A novel that seems like it could have been born as a wisecrack on the back of a napkin, The Magicians embeds tropes from multiple fantasy series, roleA novel that seems like it could have been born as a wisecrack on the back of a napkin, The Magicians embeds tropes from multiple fantasy series, role-playing games, and films into contemporary New York college life. Yet the book somehow sheds its inspirations to create an adventure novel that makes the magic we view as a retreat back to childhood fantasy seem a dangerous, powerful thing. It's the weight that Grossman gives his subject -- however wryly cast in its popular frame -- that gives the story the gravity of adulthood. Suddenly the threats are genuine and the temptations of power within adult life actually damning. The consequences of our desire to see the world though the naivety of a childhood relived become palpable -- thrilling, but ultimately exhausting, washing off the youth of fantasy for the sadness of escape. Only the very end of the novel seems to abandon this altered reality, dipping a bit too far into its own mystique. But The Magicians offers a wild ride to get there: emotional, touching in its romances, and capturing all the awkwardness of newfound adulthood. It's a fantasy novel unafraid to show a darker, more earthy side, and it's a take on the genre that shouldn't be missed....more
Because its issues mix the deeply (at times awkwardly) personal into a broader generational view, All the Little Live Things is a novel that has reveaBecause its issues mix the deeply (at times awkwardly) personal into a broader generational view, All the Little Live Things is a novel that has revealed to this reader widely different messages at different times. In my twenties I enjoyed the anger toward the rootless hippy culture of the 1960's: Alston's rage against Peck, who stood as a symbol to his failed relationship with his own son, the dangerously untethered Curtis. In my thirties, I was drawn to Marian Catlin's thirst for feeling -- and the irony in her imbalance between life and death, a recurring theme for Wallace Stegner. Reading this now for the first time in my forties, it's Joe Alston's regret I find most compelling. His quickness to anger, and awareness of its origin as much as its futility. My seventh time with this novel, I found Alston pitiable, deeply flawed, and brilliant but often, to his own mind, emotionally afloat. For whatever reason, this book offers this reader unique rewards with every telling. The reasons are no doubt personal, but finding such a book -- one whose life within my readings is as definite and personal as another person would be -- seems the rare gift of literature, and a unique joy of the mind -- whose transience and impermanence its author knew all too well....more
This sexually charged thriller, written in 2008 but set in 1970 as the prelude to Collins' Quarry series, reads like classic noir taken to the academiThis sexually charged thriller, written in 2008 but set in 1970 as the prelude to Collins' Quarry series, reads like classic noir taken to the academic neighborhoods of Iowa City. Characters fulfill their crime novel archetypes well, giving the story a familiar feel while allowing for a few unexpected twists in the plot line. An enjoyable, sexy distraction, and a good introduction to the series as a whole....more
This thoughtful novel allows for genuine contemplation as William Stoner, an awkward farm boy, arrives at the University of Missouri to unearth withinThis thoughtful novel allows for genuine contemplation as William Stoner, an awkward farm boy, arrives at the University of Missouri to unearth within himself sharp facets of the life that will define his years to come: a love of literature, the challenge of teaching, the frustrations of academic politics, and lifelong friendship mixed with the regrets of loss. Stoner also finds a marriage shallow enough to reveal the sedimentary failures that lead this failed couple to active, resentful disengagement, lasting heartbreaking decades. Then, at its bleakest point, when Stoner's gentle life seems overturned by petty spite, the unimaginable happens and William Stoner falls in love. This is a novel with a still-room silence to it, but remains vital, emotionally engaging, and rewards reflection on the value of a life steeped in disappointment but not given over to failure. A beautiful book. ...more
The first half of a two-part story, and the third of novels set around a future-based academic time-travel department at Oxford, Blackout is my secondThe first half of a two-part story, and the third of novels set around a future-based academic time-travel department at Oxford, Blackout is my second favorite of the bunch behind the incomparable Doomsday Book. Where Blackout frustrates is in its pacing, with a heady amount of over-talking and thoughts broken off mid-sentence. These tricks heighten the suspense, but in a way that can be frustrating and bothersome rather than enjoyably prolonging the mystery. The Oxford characters also vary between believable shock and ridiculous over-thinking, again in a manner that seems to draw out the story in a way the plot doesn't need. But the story does give readers an incredible sense of what England survived during the Second World War: the sacrifices made by everyday citizens seem incredulous to a selfish and outright spoiled American mindset, and imagining any kind of similar response happening today -- department stores holding bomb sales, the conscription of civilian vessels at Dunkirk -- is impossible. 9/11 has changed America irreparably and, in ways we don't stop to question, we have surrendered something invaluable about ourselves and collective self-worth to the process. As enjoyable as it is on the surface, Blackout's publication has something to remind us about how a nation can unify around a central purpose and not, notable here, eat itself alive....more
I think I was all of 30 pages into "A Gate at the Stairs" when I knew I was going to love the novel. "Gate" is a joy to read, with it's narrator, TassI think I was all of 30 pages into "A Gate at the Stairs" when I knew I was going to love the novel. "Gate" is a joy to read, with it's narrator, Tassie Keltjin, bringing a playful, insouciant (but hardy uninformed) wit to her initial years at college. Lorrie Moore captures everything that is clever about early adulthood: the joy of discovery, the playfulness with identity, and eagerness to explore and experience with an almost unnatural confidence and optimism. Keltjin tells her tale with a clear but unspoiled look backward through time, but in a manner that never sours the moment, or ruins the sense that we are experiencing post-9/11 college life alongside Tassie, instead of askance.
When Tassie is formally integrated into the transplanted family whose daughter she is caretaker for, the more maturing lessons of adulthood arrive, and the tone becomes more serious. Here too Lorrie Moore avoids weighing the novel with anything more than it needs: the lessons are sharp but human, and judgment is never passed so much as the lesson feels shared. Without spoiling anything of the story, you should know the scenes set are original, unpredicted, and wholeheartedly memorable.
The Soul Thief begins the way all good books set in college do: with a party. And if you liked The Feast of Love, you are probably prepared (read: grThe Soul Thief begins the way all good books set in college do: with a party. And if you liked The Feast of Love, you are probably prepared (read: greedily ready), to follow Nathaniel Mason for 209 pages of nothing more than early 1970s college life: drinking too much; spontaneous, aimless road trips; and the kind of sex-by-arrangement or even sex-by-proximity arrangement that can happen when you are exploring the world of newfound adulthood and your sexual boundaries simultaneously. As common as the experiences are, Charles Baxter could make the college antics of any one of us worth that much paper, but The Soul Thief aspires higher.
More Saul and Patsy than The Feast of Love, The Soul Thief ruminates on darker themes. Identity and obsession become intertwined with the exploration and college-aged intellectualization of emotional motives — in effect, this is the academic experience of deconstruction applied, unwittingly and unwillingly, on the self, and in places the effect is chilling. What I won’t say is that I loved the ending, and this is a book where the ending makes or breaks your ultimate experience. But all of Charles Baxter's trademarks are here, especially in the introduction of his achingly unforgettable characters, and that is a trademark worth experiencing again.
There are a slew of related novels that might help triangulate this one. The Secret History and Intuition to one side, and the ridiculous Arts and Sciences on the other. Ultimately, however, nothing is going to prevent a Charles Baxter fan from reading another Charles Baxter book. Even if you don't quite think he's the best writer of thrillers in the world, or if you feel there is something you may have missed, The Soul Thief has enough substance to leave you wondering not just how thoroughly the novel's ruse was constructed, but about all the pieces of these characters' lives that you are made, so suddenly, to miss. ...more
Looking for Alaska is a short, teen/early college interest novel from Chicagoan John Green that was recommended to me by a friend. I enjoyed it quiteLooking for Alaska is a short, teen/early college interest novel from Chicagoan John Green that was recommended to me by a friend. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The book mixes a young adult’s transition to adulthood, the nebulous influence of parents and friends on that process, and ultimately, questions about the traumas the young face along the road to self-discovery....more
This is a suspenseful novel full of wild plot twists, narrative tricks, and surprising turns — all relating to the roles of identity, trust, deceptionThis is a suspenseful novel full of wild plot twists, narrative tricks, and surprising turns — all relating to the roles of identity, trust, deception, past sins, and the hope for forgiveness in self- and state-imposed exile. A fast read, very well written, and very enjoyable. ...more
This second novel from author Brian Morton beautifully captures the lives of three New Yorkers at various stages of self discovery. Forgotten literaryThis second novel from author Brian Morton beautifully captures the lives of three New Yorkers at various stages of self discovery. Forgotten literary figure Leonard Schiller, his middle-aged daughter, and a young graduate student on love with Schiller's work are seemingly brought together for a curious exploration of Schiller's place among his peers, but the novel presents instead a touching and involved expression of the desires and pleasures that mark each character's age: young Heather Wolfe is adoring one moment and indignant the next; Ariel Schiller feels lost between her life's more significant moments; and the elder Schiller cannot decide if his career is over over of if it indeed had ever begun. The joy of this novel is in the truth of its reflections and the distinct passions each character is allowed. A wonderful book of genuine feeling, and devoid of the the false sympathies to which less able authors would have subscribed.
All the Little Live Things is about Wallace Stegner's anger toward the Sixties, their chaotic disinterest in morality and unabashed self-interest. AndAll the Little Live Things is about Wallace Stegner's anger toward the Sixties, their chaotic disinterest in morality and unabashed self-interest. And the book seems also to be about youth: how the idealistic, immediate prejudices of the young can instill in the same man a love of innocence, a hatred of innocent self-righteousness, and a fundamental fear of failure at knowing his own lost child. As with most of Stegner's novels, this is a book about reasons to live; reasons cynical narrator Joe Allston would rather avoid were they not delivered with the promise of a fulfilling and singular friendship. Jun 19, 2007
A novel about cancer research in Cambridge, Mass., Intuition follows a close-knit group of postdoctoral researchers through a series of experiments thA novel about cancer research in Cambridge, Mass., Intuition follows a close-knit group of postdoctoral researchers through a series of experiments that leads them through successes, failures and the possibilities of private and public redemption. Larger issues are raised about the purity of science, the uses of ego in competitive climates, the overlap between politics and science, and how personal needs occlude and corrupt institutional goals — and often times shape them. What I enjoyed about this book was its setting in the early 1990s – freeing the story from cellular phones and Internet research in a way that makes the world of the Philpott Institute seem smaller, and the snowballing personal affronts that occur there much more significant.
I found Never Let Me Go to be a surprisingly frustrating novel in its voice and in its pacing: frustrating in how those two choices of style connect aI found Never Let Me Go to be a surprisingly frustrating novel in its voice and in its pacing: frustrating in how those two choices of style connect and disconnect from the great history of novels and stories whose narrative voice comes from a young woman, turning of age, authored by a man. There is something to think about in Never Let Me Go about the trustworthiness of the narrator, though probably more importantly, the novel reminds me of the style of Catcher In The Rye, when the reader is lost in the construct of the narrator’s voice until the author can no longer resist himself and his didactic lesson breaks through. It’s that intentionality to the narrator being, as men like to write young girls, sometimes scattered and clueless that slows down the story being told and — though this could all be intentional to build on the romance of the last movement — loses the impact of the revelations made throughout the book.
Still, I kept reading; sometimes irked that I was being asked to suspend the natural progression of thoughts to what weren’t cleverly hidden revelations when I think a tougher, more challenging novel addressing the same themes would have found a way to retain the believability of Ishiguro’s characters without drawing out their internal dialogues for so long. There is that history of narrators like Kathy H. in this book, but what makes them hard to judge as literary figures is our intruding author, and how reliable of a narrator he decides to be.
P.S. James Wood in his excellent review for The New Republic obviously gets the book at a higher level than I do. I wish I could chat up Mr. Wood a little more as he’s already making me second guess all the thoughts I’ve written above.