i wanted to create a shelf for this one. i would have called "how-the-young'uns-write." but then i faltered. it seemed dismissive. maybe there is somei wanted to create a shelf for this one. i would have called "how-the-young'uns-write." but then i faltered. it seemed dismissive. maybe there is something slightly MFA-ish and a bit "trendy" about the way this book is written, but, really, this is beautiful, brave, and virtuoso writing, and it should be judged as its own writerly thing.
elyria, the protagonist, is a very young 28 year old. she speaks (writes) in lulling run-ons that are often startling and beautiful, and sometimes so poetic and original they make your heart sing. sometimes they are hilarious and then you laugh. she writes of all the things young'uns with broken hearts, a truncated view of their future, and a disembodied desperation write: time, relationships, parents, siblings, love, not love, the big wide world with its big wide being-lost-in-ness, and death.
(MINOR SPOILER THAT GETS REVEALED SOON ENOUGH) elyria's particular relationship to time, death, and disembodiment is connected to the death of her sister ruby. (END OF SPOILER) since elyria talks mostly from a place of disconnection and inner sense-making rather than story-telling, we don't learn much about her life prior to the present of the narration, but we learn enough to understand that it wasn't pretty. she doesn't tell us a lot about what she was like as a child, but you get a sense she was one of those kids who thought all the time about dying. you know those kids. they are the heroes of the literature you love best. my favorite are mick kelley, frankie addams, holden caulfield, and nomi nickel.* if you can imagine mick, frankie, and holden at 28, you get elyria.
it takes a really good writer to pull off a mick, a frankie, a holden, a nomi. the despair of children is not for the faint of heart.
fact is, some of us carry those children inside us all of our lives. we manage to survive by learning to love them. cuz those children are too formidable, too unbelievably cool to go away. what loss that would be! so we make peace with them and their deathlust the best we can. we become the mommies and daddies who weren't there or weren't enough, and, as snotchcheez says (i'll paraphrase), we take 'em home and give them a warm blanket and a bowl of chowder. for life.
let's get the misconceptions out of the way: this is not an alt reality book, this is a dystopian book. it is narrated in alternating chapters by twolet's get the misconceptions out of the way: this is not an alt reality book, this is a dystopian book. it is narrated in alternating chapters by two characters, both in the first person. this does not make things confusing. it is not a difficult book and the vocabulary is rich but perfectly comprehensible. it is beautifully written (having listened to the audio version i can't vouch for the punctuation, but what i heard was beautiful: beautiful sentences, beautiful words). one of the characters has a bit of a hard on for hegel, the 19th century german philosopher you may or may not have heard of, and unless you know hegel you will probably glaze over those bits. they are few and far between. they are lovely in their own poetic-philosophical way. they are very short, like one sentence or two.
there are footnotes. the footnotes are part of the text, except they are at the bottom of the page and in smaller type. they require that your eyes move down and then up again, with the added chore of finding where you left off in the body of the text. it's really no biggie. Junot Díaz and David Foster Wallace do it too, but i haven't seen anyone go ballistic over their doing it -- to the contrary. alene graedon is a terrifically gifted writer and this novel is tremendously original. no, she's no [insert favorite fantasy/sci-fi possibly male author here]. the reason for that is that she is herself. and what a splendid self she is.
the book is on the long side. there is some repetition. it could be a trimmer book. is it the only book that could use some trimming in the eyes of this reviewer? most certainly not. there's a certain dickensian quality to the length, and if you go for the sort of thing (i don't) you won't complain; if you don't, you'll be mildly frustrated, on occasion. i punished graedon for this minor irritation by docking one star.
you can read about the story elsewhere, though i recommend you don't. there is brilliance to the way in which greadon builds a story around how digital technology is affecting our use of language (and our way of living, but she doesn't dwell on that much). i am not a luddite and i like my internets; when people rant about how the internet isolates us or makes us less smart or drastically reduces our attention span, i shrug. it's not like IT and digital communication are going away any time soon. so this is really the first time that i took a long hard look at my internet habits. since this is a dystopia as much as a fairy-tale, it is not preachy. i guess the lack of preachiness is what kept me from dismissing its critique of The Way We Live Today (all dystopias are critiques of TWWLT).
more than that, though, this is a lovely and totally spot-on reflection on language. what it does. how it gets lost. how it changes. language as a social phenomenon. language as a philosophical entity. how poor language leads to poor thought. how poor thought leads to poor feelings. how love requires that we have words and thoughts. how the impoverishment of language is an impoverishment of humanity.
i think i'm doing okay with language. i think everyone who reads this review is doing okay with language, because this is a site for readers. we all love language kind of desperately. most of us (all of us?) would give up just about anything before we gave up reading. language sustains and nourishes us. language consoles us. one can weather many a rough day with the simple knowledge that a good book is waiting when the lights dim, the noises quieten, and the tears dry up. language is our emergency raft and our permanent cruise ship. we live and float on language.
the only regret i have is that i'm pretty much losing the capacity to write with pen and paper. not only does my hand hurt after about two lines, but i keep making mistakes. how bizarre. my brain has unlearned how to write cursive. i remember the distinct delight of putting words on paper. it was as pleasurable as reading. i remember thinking very often that a lot of the text was in the interstices between words. i found that miraculous. i reveled in that. such wealth of meaning.
there are no interstices in typed text (included text typed on manual typewriters) and that's just the long and the short of it, at least for me. also, typing is so much faster. i truly mourn the slowness of writing with a pen. and of course i miss the ink, the friction of the pen's tip on the paper, the noise this friction produced. i spent so much time in stationary stores. remember the smell? i had special pens for special needs. some pens were faster. some pens wrote prettier. and the paper. beautiful paper. so many textures. even the most ordinary paper (white newsprint paper) had its magic.
all of this i grieve daily (seriously) but i seem unable to go back (i've tried so many times). sometimes i fantasize about black-outs that would force me to write with pen and paper. but black-outs bring a lot of misery, too.
i occasionally worry about the loss of privacy. more than that, perhaps, i worry about what might be diminished ability to spend time with myself. but this doesn't hit me as hard. those times spent with myself weren't awesome, and i love chatting with you all. i'm happy, though, that i don't have a smart phone. i can still spend time alone when i'm not at home. that is valuable. i think i'll try to hold on to that, as long as civilization allows me. ...more
i loved this book super much and wish i could have lived with these people a lot longer (not right there, just in my head). what a fantastically deep,i loved this book super much and wish i could have lived with these people a lot longer (not right there, just in my head). what a fantastically deep, intricate, seamless, warm and human piece of literature. i'm going to read all of this woman's books.
it's a dystopian novel, but it's really not, primarily, about What Happens After The Collapse, though there is that element too. it's about what binds us, what makes us human, and what allows us to tolerate love and tolerate loss. and emily st. john mandel does it so beautifully, you wonder all the time, how is she doing this? and then, strangely, it's also very much a book about acting (acting?! yup) and about making art, and, again, you wonder: how is she doing it all so well, without the book's being contrived? but she does. i have never once in my life thought i would like to be a stage actor (or an actor of any kind) and i don't go to plays (i find it hard to follow them because i'm not a auditory learner), but this book... well, i think i should go to plays, or at least read shakespeare very very slowly and imagine his plays being acted in front of me.
i am reminded very much of Janette Turner Hospital's extraordinary Due Preparations for the Plague. there are writers who, when describing Colossal Human Crises, go for the dog-eat-dog scenario. not these two women. and it's so damn nice to read a book in which, yes, there are people being nasty to each other, but there are so many more people doing what needs to be done, tending to each other, caring, just being so fucking decent. so this alleged collapse of civilization is really a testament to the endurance of civilization. the center holds. the periphery holds too. the human heart -- it holds. ...more
this is a crime thriller lite, not really a crime thriller, more like the story of a very meaningful week in the life of vince camden, a small time crthis is a crime thriller lite, not really a crime thriller, more like the story of a very meaningful week in the life of vince camden, a small time criminal living in spokane, WA, on a witness protection program. since jess walter is super magical the story is really great. it's funny, sweet, and all sorts of smarts. the week in which walter decides to snapshot vince camden is the week that precedes the election of reagan as US president and the demise of jimmy carter. there's a lot about this novel that is political -- hard not to think of bush, who was president when walter wrote this, and of the dominance of greedy, immoral, catastrophic conservatism that started with reagan and eventually got us bush and the war on terror (walter is the author, also, of one of the most poignant 9/11 novels written in the US, The Zero). reagan is a thin stand-in for bush, and carter is something the book exudes and eventually captures very well -- basic human decency, moral rectitude, doing good things, being honorable.
at the same time it's all very entertaining and fast and occasionally truly funny, and the action is riveting, and the writing so, so good.
but what got me the most is the morality tale, of an america on the brink of disintegration, and men and women who, in spite of their grave limitations, try hard to do the right thing. ...more
this story is so... preposterous, really, that one doesn't quite know what to do with it. but jo nesbo writes fine prose and fine story, and keeps youthis story is so... preposterous, really, that one doesn't quite know what to do with it. but jo nesbo writes fine prose and fine story, and keeps you engaged, and at the end of the day the son (protagonist) kept me good solid company for a week, so, okay: five stars for keeping me company; one star for being a book that doesn't make any sense at all and whose denouement you can see half way through. average: 3 stars.
once i taught a world lit. class and i taught this book. i hated every second of it, even though the translation is good and the book is, well, a mastonce i taught a world lit. class and i taught this book. i hated every second of it, even though the translation is good and the book is, well, a masterpiece (so they say). that's what italian education does to you. it kills everything it touches. it deadens. magically, though, it didn't manage to kill the über-beautiful and, for us, equally classic The Betrothed. i know i will never teach The Inferno again, and i will never read it again, and i have to check if i have a copy in the house, because i'm suddenly seized by the overwhelming desire not to have The Divine Comedy anywhere near me. ...more
i love this book so much. thank you thank you thank you.
this may well be the most beautiful coming-of-age novel i've ever read. it's so non-clichéi love this book so much. thank you thank you thank you.
this may well be the most beautiful coming-of-age novel i've ever read. it's so non-clichéd and, you know, the author, just like the protagonist, is a poet, so basically every page is a poem.
the most astounding feature of this slender book is the treatment of sex. adolescent queer desire; straight puppy sex that is not exactly puppy-esque; the secret sex of not-very-sexual middle-aged same-sex lovers; the sex that inevitably passes between a mother and a child, a father and a(n older) child; rape (yah); and then some more mature same-sex attraction. it's all done so intelligently and so daringly, and even when it feels transgressive and icky it's still intelligent, delicate and smart.
love is sex is desire is love is tenderness is dedication is freedom is sex is desire is love. love can be entrapping or it can be safe. you have to pick your love carefully. if you can. (heartbreak.)
this is a book written by a feminist author who has no desire to traumatize her reader, but means to enrich her at every turn with the power of beauty, feeling, strength, and language.
if you are feeling like the world is a heavy place, this may be the book for you. ...more
i have no idea what i just read it and why i read it. i kept waiting for an event, a pivot, something that would give the narrative a center. i didn'ti have no idea what i just read it and why i read it. i kept waiting for an event, a pivot, something that would give the narrative a center. i didn't realize smiley was engaged in an exercise of postmodernist meaninglessness.
but then, this book is not ruled by meaninglessness. meaning is provided to these people's lives by: children. so: best apologia of the traditional family ever written. or worst. or middling. i don't know. i feel so cheated. this is a long fucking book. and i stuck it out till the end. waiting. and waiting. and all to learn that the be all and end all of one's life is to get married and have kids. fuck that noise. ...more