Another exhausting but rewarding read from GRR Martin. I really have to commit to the enormity of these books before I dive in, but the Ice and Fire s...moreAnother exhausting but rewarding read from GRR Martin. I really have to commit to the enormity of these books before I dive in, but the Ice and Fire series is worth that commitment. I enjoy the story and the characters, and my previous review of the first book in the series applies here too. Can't wait for the next to come out!(less)
I wanted to finish this, but I just couldn't bring myself to go back to it. Maybe one day...
My trouble with the book was that, though the writing was...moreI wanted to finish this, but I just couldn't bring myself to go back to it. Maybe one day...
My trouble with the book was that, though the writing was lovely and Rowling-esque (very direct narration, cleverly drawn characters), the characters were so disagreeable that I just couldn't be drawn into the story.
I got about halfway through the book before I realized that there was not one sympathetic character in the entire story. And there are LOT of characters, which is one reason it took me so long to decide not to finish. It took several chapters for me to sort out the names and characters.
Anyway, I love Rowling's writing, and I wanted to read her adult-aimed fiction. Maybe I will get back to it when I don't have a lot of other books in the stack calling my name.(less)
Lovely writing, but I seriously just couldn't make it through. The Oedipus narrative just seemed so tired and trite that I couldn't engage with the pr...moreLovely writing, but I seriously just couldn't make it through. The Oedipus narrative just seemed so tired and trite that I couldn't engage with the primary device of the book. (less)
I actually liked this book a lot more than I expected. The opening chapter kind of put me off, but I pushed through, and I'm glad I did. The opening i...moreI actually liked this book a lot more than I expected. The opening chapter kind of put me off, but I pushed through, and I'm glad I did. The opening is a sort of Kerouac-ish, romanticized, stream-of-consciousness-ish, description of a road trip.
But once I was past that, the story really picked up. I started reading this while working in a theater that was doing the stage version. I'm glad I read the book to fill out the story.
The story of Willie Stark is, of course, the thinly disguised fictional version of Huey Long, the Louisiana politician who became governor and was assassinated in the state capitol. So the book is usually described as the story of Stark, a country boy who wanted to do good, but was corrupted by power, and who eventually was trapped by his own success.
The narrator in the book is Jack Burden, a journalist who eventually comes to work for Willie Stark. I thought Jack's story was the more interesting one here: he's a guy who kind of drifts along, doing whatever comes in front of him. Throughout the book, Jack tries to find meaning/connection in the random events of life. It's only after the death of someone important in his life, and the effects of that death, that Jack starts to find meaning and connection with other people.
I enjoyed it, partly for its setting in (fictional) Louisiana, and also for its own sake.(less)
I began this with some trepidation, considering its length. I made it through, but I doubt I'll read it again.
I was prevented from sinking deep into t...moreI began this with some trepidation, considering its length. I made it through, but I doubt I'll read it again.
I was prevented from sinking deep into the story, though, which is why I am hesitant to say I really liked the book. I think I was prevented from being entirely drawn into Steinbeck's world of Salinas because of Steinbeck's writing. I found the writing in this book to be astoundingly beautiful; the descriptions of the characters and the locations were detailed to the point that I could nearly see the characters in front of me. And the landscapes of the farming areas of Salinas were likewise done with such a fine touch that I could imagine myself there.
And therein was part of my problem, I think. The entire time I was reading the book, I was aware that Steinbeck was consciously and deliberately trying to write the Great American Novel. I could only read this book as a period piece, a product of its time. The characters, while beautifully drawn in their detail, were simply pawns in his larger project. I won't say that the characters were entirely cardboard, but even the characters that are drawn in the most detail--Adam and Cathy, for example--still seem weak to me.
Of course, you can't miss the biblical parallels, which I thought were a bit overdrawn. I mean, if you're writing the Great American Novel, you have to really go for your metaphors, so I guess the Cal/Cain, Aron/Abel, Adam, and Cathy/Eve parallels have to be overdone. But I have to say that the biblical precedents for all these characters are pretty thin too, so I guess Steinbeck was doing the best he could with the material he was given.
I guess in a nutshell, I came away with a sort of disinterested fascination with Steinbeck's impressive mastery of language and writing, but not really moved by the story. It was as though the characters were acting out their story at the end of the kaleidoscope of Steinbeck's beautiful writing, so most of their motives were obscured, which distanced me from the characters, and thus from the story and its metaphors.
Recommended with reservations: for those who want to read a period piece, or who want to see a master writer at the top of his game.
For a book that starts with an ugly triple murder, this book is remarkably sweet and touching. I really enjoyed Bod, the main character, and his guard...moreFor a book that starts with an ugly triple murder, this book is remarkably sweet and touching. I really enjoyed Bod, the main character, and his guardian Silas. But all of the ghost characters are wonderful.
Let me start by saying that Accordion Crimes, by E. Annie Proulx (1996), is beautifully written. The exquisite level of detail, the masterful evocatio...moreLet me start by saying that Accordion Crimes, by E. Annie Proulx (1996), is beautifully written. The exquisite level of detail, the masterful evocation of time and place with only a few strokes of the authorial brush, the perfect balance between dialect and standard English in the voices of the characters: all these things are strong cases for why Proulx is such a wonderful writer. She’s a master of the craft. She also spent a lot of time learning about accordions or she plays the accordion herself. Either way, she knows a lot about how they’re constructed, how they’re played, how the different types of accordions are distinguished from each other. I was impressed by the breadth of her knowledge.
But I didn’t enjoy reading the book.
The novel is really a series of snippets from the lives of many characters, all of whom are tied together by the accordion. Several accordions appear in the narrative, but one in particular reappears throughout the stories (the “little green accordion”). The accordion comes to the US with the Italian immigrant who made it, and subsequently makes its way all around the continent, encountering all kinds of people along the way. The first story is set in the late 19th century and the book ends in probably the 1980s (I say probably because it’s not explicitly dated, but context clues allow me to guess).
I was really looking forward to reading this because I really liked Proulx’s The Shipping News, and of course she wrote the lovely and stark short story Brokeback Mountain. I also really like the accordion, so it seemed like a winning situation. But it wasn’t.
I’ve been trying to understand what I disliked about this story. Obviously it wasn’t the writing, but rather the stories themselves. I think that ultimately I disliked the fact that this novel seemed like one long litany of misery. Every single character in the book is miserable in one way or another. They inhabit their misery like a comfortable sweatshirt, and Proulx seems to take a perverse pleasure in reveling in the details of all their miserable lives. The squalid homes, the abject poverty, the tortured interpersonal relationships are produced in almost photographic detail in her prose.
It reminded me (only slightly, though) of the relish with which Upton Sinclair wrote the most awful passages in The Jungle, though without his smug moral rightness. In fact, Accordion Crimes was much more like an anthropologist’s obvious enjoyment in writing an obsessively “objective” account of some terrible practice like female circumcision. Exquisite detail takes the place of the anthropologist allowing herself to obviously revel in the squalor or violence.
For example, in one story, a man has suffered brain damage and is verbally abusive to his wife and physically abusive to his children, hates his life as a farmer, but is unable to pursue the work he likes because of the injury to his brain. One day a traveling snake-handling preacher sets up shop near the man’s farm. On the night that the preacher convinces one of the man’s children to play a role in the “healing” part of a church service, the man discovers the child’s involvement. He beats the boy nearly to death with a piece of metal cable, exposing the child’s vertebrae. The child’s mother is unable to stop him, and so she tries to kill the man by braining him with a piece of pipe. The man and child survive, but twenty years later, when the wife is on her deathbed from cancer, the man gets his revenge by killing her with an axe.
And all of the stories are like that. If they’re not physically violent, the characters are emotionally stunted, verbally abusive to everyone around. Several characters commit suicide, one dies when a load of lumber crushes his body, another dies in agony from brown recluse bites.
I wondered what purpose it could possibly serve, to portray so many people in such an unflattering light. I thought it might be a Statement on the Immigration Question because so many of the characters are either immigrants or are descended from immigrants. But others are not immigrants, so that theory doesn’t hold water.
Proulx didn’t disappoint me with her writing, rather I was further amazed by what a great writer she is. But reading this book was not enjoyable for me. Recommended if you have a high tolerance for other people’s misery, or if you’re a huge Annie Proulx fan. (less)
I've always meant to read something by Graham Greene, and I saw the 2002 movie adaptation of this book, so I thought I'd read it, though I barely reme...moreI've always meant to read something by Graham Greene, and I saw the 2002 movie adaptation of this book, so I thought I'd read it, though I barely remember the film. The Quiet American, published in 1955, was condemned in the US as anti-American, as you can imagine, since the story deals with the earliest meddling of the United States in Vietnam.
The main character and narrator is Fowler, a jaded and cynical British journalist who has lived in Vietnam for quite some time. Pyle, the young, idealistic American who arrives at the beginning of the story, pushes most of Fowler's buttons, but they form an uneasy friendship. Uneasy because of their differing political beliefs, but also because Pyle falls immediately in love with Fowler's Vietnamese girlfriend Phuong and is determined to win her for himself.
Others have described how the book is both a story about a love triangle, and at the same time a metaphor for US and UK involvement in southeast Asia. Fowler represents the aging and jaded colonialist UK and Pyle is the idealistic and go-getter USA. Both desire Phuong (Vietnam), but for different reasons. Pyle admits that he sees her as a child and wants to protect her. Fowler's desire for Phuong is more complex, but they each offer something that the other needs. She needs material comforts; Fowler needs her body and her presence.
I really enjoyed reading this book, for both stories. I found it eerie that Greene published this book in 1955, which means he wrote it earlier than that. He managed, however, to predict and foreshadow the disastrous US involvement in Vietnam that didn't openly happen until ten years later.
I also enjoyed Greene's descriptions of his three main characters: Pyle, Fowler, and Phuong. Fowler's quiet resignation, Phuong's complete inscrutability, and Pyle's set-my-teeth-on-edge fervor are all represented in a spare style. This is a very short book, but each word carefully contributes to setting the scene, the characters, and telling the story with as much efficiency as possible.
This is my favorite of Potok's novels, though Davita's Harp would be a close second.
Though it's a full-length novel, this book has some qualities of a...moreThis is my favorite of Potok's novels, though Davita's Harp would be a close second.
Though it's a full-length novel, this book has some qualities of a short story form, which give it its unique tone and slightly spartan storytelling style.
The book tells the story of two Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1940s and 1950s. Though they come from different branches of Orthodox Judaism, the two boys become close friends. Their friendship endures through the intense years of adolescence, the political upheavals of World War II and its aftermath, and the postwar Zionist movement, which had devastating effects on the boys' friendship.
Though The Chosen could be any average coming-of-age story, the beautiful writing and its slightly spartan voice sets it apart from the pack. Additionally, the themes of faith, religion, and politics draw the two main characters into adulthood, and into the landscape of post-WW II America. (less)
I really enjoyed these books on their own. They stand out among the fantasy I've read. This author deals with...moreThis review applies to the whole series.
I really enjoyed these books on their own. They stand out among the fantasy I've read. This author deals with religion, politics, love, gods, and multiple universes all in one book! Yet he manages to integrate all of those huge topics seamlessly into the larger story of two children growing up. Fantastic.(less)
So accurate it was scary. His portrayal of 30-somethings and their relationship with their parents, along with their attendant guilt complexes, was un...moreSo accurate it was scary. His portrayal of 30-somethings and their relationship with their parents, along with their attendant guilt complexes, was uncanny. Also hilarious.(less)