"Things were happening to her. They were bad things, but at least they were happening."
I'm a fan of Emily Gould, kind of just in general. I like her i...more"Things were happening to her. They were bad things, but at least they were happening."
I'm a fan of Emily Gould, kind of just in general. I like her internet writing and I liked her collection of essays, and I think she has one of the most interesting businesses around, one that's built on taste and heart and smarts.
Which is why I'm not surprised that this is such a good novel. Funny, of course, but also really honest and true and moving. I'm not embarrassed to say that I teared up a little at the end (on a plane, no less). I said early on in reading this book that it reminded me a bit of Lucky Jim, and there's some of that there throughout, though it's ultimately a more sincere and (is this word terrible to use in a book review?) generous novel. (Side note: Isn't it funny how Lucky Jim and much of Kingsley Amis's work is kind of sexist (sometimes very sexist) and yet these days, the authors who seem to be best at his particular brand of novels featuring hapless and wonderful characters are all women like Kate Christensen and Emily Gould? What do you make of that?).
I read this book in about 6 hours, mainly on two flights and one kind of great lonely dinner in New York. It's a book that feels current and relevant and just very alive. I love how it embraces the way humans use technology today (there are many descriptions of texting, emailing, IMing, scrolling through Twitter, and just general fondling of smartphones). I love the New York it describes and the brilliant skewering of the start-up and blogging worlds. The dialog is well rendered and sounds like people I know talking. It is also, in a subtle way, very well plotted. But I think what most people are going to love about the book are its two heroes, Bev and Amy. The book is, after all, the story of their friendship, and it was almost instantly a story I wanted to read. As it progressed, I found myself sucked into their troubles -- Bev's pregnancy, Amy's career troubles -- and was sort of blindsided by how much I cared about them. I'd read a bunch more novels about these two characters, Patrick Melrose-style. Yeah, I'd be into that.(less)
If you're looking for an unbiased review, you can look elsewhere. I'm married to the author of this book. I read drafts of this at various stages and...moreIf you're looking for an unbiased review, you can look elsewhere. I'm married to the author of this book. I read drafts of this at various stages and since I know the author in the Biblical sense (hey now), I am completely incapable of giving an unbiased review. But if you're interested in hearing why I think this is such a tremendous novel and such a fun read, read on.
There are many "post-apocalyptic" books in existence, but what I love about California is that it feels very mid-apocalyptic. The apocalypse here is not that of the molten lava variety or the devastating plague nature, but rather the slow, inevitable decline that likely awaits us all. Lepucki doesn't dwell too much on the whys and hows of the world of California. We know that for the 99%, the world is a brutal place, one that only vaguely resembles our own. Those who can have fled the major cities--now riddled with violence and decay--either for the cloistered sanctuary of a "community," where life is a sort of clownish replica of the world we inhabit today, or to set out on their own in the wilderness.
Frida and Cal are two such pioneers, living alone in a hand-made shack. They grow what they can and kill what they can and try to make a go of it the way their ancestors likely did. One thought that recurred as I read a later draft of California is that Frida and Cal's existence is one logical conclusion of hipsterdom. Too hip for the city, they now live out a kind of fantasy life of burlap and denim, the ultimate farm-to-table life. Their world is small and fraught until Frida becomes pregnant and decides that they must set out to find other nearby settlements.
This is the story of a family, complete with all the politics, grudges, in-jokes, and tenderness that most of us will recognize as true. That it happens to take place during the end of our world makes it all the more compelling. Beautiful language abounds, as does mystery. Violence hangs over the book, but presents itself only in small bursts, little cataclysms.
I could go on and on about this book, but what I'm really looking forward to is discussing it with some other people. It's a book full of ideas and life. And I can't wait for all of you to read it.
* While the book wisely eschews most historical irony, there are a few fun Easter eggs. My favorite involves a certain contemporary author. Keep your eye out for that one.
* Some of my favorite sections of the book--those detailing life on the bizarro campus of Plank College--were cut from the book. It was the right decision, but man, do I miss those pages. I'm hoping Edan will make a little DVD-extras-type thing out of that section to satisfy my campus-novel lust.(less)
This is a fascinating look at the US and specifically CIA involvement in Afghanistan from the late 70s to early 2000s. Each of the major players -- Bi...moreThis is a fascinating look at the US and specifically CIA involvement in Afghanistan from the late 70s to early 2000s. Each of the major players -- Bin Laden, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Prince Turki, Pervez Musharraf, William Casey, George Tenet, Mullar Omar, etc. -- get their own mini-biographies. Coll does a tremendous job of contextualizing each major moment in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union and the subsequent radicalization of the region and blowback against American involvement.
One interesting thought experiment that came out of my reading this book:
* If the Monica Lewinsky scandal never happens, does 9/11 happen? This is a bit of a stretch, but follow me here: In the late 90s, the CIA had several chances to kill Bin Laden with cruise missiles and/or commando raids, but Clinton -- embroiled in the Lewinsky scandal and weakened by the impeachment hearings -- didn't have the political capital to pull the trigger. I'm oversimplifying here, to be sure, as there were a lot of other factors going into whether to attack Bin Laden on Afghan soil, but it's an interesting thought experiment.
I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in South Asia and American relations with it in the last part of the 20th Century, as well as anyone hoping to better understand how the CIA works and how it interacts with the rest of the Washington machine. And in a strange way, I think this book should be taught in business school, as it's a tremendous case study of how large organizations with many different stakeholders make decisions (or fail to make them).(less)