I make no secret of the fact that I'm a huge fan of the short story. There's something uniquely satisfying for me about digesting a complete piece in...moreI make no secret of the fact that I'm a huge fan of the short story. There's something uniquely satisfying for me about digesting a complete piece in a single sitting, then possibly even re-reading it a second or third time to pick up on the subtleties I may have missed the first time through. Furthermore, I think short fiction is a true test of a writer's skill, since there's a very limited space to achieve one's purpose, construct a satisfying plot, and flesh out one's characters. I think that's what impresses me so much about Etgar Keret. What most short fiction authors can do in twelve pages, he is able to do in three. Keret possesses a sort of writerly discipline I both admire and covet. For, lo, but I do tend to be verbose.
But my failings aside, The Nimrod Flipout is one of the more unusual things I've read in quite some time, and I mean that as a high compliment. Keret's lightening-quick stories (there's 30 of them in this 167 page collection) are fairly outlandish: one man loves his beautiful girlfriend all the more for the fat, brutish man she turns into at night; a boy is desperate to cure himself of a disease that causes his parents to shrink with every inch he grows; a talking fish provides perspective to the man who had hoped to make it his supper; a father-to-be is so anxious his child won't live up to his hopes that he dreams it into a pony. Keret's imaginative, to say the least.
One may expect such bizarre premises to turn comical, and they sometimes do, but I often found myself bracing for a joke that never materialized. And this was in no way a fault. What begins as silly often turns thoughtful, poignant, or downright sad, and considerably deeper than the offbeat premise had me prepared for. It's perhaps understandable that Keret, an Israeli, weaves terrorism throughout the collection, but it's handled subtly and his stories are neither religious nor political. Instead, and despite all their strangeness, Keret's stories are oddly universal and his characters easy to empathize with.
In sum, I enjoyed this offbeat little book more than a little bit. Should your tastes lean towards the whimsical, you may do well to check it out.(less)
Truly intelligent horror is such a rarity, and although my biggest criticism of Evans' debut is that it's not quite as scary as I hoped it would be, t...moreTruly intelligent horror is such a rarity, and although my biggest criticism of Evans' debut is that it's not quite as scary as I hoped it would be, there were certainly quite a few scenes that chilled me enough. I mistakenly assumed that this would simply be a story about demonic possession, but it turned out to be something much more interesting - a freaky, tight little tale that explores both demons vs psychology, rationality vs spirituality, and perception vs reality. I've noticed that several readers have criticized the ending, and agree that it was anything but neat while the book tended to ask more questions than it answered; however, for me, anyway, those are all good things.(less)
As far as love goes, Remy is a cynic. Having a mother who's been married five times will do that to a girl. She's had her fair share of boyfriends, bu...moreAs far as love goes, Remy is a cynic. Having a mother who's been married five times will do that to a girl. She's had her fair share of boyfriends, but Remy always knows to give them "the speech" before things get too serious. She's a careful girl with big plans, and isn't about to let any man disrupt her meticulous life.
That is, until she meets Dexter. On the surface, Dexter is the polar opposite of Remy. He's messy, free-spirited, disorganized, and hopelessly romantic. He's also a musician, just like Remy's father - a man Remy has never met, and who she only knows through the lyrics of the famous ballad he penned for her: "This Lullaby." Although Remy knows that Dexter is not the man for her, he refuses to accept her cold logic. His relentless persistence eventually pays off, and although Remy knows their relationship won't last - that it's just a summer fling - the longer they're together the more serious it gets, and the harder it becomes for her to harden her heart and throw this one over.
As a high school English teacher, it's been a small source of embarrassment for me that I've never read a Sarah Dessen novel. She's one of those names that is constantly being buzzed among students and critics alike, and so though the premise of this novel hadn't particularly hooked my attention, I decided to give it a shot just the same.
From this one, admittedly limited experience, I really appreciated Dessen on a feminist level. Remy is a fairly realistic teenage girl who is strong, independent, and who isn't looking for a boy to "complete" her. In that respect, Remy is a great role model for young girls. She takes care of herself, and shows girls that marriage is not requisite to happiness. If I had a teenage daughter, I would whole-heartily encourage her to read Dessen's novels; and because they're so engaging, I don't think my fictional teenage daughter would put up much of a fight. Furthermore, it is nice to read a YA title where no one is in a gang, dealing with substance abuse, battling an eating disorder, raped or murdered. Seriously, YA books without these issues are becoming increasingly rare, and it's refreshing to read something that's not as weighty in its subject matter, yet still doesn't sacrifice intelligence.
So, even if This Lullaby wasn't necessarily the book for me, it's a title that I'm happy to own and feel comfortable lending out to pretty much any teenage girl. If you know one, Sarah Dessen is a good author to share.(less)
I've been done with this book for ages, but this one has been a particularly difficult book review to write for some reason. Timing, I think, is certa...moreI've been done with this book for ages, but this one has been a particularly difficult book review to write for some reason. Timing, I think, is certainly playing its part. My Grandpa is pretty sick at the moment, and so reading and/or discussing a book about death isn't really something I've been over the moon to do. Go figure, right?
Nonetheless, I think the larger issue lies not with the subject matter, but with the author. For all his problems with sentence construction and characterization, Saramago is widely considered to be a genius. In fact, Harold Bloom went so far as to call him "the most gifted novelist alive in the world today." Thus, I can't help but sort of feel like the problem must lie, at least in part, with me, the reader, if I happen to really dislike one of his books.
And let's be clear from the beginning - I really disliked this book.
On the surface, Death with Interruptions contains all of Saramago's trademark qualities: it's more fable than novel, the characters are widely unnamed and under-developed, he writes sentences that run-on for days, and it possesses a deep level of sociological insightfulness. But while some of these qualities can be perceived as criticisms, they can and have worked in his favor. Take Blindness, for instance. It was brilliant, despite its "flaws." The characters in that story remained unnamed and rather vague throughout the narrative, and yet I still found myself able to care for and about them. I assume that the point there was to present more character types than actual characters - to explore how society as a whole would react to such a catastrophe, and so keeping them half-formed was a masterful decision that totally worked for the story he was trying to tell. Since Death with Interruptions is a similar sort of sociological story - asking what would happen if there was suddenly no more death - one might think that using the same sort of tools would produce similar results. But they didn't for some reason. And I'm not sure if I can point to why, exactly.
The novel's premise is certainly an interesting one. What if no one died? Death is hated, however necessary. As Saramago illustrates, without it population soars, the sick linger on in a horrible sort of half-life, religion loses its purpose, organized crime thrives and the economy suffers. However, I'm not sure Saramago is telling us anything none of us don't already know. Obviously, death is a necessary evil, and stories of this sort have been told before. Furthermore, the characters were left so vague and the story such an overview, that it was hard for me to feel invested in what was going on.
Then, half-way through, the novel switched gears. While the first half focused on the societal implications of there suddenly being no death, the second half focused on death itself - this time, through personification of the concept. Death decides to resume her work, though she now gives everyone two weeks notice. This notice presents its own problems, but the real story in this second half is that death (small "d") finds herself (a woman, of course) unable to kill a cellist for reasons she can not understand. The novel's two halves are not connected well, and I was never particularly clear on what point Saramago was trying to make with the cellist story. By the end, I was bored and forcing myself to finish.
Again, maybe the problem is with me. Maybe Death with Interruptions is genius and I'm the idiot who just didn't "get it." However, I suspect this isn't really the case. I suspect that I'm right - that this is not one of his strongest efforts and that it contains some very real problems that many readers will overlook because of the author's acclaim.
Overall, fervent Saramago fans will certainly want to check it out, however first-time readers of his work would do best to start with a different work.(less)
"I was a biography in perpetual motion, memory in the marrow of my bones."
Narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, Philip Roth's oft used alter-ego, American Pas...more"I was a biography in perpetual motion, memory in the marrow of my bones."
Narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, Philip Roth's oft used alter-ego, American Pastoral is the story of Seymour "The Swede" Levov - a man who, on the surface, seems to be a glimmering example of The American Dream. Levov is handsome, athletically gifted, married to a former Miss New Jersey, and lives in a big stone house in the suburbs of Newark, comfortably removed from the crime, decay and racial turmoil consuming his blighted hometown. But when Levov's teenager daughter decides to protest the Vietnam War by setting off a bomb that kills an innocent bystander and sends her into hiding, there so goes "The Swede's" charmed life.
Something nagged at me while I read American Pastoral, a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning story of how the idyllic American Dream turned in the the "American berserk" thanks to the political and social turmoil of the 1960s. It's been a few years, but I recalled feeling something similar while reading Roth's The Human Stain - like I knew I was reading something pretty profound, something beautifully written by an incredibly skilled artist. So, why wasn't I enjoying it more?
Allow me a brief, tangental analogy: I do not like steak. There are people who revere steak above most other things, people who would pay through the nose for a nice filet mignon or a piece of kobe beef. I am not one of those people. I will eat steak if that's what you make me for dinner, however I won't enjoy it nearly as much as I probably should, and would probably have preferred to have been served something else. For me, Philip Roth is like filet mignon: he's a satisfying, high-end, beautiful meal...for someone else.
When it comes down to it, I suppose I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't like American Pastoral very much. It's a highly lauded work by a highly revered author, so to say that I just didn't like it makes me feel like a bit of a dolt - like the uncultured, backwater hick who shows up to the opera in jeans and then falls asleep during the first act. (Yee haw, ya'll!)
And so though I may not have liked it, American Pastoral is a excellent novel by a gifted writer, so perhaps you should just take my thoughts with a generous grain of salt. After all, this is all coming from the lady who'd rather eat mac and cheese than filet mignon.(less)
Erin, a smart, bookish high school sophomore, takes a lone, cross-country trip on a greyhound bus in the hopes of meeting Harper Lee, gaining a better...moreErin, a smart, bookish high school sophomore, takes a lone, cross-country trip on a greyhound bus in the hopes of meeting Harper Lee, gaining a better understanding of a mother she never knew, and discovering whether she truly has what it takes to be a writer. In Search of Mockingbird draws heavy thematic and character inspiration from its namesake while still managing to stand alone on its own merits, and while fans of To Kill a Mockingbird would certainly enjoy it, reading Mockingbird is not necessarily a prerequisite. It is a poignant and well-written piece, although it's the sort of young adult fiction I can see adults apt to reflect on their teenage years enjoying more than actual young adults.(less)