Reading Lee Smith is like encountering an old friend you haven't seen for a while, at a reunion or just downtown somewhere, and picking up right whereReading Lee Smith is like encountering an old friend you haven't seen for a while, at a reunion or just downtown somewhere, and picking up right where you left off years ago. Her voice--warm, familiar, intimate without being "confessional," good-humored but not professionally Southern--is such a pleasure to hear and read again. Dimestore isn't really a memoir proper; it's a collection of essays that together comprise a sort-of memoir, one that circles around certain crucial people and times in her life, especially childhood in her small Appalachian town, dips in and out of other decades of life, and digresses to include what seem to be occasional essays, written not for this book but as introductions to other books or speeches about writing or for some other purpose. What's most striking is how differently than other writers she treats what must have been difficult, even traumatic and long-lasting griefs: the mental illnesses of both her parents, which required them at various times to be hospitalized and her to live with relatives, and later the severe mental illness and early death of one of her two sons. She does not make light of these events, nor does she wallow in them or make them the central driving narratives of this book, as other memoirists have done with similar material. Instead, she treats them with grace, honesty, a touch of humor where warranted, as parts of life rather than all of life, and she does not put herself at the center of those stories.
I've read several of her books--Oral History, Fair and Tender Ladies, Fancy Strut, and others--but admittedly had lost track in the face of so much other reading to be done. Dimestore left me wanting to catch up with her more recent novels, which I'll look forward to doing....more
A Goodreads friend recommended this book to me after finishing it for her book club. It's one of those novels you head about, corner of your ear, in dA Goodreads friend recommended this book to me after finishing it for her book club. It's one of those novels you head about, corner of your ear, in different contexts--booksellers talk about it, lists of Great American Novels and novels about the West include it, and writers mention it. Somehow it had escaped my attention and I regret all the years that I missed its presence in my mind and memory. What a novel: I can't say enough about how wonderfully written it is, dramatic and filled with characters who are fully realized as people, yet seem to stand for something larger, something about America and its aspirations as they play out over generations, and also just so much meticulously-observed and beautifully-rendered detail. Light rising (or falling) on dusty plains and remote mountains. The raw, newly-cut, harsh and vulgar and corrupt but also bracing and heroic ambition embodied in a place like Deadville or other mining towns. How stuff works: the digging of canals, the structure of mines, the labor of a thousand things, almost unimaginably difficult and complex, as settlers and speculators raised enormous enterprises in the West from desert and rock. And through it all the marriage, love, betrayal, and secrets kept between a smart and talented New England woman and the man she chose--decent, trusting, but never quite able to realize his own gifts. Angle of Repose is an immersive read, not for the impatient, but fully rewarding in every way a great novel can be. ...more
If you are looking for a wonderful gift for a certain kind of reader (Anglophile, interested in literature and arts and music and culture 1920-1940, r If you are looking for a wonderful gift for a certain kind of reader (Anglophile, interested in literature and arts and music and culture 1920-1940, readers of biographies such as That Woman by Anne Sebba or Lady Almina and the Real Downtown Abbey by the Countess of Carnavon, Edward St. Aubyn readers, or fans of Downton Abbey itself), you should consider this wonderful book.
It's simply delicious: a beautifully-designed (endpapers and color photos galore), gossipy, breezily-written but just so smart in every line account of the author's grandparents, who lived for a time in what seems to have been a menage-a-trois, but not quite, with the composer/painter/novelist/socialite Lord Berners on an eccentric, beautiful English estate. Berners knew and was visited by everyone there was to know in England and Europe: Stravinsky, Picasso, Cocteau, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Evelyn Waugh, the Sitwells, composers Constance Lambert and William Walton, Noel Coward, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West, H. G. Wells, Salvador Dali, the Mitford sisters, Elsa Schiaparelli, Cyril Connolly, and many more. The book is filled with scandal, beauty, genuine accomplishment, money, sex in various permutations, and a portrait of a certain kind of life on the brink of extinction as World War II approached.
An utter delight, a sophisticated treat to read and page through slowly. My wife gifted me this book and I hope this post will spread word to others who might be interested.
Tunneling back into DeLillo after some years away, having binge read Libra, Mao II, Underworld, White Noise, and The Names--the last of which I read,Tunneling back into DeLillo after some years away, having binge read Libra, Mao II, Underworld, White Noise, and The Names--the last of which I read, utterly enthralled, with the sense that a secret code to the universe was being revealed word by word to me alone, in a way I usually associate with certain poets (Rilke, Blake, Keats, Roethke).
Americana is stuffed with brilliant sentences and set-pieces that beg to be read aloud, as well as wicked humor--the same jaundiced eye for America that Nathanael West had, or even Nabokov in Lolita, wielding Humbert as his camera. The overall book, however, loses its way and dissolves into plot threads, shards of stories, soapbox utterances about America, and maddening stretches where absolutely nothing happens. By the end I was reading with a sense of obligation to finish, although I still found something on every page that delighted me.
Worth reading if you are a fan but not as the gateway drug for DeLillo. ...more
I don't have the time to write the thoughtful review that this book and author deserve, but a few words:
It's a significant step forward from both TheI don't have the time to write the thoughtful review that this book and author deserve, but a few words:
It's a significant step forward from both The Corrections and Freedom.
Where The Corrections felt (to me) a bit studied in its line for line writing, and Freedom (which I loved) perhaps tried a bit too hard to tell me what to think about its characters, Purity is the work of a relaxed and confident author, unafraid to be disagreeable, willing to defy reader expectations, and able to maintain dramatic narrative momentum in a complex, multi-layered and many-peopled plot.
As at least one reviewer has noted, this is the least "stylish" of Franzen's novels, and therefore more fully and emotionally involving. With its indifferent, almost maddeningly-disengaged heroine Pip at the center, the novel sets itself a challenge: to create drama around a character who shrinks from involvement with others and has no particular attractive quality. But it is precisely Pip's passivity that drives Purity forward, as others in her life--her mother, her father, her mentor/manipulator, her acquaintances that pass for friends--seek her out or try to thwart her for their own ends. She functions as a sort of moon that pulls the tides and changes the orbits of nearby planets, seemingly without purpose but in fact wielding enormous influence.
I began Purity slowly--it takes a while to get going--but read completely engrossed and couldn't wait to get back to it. Without debating the pros and cons, or intervening in the extra-literary debate that Franzen seems to attract, that's what a really good book does for me. ...more
I read A God in Ruins before this so can't speak to the experience of reading these novels in their published order, but no matter: the books are connI read A God in Ruins before this so can't speak to the experience of reading these novels in their published order, but no matter: the books are connected, not consecutive, so don't worry that you'll be missing something. I believe that Life After Life and A God in Ruins will last not only for readers, but also for writers. Kate Atkinson has managed to transform how to deal with time and distance in the context of a "traditional" narrative, where events happen and characters continue through years, decades, even generations. She's leapfrogged over flashbacks and expository dialogue and the tedious ping-pong of past-and-present alternations to compress time and space in sentences, via parenthetical bits of dialogue and allusive images (a silver hare, snow, the names of wildflowers in a particular meadow, remembered lines of poems, and other pieces of human detritus that keep turning up in different hands and contexts). No single image becomes a madeleine but all of them, sifted through hands and memories between one war and the next and their aftermaths, accumluate emotional weight and dramatic power. I might be overstating the case for Kate Atkinson's potential influence, but I believe she is onto something as transformative for fiction as what Virginia Woolf deployed in Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. ...more
Moving from surprise to surprise--perhaps I should say astonishment to astonishment--Kate Atkinson reigns as one of the truly original writers of ourMoving from surprise to surprise--perhaps I should say astonishment to astonishment--Kate Atkinson reigns as one of the truly original writers of our time. In A God in Ruins (and in Life After Life, which I'm now reading) she changes the rules of fictional narration in a way that suits her purposes and keeps the reader alert on a page by page, paragraph by paragraph, even sentence by sentence level. She has hit upon a way to compress time and move backwards and forwards through it, without employing tedious flashbacks or interjecting long expository passages or using dialogue to explain what has happened or toggling tediously back and forth between characters. And she does so without sacrificing what other, "experimental" narrative writers so often leave behind: she maintains narrative drive and suspense, and she makes you fall in love with her characters. There's no "look at me write" in this novel or in Life After Life; there are people, unforgettable people, living in time but subject to its motions and backcurrents and vagaries, and the time they live through is the most turbulent and deranging of our era, from World War I through World War II.
I read and finished A God in Ruins with the same profound feeling of having lived the lives of these people that I felt in first reading Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse--in some ways Atkinson has taken Woolf's innovations in narrative and extended them, somehow made them more fluid and truly in the service of storytelling. And she does so with full authority, the sense that you are there and that she has been there, whether on a bombing run over Germany or in London during the Blitz or at a great house in the country. I can't think of a recent book that has engrossed me so deeply since Pat Barker's Regeneration novels.
Graham Swift's novels have somehow escaped me, and I found this one on my shelf, where it must have been lingering unnoticed for years. A quiet revelaGraham Swift's novels have somehow escaped me, and I found this one on my shelf, where it must have been lingering unnoticed for years. A quiet revelation: Last Orders is an example of what a novelist can do, in the plainest language, no showing off, no apparent research (an too-common affliction of novels), no dramatic set up and pay off, no big secret or gasp-worthy reveal. Just...life, and the lives of men, patiently observed, deeply felt, seen and listened to. This book reminds me of Carol Shields' Stone Diaries, another perfectly-observed and profound book. I will be reading more Graham Swift over the next few months. ...more