. But, because she is so young, she lacks the potential details of how she might be changed by it.
I have decided to give this one 3 stars instead of only 2. I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy reading it. I picked it up, read it between my own domestic duties, and finished it in about 4 days.
The Condition is my first experience with Jennifer Haigh. I came very close to reading Mrs. Kimble last year, but a friend told me she was not as impr...moreThe Condition is my first experience with Jennifer Haigh. I came very close to reading Mrs. Kimble last year, but a friend told me she was not as impressed with that title as she had anticipated. Based on The Condition, I will now probably put her other titles back on my reading list.
Although I did not find this book quite as moving as some of the readers who have posted very positive reviews, it was certainly satisfying and rather well written "family drama/soap opera" fiction. The members of the McKotch family are dysfunctional satellites revolving around Gwen, the daughter who was born with Turner's Syndrome -- a condition that prevented her from ever going through puberty and acquiring the physical characteristics of an adult woman. This rare medical condition freezes Gwen in time physically and traps her in a prepubescent body. Slowly and painfully, however, Gwen finds the strength to develop in other ways. Conversely, the rest of the family is frozen psychologically and trapped by various memories and conditions of their past.
The New England setting...so often a metaphor for uptight and upright behavior is apt. The story proceeds in an orderly form and the reader's questions are neatly resolved at the end. I generally prefer a story that is messier and more opaque. But, from time to time I am in the mood for an entertaining melodrama. The solid writing kept me interested in the trials and tribulations of the McKotches.(less)
I read this book about 5 years ago. It has stuck with me for some reason. This is one of those books where you live for awhile inside the head of the...moreI read this book about 5 years ago. It has stuck with me for some reason. This is one of those books where you live for awhile inside the head of the main character. And, even though he is a pathetic person, he holds your interest.
In a certain mood I have the need to read a book about an unremarkable person...even a person who does not inspire me. The character who could be real because he or she displays all the character flaws, grating personality traits and foibles of people you have actually met can be a much needed antidote to the flawlessly heroic or wise people often introduced in stories.
The mailman has a sad and limited small life. Much of his predicament is his own fault. He is unpleasant and crosses the line to creepy. You would never give this guy your phone number. But he gets into your head and stays there for awhile. I cannot explain why or how. It is just one of those slice-of-dysfunction titles I couldn't shake!(less)
If Laura Bush thinks she is the first nice librarian from a small town to fall in with a shallow loudmouth with a taste for booze and nose candy...the...moreIf Laura Bush thinks she is the first nice librarian from a small town to fall in with a shallow loudmouth with a taste for booze and nose candy...then she never knew me in the 80s. Laura Bush may be a lot more like me than the average political wife. Although the entire Bush Clan provokes me to the point of spittle and hospital restraints, I have always been somewhat interested in Laura. When Bush fils took office 8 years (and a lifetime) ago, my sole consolations were: "How much damage can one guy do?" and "Hey, at least we have a librarian in the White House." We have certainly learned the answer to the first point the hard way. But, yes, there was a librarian there too.
Curtis Sittenfeld's fictional take on the life and times of George and Laura Bush (thinly disguised as Charlie and Alice Blackwell, a political family hailing, not from Texas, but from Wisconsin) is a study in the implausible and incredible made real. How does a bookish, thoughtful, middle class and fairly liberal woman like Laura hook up with the anti-intellectual, entitled, shallow and decidedly right wing, Good Time Charlie? And how does it work?
Some reviews have suggested that the character of Laura as 'the good wife' stands in for the character of the American People as "the good citizenry" who ask few questions, keep their heads down and want dearly to believe in the ideals on which they were raised. I believe the parallel is actually the rise of the absurd which has taken root in America over the past 20 years.
In GW Bush we had a spoiled frat boy persona giving out the message that "people need to buckle down, work hard and not ask for hand outs." We had the Vietnam evader, who protected Texas from Oklahoma throughout the conflict (when he deigned to show up on base) successfully painting opponents with solid military records (and missing limbs) as cowards and shirkers. We watched the man who could not do more to mangle a sentence and who openly stated that he did not read newspapers position himself as an education president. If the public was so amenable to these vivid conflicts of word and deed...is it such a stretch to imagine a woman like the Laura character could convince herself that her Peter Pan spouse was greater than the sum of his parts?
Alice LIndgren was a quiet and thoughtful daughter from a small middle class family. She was a personality who remained on the fringe of the action, preferring to allow more colorful people, like her friend, Dena, to hog the spotlight. Alice is written as introspective and observant of human nature. She is willing to wait, perhaps indefinitely, for her destiny. One evening, however, her life is violently changed when, by sheer bad luck, she is involved in a fatal car accident. The other driver is Andrew, a classmate who has been circling Alice since childhood...and a boy with whom Alice was about to have embarked on a romance.
From there, Alice's life is left hanging with the most tyrannical of phrases: "what if ?" What if Andrew had lived and they had formed a couple? What if she had married young and stayed in her home town? This would have prevented her meeting with Charlile Blackwell, her subsequent attraction to him, her eventual immersion with his family and the events which lead her into a life led, reluctantly, in the glare of the public eye.
Although I would lie if I portrayed myself as an unbiased reader...the real life Bush Family have outdone themselves with their patrician and callous attitudes toward the everyday challenges and setbacks faced by the majority of their constituents...I appreciate this book because it is not written as caricature. Even I, a proud sufferer of "anti Bush hysteria" would not buy into a comic book treatment of this family. Their years in power may have wiped out my savings, put untold jobs in jeopardy, failed to address severe domestic issues, indebted the public up to their eyeballs for at least a generation, made a hash out of foreign policy. and reflected a mindset that is beyond tone-deaf (more like Helen Keller on steroids) However, they are just people. American Wife portrays the fictional first lady as a nuanced and very likable character. And the president is also dealt with in a multi layered fashion. I do not think avowed liberals will find it the vicious rant they may want to get out of their system...and I do not think avowed conservatives will be able to see it as completely one sided either. In my opinion, this makes it a better book...and an interesting and well told story.(less)
What started as a 3 star read transcended itself and ended up, in the parlance of a particularly disturbing early 1970's Tab commercial, a "mind stick...moreWhat started as a 3 star read transcended itself and ended up, in the parlance of a particularly disturbing early 1970's Tab commercial, a "mind sticker". i have never read Lori Lansens before and knew nothing about her work. However, her narrative voice seemed to grow, along with her characters, as the book unfolded. The result was memorable fiction, finely executed.
As a person who often craves solitude because I am fortunate enough to almost never have it...I became very affected, as I read, by the notion of having none. Ever. Lansen's story of "the Girls" -- conjoined twins connected at the head -- challenged me to think about the concepts of privacy, solitude, and individuality as well as strength. Imagine never having a moment that is not witnessed by someone who you love, but can never leave. This must certainly push the limits of human adaptability. Yet there are cases of twins who do live for decades joined together...and then die together as they must. It is almost unimaginable.
Yet Lansens imagines the scenario well. Her characters, Ruby and Rose Darlen are two very distinct voices joined as one in detailing the story of their life. Rose is the outwardly dominant twin...stronger and mobile on her own. She dreams of being a writer, but her unique situation has prevented her from attending university and pursuing that career. Her memoir is punctuated with chapters from her sister, Ruby, the more light hearted twin who, though more frail, is stronger than she appears.
Together the sisters weave a story of their lives with their adoptive parents on a farm in Southern Ontario. Coming into the world in the midst of a tornado, the twins are born, almost immediately abandoned by their birth mother and taken in by Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash (the nurse at the hospital where they were born in the storm and her Slovak emigre husband.) Rose and Ruby begin life in the small loving circle of their parents and only a few neighbors and friends. As the story unfolds, their lives expand in a modest way. Like all lives there is joy and sorrow for the Girls. Their story is both big (longest living craniophagus twins in the world!) and small ( a few modest characters from an out of the way Canadian town). Somehow the combination is very affecting and real despite a potentially exploitative premise.(less)
I have wondered throughout my life about how it would be to age backwards. The conceit always captured my imagination and I focused only on the positi...moreI have wondered throughout my life about how it would be to age backwards. The conceit always captured my imagination and I focused only on the positives. You would get what are, perhaps, your hardest years over with first...frailty, pains, faulty memory, and the other ravages of time would fall away, a year at a time, to reveal a version of yourself that was stronger, sharper and more attractive. Yet, because you age in reverse, your youthful days would also contain the wisdom garnered by a life instead of the foolishness that characterizes so many of our decisions and priorities at 20. And I thought that, by getting younger instead of older, one could overcome the fear of death...leaving this world in the oblivion of infancy rather than with the weariness and knowledge of old age.
The Confessions of Max Tivoli posits such a life and reminds the reader of the downside to such a fantasy. Max is a tragic figure. He is born an ugly wizened creature with the face of someone in their seventies. (Not that 70 is so very old...this is one issue I had with the story. Why not birth Max as a Centenarian and go for broke?) As he 'ages' he becomes a more vital man of middling years and meets his lifelong muse in Alice, the girl who lives downstairs.
The rest is a poignant unraveling of a singular life that is fated to be tragic. I enjoy Greer's imagination and his writing. As in The Story of a Marriage, he plays with the concepts of illicit relationships. In the former Greer dealt with the dual taboos of a homosexual and inter-racial relationship in the 1950s. The Confessions of Max Tivoli also explores relationships the greater society will not accept, but does so in extremis. Although Max is really a youth of 17 when he first encounters young Alice, he appears to the world (and to the object of his adoration) as an "old bear" of 50. There is some Nabakov here. And also some Proust. Max lives in the past more than most. (And, if we are being honest, most of us revisit the past obsessively throughout our lives.)
Max's love can only be toxic under the circumstances under which he must live out his days. The strongest writing comes through in the passages that deal with the way the characters wound one another with feelings they cannot control. In this way, I found the style and impact to be similar to The Story of a Marriage, which I read earlier this year.
I do not remember ever having read Benjamin Button (although I am a Fitzgerald fan and own some of his short stories.) I will definitely have to seek out that story to round out my reading a bit more.
I am giving this title 3 stars instead of 4,. Although I did enjoy it and felt that, at times, the writing was of higher than average quality, somehow I wanted "just a little more" from this title. I am frustrated that I cannot articulate exactly what else I wanted to see/feel/experience with the story...maybe i have toyed with this concept in my own mind for so long that had unreasonable expectations. Still, I will remember this book and many of the characters for a long time to come.