Four women, each leading unsatisfying lives in rainy England, decide to throw in together on a guest house in Italy for a month. They mean to just rec...moreFour women, each leading unsatisfying lives in rainy England, decide to throw in together on a guest house in Italy for a month. They mean to just recharge their batteries, but they all find themselves blossoming in the fresh air and floridity of Italy. Good bones for a sweet tale of women-growing-into-independence, one of my favorite tropes. But these four women each accomplish this so tediously!
I was surprised how tiresome I found this book. Maybe because I mentally associated it with E.M. Forster--and I love A Room with a View even after repeated readings--maybe just because I was deceived by the word "enchanted" in the title--I couldn't believe how dour this story turned out to be.
The book is not particularly well-written. There are witty parts--well, two witty parts--but the rest of the narrative is repetitive and meandering. Also, the characters don't do anything to improve their own situations. They all sort of sit passively and let Italy's restorative qualities seep into their bodies, and then sit up, "All better!" I wish even one of the women had exhibited through her actions that she felt better about herself. Ventured out into the town to show that she wasn't fearful of new experiences, for example. Found some inspiration in reading or gardening or birdwatching or bathing or eating or something.
Some of the women find love and/or rekindle their passions for love. None of the male-female relationships presented were free from qualities I found discomforting and thus, unromantic. Does it matter if a man is dishonest with his wife, if she has determined that their lives together will be happy from now on? Yes. Yes it does.(less)
A beautiful modern novel, full of all the most irresistible types of heartbreak. I love a gorgeously-written downer, myself.
Main character Rachel open...moreA beautiful modern novel, full of all the most irresistible types of heartbreak. I love a gorgeously-written downer, myself.
Main character Rachel opens the story having just moved in with her grandmother, beginning a new life in Seattle (Portland? one of those) and leaving something in Chicago behind. The mystery of Chicago is filled in piece by piece, and the tragedy is shocking when it comes into full view. Or it would be shocking for those who hadn't read Beloved.
Rachel has more immediate concerns: the already fraught period of adolescence is difficult for her because she's biracial. She lives with her father's mother, who is black and who lives in a determinedly black society, but Rachel spent most of her childhood being raised by her white European mother. Learning how to be black is a major part of her coming-of-age, as is getting along with her tempestuous grandmother, figuring out where she belongs and what she's been put on this planet, in this body, to do.
A secondary storyline plays out alongside Rachel's, following a boy whose name is Jamie, but who calls himself Brick because he needs the rhetorical armor. He is back in Chicago, he is somehow involved in the tragedy that befell Rachel's family, and he has a journey of his own to take. Both Rachel and Jamie/Brick are sweet, engaging, wonderful characters to follow. All the characters are well-drawn, really, from Rachel's feisty grandmother and her glamorous aunt Loretta, to Loretta's boyfriend Drew and his confident daughter. I forget her name, but she was a firecracker. The kind of girl who has no doubts whatsoever about herself, a great foil for Rachel.
This would have been a five-star read for me except for one thing. I've read (and loved) a lot of Toni Morrison. And so has Heidi Durrow, apparently. There is a major strain of Beloved in here, as I mentioned above, as well as The Bluest Eye. A little bit of Sula, too, mostly within Loretta. If Durrow is going to borrow from modern literature, she really couldn't be choosing better, but still.(less)
There was something a bit sweet about this book; not where it begins or ends, necessarily, and not the main character, necessarily, who is hardly a Le...moreThere was something a bit sweet about this book; not where it begins or ends, necessarily, and not the main character, necessarily, who is hardly a Leading Man out of Romantic Fiction (but I liked him). It's a super-short account of the last night of a Red Lobster that is in the process of closing down forever. Manny, our main character, is the manager, and even though his hopes have been disappointed left and right (like the waitress he loves but can't have, like the girlfriend he has but doesn't seem to love) there is a streak of sentimentalism in him that I found very charming. Every encounter he has in this last day of his he seems to want to make special in some way--shake hands with his cooks, say "Thanks for your service," put closure into their abruptly cut-off work relationships. He seems to want the end of this job to also signify an end to this stage of his life, for it to Mean Something. But, as is often the case, it really doesn't.
The night is fairly eventful--there's a snowstorm raging outside, there's in-fighting among the employees, some of whom have been placed in new jobs by the company, and some who have just been let go. The particular waitress Manny loves is on shift. But in and around that, the story is full of minutiae, how the cooks lay out the rolls and the particular path Manny will take through the parking lot with the snowblower, all these little behind-the-scenes-of-the-restaurant touches which really root the story in a specific time and place without needing a lot of book time to do so. Again, it's less than 200 pages long, but the people and the place really live and breathe in that time--they feel like they have been there before, and they will be someplace else tomorrow.(less)
A sprightly memoir co-written by Julia Child and her grand-nephew, this encompasses Julia's many years living and working and cooking and eating in La...moreA sprightly memoir co-written by Julia Child and her grand-nephew, this encompasses Julia's many years living and working and cooking and eating in La Belle France. As those of us who saw Julie and Julia know, her husband Paul was in the foreign service and worked all over Europe in the 50s and 60s, all before Julia became known to all of America as that strangely lovable, enormous lady in the TV kitchen. That movie only briefly touches on the places she lived that weren't Paris. This book is far more expansive, with Julia laboring to describe the differences in Paris and Marseille, and Marseille and Oslo, and Oslo and central Germany. She's a vivacious woman, so she tends to embrace the new, especially as it relates to food. Eventually, she and Paul just go for broke and build a cottage in the South of France where they can escape whenever they get the chance.
The memoir also covers the lengthy writing, editing, and publication process for her first cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.. Although the movie ends as this book is going to print, here in the memoir she continues forward, telling of how the book contributed to her starting her career as a TV chef, and how that newfound fame contributed to, yet also complicated her life as an author of cookbooks.
Not surprisingly, Julia is an engaging narrator, and her life is genuinely interesting, even for someone who doesn't care about cooking. The book is short, sweet, and savory, and will probably lure you onto the web, planning an immediate trip to France, even if you cannot afford it.(less)
The story is that of a young, orphaned woman who disguises herself a boy to take on work in a kitchen and raise money for a passage to America. An enj...moreThe story is that of a young, orphaned woman who disguises herself a boy to take on work in a kitchen and raise money for a passage to America. An enjoyable novel, if a bit derivative. When I finally convinced myself to quit picking the threads weaved in from Bronte and Burney and Catharine Maria Sedgwick, I enjoyed it on its own merits.
Ceely makes the refreshing choice of not forcing her two (male and female) protagonists into a romantic relationship just because they are there. She manages to knit the characters together just as intimately through their shared philosophies and intertwined fates and the book is the better for it. Interesting things to say about both gender and class, and a fine historical dramatization as well.(less)
**spoiler alert** What a strange and interesting story.
I think its greatest contribution as a novel is the way religion and philosophy are woven into...more**spoiler alert** What a strange and interesting story.
I think its greatest contribution as a novel is the way religion and philosophy are woven into the story–both above and beneath the surface elements. This is one of those novels that tries to pierce to the heart of what makes man, man. I tend to connect more with fictions that address smaller, closer, more personal questions, so this was not an immediate selling point for me. However, the story is great on its own–even if you don’t care for Pi’s ruminations on whether civilization can exist in a lifeboat, we still get the incredibly compelling narrative of How Pi Eats, How Pi Survives.
Of course, the end of the novel changed the stakes considerably by suddenly casting doubt on the reliability of Pi as a narrator. Without warning, the story we had been told became (possibly) a cover for even more horrifying events. Of course, this dovetails beautifully with the whole question of how a human being copes with being reduced to his animal instincts. By telling stories to himself. And harnessing the potent power of denial.
It was a twist, an honest-to-God twist, one I did not suspect was coming, and which, rather than making me angry for the mislead, made me rethink the ninety percent of the novel that came before it. Well-executed, well-earned.(less)
Even though I love noir movies, I've read very little of the pulp fiction fr...moreRead April-May 2011: The Postman Always Rings Twice & Double Indemnity
Even though I love noir movies, I've read very little of the pulp fiction from which those movies drew their inspiration. They vary widely in quality, like all genres of fiction, but Cain is one of the masters here. The two novellas that I read (both are contained, along with his novel Mildred Pierce and a handful of short stories, in a lovely Library of America edition) are dirty fun. The characters are written a bit flat--deliberately, laconic, mysterious, sometimes immoral without motivation. If that sounds a bit revolting to you, then you are totally not the market for this work. If you want to revel amongst criminals and sex maniacs, 1930s style, this is a great place to start. There is something especially American about Cain's crime stories that I like; something borne out of two poles of the Great Depression and the American Dream.
The Postman Always Rings Twice is about a drifter who gets seduced by a housewife into murdering her husband for his money. Double Indemnity is about a straight-laced insurance man who also gets seduced by a housewife into murdering her husband for the money. Beyond that, the actual circumstances of the two stories are quite different--both how the murders are executed, how the murderers fare, whether any of it all works out for them. Neither story has really got a redeemable character--maybe the insurance man--but I find a lot of entertainment value in seeing characters make morally corrupt choices and suffer (or not suffer) the consequences.(less)