I liked the premise behind this book and felt that it had the potential to be interesting-two sisters who have taken very different paths in life only...moreI liked the premise behind this book and felt that it had the potential to be interesting-two sisters who have taken very different paths in life only to be reunited in a crisis situation (which coincidentally is the second sister's profession as a social worker.) Once I was halfway through, however, I was disappointed at the path the novel took. I thought it was predictable from the start and didn't really give you a lot of insight into the sisterly relationship it was attempting to highlight. On a positive note, there were many interesting details about living in NY that I found to be true as a former New Yorker.(less)
I enjoyed this book but I don't think it was meant to be overly intellectual or have a deeper meaning than to entertain. Yes, I agree with the multitu...moreI enjoyed this book but I don't think it was meant to be overly intellectual or have a deeper meaning than to entertain. Yes, I agree with the multitudes of reviewers that compare this book to The Royal Tenenbaums, however, I think the characters in this novel are slightly less screwed up and have more affection for their family. So, if you enjoy books about privileged New Yorkers written by an Ivy Leaguer (Harvard I believe), than you will find this novel interesting.(less)
The brutality of everyday life in certain parts of Brooklyn is beautifully depicted in this novel, however hard that is for some to swallow. From the...moreThe brutality of everyday life in certain parts of Brooklyn is beautifully depicted in this novel, however hard that is for some to swallow. From the depiction of a transvestite prostitute who escapes his miserable existence by consuming a lethal combination of "bennies" and alcohol in order to endure the sadistic acts of the men he is attracted to. The older residents of a housing project who also take sadistic pleasure at describing other residents who have it worse off then them, as they pick dandruff from each other's hair. Men who are chronically unemployed and abusive. There is a raw honesty to this book which I imagine came from growing up in Brooklyn and observing all these things described first hand.
There is no softness here or redeeming value to the characters. A way of life that perhaps still exists, but is very far from the mainstream. You understand that the characters are poor, working class at best, and that their lives are a constant string of tensions mixed with simple pleasures like getting drunk, sleeping around, and doing drugs. Their hardness is a reaction to the surroundings and their activities seem to be an escape from this harsh reality. This book reminds me of a movie I saw from Estonia called "Layla 4-Ever" in which a young girl who lives in Post-Communist Russia is abandoned by her mother and then forced to prostitute herself to survive. The subject matter is bleak but you admire her strength to continue with life.
I would not recommend this book if you shy away from depressing subject matter, as the book is quite graphic in its depiction of rape, violence, etc... If this intrigues you at all though, you will understand why Hubert Selby Jr. was a genius.(less)
This book is the shy cousin to Janowitz's steller novel "Slaves of New York". What a disappointment! It's a series of essays related to Janowitz's lif...moreThis book is the shy cousin to Janowitz's steller novel "Slaves of New York". What a disappointment! It's a series of essays related to Janowitz's life in New York for the past 20 + years, her run-ins with various celebrities (namely Andy Warhol and several notable art world figures), and her take on everything from noisy apartments to her adopted child Willow.
Janowitz seems to be typecast toward writing these types of discordant novelettes about NY life, but unfortunately, the genre is becoming redundant. There are entire chapters about the art world in the 80's that sound exactly like chapters in "Slaves of New York".
There was quite a bit of self-deprecation masquarading as pure egoism. (less)
After reading Last Exit to Brooklyn, I thought that I had seen the worst of Selby's characters. As I tensely awaited the conclusion of each chapter, h...moreAfter reading Last Exit to Brooklyn, I thought that I had seen the worst of Selby's characters. As I tensely awaited the conclusion of each chapter, hoping that maybe just one of the characters would manage to get ahead or break the cycle of dependency on drugs, I would be rendered speechless by the desperation and insanity brought on by addiction. As the darkness of winter descends upon Brooklyn, Harry, Tyrone & Marion all find themselves stumbling through the night to get their next fix, ,addiction controlling their every waking moment now. In an equally hopeless spiral, is Harry's mother, Sara Goldfarb. Preoccupied with thoughts of her dead husband and absent son, the TV pacifies the raging loneliness and depression that she feels. A routine call from a telemarketer prophesies false hope that she will be a contestant on a game show. In an attempt to lose weight before her TV appearance, Sara begins a long, hallucinatory journey to drug addiction by consuming diet pills. Before long, she is having conversations with her refrigerator and the TV. There is no light at the end of the tunnel with this story. Sadly, many of Selby's characters are self-destructive and trapped in circumstances that render them helpless or give them no reason to persevere. Perhaps the reason that Selby has not been more widely accepted by the public is due to the bleak condition he leaves his readers in, gasping for air, for a happy ending, for some sign of redemption-surely the human condition can't be this bad? We all cheer for the character that manages to overcome obstacles and bad circumstances in a single bound, but Selby explores the weakness of the human condition and the tendency to fall down and not get up again.(less)
Several of the essays in this anthology so accurately depict the brutality and violence inherent in war-torn countries in Africa, I found it hard to r...moreSeveral of the essays in this anthology so accurately depict the brutality and violence inherent in war-torn countries in Africa, I found it hard to read straight through without pausing for a breath. The essay on Rwanda was graphic not only in its description of a country descimated by war, but in its photographic evidence depicting bloated corpses, both human and animal, dusty remains of human bodies, riddled with holes and decay, and mass graves. "The Lepers of Moyo" by Paul Theroux drew me in with its description of a leper colony deep in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although leprosy is not contagious, the people at the colony have been cast out from their villages as if they already dead. Paul has been brought there to teach English, but realizes that learning only passes the time; there is no need to prepare for the future. Time has no significance and the only thing to distinguish day from night is the scorching sun that beats down mercilessly in the early afternoon, scalding everything in its path.
There is such a long lineage of history that precedes these conflicts in Africa, I am left feeling like I only have a piece of the story. It definitely compels me to do more reading on this region of the world. (less)
I think it's very easy to dismiss this book as boring, nonsensical, and difficult to follow at first. I felt frustrated by the dialogue of some of the...moreI think it's very easy to dismiss this book as boring, nonsensical, and difficult to follow at first. I felt frustrated by the dialogue of some of the less articulate characters, such as Anse, who tended to repeat the same sentence over and over until the repitition played like a broken record in your head; "She's a-going, her mind is set on it,". However, the more I read, the more the dialogue began to make sense to me and more like a true reflection of what each character was thinking in an unfiltered way. Since the story is told from the perspective of 15 separate people, the reader gets a very different subjective understanding of how Addie's death affects each character personally. On the surface, none of Addie's family members appear to be grief-stricken by her passing. They seem to be absorbed in the mundane details surrounding her burial and the loss in earnings from the time it takes them to transport her body to Jackson. However, it is clear that her death has taken its toll on each family member in a different way. From Cash's itemized list of how the coffin was constructed to hold a dead body, to Jewel's insistence on forcing the wagon through rough waters, each character attempts to make sense of this new reality. The strength in Faulkner's writing seems to be in the simplicity of it, the scarcity of words spoken by people who are lacking pretense and self reflection.
"We go on, with a motion so soporific, so dreamlike as to be uninferant of progress, as though time and not space were decreasing between us and it."
I had no idea what to expect from John Updike. I picked up this book on a whim at the library after hearing about his death, hoping that there was a s...moreI had no idea what to expect from John Updike. I picked up this book on a whim at the library after hearing about his death, hoping that there was a shred of something in this story that I could relate to. Turns out there wasn't, but John Updike is a gifted writer, in my opinion, and manages to infuse an unremarkable industrial town in Pennsylvania with the light of a thousand ships, illuminating every detail in eye-popping color. I guess the 70's were supposed to be the decade of sexual experimentation; throughout the novel, Updike's characters are having the kind of sweaty, orgasmic, kinky sex that, if portrayed on film, might be shown in a seedy theater on the wrong side of town. I could literally hear the 70's porn beat pulsating at each interval. Rabbit, the main character, is a despicable character, his sagging and floppy body a steady reminder that his glory days as a basketball player are long gone. Largely a figurehead running his wife's family's car dealership, he spends an inordinate amount of time fantasizing about his wife's friends, people who come into the dealership,etc...cue porn soundtrack....There is a lot of allusion to affairs of the past, dysfunctional relationships, and hardship, yet the family is still living together in the same household, chained to the past. When Rabbit's son, Nelson, returns from college, Rabbit finds his small world turned upside down and he must adjust to his changing environment. Although this was set in the 70's, and there are frequent cultural references to the decade, there are many parallels to the economic times we are currently living in. (less)
I started reading this book with the best intentions. Haiti? Voodoo? Bringing back the dead? Sounds like a winner to me. Unfortunately, I found this b...moreI started reading this book with the best intentions. Haiti? Voodoo? Bringing back the dead? Sounds like a winner to me. Unfortunately, I found this book mind-numbingly boring. There were seemingly endless pages of description about various plant toxins and medicinal plants and how they could ravage the human body. Interesting conceptually, but to a layperson it read like a biology textbook. Did he really need to devote almost an ENTIRE CHAPTER to describing the pufferfish? If you really want to know what happened, read Bill Clinton's autobiography "My Life" where he describes his trip to Haiti to see a voodoo ceremony. He sums up this book in about three paragraphs. (less)
I hated this book. I didn't expect much, given the amount of hype surrounding it, but at the very least, I thought I would be pleasantly surprised by...moreI hated this book. I didn't expect much, given the amount of hype surrounding it, but at the very least, I thought I would be pleasantly surprised by some insight I could grab onto.
This book is so boring....I mean, Elizabeth Gilbert had an opportunity to leave her boring and predictable life to embark on this wonderful soul searching trip to Europe and Asia. Unfortunately, when she arrives in Italy, she eats a lot, drinks a lot of wine, goes to Italian class....blah, who cares? It sounds like my grandmother's trip to Europe. Oh, and I forgot, whines about her divorce some more because we didn't hear about it enough when she was in NY. Following this, she plans on visiting India to enrich her spirituality, which we are supposed to be so impressed by because she has taken yoga classes in NY so naturally the next step is...an ashram in India? That is where this book really started to hurt my brain to read. After many, many mind numbing pages about meditation, she realizes she's still thinking about her divorce and her boyfriend from NY. Suddenly, she has an epiphany...if she just stops thinking about it, it will go away! Wow....that was deep. It's interesting how she managed to completely sidestep all the elements of India which would make it interesting to a reader such as the intersection of poverty amidst the beauty of the landscape and the people.
I won't even go into Bali, because it was more boring than the other two combined. This was, by far, one of the worst books I've ever read. (less)
I thought this book was profound, intriguing, and original in the choice of subject matter. Her characters are frail, vulnerable, and make bad decisio...moreI thought this book was profound, intriguing, and original in the choice of subject matter. Her characters are frail, vulnerable, and make bad decisions which threaten to swallow them whole at a later point in time. You feel the isolation of Gaitskill's characters, both from other people and from their true selves, in a cold and unforgiving urban environment. In "Trying to Be", Stephanie becomes a prostitute out of contempt for boring office work. Despite her attempts to neatly separate her work and public persona's, her salvaged identity is a struggle to contemplate. In "Connection", I could feel Susan's pain, her ambition to make it as a writer in the city, failing miserably, and clinging to her relationship with Leisha as a way to survive and keep going. Leisha's rejection of her friendship and selfishness ultimately drive Susan away, but Leisha's haphazard stumblings through life threaten to consume Susan's thoughts forever. Gaitskill tackles unconventional subject matter like prostitution, drug addiction, and S&M, without creating her characters in the likeness of inhuman monsters. She is willing to explore this dark side of human nature which may exist to some degree in all of us.(less)
I enjoyed this book and found Gaitskill's insight about certain human conditions, namely loneliness, psychological trauma, and isolation from society,...moreI enjoyed this book and found Gaitskill's insight about certain human conditions, namely loneliness, psychological trauma, and isolation from society, to be a haunting reminder of the cruelty that lies within human nature. Admittedly, there were moments where my skin crawled with disgust, and my mind could not comprehend the idea that one's father could have an incestuous relationship with his daughter for any extended period of time. Or, in Justine's situation, that a father could find out his daughter was molested and not do anything about it, even though it was something he always suspected. I admire Gaitskill for her ability to transcend the superfluous and to place her charcters firmly in reality. (less)
For my first JCO book, I thought it was decent. In the small town in New Hampshire, where the story is set, there is an underlying current of homophob...moreFor my first JCO book, I thought it was decent. In the small town in New Hampshire, where the story is set, there is an underlying current of homophobia. Very early on, a group of high school boys beat up a gay man, and run away without being apprehended. After an English teacher, Mr. Tracey,gives poor grades to several of his students, the students falsely accuse him of being a child molester and pedophile in retaliation. What surprised me a bit, was how quickly the school officials and police automatically assumed that because the teacher was rumored to be gay, the accusations of him being a pedophile must be true as well. Darren, the main character, for fear that his gay-fearing father, brother, and friends at school will ostracize him, is scared to tell anyone that Mr. Tracey made some friendly advances on a ride home from school. This complicates matters further, because someone in town saw Darren in Mr. Tracey's car that night. The investigation moves forward against Mr. Tracey, until his unexpected death.
Darren's sexuality becomes a broader theme in this novel, because his good looks make him an object of desire for women and men. He doesn't feel comfortable with the attention he receives from others, and often tries to play down his looks in an effort to appear more rugged and masculine. Ultimately, Darren feels protected and comforted by the labels that define him, and even comments on the fact that "no one greeted him like he was used to" at a college party he attends. (less)
This book reminds me of the week after Christmas; completely depressing and anti-climactic. There were entire stories that I either skipped alltogethe...moreThis book reminds me of the week after Christmas; completely depressing and anti-climactic. There were entire stories that I either skipped alltogether or skimmed through without much interest, and a few that I really liked but I thought this compilation was a strange mixture of topics that felt really disjointed. (less)