I can't quite gush effusively for Omar El Akkad's American War, but not since The Handmaid's Tale has a dystopian novel spoken to me so loud4 stars
I can't quite gush effusively for Omar El Akkad's American War, but not since The Handmaid's Tale has a dystopian novel spoken to me so loud and clear. (The thinly veiled "Fuck you, Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions" message was probably integral to my enjoyment.)
Pretty simple concept: imagining the United States, circa the late 21st century in the midst of a second Civil War, thanks in no small part to global warming (Florida is gone gone gone) and the polemical divide between"Blues" and "Reds". To El Akkad's (and the book's) credit, the focus is not quite on the war itself (which is a good thing; I'm not sure, with the books I've read lately, how much warfare I could stomach). Rather, much of the attention is centered on the Chestnut family (and more specifically, fraternal twin sisters Sara T. -- or Sarat -- and Dana) and their woes contending with life pre- to post-war in the "purple lands" of Louisiana at the periphery of the seceded Free Southern State. Even though the war is "off-camera" (conveyed via interspersed archival papers and news reports, reminiscent of Max Brooks' World War Z, sans zombies) the Chestnut family's travails are unflinchingly harsh and brutal, particularly as they are uprooted from Louisiana to "Camp Patience", a refugee "tent favela" in Iuka, Mississippi. Sarat, in contending with the strife (of dodging snipers, "Birds"--drone bombers--and the South Carolina-centered plague), emerges as an enigmatic badass heroine, a 6'5" seething anger vessel hell-bent on retribution for the Blues' ripping apart her family.
There's probably going to be a contingent of readers who hate this novel for El Akkad's pretty obvious (to me) anti-right stance, and others might pooh-pooh the melodrama, but the "What If" scenario he's dreamed up, for its plausibility alone, makes this a frighteningly fascinating wake-up call. Expect the Netflix adaptation forthwith....more
With the recent announcement of the end of the century-old traveling circus "The Greatest Show on Earth" (aka Ringling Brothers and Barnum and3 stars
With the recent announcement of the end of the century-old traveling circus "The Greatest Show on Earth" (aka Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus) I was intrigued to read Beth Macy's Truevine, a book that promised to reveal a seedy underbelly to one of the most celebrated circuses in the world.
Ms. Macy, for the most part, does deliver on the promise, with an awful story that will certainly interest anyone who is either interested in the history of the circus, or egregious racial injustice, but the story is so scattershot and jam-packed with arcana that the thrust of the heartbreaking "Two Brothers, A Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest" narrative is somewhat waylaid in the exacting details.
There's no denying though the central story is book-worthy: Outside Roanoke, Virginia, in a town called Truevine in a sharecropper's tobacco field in 1899, a representative of the circus (so the local legend would bear out) discovered albino brothers George and Willie Muse and "kidnapped" them (though it's not exactly clear that kidnapping is the correct term) to perform in the sideshow along with a panoply of "freaks" (mostly people with physical abnormalities). The blond dreadlocked brothers were billed, variously, as Eko and Iko, the Ecudorian Cannibals or Martian Ambassadors, to perform alongside the likes Zip the Pinhead, the Bearded Lady, the 16 inch tall dwarf Living Doll, etc. They were a huge hit (mostly reassuring gawking circus-goers of their normalness) and became a recognizable sideshow fixture. As Ms. Macy conducts her research for the story (conducting hundreds of hours of interviews with the families of the Muse brothers), she finds that the mother of the brothers, Harriet Muse, probably contacted the circus to get income fron her bizarre-looking albino sons and lift their family out of abject poverty, not realizing the circus managers would withhold all their earnings and keep the brothers busy touring the country, away from the family's contact.
I, for the most part, was impressed by Ms. Macy's ardor for the subject matter; her enthusiasm is evidenced by the painstaking research she put into the project. I just wish she could've tempered that love with a little more cohesiveness, which might've made for a more enjoyable, less confusing reading experience. Still, I'm plenty glad I read it. It really does make me re-think my childhood-kindled love for (soon-to-be-defunct) "The Greatest Show on Earth", with roots as sordid as the ones Ms. Macy has reported on here....more
I'm happy to report that my second Anna Quindlen reading experience, Miller's Valley, was much better than my first, Still Life With Breadcru4 stars
I'm happy to report that my second Anna Quindlen reading experience, Miller's Valley, was much better than my first, Still Life With Breadcrumbs. I'm not quite sure why this worked better for me, but I'm guessing it had much to do with the capable, much more relatable first-person narration of Mimi (Mary Margaret) Miller, who provides the story of her family's ordeals contending with a farm smack-dab in the middle of an area the government wants to reclaim (because of its perilously high water table) to create a reservoir. Many of the farmers in this rural Pennsylvania community (including Mimi's parents) are reluctant to allow the government to claim "eminent domain", refuse buyout packages for the value of their land and steadfastly stay put. It"s Mimi's life-long story (from the 1960s to present day) of her family's travails with the government (and assorted other problems) that makes this a consistently interesting read. There a goodly amount of drama (particularly generated by Mimi's wayward middle brother, Tommy, coupled with the health problems of their father) but mostly this is a subdued half-century-long observation of agrarian families trying to keep it together as modernization (and Mother Nature) encroach. After my first meh Quindlen experience, color me impressed with my second: Miller's Valley is a charming and lovely novel....more