Nothing much happens in Nathan Whitlock's debut novel of a snapshot week in the life of average people in a slightly below average town, but I enjoyed...moreNothing much happens in Nathan Whitlock's debut novel of a snapshot week in the life of average people in a slightly below average town, but I enjoyed it anyway. Whitlock does a great job of creating a world built on raw honesty that doesn't smack you in the face so much as it gradually builds a core of dread within you as you realize that, sometimes, this is really all there is to life. I certainly recognized elements of the "averageness" of my own life within the book, as I believe mostly everyone would.
The charm of this book stems from just how average its plot and characters are; to reflect how masterfully average it is, I gave this book three stars, the most average of ratings. I don't know if Mr. Whitlock would appreciate my saying so, but dare I call him the "Master of Average"?(less)
So disappointing. It's hard to believe this book was written by the same author who wrote Everyone Worth Knowing, which rocked, and The Devil Wears Pr...moreSo disappointing. It's hard to believe this book was written by the same author who wrote Everyone Worth Knowing, which rocked, and The Devil Wears Prada, which didn't rock as much but was still good. Near the end, I was skimming. I just couldn't stand to read another nonsense tangent about a bird calling himself fat, or Adriana's flawless looks, or Leigh's neurotic tendencies. I have a headache from being beaten over the head so much.
And if I see the word "querida" one more time, I think I'm going to scream....(less)
I found myself having to be patient with this book. I always find Patchett's writing so beautiful (like in Truth and Beauty, one of her non-fiction ti...moreI found myself having to be patient with this book. I always find Patchett's writing so beautiful (like in Truth and Beauty, one of her non-fiction titles), which is why I picked this up in the first place. While the story is quite compelling at some points, I found myself struggling through other parts of the story. I'd still recommend it, but with caution.(less)
Although I struggled with it in the beginning, Cockroach proved to be an enjoyable and thoughtful read. I recently developed a slight hate-on for Gill...moreAlthough I struggled with it in the beginning, Cockroach proved to be an enjoyable and thoughtful read. I recently developed a slight hate-on for Giller-nominated titles (because of books like The Boys in the Trees and Divisadero), but then I remembered how much I enjoyed Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott and I decided to give this one a fair shot.
And I'm glad I did. With his second novel, Hage chooses to address the issue of "forgotten exiles" from war-torn countries through a main character who simply identifies himself as a half-human, half-cockroach thief. We never learn his name, and this proves to be an important device to illustrate just how forgotten he has become within society, that he has become almost irrelevant in a country filled with lost souls from all corners of the world. At the same time we are reminded that the problems of refugees can follow them across oceans and country limits, and that the horrors they experienced in a sort of previous life are not erased with a Visa and Canadian citizenship.
Throughout the novel, the thief periodically speaks to a psychiatrist after he is found trying to unsuccessfully hang himself in a park. It is through these sessions that we learn about the thief's life in Turkey, and the events that lead to his emigration to Canada. During these sessions we also see an interesting clash between first- and third-world cultures, in the way the psychiatrist attempts to apply "new world" labels (ie. schizophrenic, depressive, etc.) to someone who has been forced to simplify the world in terms of existing or not existing, of living and dying. The thief often expresses extreme frustration toward the "privileged", whom he believes are living fake lives in a fake world, therefore making them "filth". He is obsessed with what he considers "real" and would rather not exist at all if he can't live as real a life as he possibly can.
All of this begs larger questions: How far should immigrants be forced to assimilate themselves into first-world society once they've entered it? How much are they capable of forgetting from their previous lives? Are those born in a free society in a position to comment on how refugees should begin their lives anew? I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions, but I was happy to read a book that steered my mind in that direction.(less)
Only two books have ever moved me to tears: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and The Cellist of Sarajevo.
I'm a little speechless regarding how thi...moreOnly two books have ever moved me to tears: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and The Cellist of Sarajevo.
I'm a little speechless regarding how this book made me feel. While I fully acknowledge that I could never in a million years know what it's like to live through such a brutal time in history, I think reading this book is (hopefully) the closest I will ever come. Via each of the three main characters, we are offered a heartbreaking yet strangely triumphant view of the Siege of Sarajevo that is just as large and important as it is reflective of the meticulous details of surviving such unfair and needless conflict. Each character is struggling to maintain the core of their being, each in their own way refusing to succumb to the baser elements of being human in a survivalist society. Whether it's walking rather than running across an intersection, refusing to shoot an unarmed enemy, or fetching water for an elderly neighbour, every character is still very much a human being, and not an animal among thousands of others just scrounging for enough scraps to survive.
This book is only partially about the brutality of war; it's about the humanity that can still exist within it. All I can say is, "Bravo."(less)
I will remember this book for the rest of my life. I will remember the way my skin crawled as I read it, savouring all the horror, pain, restraint, an...moreI will remember this book for the rest of my life. I will remember the way my skin crawled as I read it, savouring all the horror, pain, restraint, and marred beauty of its characters' lives. Anne-Marie MacDonald has left an unforgettable impression on my literary life, as I don't think I've ever read such a daring book.
I didn't expect this book to become a favourite. It's a good thing it did because it was damn huge, and it sucks reading 566 pages worth of crap. But at about fifty pages in, I started devouring it. It was like witnessing a train wreck (but as a thing of beauty); I simply couldn't look away. James' shameful "tendency" and his eventual confession to Frances, whose heavy, heavy burden was carried on my shoulders as I read her story. At times I couldn't believe what the author could do to her characters, and I sometimes felt like shaking her for it, almost as if refusing to believe these things would ever happen in real life. But they do. And Fall on Your Knees forces you to think about that, with undertones (and overtones, really) of the religious, cultural, and personal reasons for all the horrors of the world.
For a book containing such horrific content, however, it was beautifully written. MacDonald's style felt like a warm blanket, and I almost found myself sighing aloud as I read certain passages. I wasn't surprised when I returned to the very beginning of the book after having finished it, to find a short passage from Wuthering Heights. I had forgotten it was there, yet throughout the book I kept thinking about how much it read like the classic.
Two hundred years from now, this book will be considered a true classic.(less)
**spoiler alert** I vacillated when reading this book, between loving the story for what it was and thinking the book was an excuse to push dogma. In...more**spoiler alert** I vacillated when reading this book, between loving the story for what it was and thinking the book was an excuse to push dogma. In the end I decided I was simply caught off guard by the surrealistic nature of the book, as I don't usually read anything resembling magic realism.
I was first sucked in by the more "human" aspects of the book: Simon's affair with Mary, Henry's stifling guilt, the action surrounding the first moments after Sherry's accident. Then things started to take a turn for the weird, and I wavered a bit before settling into the story. Instead of the weird taking over and transforming the book into the ramblings of a religious fanatic, Wiersema does a fantastic job of using the spiritual nature of the book to increase the intensity of the book's personal appeal. What I found particularly well done is the way in which Sherry's healing abilities not only cure people physically, but also emotionally, as demonstrated by the slow rebuilding of her own parents' relationship. I also loved just how human everyone seemed; even Mary, who could have easily been portrayed as a one-dimensional, villainous mistress had an incredible depth to her that I enjoyed very much.
I also liked that Sherry's abilities were kept separate from religion, and really had more to do with spirituality. Wiersema obviously couldn't ignore the religious implications of the "miracle", however, and this is addressed through characters like Father Peter and Leo. This particular plot point really does address the question of good vs. evil, and I was relieved to find out that, in the end, the answer in the book isn't quite as simplistic as I was fearing it would be. I thought it was a little corny that the two "enemies" at the end turned out to be the two biblical characters they did, but I suppose I can also say this isn't completely misplaced, either.
I hope Wiersema keeps writing, because this was a great debut.(less)