Wow, I am really impressed with these two stories. I liked them so, so much; if I could read a book of six or seven of them, I would love it.
These are...moreWow, I am really impressed with these two stories. I liked them so, so much; if I could read a book of six or seven of them, I would love it.
These are some of the best New-Yorky stories I can remember reading. It's a pretty full genre, but these totally did the trick for me. Each of them encapsulates the deep world of one of the many subcultures, lifestyles, neighborhoods, other divisions by which we all live such very different lives in New York City.
The first one: indie music. "The Missing Clip-On." The Lower East Side/Alphabet City/eventual-Williamsburg-migrants hanging on to the punk rock dream and way of life that thrived/thrives there. The author's details are so deeply recognizable. I recognized types of people I knew, I know what all those venues are like (and also, Two Boots!), I've seen some pretty shitty apartments. The realness really clicked.
None of that would really matter if the story wasn't any good, but I loved it. We get a dual narrative of a kind: first, a first-person girl bassist trying to make it/waiting tables, and second, a story she learns. She buddies with another waitress-musician, and moves into a terrible apartment building, and works on her own shit, searching through her angst in the ways you do. (Also, something crazy happens.) She's a great narrator for the story.
She presents Damon's story to us almost like a folk history of one band's career, but it's far more than that. A sometime musician, he ends up finding his real calling as (I once knew someone who liked to term herself) a "scene-maker": getting his finger on the pulse of the trends, on the teetering precipice of the irony, and then making a bunch of money selling the best t-shirts in Brooklyn. (Ultimately, he styles a band that doesn't really exist yet gets booked anyway. It's not actually as satirical as it sounds.) But what really happens is in his personal story, and what occurs after he falls in love, and what a terrible sad end it all has. His moments of love and openness are monumentally great, so breathtaking and delicately written, and they just legitimize everything in the story that might seem silly. Both narratives are brooding, but full of a journey.
The second story, "Almost Tall," is the reason I got this book. I'd heard about it when it was released separately last year, but I couldn't get a copy. I knew I wanted to, though. The description was so good it drove me mad: a 14-year-old, shipped out to summer ballet program, staying with her rich uncle and his boyfriend, inevitable overwhelmingness! Oh. It's fabulous. I'll take a hundred, sight unseen.
There is a little bit of ballet, but the real cultural immersion comes at the hands of the boyfriend, Eddie, an aging gay man with an overabundance of drama, ridicule, and fashion sense. He lives the penthouse life but never seems to work; he knows the highest of the high but they break his dinner dates. He designs pillows? And he isn't all that nice. Eddie's feelings are probably hurt that he has never been offered a Bravo show.
But despite all this, there is so much realness to him. Dinah, our girl, ends up having to spend most of her time with him, and eventually they strike a strange and precarious kind of workable social partnership. He pretends to be annoyed, yet parades her around and trumpets their "triumphs" at cocktail hours; he doesn't really know her, but makes sure she has some fun. (Until he doesn't.) But all throughout it, we're in Dinah's head, seeing how damn much she can take when somebody rich says something cruel about her (ballerinas, man!), and watching her watch Eddie. And we're with her when she cracks, and is finally given some pieces of true generosity.
The only thing wrong with this book is how much more I want. I want more of Vestal McIntyre's New York City. I hope he might be working on some.
Because this writing is so new, and there's so little info on it available, I'm including some of my absolute favorite quotes. (In spoilers, for space.)
Betsy, a product of a big Jewish family on Long Island, threw this type of abuse around playfully, and I tried my best not to take it to heart – my fragile, only-child-from-Illinois, heart. My Christmas-ornament heart. . “Maybe someday,” her mother said, “they’ll invent a soap that will wash away old tattoos you don’t want anymore.” This sentiment, which, an hour ago, would have struck Damon as mawkish and provincial, nearly made him cry. . At this, Rebecca passed Dinah a smile like a folded note. . But Dinah witnessed moments when Eddie forgot to be himself, when his shoulders melted into his form, his head bowed, and he seemed old and round. This was usually when he was gazing out of cab windows at the passing city. His little fingertips picked at each other, and a crease of worry divided his brow. What do we live for? The question startled Dinah from within. Then the cab reached its destination, and with one inhale Eddie’s angles returned.
I'd love for this little book to get out there more, but it's kind of a weird arrangement. I downloaded this using a trial subscription for the book service Rooster, run by the DailyLit people. During July 2014 you can get this book when you sign up and use the app, but I'm not sure if you can ever get it after that? It's a little complex and annoying, and I don't think the actual service is really for me (I'm not that into curated reading; I only just joined a book club for heaven's sake), but I am so glad I took the opportunity to read these.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I love this book so much I'm writing a whole fresh review of it on reread. I finally got my own copy, and I spent one whole wonderful day going down i...moreI love this book so much I'm writing a whole fresh review of it on reread. I finally got my own copy, and I spent one whole wonderful day going down into the depths.
The first time, a couple years ago, I had no clue what I was getting into, at all. I had never heard of this book in my entire life. Now, my sister and I love it so much, I feel like we should keep our copies in our nightstands like Gideon Bibles. Or, more truly to its nature, go around placing them in other people's nightstands.
This is a desert-island book, for me, because just for example I could sit and read the opening lines of it over and over for hours. I really could.
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead."
If that narrator doesn't make your eyeballs bug right out of your face for a minute… maybe I might not want to talk to you any more? Really?
And then next, immediately after that, it's the library books. They've been on the shelf for five months! Maybe she should have chosen differently, if she'd known they were the last. Then her trips to town, twice a week, and not being too scared to order the coffee, then leaving when someone else comes in, but "without seeming hurried." Which side of the street to walk on. Everyone in the grocery staring. And wait, you said you never opened those library books? This was five months ago?
And then you're on page nine. And it keeps coming. The moon. The song. It's one of the best first chapters of anything.
The whole thing is like this. This goddamned bewitchingly fastidious way of talking and something just is wrong. Reading the book feels like being out in a field in early March after it's rained and it's still real cold, the ground is kind of soggy and it's too dark, probably it's going to rain again, but you're looking at the grass and the rocks and it's nice and there's these couple of white daffodils over here, don't they know it's not quite spring? What time is it, anyway? When I read it, I am so happy but I am worried the whole time for when it's going to break. I feel like there's a draft and I need to put on a sweater.
Since it would be ridiculous to complete an actual line-by-line review of a whole novel, I will just make a list of things I love the second time through, and didn't mention the first time.
* I am on the moon. I am living in a house on the moon. Merricat has so many ways of dissociating her way out of a situation that disturbs her, and they are all so much more disturbing than where she starts. You get it right away, in the grocery, the visualizing: they are crying with pain and dying. I am walking on their bodies. Just to get through shopping, to cope with coffee. It's the first layer upon layer of things that carry us through the book, inside her head.
* Practically the entire narrative thread is simply floating along the stream of Merricat's magical thinking. As the plot unfolds, she keeps herself so busy dealing with it, thinking these thoughts, planning these charms (a book nailed to a tree; so many buried things), watching for signs and making protections against them. Filling the world with symbols: small bits of paper will remind her to be kinder to Uncle Julian; long, thin things will remind her to be kinder to Uncle Julian. Making the rules. Undoubtedly the best part of a reread: watching her make rules. I am not allowed.
* She wears her mother's shoes? Everything is so old. So ordered. But they've slipped from something staid and nice, like preserving their family's objects and habits, into these wacko superstitions and routines. Just the fact that teatime is the great terror. All of Merricat's routines have this very scary edge to them (and also panicked, phobic, that it could all end), and all of Constance's are tender and tearable like tissue paper. Together they've devolved into this over-adapted Grey Gardens type of crazy isolation from real life. But their world is so sweet, inside. Constance, always cooking. Merricat, adoring. Completely, really, the sweetest.
* It isn't enough to throw a question mark into the backstory, but Uncle Julian's weird mistaken persistence about Mary Katherine was so striking. He's old and senile and dying and confused, and so he misremembers the history, and even when she is there in the room, he is sure that Mary Katherine died, during that time in the orphanage that we know so tantalizingly little about. Except, all Uncle Julian does is pore over the history. So why does he wrongly insist on this? The way that it's all arranged, he only ever interacts with Constance… and we know who makes the rules. Right? This part just kind of hooks into me and hangs there on its own and I like it.
* Also: "They quarrelled hatefully that last night," he says. But about what. About who.
This is a story with a small twist of a sort, which is why half my original review is in spoiler tags and it's hard to get into specifics about. More of a perspective-shifter, a confirmation rather than a surprise. But so matter-of-fact it is just spooky, and changes everything.
I love it so much. And like. You could read it in one sitting, if you really wanted to. How is it possible. How does it exist. "I am so happy."(less)
This is what I think I'd call an "accomplishment read." On its own, Titus Alone doesn't work at all. I read it, though, as a completist, so that I cou...moreThis is what I think I'd call an "accomplishment read." On its own, Titus Alone doesn't work at all. I read it, though, as a completist, so that I could know about it for myself. However, the book's fate is made even sadder by the fact this third book in the Gormenghast trilogy doesn't work as part of its series, either.
This is pretty well-covered knowledge: Book One and Book Two take place in the same setting, with the same rules and people and purpose. At the end of Book Two, our hero Titus takes off for adventure, and thus Book Three is destined to be different. This isn't necessarily bad news for the series, as a new setting by itself isn't what makes the book fail.
The setting, though, is pretty surprising. Titus, somehow, has wandered and become lost in something rather closely approximating our own world. He doesn't know how to get home (if he wanted to) and nobody's ever heard of Gormenghast. Within the first couple of pages, someone drives up to Titus in a car, and you are like "Wait holy shit is that a car!!??" and then suddenly, there with Titus, you've got cars, and airplanes, and cities and factories and houses. (Previously, I've described Gormenghast's setting as quasi-Victorian, not that I'm a historian — but you've got candelabras, horses, etc. and the social order is some strange blend of pre-Industrial Revolution aristocracy and serfdom.) It is a culture shock, then, to end up here — although strangely, evidently not as much a shock to Titus as it is to us.
That's generally the irksome nature of this book. Questions you expect characters to ask, things you expect would surprise them, don't. They don't react to anything at all, and the book therefore can't make any sense of itself. It starts out strange, then, and just devolves further into strangeness of a comic proportion. It's incoherent and inconsistent, and hard to describe how odd and sudden the developments are — someone will show up and say, "I have been watching you, devoted to you for many years, hidden in your forest," and the lady will say, "Okay, let's go then!" and then they do and then he's just a guy who's with them, no big deal, for absolutely no reason. It almost, almost is convincing as an absurdist story, but it really doesn't work out.
Similarly, it is kind of playing with the building blocks of a good old bildungsroman, but the blocks are sort of dumb. Titus (who is roughly aged at around 20, here), in his exploration of this new world, meets a nice lady and gets a nice sexual awakening. But pretty much the only momentum of the story comes in the form of Titus's restlessness, and so, on he must wander, sowing oats. And so the primary plot points of his arc in this book pretty much = becoming entangled with a woman + soon he must leave her.
When we do get something resembling a real plot, near the end, it is because he has pissed off a girl he's rejected in this way. And unfortunately, I couldn't really read around how weird and screwed up Peake wrote Titus's put-downs of the girl, Cheeta (?! that's her name ok), whom Titus finds deplorable except that he wants to sleep with her. She's kinda rightfully insulted by his attitude. Then — because she is our villain? — in her fury she decides to crush him. We spend a while tensely anticipating the performance of her great scheme, a secret plan to ruin him, a colossally big event that welcomely feels similar to Steerpike's (much more fabulous) schemes in the previous novels. She decides (view spoiler)[to put together an enormous replica of Gormenghast including life-size effigies of all Titus's family and friends, living and dead, in an effort to drive him mad. (Conveniently, she spent a long while nursing him out of a delirious fever in which he apparently described everyone and everything in accurate and coherent detail.) (hide spoiler)] — but I SWEAR TO GOD, I thought she was gonna try and marry him. That's the kind of story it is like. In the end, (view spoiler)[Titus abandons his friends again after they've rescued him from this horrid event (and one of them has died saving him) and he ends up back at Gormenghast… only to turn around again, and wander off a different way, as if he didn't return at all. (hide spoiler)] And that's the end of our trilogy.
Why three stars, then, if I consider the book a failure? Partly sentiment, yes, and a pitying respect, and context. Mostly, though: even though nothing in this book makes much sense at all, Mervyn Peake's writing remains glorious. And this is an eminently respectable accomplishment as Peake, famously, continued writing and plotting this series while his health was degraded by Parkinson's-related dementia (the first cited symptom of which is an "inability to plan"). This book was more or less his last writing. The author clearly suffered from cognitive failures that, undoubtedly, were far deeper and more painful than can be represented by a novel failing to make sense. I forgive him.
What's shocking to me is that even as Peake's mind degenerated, his language here is astonishingly weird and wonderful and deep and I needed a dictionary, just like the previous books. There are some passages of immense beauty — fewer, but they're here, and that makes the book invaluable. It couldn't be clearer that the author's skill is not to blame for this particular book's weakness as a novel. I expected that this would read as though it were a different mind entirely that had written it, but it wasn't. I recognize it, and it's the part of the experience of reading through Gormenghast that means the most. These books are a treasure in English, no matter what else.
I expect I have some final feelings about the whole shebang still to come, but as far as Book Three goes, I don't know what else to say. I'm sorry that it had to end this way, but still. Still, indeed.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This book. I didn't think I loved it too much. But I have noticed that it placed some things inside me that have stayed. They're me now. I'm very grat...moreThis book. I didn't think I loved it too much. But I have noticed that it placed some things inside me that have stayed. They're me now. I'm very grateful for the places I get my ideas and knowledge from, and this was a great book for that. I will always round up for that. That makes it a keeper.
I think, for me, this book is more important in chunks. As a whole, it felt puzzling — it's a book of raw materials. It took a while to reach me. And this was confusing, because there is a lot of feeling at the surface level, here. We have dual narratives, Ruth the author (actual Ruth the author) and Nao the diarist, and in the novel, both of them are in crisis. Nao, in particular, is experiencing some real horrors in the chapters of hers we share, and declares herself on the brink of suicide. Ruth, having found this diary, weaves its contents into all the painful and confusing questions of her own life and identity that she is experiencing. These are some pretty good feelings, in a book, but they didn't come to me easily.
And it's really because of the stuff. They are burdened with it. The dual narratives are themselves about so, so many things, and each thing grows its own space, subdivided and subdivided until the feelings that you expect you're reading about become ideas instead. That's what my experience was. But the ideas are not small, or even digestible at all; they are lifelong, and I feel the awe of gratitude to this book for getting me to think (and feel) them.
So I don't think I'm using this review space to try and explain what happens and why. That's not what was interesting for me, or what I connected to, so instead we're gonna talk about ideas.
Nao's story ends up mining far into her past, and some of my favorite elements here were about things one and two generations older than her. We learn about the literature of feminism that came out of Japan's brief democratic period in the early 20th century. The text name-checks the work of several women writers: Kanno Sugako, who wrote Reflections on the Way to the Gallows after conspiring to assassinate the emperor with a bomb; Fumiko Enchi, a novelist and playwright; Akiko Yosano, a poet and social reformer. (The bibliography also points me to Hiratsuka Raicho, suffragist and founder of a feminist literary journal.) In addition to how impressive and relatively obscure these thought leaders were, I was also introduced to the concept of the "I-novel," a form of reflective fiction that seems to be rather masculine in its extant works, but in this book is all wrapped up amongst these women. (More sourcesabout it in the bibliography, too.)
Nao learns about these things because her great-grandmother Jiko ran with this crowd, was a writer, was an activist. When her son Haruki died as a kamikaze pilot in the war, she left those things and became a nun. Now, when she teaches Nao, they are all fitting together: she says, the feminist poets, the Zen, it will all make you strong. SUPAPAWA!
By far the most emotional segment of the book comes from this kamikaze pilot, Haruki. He gets mentioned a lot (Nao's father is named after him), but the real exploration of him comes so deep and late in the novel that it almost feels like it constitutes a spoiler. Which is what's so strange about this book — it opens up in ways that make emotions feel like spoilers. But, the things we learn from this section are wondrous, the conscripted student soldiers, writing to us as they prepare to die. We get to see several writings that belonged to Haruki, and diaries like these are very real things. And that is pretty stunning. A novel about this subject, listed in the bibliography, appears to be extremely hard to track down. … Which is kind of fitting.
In some ways, the novel is about the impermanence of information and truth. If you erase something, if it's digital, is it still real? Ruth spends a good amount of time in this book Googling, desperate for information about the innermost souls of people she is observing from afar. Does she have a right to know? What was the true intention of a kamikaze pilot? If you write for someone but don't know who your reader will be (hello, internet!), are they a real person yet? If you pretend a teenage girl doesn't exist, will she die?
How, how, how can we talk about this book. There are thirty more things to discuss. I've got all day. I'll just pick one though.
It's Zen Buddhism! Okay. Ozeki, in real life, is ordained as a priest, and so her teaching in the book has the heft of good authority. Nao spends a lot of time talking about it. Her great-grandmother is her rock, and this great-grandmother is a nun in a remote mountain temple, and that's that.
Nao's time visiting Jiko's temple was my favorite event in the book. It felt special to me. She goes there tortured and raw, and therefore so, so open, and she doesn't know it. But she follows the rules, she makes the full-body bows of gratitude for every single thing, and she learns. It's her tool for healing. She does zazen. It helps.
I finished reading the second half of this book in one afternoon, ostensibly because my book club met soon, but mostly because that day I felt too peaceful to stop. I felt so lucky! It was so kind of the world to let me read. I watched the clouds moving by outside my window, the afternoon light changing, me reading. How many moments are in a fingersnap?
I will admit that lately I have been seeking. I have been finding teachers everywhere. Recently I saw the "Do Nothing For 2 Minutes" website. And it is a joke of course, a whole website for this, Ha, ha, I don't need a website in order to accomplish nothing for two minutes, thanks though! But then you go there and it says "FAIL" right away, and you're like wait, just a second, I don't want to fail. I didn't know it was a real test. You're really watching me, website? You are holding me accountable? You really want me to succeed at this? Me? I'm just somebody stupid. But no, this is in my power! The key is that it's nothing! Anybody can do nothing. What do I even have to give up, how much am I holding on to, this minute? Isn't this "nothing" about attachment, really? Isn't this website like a little zen master for the internet?
I mean, probably not. But I like to be optimistic sometimes? Question mark?
One day at the temple, it all starts to "click" for Nao, and she admits that she said thank you to the toilet. And she's like, wow, I just thanked a toilet? But actually I do appreciate it a lot?
The other day, in my real life, I did this with a stepstool in the kitchen where I'm short, and I accomplished something up on a high shelf and I felt good, so when I put the stepstool back I said "Thank you, stepstool, I appreciate what you do for me!" And then I was like, wow, I just thanked a stepstool. But actually I do appreciate it a lot.
So that's where we are, me and this book. A teacher, I think, is a good thing to have.(less)
I caught up on the website and noticed the second part of this series was published online (along with the first, which I read in hard copy). I was bu...moreI caught up on the website and noticed the second part of this series was published online (along with the first, which I read in hard copy). I was bummed when I learned that this was only a two-part series — it's a really rich part of the Gunnerkrigg story, but I guess the author's treating it a little differently than I expected, keeping it light. I want some big thing with FEEEEELINGS and he's written some cute thing with fairies. Oh well. Who the heck can argue with that?
So this wraps up Annie's getting acclimated to the forest people when she spends the summer there. Basically in the first issue she feels awkward and shy (and Ysengrin says, deal with your own problems!) and in the second issue she starts to make friends. They uh, get her drunk sort of? And she makes fireworks? I guess basically this could be called Annie Goes to Magic Summer Camp.
She shows a momentof pain, in her hangover sleep. I was glad for a little touch on what this is all about, with her. It's good she's having fun this summer, while she's processing a bunch of sad stuff in her past.
Just, how great is it when they ask her if she has a "love" back home and she says Kat? This is the best comic ever.(less)
Oh man. Given to me in a box of books from my dad's colleague, offloading some of her teenage daughter's old books. I was way too young for them, 8 or...moreOh man. Given to me in a box of books from my dad's colleague, offloading some of her teenage daughter's old books. I was way too young for them, 8 or 9 I think. They were mostly Sweet Valley Highs, and bits of vintage YA from the late 70's and early 80's. (I definitely had a MTI copy of Ice Castles in there.)
This was one of those (with this super creepy cover) and constantly drew me down to the basement to sneak-read it. This seemed necessary because it held me in thrall of its slightly graphic sex scenes (both Nazis and nice American boys!) The story is full-on crazy, but I was at such an impressionable age I will sure never forget about it.(less)
I'm very glad I read this, even though I doubt I'll be interested in rereading it again. I definitely liked the book, but whether a person will love i...moreI'm very glad I read this, even though I doubt I'll be interested in rereading it again. I definitely liked the book, but whether a person will love it or not depends a lot upon their taste, and how important certain aspects of novels are to them. The book has a powerful story and a walloping message, but is often heavy-handed in its writing style. Indeed, this was the author's first book, and it turns 20 years old this year, so its place in the world of popular reading and writing has shifted. You can tell, reading it, that this is a writer who will grow more, because it is so well-conceived but misses some beauty in the writing, and some subtlety in the themes, and those are important characteristics to me as a reader.
It did pleasantly surprise me. It wasn't about what I expected it to be about, but I ended up getting something out of the direction it went in anyway. At first I wasn't certain I liked it much at all, and then I started to understand what the focus would be and it worked a bit better for me. While I was expecting this to be a mother-daughter story and an immigration/culture-shock story, this is not really the novel's atmosphere at all. It's a looking-in book rather than a looking-out book. Trauma, really, is the atmosphere, to the extent that it almost is a "therapy book": both mother and daughter experience sexual traumas, and these, themselves, are our subject. It is the "reverberation through the generations" story. It is straightforward and tough. There is a coming-to-terms, without a clean ending. (There's a big ending, but not a clean one.)
Our protagonist Sophie grows up in Haiti without her mother and then, suddenly, is summoned to live with her in New York. She experiences almost the opposite of culture shock: her New York school is Haitian, they teach in French, and her mother does what — according to her — Haitian mothers do. Sophie left the political dangers of the country of Haiti behind, but the cultural issues are still with them in the United States. The sexual oppression of girls becomes very real in Sophie's life, and it becomes the focal point of everything, including her mother's past, and her own future.
While I was reading this, I attended an event with the author where she mentioned meeting a group of psychiatry students who had read this book and were using it as a case study for clinical analysis, and I can completely see how you could do this. I often think about the connections between literary analysis and counseling. And here, everything floats right up on the surface, the same way it does in clinical case studies. Having lived her teenage years with her mother's PTSD, as an adult Sophie is in therapy, Sophie attends a support group for victims of sexual phobia, and eventually, Sophie goes right back to Haiti. She needs to ask it questions. She looks her beloved grandmother in the eye and asks why their family does what it does. These scenes are quite blunt and simple, in terms of literary artfulness, but as an "issue book" it is almost as good as a survivor's handbook. A script, even.
This book also surprised me in some personal ways on the more general thematic level, the connections-between-people level. It directly addresses (and works out) some things that happen to have come up in my own life in the past week. Isn't it strange when this happens for you in a book? I didn't even know it would, here. But I listened.(less)
This is a family memoir, and links several story pieces together more cohesively than almost any novel I've re...moreThis book is so wonderful. I loved this!
This is a family memoir, and links several story pieces together more cohesively than almost any novel I've read in ages. It's beautifully done. Partly it is about the author's growing up in Haiti at her uncle's house, before moving to the U.S. at twelve to be with her parents (c. 1980). And partly it is a chronicle of the year that her father and uncle died, and in which she gave birth to her first child (c. 2004). Each of these pieces is a worthwhile story in itself, but there is a darker pull that drew her to write about it all together, which is explained outright in the book's description: the circumstances of her uncle's death in the custody of U.S. Homeland Security.
It's impossible to discuss the book without eventually addressing what happened to Joseph Dantica. But first I feel the need to point out that the content of this book is just about 10% injustice, 5% history lesson, and 85% love, love, love. Edwidge Danticat loves her family so much, and she tells us so many things about the comfort and fun and happiness of belonging to them, it makes us care a lot and understand a lot about them personally. After reading this book, I love her family, and I'm, you know, a stranger to them.
The structural outline of this book is crazy and fun. She jumps back and forth through loops in the timeline every which way, and sometimes branches off into folktales or someone else's memory from decades back. It's a total ramble that she's totally in control of. Her childhood recollections are vivid, even when the circumstances are stark. Haiti at that time was, of course, a poor and often dangerous country, but Edwidge seems to have missed the "worst" of the violence and poverty that would affect her neighbors. Her uncle remembered the U.S. occupation of his childhood, and in his final days he was driven away by rebels from his neighborhood. But in between he and his wife ran a church and school, and helped to raise several young people (only one of them their own child) in what I keep wanting to say appeared to be a happy childhood, although there are plenty of tough stories here. But it isn't evoked in a way that is bleak. It's life. The author seemed to enjoy and be awed by her family as a little girl, with a warm care that the reader begins to share.
However, there is an edge, an imbalance that it seems she can barely glance at. Though waiting comfortably, the author and her brother still waited for eight years — until she was twelve — to be able to join her parents after they moved to New York City. That's a long time. That's a whole childhood. Her parents had two more children in those years, and managed only one visit back home (their immigration story is an interesting time capsule) before Edwidge and her brother were finally allowed to go. And then, snap, they were gone. Exhilarating; wrenching.
For the record: this kind of thing blows my mind, and I would dearly love to read a whole book just about that, if the author would write one. (FWIW it appears she came nearest to it in Breath, Eyes, Memory and in a lesser-known YA novel, both of which I plan to read.) Edwidge's own transition to post-immigration life is not covered in depth in this book, which made me sad because I have a lot of feelings, and it's just something I care to hear about. Our New York City contains so many millions of immigrant tales, and not of the "Ellis Island" kind but the "people who got here yesterday" kind. I think everybody who lives here should care about them, and I find it really important, but I acknowledge it was not essential to the rest of this book right here, only me.
Instead, the timeline mostly advances to her adulthood in 2004, when she learns (on the same day, no less) that her father is dying of a pulmonary disease, and also that she's pregnant. And then, when her uncle comes to visit… In the beginning of the book, she says, "This is an attempt at cohesiveness, and at re-creating a few wondrous and terrible months when their lives and mine intersected in startling ways, forcing me to look forward and back at the same time." I loved this introduction, and I feel I understand her all the more for it and her own meaning for the book.
There are all kinds of ways to dwell on how horrible the way that her uncle Joseph died was. I don't really want to lay them all out in a review here, because it's sad, and for most the facts will speak for themselves. The main reason I won't go into it, though, is that the author herself refrains. She shows the restraint of an artist in cataloging the injustices he experienced after being detained by immigration at the airport in Miami, and she leaves many of the more emotional messages inferred, unsaid. While you could write a whole book about those few days, she doesn't. Because of how well she has permitted us to know these people in the book that she did choose to write, we are able to understand them deeply as this very fucked-up thing goes on, and worry for their fears and feelings ourselves.
Actually, I partly take back something I said in my last review — judging by this book, maybe it is possible to write a natural-sounding narrative based on the account of a formal government report. This author, of course, had benefit of interviewing personal contacts (her cousin and their lawyer) who were present during portions of the events, but overall the story sounds measured and real, including the parts that were clearly primarily based on details gleaned from the Freedom of Information Act. It's well done and hard to do.
I believe this is the first book by Edwidge Danticat that I've read, though I've certainly read something before, because I've known her name since she showed up in my curriculum in a memoir class my first semester of college. That was several years before the events of this one, so I do not know what we read. A short essay, I think? About her hair, maybe, and perhaps one of her brothers? But I clearly don't remember. I'm eager to know her better, and I love so much that she lets us.(less)
1) Quit my job 2) Bought this book 3) Went on vacation to the Jersey Shore with my friend 4) Read this book,...moreOver a couple weeks in the summer of 2005, I:
1) Quit my job 2) Bought this book 3) Went on vacation to the Jersey Shore with my friend 4) Read this book, on the beach 5) Came home and returned this book to Barnes & Noble because I was unemployed and needed the money back.
It was kind of a great time.
The B&N Lending Library, I called it. "It's okay because they're hardcover!"
This was not the only time that I did such a thing, and it's not that this is an ethically wonderful idea that I would recommend. But if what you really feel you've got to do is take that brand new book on vacation, and you've got bigger problems with no health insurance or credit card, I would say that, well, have a great time. It's hardcover.(less)
Aaaugh. Is this going to be the best book I read this year? In JANUARY??? That's it, 2014! Your bar is really high! This is gonna be hard on us both.
T...moreAaaugh. Is this going to be the best book I read this year? In JANUARY??? That's it, 2014! Your bar is really high! This is gonna be hard on us both.
This book is practically perfect, I think. (The last book I remember saying this about was Cutting For Stone, FWIW.) I almost fail to think of any way to improve it and make me love it more. IT IS SO GOOD.
This writing is good not just because the idea is good, every scene crisp and right, each of the dozen characters loved. The writing is good on that big, deep level of words and meanings, weaving itself until it's so perfect you kind of want to hit somebody. The details are so remarkably nice that I honestly don't feel like discussing them. It was so much more wonderful to fall for them myself. The work is so unbelievably subtle, I don't want to bruise anything by waving my finger at it.
I avoided this book for a while because I couldn't understand the premise exactly. What is going on here, with birth and death? Is it a supernatural thing? No, although yes: it's understood, and clear to the reader, that Ursula relives her life whenever her life ends. When she dies, the story resets itself, slightly differently, a sixth sense helping her bend her fate to keep her alive — and sometimes it takes several tries. (Things that it turns out are VERY DIFFICULT to avoid: Spanish flu; a German bomb falling right on your apartment. Also beware turn-of-the-century childhood, generally.) Ursula doesn't ever straightforwardly understand the actual cause and effect of what is going on when she dies and relives her life (view spoiler)[(until the very end) (hide spoiler)], but she is trapped by deja vu, and she knows the moments when action needs to be taken. She takes it, then, because she somehow understands that if she doesn't solve this problem now, the problem will not go away. It's as if she knows that there is a next time, even though she doesn't know.
So, in the reading, this means that the story basically centers around those small pivotal moments in life: the days when something momentous happens of some kind or another, and perhaps no matter how many ways you live it, dinner is always ruined, and you always find the dog.
This would be a great one for the internet to play with, to make charts and timelines. There's a pretty remarkable and spoiler-filled analysis on "narrative design" here and here, with a chart that I like though I want MOOORE. (What an amazing blog, though, regardless!) Also a little breakdown of all of Ursula's deaths, here.
It has been a while since a book raised so many beautiful and lasting things for me to think about. I needed that. What is raised, here, is the question of what gets set in motion when Ursula sort of begins to sense what happens to her. What about those moments that change everything? What about the things you can and can't rewrite? The most harrowing section of the book for me actually came long before any German bombs. (This is really spoilery for real) (view spoiler)[Ursula is raped and becomes pregnant. Not really knowing what is happening, she's brought by her aunt for an abortion. She ends up hospitalized from an infection, near death. (hide spoiler)]. I cried. It is the most devastating moment she has ever lived through, BUT SHE DOES NOT DIE. Somehow, it is not just the awfulness of Ursula's experience that makes this so harsh and tragic: up to this point, we have watched her instantly escape all of the terrible things that happen, rather than have to live with them. But this one goes on punishing her. (view spoiler)[Her mother rejects her, and she marries a terrible man. Eventually, it all does get rewritten — after some good long years of misery, her horrible husband finally beats her to death. She does not have to marry him again. (hide spoiler)]
How do we go on from the things that rip our lives apart? How do we help others go on? Though they apply to herself, these are also the questions that Ursula has charged herself with night after night of the Blitz, volunteering as part of a rescue patrol, identifying bomb victims and pulling them out of rubble. When it is that bad, so bad, what can you think? What can you say? Her inadvertent mentor, the warden on the squad, tells her: "We must remember these people when we are safely in the future." It is so strong and beautiful a gospel, but is it enough?
I suppose one important thing that I haven't addressed is, for all of this high-concept reincarnation of an ordinary English girl, why is it even happening? In a way, the things I mentioned in the previous paragraphs are actually a lot more important to me, because I'm always affected a lot by the thematic impact of a book, and I am so impressed with this novel for having such a strong one. But, indeed, there is a point. And even though it pretty much is revealed to us on page one, perhaps it is sensitive enough for spoiler space? (view spoiler)[It sounds too trite to sum it up this way, but once Ursula finally understands that she has coherent memories from her other lives, she galvanizes them all to come back once more to go and kill Hitler before he gets going, thus preventing WWII. (Consequently, this was an interesting one to read closely behind Alfred and Emily, which unwrote WWI.) We don't know what came next, after this assassination, because Ursula is immediately shot. And this only happens in one of the branches of the story. But it is, seemingly, the point. (hide spoiler)] One of the purposes of reincarnation that is discussed in the book is the need for us to "get it right," and for Ursula this act seems to be the apex. Interestingly, though, this very moment was not actually the end of the book. A couple of other short scenes follow, which have nothing to do with that event, and I think I would have chosen to remove them? Or simply move them? But it probably won't be so hard to convince me it's perfect.
You could read this book rather quickly, though I savored a bit longer than necessary. Structurally, the story must repeat itself a few times and I got a little muddled which "reality" we were in, whether such and such did or didn't happen. But this doesn't actually seem to matter very much, as it's the emotional reality that matters more, and we always know what the stakes are because all the situations become so familiar to us. It repeats without being repetitive, and just made me feel at home there. The scenery really has everything: the book's first half simply depicts a beautiful and idyllic English country childhood (except for the occasional dying, of course). A family of characters. Things get a little freaky during adolescence, and then adulthood starts to spin off every which way, with her studies, her couplings, work in the war ministry and so many bombs and, indeed, Germany. I cannot overstate how pleasant this was to read, and how glad I am.
I don't know how to say this without sounding mean? But I'll try. Because very nearly, this is almost not at all the same Kate Atkinson who writes the Jackson Brodie mystery novels. I do like those novels! Mostly. But this book is a literary work I didn't know she was capable of from reading those. I had no idea. Maybe her secret is out, maybe now we can tell the difference when she writes a novel over dinner and telly or not? Because now that we know she writes so beautifully, we're going to hold her to it. We have no choice!
Loved it. So epic and so personal, an instant favorite.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Jo Ann Beard was one of my favorite discoveries of 2013 (though I entirely owe the "discovering" to Sara), so I of course had to snatch up the first o...moreJo Ann Beard was one of my favorite discoveries of 2013 (though I entirely owe the "discovering" to Sara), so I of course had to snatch up the first of her two published books, as well. It is eating me up that there are only two!
This one is straightforward memoir, in short essay pieces. Her form really is creative nonfiction, memory-plumbing and storytelling. Although she published her more recent book In Zanesville as a novel, a large portion of that material is not-at-all veiled borrowings from her self. Which is fine. I think that's interesting. The writing's so good, call it whatever you want. Let it spring from wherever you get it from.
Anyway, what I mean is that it didn't surprise me to encounter the atmosphere of her life (especially her childhood) in this book; it felt familiar and I was glad to be closer to it with this writing, even though so much of the storytelling is so very uncomfortable. I definitely have a threshold for uncomfortable, and a few of these toed that line (mostly her bleak dating years) when there wasn't enough counterweight of something else, irony or affection.
But she is one of those writers with one hell of a gift for writing childhood, nailing the really mean and really funny details. She remembers (or at least extrapolates) enough to bring us back there to what children do and don't get about what goes on, and meanwhile keeps her adult eye always on her parents. Being able to contextualize your parents will always be one of the most fascinating things about adulthood to me. I think one's parents are a mystery you will never truly crack even though you have every clue. I collect so many clues. Does everyone feel that way, or is it just me? When a really good writer writes about their parents, I believe everyone does.
About half of the stories here are about being young (sometimes very, very young); feelings about big sisters, cousins, toys. The other half are about her adulthood, particularly her marriage and divorce, the story of which is sprinkled all throughout.
By the end, I was invested enough that I wished there was something more of a through-narrative to tell me all the missing details of her personal history. But that's impossible, in a collection of short pieces, and I'm a nosy person who likes details even if the teller doesn't want to show them to me. So that's not the author's fault. I never really consider it a criticism when I love something in a book so much that I just want a lot more than it has to give me.
About some particular pieces:
"The Fourth State of Matter" is such a good piece it would be worth buying a book for by itself, but as good luck has it you can already read that one for free. (I already wrote about it a couple of months ago.)
"The Family Hour" was the other jaw-drop standout for me, a stunner from her childhood that reads very close to the novelized family elements from In Zanesville, with the added horror-twinge of it being definitely from real memories. The sewer grate, the beer bottle, the back door. This story was amazing.
"Out There" was a brilliant and brief one about powering through a terrifying experience on a long trip. It reminded me of a segment out of Wild. The facts of it made a good story all on its own, but it's her way of showing the background that gives it weight. Us knowing where her head was reminds us that we never really know where anyone else's head is while they do anything. Which is cool, but isolating, and also sometimes people are terrifying.
The title piece is really long, bringing up the last fifty pages. It's about her friendship with her best friend, weaving stories from middle school up to their current relationship. Something about the way that their adult friendship is written made me laugh so, so hard a bunch of times. It's like the way she writes the blunt blindness of kids, only they're grownups so it's even funnier and sadder at the same time. I loved it. Also, for some reason lately there's nothing I like better than stories about sneaking around at night (I don't know) and this has a great one.
And definitely can't let this go without mentioning my other favorite character Hal, which was Jo's favorite doll when she was three, who figures significantly into a short Preface to the book as well as the longer story "Bulldozing the Baby." (Jo Ann Beard, I love you, but your titles.)
So what now? I don't know. These days, the author appears to have (what is hopefully) a nice teaching job at Sarah Lawrence, but her faculty page isn't up to date with publications, and she has no proper website. So she's just a person! What. That's fine. I would just be excited if there were more to go around. I'm so into this writer, you guys, and I can't quite handle the fact that she hasn't had a wide and prolific publishing career.
So I had Google do some homework and did my best to come up with a little Internet Bibliography for Jo Ann Beard.
Firstly, there are some pieces out there that are from this book:
* "Maybe It Happened." Memoir. (O Magazine, 2008.) You can read this for free! But it's very slight, almost like a teaser for another story. * "All the Many Beasts." Reporting. (Byliner, 1998.) Paywalled, with a free trial. Also with a little use of caching… * "Undertaker, Please Drive Slow." Reporting. (Tin House, 2002.) Only available by hard copy back issue. Looks unbearably depressing, anyway. * "Werner." Reporting. (Tin House, 2006.) Only available by hard copy back issue. I really want to read this one! It's also anthologized in The Best American Essays 2007, in case for some reason one ever runs into a copy of that.(less)
So just, from the beginning, I was doing this wrong.
I started in a subway car, at rush hour, standing up and stretching for a pole. I read through a w...moreSo just, from the beginning, I was doing this wrong.
I started in a subway car, at rush hour, standing up and stretching for a pole. I read through a week of commutes. Sometimes I read in bed, getting sleepy. I took this book on vacation and read at the airport, on a plane, on a train, on a train again. I finished it on a train (again), worn out and skimming to reach the end before my station came and the real adventures of my day began.
Rather wonderfully, this book begins by telling you how it wants to be read. Isn't it a lovely feeling to make some tea, shut the door, pick the comfiest chair and curl up with a blanket to begin to read a book? The whole first chapter is about this feeling. And there on the C train (of all trains!), that morning, I told the book I was sorry. I do read on the subway all the time, of course. The majority of my reading happens there. I've read some of my favorite books this way. But, no, it isn't the same, is it? Now that you made me think about it. Now that you made me feel bad about it. Where is the sumptuous reading time in my life? Why have I never gone and bought an armchair as glorious as that wonderful hideous brown one my parents owned, and somehow crammed it into my apartment to sit and read in? Why don't I have a whole separate apartment just for reading in? (Actually… last year, I had just that, waiting for my lease to end. That's NYC for you!)
Anyway, it's a joke, of course, this opening, telling you how to read. Isn't it? Nobody really gets to do things under ideal circumstances. (Or, when they do, it just makes the rest of us mad.) Sumptuous reading time is not the norm. People have laundry to do and kids to watch and whatever, we live our lives in tiny compartments. Just to write this review, this belated, difficult Goodreads review, I've shut myself in my bedroom tonight away from my loved one and my dog until we have to go to sleep. It's a treat, for just long enough to do this.
I knew before I started that this was a novel about books, but really, it's a novel about reading. Its subject is the experience of reading novels. The author explores this through several complicated conceits (which render most reviews of this book unintelligible, but I'll do what I can) and an alternating structure: first, a chapter about reading a book, and then, a chapter of that book. Repeat. Our protagonist is the one doing the reading. The plot occurs as he finds that the books he picks up are all wrong — he starts one after another and constantly finds that he's only got one proper chapter and the rest of the copy is a misprint, or missing, or untranslated, or secret… This happens ten times. And every bad beginning sends him looking for an answer somewhere else, and every answer he's offered only worsens the problem, until he's in too deep and your head is spinning.
So, it is basically a book of ten novels' first chapters, with a story spaced out in between. Being only beginnings, these opening chapters' only job is to make us want more of them, as the Reader does. (I myself had mixed results.) Some of them terminate at a suspenseful twist or moment of action. One of them — making its point rather vividly — even terminates during a sex scene that has gone on in acute detail for four long pages, but ends immediately before the impending climax. The point is, as soon as we get where the story's going, the story ends (for us). We never get, as it were, the good stuff.
Now: it's being funny. It's playing with us. Calvino is teasing us, and making us think about why we like novels to, er, begin with. That inquiry is rewarding, and he is kind of cute for coming at us with this mischievous resignation. He's writing as if to say, "Oh, were you reading that? …So what?" Well. Answer him! Isn't the beginning itself worth reading? Is a story only of value if it has someplace to take you? And what happens to the reader if this is all you get, this obstructed satisfaction? It begins to feel, after a while, like what happens when you're forced to miss more than one night of sleep — your brain never restores, you get confused and ornery, you feel like you need your shocks replaced.
And if you're our Reader, in this book, you might well end up on a wild fucking goose chase into the Siberia of conspiracy land. And that is putting it mildly.
I was so, so not ready for the crazy turns this thing starts to take halfway through, but once I got there, I had a better grasp of what I was dealing with. Part of what Calvino has created, with our Reader's quest for his novels' conclusions, is an immensely cynical satire of all people in the world who care for books: the publishers, the translators, the authors, the scholars, the university departments. The readers, who just want to read. They all want to know how the story ends, but all with their own agendas and — to the point of conspiracy, intrigues, and propaganda — all being willing to fight for what they want a book to be. It isn't much wonder at all, really, that Calvino wrote a book like this near the end of a long literary career. I think every one of these people has bought him lunch and talked his ear off, and he's about had it: Laugh at yourselves, for a change. Don't take it all so seriously.
One interesting thing is that in part of his chaos, Calvino here briefly invents the concept of the "variant" novel that is written by computers more perfectly faithful to an author's style than even the author is. Their effect on a reader is quantifiable and ruthlessly measured by the books' programmer-publishers. It's as crazy as it sounds, and also it made me think one of my favorite thoughts from when I read Borges: I so wish these writers could have seen what we've done with the internet. Calvino and Borges (with his continual stories of permutation and infinity) are exploring related territory, recursion and nonsense, the authenticity of a copy. You can almost see a variant world spring into being where literature is what leads to computer science, with these writers at the helm, where programming languages run both books and machines. They wanted to know where it led. What would their minds do with all of this? Who would be the characters if this book were written today? What might he want to say differently?
This book has so much to offer, but I am a reader easily tired by these clever tricks. I can't withstand them very long. (Also, I truly hated the ending, but I don't want to be a crab.) It feels like a weakness, like this makes me disappointing and disingenuous, like when you can't believe your mom doesn't want to go on the rides with you because "you get jostled around so much!" and that's the fun part. But I get Borges burnout, I get meta meltdown. I'm fatigued getting impressed by repeated impressiveness. When I realized just how much super crazy shit was gonna go on here, I understood the book better, but I also knew how much I would want to just get it over with. I don't know that I'll never be able to do it justice, but now wasn't the time, and I regret that. It was harder to read than it should've been, and took a lot longer than it should have, even during a busy period. It could be read in a day, I know. If one had one's comfy chair, and one's comfy tea, and gorgeous solitude.(less)
Now here's a book I'd never have considered reading if a family member hadn't taken it off his shelf at Thanksgiving and said "You should take this ho...moreNow here's a book I'd never have considered reading if a family member hadn't taken it off his shelf at Thanksgiving and said "You should take this home and read this. But I want it back!" And he came to visit us this week, so. Home it went!
The funny thing is how similar this novel was to If on a winter's night a traveler, in a few ways. In the beginning, a storyteller (seemingly the last one of the itinerant oral tradition in Ireland, c. 1950s) lodges at a boy's home for a few nights, and the boy then spends the remainder of his youth obsessed with finding him again. The book alternates chapters between the boy's search for the storyteller and stories told by the (or another type of) storyteller. As he follows clues to track the storyteller down, he runs into some method or another of having a story told to him. The goal of this structure is entirely different from Calvino, of course — there's no playing with your mind or the meta understanding of fiction — but the back-and-forth format was familiar, as were the little contrivances used to end a chapter in order to begin a new tale.
This was recommended to me as "a good yarn." It isn't a book for children really — unless you know one of those neat kids willing to crack a big book just for the fun in exploring it — because it's overlong and the through-narrative is a bit untidy. But, I kept thinking: these stories would be so great to read to a kid at bedtime. The storytelling chapters are almost all great fun, and almost all of them are transporting with imaginative historical detail. The best stories (i.e. except the ancient battles; my attention flagged) are told as fairy tales, but they aren't at all, none of them are. No fairies, no magic here. We get a telling of the legend of St. Patrick, which is as close as it comes.
And when I was little, that was what exactly I wanted in a story: not a fantasy, but to learn something, to hear a story all the more wonderful for feeling real. I would have loved almost all of these stories. In the legend of the Book of Kells, the list of different things they made paintbrushes from, the feather voting ballot system. Newgrange, and the genius of figuring out how to carry stones as big as your house for miles, the bear, the elders. Stories behind mountains, behind paintings. As a kid, these things would have filled my imagination enough to make my own stories up in my dreams. This was the stuff that ran through my head while I played in the backyard, pretending to gallop on a horse and shooting rubber bands like arrows. That was the apex at which my childhood connected with bliss; that's what I'll remember when, knock on wood, I'm ninety. Information for imagination.
As a novel I can't really say that this won me over entirely. The frame story, of the boy and his search as he grows into a college-aged adult, takes some strange twists. We learn — really, really, really long before he does — that there is some oddity in his family backstory. (view spoiler)[His parentage isn't what it appears to be — his father's wife, who's raised him as her son but with a complex distance between them, is not really his mother. His doting aunt, her sister, who has also always lived with them and helped to raise him, is his mother. Okay! That's fine! I wasn't super shocked. It was 1940, a girl gets in trouble, her family covers it up and raises him as their own, right? WELL that's not what happened! Try THIS out: the happy youthful marriage of Ronan's dad and not-mother resulted in an endless series of near-lethal miscarriages. What to do? Well… what if the husband has sex with the wife's young sister, in order to conceive? The child would be half theirs, and the other half close enough. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? That they fall in love? But out of respect for marriage and family and Catholicism they never sleep together again? They just live in the same house and raise this son as a parenting triad, n.p.? And it was no big deal that the young sister lost her virginity for this and then never married or dated anyone else? Also the husband and wife apparently ALSO live a life of abstinence evermore because contraception was illegal and conception was too dangerous? (hide spoiler)] …Mkay. So this is… a bit intriguing? Real super juicy and also pretty hard to swallow? You're left wondering how this even went down at all in the first place, and, you are waiting for something like 400 pages for Ronan to find out even the basics of this information you know. It isn't even dramatic irony or suspense, it's just… find out! Already! Tell him! Let's do this! Otherwise, what's the point? (view spoiler)[Once Ronan hits his wall of young adult self-pity and rage, we're supposed to feel for his whole existential Oedipal meltdown, but really he just looks like a sheltered baby, and he storms off on a months-long journey to heal his pain. Which should probably have been wondrous, only, we had to go with that guy. And he STILL doesn't know. (Oh, and also? The storyteller's his grandpa… all along! Bwahaha!)(hide spoiler)]
Okay that got sassy, but, you know.
I definitely learned some good stuff about Irish history. The nitty-gritty kings-and-battles and invasions and etc. was edifying, though not consistently my favorite to spend many chapters on. The book could probably have lost 300 pages and not been so much weaker. But, it was nice.
In a way, probably the thing I found most exciting of all was something that does not sound very exciting: walking. There are wonderful descriptions of walking, here, about the storyteller's intimate knowledge of his country, barn by barn. It makes you long to be him. It makes you think, yes, I will go and find the secrets too. His travel, and Ronan's, transport you into journeys that could take place any century in time where people have feet to walk on and the knowledge to go. Speaking of capturing the imagination, this is it. Go on the quest. Go on the walk. What's the story?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)