Wow -- it's been a while since I didn't want a book to end. This book worked on more than one level -- as a gripping mystery, as a psychological thril...moreWow -- it's been a while since I didn't want a book to end. This book worked on more than one level -- as a gripping mystery, as a psychological thriller, as a study of human relationships, and more.
Cassie Maddox, a police officer traumatized by her last undercover assignment, reluctantly agrees to go undercover yet again when the murder victim in question turns out to be a woman who could be Cassie's double. Not only did this woman resemble Cassie physically but she has been using the exact fake identity adopted by Cassie for her last undercover case -- Lexie Madison. "Lexie" had been posing as a graduate student in English and living with a tightly knit group of fellow students. In an effort to discover Lexie's murderer, Cassie begins posing as Lexie, pretending to Lexie's housemates that Lexie actually survived her stabbing and is now returning to her normal life.
Is it possible to adopt someone's identity and pose as that person to the people who knew her best? There were some deliciously tense moments, as you can imagine, when it wasn't clear whether Cassie would pull it off. This added to the drama of the mystery's revelation layer by layer. But more interesting than the mystery itself, and even more interesting than Cassie's adventures fooling Lexie's housemates, was the enmeshed relationship among the housemates and Cassie's pull to become a part of the group despite her best efforts to maintain professional distance. Tana French did a wonderful job of exploring the dynamics of a group of close friends clinging together out of insecurity and creating a seemingly utopian existence, and how it can suddenly all fall apart.
Even if you don't consider yourself a mystery fan, I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a multi-layered story which asks interesting questions about human nature. (less)
No book is perfect, but this one came close for me. I loved Cassandra, the protagonist -- a genuinely funny and sharp seventeen-year-old girl who is t...moreNo book is perfect, but this one came close for me. I loved Cassandra, the protagonist -- a genuinely funny and sharp seventeen-year-old girl who is the quintessential chick lit heroine in many ways, setting the tone for that cliche while simultaneously rising above it. Cassandra and her impoverished family, oddly enough, inhabit a large castle originally rented with the earnings from her father's great, and thus far unrepeated, writing success. Now that her father appears to be suffering endless writing block, the family is nearly starving.
Cassandra's mother is dead, and her father has remarried. Cassandra's stepmother, Topaz, is another interesting and three-dimensional character -- an 29-year-old artist's model who seems flaky in many ways but is deeply devoted to her husband and step-children. Rose, Cassandra's beautiful 20-year-old sister, despises their poverty and dreams of a way out, while Cassandra and her younger brother Thomas are more accepting of the situation. The last member of the household, Stephen, is a young man who works for his room and board (such as it is) and suffers deep and unrequited passion for Cassandra.
Enter the insanely wealthy Cotton family from America, who has just inherited the estate on which Cassandra's family's castle is situated. The Cottons have two eligible sons, and the intrigue begins. Lest you think the plot is predictable, though, be forewarned -- it isn't.
If I wanted to nitpick, I could. I did occasionally have to suspend my disbelief in certain minor places. But I don't care. Those places were few and far between, and the overall story and characters were so great to read about that it didn't matter. This book managed to be light and funny, and profound and wise at the same time -- how often does that happen? The situations were surprisingly complex, as were the characters, but it never felt ponderous or slow. I wish there were more books like this.(less)
"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" explores the tragedy of Lia Lee, a Hmong child with epilepsy who eventually suffered severe brain damage, f...more"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" explores the tragedy of Lia Lee, a Hmong child with epilepsy who eventually suffered severe brain damage, from a variety of perspectives. One perspective is that of her family, who believed that epilepsy had a spiritual rather than a medical explanation, and who had both practical difficulty (as illiterate, non-English speaking immigrants to the U.S.) and general reluctance to comply with Lia's complicated medical regimen. Another perspective is that of her doctors, who were extremely frustrated at all the barriers in dealing with this family and felt understandably determined to treat Lia according to the best standards of medicine. Then you have the people in between -- the sympathetic and aggressively advocating social worker (resented by the doctors) who came from the American point of view but aligned with the family; Lia's temporary foster family who ended up forming an apparently close relationship with her birth family; and the author herself, who unpacked this story with all its layers and recognized the profound questions it elicited, such as:
What’s preferable from a doctor’s point of view – a lower standard of care with a higher probability of compliance from the family, or a higher standard of care with a lower probability of compliance from the family?
When a child is involved, who's the boss -- the doctor, or the parents?
Why are we Americans so intolerant of those who do not wish to assimilate into our culture? And do we owe them the same rights/privileges as those who adopt American culture?
How could the Lees be perceived so radically differently by the doctors and nurses who worked with them vs. the more sympathetic social worker and journalist?
If the doctor's goal is to save the body and the family's goal is to save the immortal soul, who should win that conflict?
This book was amazing, on so many levels.
The writing was excellent, and so was the organization. I find that non-fiction books often err on the side of being either informative but too dry, or engaging but also too sensationalist/one-sided. This book was neither. The story was gripping, and so was the background (and Fadiman did a great job of interspersing the two so as to build tension, and so that neither aspect of the book ever got boring). Fadiman has clearly done her research, and I felt like I learned a great deal from the book but never felt like I was reading a textbook.
Best of all, this is one of the rare books I've read that felt truly balanced and three-dimensional. Fadiman was sympathetic to the Hmong and their viewpoint without romaticizing or idealizing them. She described some unfair racist reactions to the Hmong, but she also acknowledged the valid resentment felt by people whose taxes were supporting their welfare-receiving huge families. Fadiman also portrayed the doctors as motivated overall by good intentions. She acknowledged factors such as cultural blindness and the arrogance of the profession, but did not imply that the doctors were coldhearted, insensitive automatons -- quite the contrary.
Highly recommended for anyone who wants an engaging and thought-provoking read.(less)
I loved this. It had so many elements of a great novel -- romance, mystery, richly drawn characters, humor, a story within a story (with both plots eq...moreI loved this. It had so many elements of a great novel -- romance, mystery, richly drawn characters, humor, a story within a story (with both plots equally enjoyable and dovetailing in interesting ways), and great writing -- even in translation. Someone compared it to "History of Love." I sort of see the comparison, but I think I would compare it more to "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. Anyway, I highly recommend it.(less)
This is my fourth Alison Lurie book, and she hasn't disappointed me yet. I love her writing and her characterization, and was amazed by the intelligen...moreThis is my fourth Alison Lurie book, and she hasn't disappointed me yet. I love her writing and her characterization, and was amazed by the intelligence and depth of this highly readable novel.
The premise is this: Roger Zimmern is a young sociology professor and a new hire at a university who is flattered when a charismatic senior professor he admires, Tom McMann, invites him to assist him with an exciting study. McMann's plan is to infiltrate a small cult so he can study religious delusions and group dynamics. The two of them begin to spend a lot of time pretending to be participating in this cult, whose beliefs and practices grow increasingly bizarre. To further complicate things, Roger develops a huge crush on Verena, the girl at the center of the cult who is allegedly receiving messages from an outer-space messiah. Verena's behavior encourages this crush, creating complicated professional and ethical conflicts for Roger. McMann, for his part, engages in deviant research behavior of his own but has such a persuasive hold on Roger that Roger must grapple between McMann's rationalizations and his own better judgment.
In the course of telling a very exciting story (who would have thought a story about sociological research could be so dramatic and highly charged?), this novel explores issues of group dynamics, ethics in research, religious belief vs. delusion, and the thin line between sanity and insanity, among other things. While stimulating many questions about these provocative topics, the story is very well-paced -- not at all slow, and a very smooth, enjoyable read.
As a side note, the cult reminded me of a bizarre book Miriam recommended to me in high school -- "Why do Birds," by Damon Knight. I also got a kick out of certain dated aspects of it (it was published in 1967) -- a dime for a cup of coffee, $3.98 as "outrageous" for a shirt, no computers, cell phones, e-mail, etc.(less)
Wow -- what a fascinating experience, to read "Truth and Beauty" after "Autobiography of a Face" and then to follow up with Suellen Grealy's angry art...moreWow -- what a fascinating experience, to read "Truth and Beauty" after "Autobiography of a Face" and then to follow up with Suellen Grealy's angry article. I actually thought "Truth and Beauty" was the better book of the two, although perhaps it's not fair to say that because much of my fascination with "Truth and Beauty," at least initially, stemmed from having read "Autobiography of a Face" and the unique, stimulating opportunity to read one person's memoir and then to read how that person was remembered by a close friend. First of all, I loved the writing. I forgot I was reading a book half the time; I felt like I was experiencing the friendship and the people myself. Also, while "Autobiography of a Face" was well-written, the story gripped me more than the writing. With "Truth and Beauty," the writing was more singular than the story although I enjoyed both. "Autobiography" explored the dynamics of growing up looking like a freak, while "Truth" described a uniquely intimate? codependent? almost physical? unhealthily close, or just unusually close? friendship -- a more universal topic, but written about in such a fascinating and provocative way. This book made me think a lot about friendship. When does unique closeness become dysfunctional and unhealthy? When friends fall into the roles of "the sick one" and "the well one," even legitimately, how do they break out of that? And should they? If so, at what point? It also made me think about sociable, charismatic, life-of-the-party people and whether they're just good at masking and filling (or trying to fill) an inner emptiness. Is it better to be introverted? Then, reading Suellen Grealy's article (not printed in the book, for obvious reasons) raised even more questions for me. I could empathize with Suellen's feelings of exposure and her sense that her private grief had become something public and marketable. At the same time, at the risk of sounding callous, there's another way to look at this. For example, concerning "Autobiography," she expressed irritation that Lucy had selected her vantage point -- but what do you expect a memoir to be? In describing Ann Patchett's afterword to "Autobiography," Suellen quoted her sister Sarah as saying, "Where are we in this story?" Ann Patchett was describing her memories of Lucy, which didn't include her sisters, whom she never met while Lucy was alive. I tried to understand -- is she angry about the exposure of Lucy, or about the fact that she wasn't included in this expose? Then, Suellen reacted to the fact that one reading guide for "Autobiography" questioned her mother's parenting skills, and reported that this was blamed on an inexperienced intern. It's true that this may be insensitive to the family, but once you're going to go there, maybe the book shouldn't have been published at all! Suellen said that, while she respected Ann Patchett's need to write the book as an artist, she would have preferred that she write it and then bury it somewhere rather than publishing it. Right. I sympathize with Suellen's feelings of exposure, but to hold it against Ann that she spent years writing an excellent book, a book that contributes to the literature canon, and then actually wanted to publish it, is not fair. This happens to be a problem, as I know because a friend of mine is a writer and a journalist and sometimes angers people who appear in her writings (directly or indirectly) because they feel their privacy has been invaded. It's not that I don't sympathize with Suellen's feelings. I can't imagine what her grief must be like, and then to have it bared so publicly outside of her control. However, "Truth and Beauty" was such a worthwhile book in my opinion that I have a hard time relating to her particular complaints. I guess that any book has the potential to expose and hurt people, especially a memoir. Does that mean it shouldn't be written? Does that mean it shouldn't be read? (less)
Wow -- I couldn't put this down. Which is a funny thing to say, because it wasn't a pageturner in the classic sense; not plot-driven or particularly s...moreWow -- I couldn't put this down. Which is a funny thing to say, because it wasn't a pageturner in the classic sense; not plot-driven or particularly suspenseful. I just found the heroine and her story very engaging. I also liked the way many of the characters managed to be both jerky and sympathetic -- complex, in other words, something that's missing from many books! Finally, I think it was sweetly nostalgic for me to read about a heroine growing up in the 80s, whose developmental clock pretty much mirrored mine. I appreciated the references to friendship pins, Keds, Ocean Pacific sweatshirts, etc. -- Moriarty really evoked that time period for me without it being overkill. I had a similar experience when I read "The Song Reader" by Lisa Tucker, which I also enjoyed, although I think this was a richer book. Anyway, I can't really name a flaw in this book -- it was enjoyable and interesting, well-written, characters you could see and feel, etc. Highly recommended.(less)
I really enjoyed reading this. It was a little different from Amy Tan's usual, but it had a lot of great elements -- adventure, humor, depth, etc. I h...moreI really enjoyed reading this. It was a little different from Amy Tan's usual, but it had a lot of great elements -- adventure, humor, depth, etc. I highly recommend it.(less)
A slow starter, but definitely worth getting into. Lots of "inside jokes" for Orthodox Jews, but probably interesting for the general population as we...moreA slow starter, but definitely worth getting into. Lots of "inside jokes" for Orthodox Jews, but probably interesting for the general population as well as a story of immigration and acculturation. My husband and my brother have not stopped rereading and discussing this book since they first read it several years ago!(less)