ALERT: If you aren't familiar with the plot of King Lear, there may be slight spoilers below.
My complaint about Shakespeare's King Lear was that motiALERT: If you aren't familiar with the plot of King Lear, there may be slight spoilers below.
My complaint about Shakespeare's King Lear was that motives were completely unclear. There was little indication for how Goneril and Regan became so villainous, and also little explanation for Lear's erratic decision-making that causes him to continuously make things worse.
In A Thousand Acres, Smiley fully solves one of these problems. In her version, the sisters Ginny and Rose are very depthful creations, with histories and personalities that make their actions and decisions mostly easy to understand (with the possible exception of Ginny's attempt to poison Rose). She endows these women with the complex histories they deserve to have made clear.
That said, Smiley doesn't do the same with Larry (the Lear father figure). His motives are not clear at all, and he becomes the extreme villain that the sisters are in Shakespeare's play. Particularly when his history of abusing his daughters comes out, he becomes a flat character whose uncontrollable urges have led him to madness. I don't demand that he inspire reader sympathy or anything, but it would have been nice for him to be more well-rounded.
Very early in the novel, Jess Clark (the Edmund character) says to Ginny: "Anyway, I always think that things have to happen the way they do happen, that there are so many inner and outer forces joining at every event that it becomes a kind of fate."
I felt exactly this way throughout my reading of the novel. First, because I already knew the story of King Lear, I knew that certain events would have to happen and that the story would end in tragedy, no matter what. But moreso than this, the reader is able to see many of these 'inner and outer forces' and so has to watch hopelessly as the characters are deal with the constant aftermath of decisions made or words spoken without any clear sense of how they got to that place. Everything happens so quickly and comes out of nowhere so it seems to be fate, though all of it is dependent on conscious and often unconscious feelings and decisions. Things that didn't have to be, up to and including the transfer of the farm and Ginny's miscarriages, seem very much like they had to be.
Overall, I was really impressed with how well Smiley manages the monumental task she set for herself: reinterpreting Shakespeare. I was also glued to the story from the start; it was very engaging and caused plenty of emotional turmoil. I found myself partway between Rose's selfish, angry perspective and Ginny's giving, forgetting and harmony-at-all-costs perspective. Part of the tragedy of the story (and of rural farm family life according to the novel) is that Rose and Ginny never release enough of their secrets and communicate enough to learn these perspectives from each other.
I went to high school in the US (and read everything I was assigned, I swear!) and was an English major in college, and somehow, some way, I never hadI went to high school in the US (and read everything I was assigned, I swear!) and was an English major in college, and somehow, some way, I never had to read this book. I don't know how I threaded that needle, but I did. So I'm happy to say that now I can stop hanging my head in shame and join basically every single one of my Goodreads friends in having read this book. And I enjoyed it.
"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"
To me, this is sort of the crux of who Gatsby is. He is ultra-rich and mysterious and seems to have endless connections and relationships, but he's really a naive and lovestruck man who believes all things are possible if he just wants them bad enough. To be fair, his wild success financially supports this idea. But everyone knows that the past can't be repeated, or revisited, or changed. This is why nostalgia and regret exist. But Gatsby truly believes what he says here, and truly believes that Daisy will soon be his and his alone, and truly believes that perfection both exists and is attainable. On the first day that Daisy and Gatsby rekindle their romance, Nick says: "There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams -- not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion."
Daisy, and her husband Tom, are the exact opposite of Gatsby, other than also being wildly rich. They are not naive at all, are perhaps even jaded, and do their best to exploit the world they live in and the people around them.
"Her voice is full of money," Gatsby says of Daisy and this is the truth. Were he not now rich, she wouldn't give him the time of day. There's an interesting moment when the novel describes their prior relationship, and why Daisy decides to quit waiting for Gatsby to make some money and moves on to marry Tom:
"She wanted her life shaped now, immediately -- and the decision must be made by some force -- of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality -- that was close at hand." At first, it makes me think of the impatience to grow up and move forward that comes with being a teenager/early 20s. But it also means that Daisy has a need to be noticed by society and fawned over. She's ready to be a socialite.
The most interesting sentence about Tom and Daisy though is this one, which describes exactly what happens in the novel: "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
The theme of time is loosely carried throughout the novel, mostly by Gatsby and his attachment to his past love with Daisy and desperate need to make it his future as well. The closing sentence of the novel emphasizes this sense of futility of trying to re-acquire what is teasingly out of reach because time has passed:
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Themes: America, New York, 1920s, wealth, love, deception, time...more
"And that is my greatest wish - to live passionately until the very end."
Having enjoyed two of Allende's novels (so far), I really loved the deeper d"And that is my greatest wish - to live passionately until the very end."
Having enjoyed two of Allende's novels (so far), I really loved the deeper dive into her personality, life, and writing process that this memoir provided. Written as a letter to her daughter who passed away, it's very personal, honest and tender. I felt I was a member of Allende's large family, made up of friends and former spouses as much as blood relatives. I really liked seeing Allende's intense stubbornness and overbearing nature and enjoyed the many, many moments where she points these out, acknowledging her own faults and laughing about them. There are many asides in among the family stories - about feminism, religion, world events, sex, grief, psychology, and writing. All in all, an excellent memoir.
"Each of us is the protagonist of his own legend."
"My goddess is an ocean and we are drops of water. The goddess exists because of the drops of water that form it."
"The sum of our days, our shared pains and joys, was now our destiny."
"Life tends to separate us and it takes a lot of effort to stay together." ...more
I've read two of Allende's novels now (this, and The House of the Spirits) and I'm smitten. Her narratives are sprawling, ever-changing, slightly magiI've read two of Allende's novels now (this, and The House of the Spirits) and I'm smitten. Her narratives are sprawling, ever-changing, slightly magical, and imaginative. Her characters undergo constant, whirlwind twists of fate and chance. Eva Luna is central in the universe (of the novel and at large) in part because she is constructing and shaping her own story as she lives it and then again as she writes it, but also because she is strong, imaginative, interesting; she's worthy of the novel's attention. This idea of rewriting reality comes up repeatedly in the novel (see the quotations below) and it fascinates me.
First, because of the meta-fictional sense it gives to the novel - Allende is writing a story about Eva Luna writing a story about herself and her country. But I also find it fascinating to consider how this affects the novel's 'truth.' It's impossible to know what actually happens to Eva Luna and what she creates when she writes. This provides a basis for some of the magical instances in the story but, more than that, it imparts a refreshing sense of freedom. We all have the option to use our memories and experiences in new ways, explaining them away, building them up, even changing them. Of course, in real life, truth has its place, but Allende shows that truth isn't always clear, or helpful. And in most things, the small events and feelings of our lives, the truth of what actually happens to us matters far less than how we think about it, feel about it, and are changed by it.
Rewriting reality is, for Eva Luna, the source of her resiliency.
"I began to wonder whether anything truly existed, whether reality wasn't an unformed and gelatinous substance only half-captured by my senses. There was no proof that everyone perceived it in the same way."
"In the motionless sands where my stories germinated, every birth, death, and happening depended on me. I could plant anything I wanted in those sands; I had only to speak the right word to give it life. At times I felt that the universe fabricated from the power of the imagination had stronger and more lasting contours than the blurred realm of the flesh-and-blood creatures around me."
"I was writing a new episode each day, totally immersed in the world I was creating with the all-encompassing power of words, transformed into a multifaceted being, reproduced to infinity, seeing my own reflection in multiple mirrors, living countless lives, speaking with many voices."
"Reality is a jumble we can't always measure or decipher, because everything is happening at the same time... I try to open a path through that maze, put a little order in that chaos, to make life more bearable. When I write, I describe life as I would like it to be."
Allende also visits the subject of being a woman, mostly quietly, but occasionally overtly and politically:
"For Naranjo, and others like him, "the people" seemed to be composed exclusively of men; we women should contribute to the struggle but were excluded from decision-making and power. His revolution would not change my fate in any fundamental way."
"Look, Eva, men like Naranjo can't ever change. They may modify the rules, but they always operate on the same principle: authority, competitiveness, greed, repression -- it's always the same... What has to change in this world are attitudes."
Both of these quotations attribute situations like that in Chile to patriarchy and traditionally 'male' characteristics (competition, authority, power, etc). This is a discussion the world hasn't been having for very long, and it's nice to see it here, in a 25-year-old novel. Allende gives her characters the freedom to speak their truth, as flawed or narrow or off-putting as it might seem to some readers. What I mean by that is that discussions like the patriarchy one I described above are not had in crystalized, bold, liberal, politically-correct statements. Instead they are seamless parts of who the characters are, stemming from the characters themselves and not an authorial agenda.
From the beginning, Zola is clear that his characters are, as he calls them, animals. They are selfish and completely ruled by their passions and wantFrom the beginning, Zola is clear that his characters are, as he calls them, animals. They are selfish and completely ruled by their passions and wants. In other words, they are not the sympathetic yet flawed characters doing their best in life that we find in many novels. Instead they are terrible beings who create a terrible mess of their lives and then suffer more and more for it until they die. Sounds like fun, right?
Actually, I found the novel fascinating, particularly the levels of madness that Therese and Laurent pass through after they commit their terrible crime. I was most interested in Therese, who is the title character for a reason, of course. Her early life is miserable, causing her to be virtually silent and unassuming but raging inside. When Laurent comes along, this pent-up feeling explodes:
"She gave herself to him without reserve, going directly where her passions drove her. This woman, who had bowed to circumstances, was now standing up to reveal her whole being, to lay her life bare."
Her affair with Laurent is also revenge against her husband and aunt. Mid-novel, Zola describes how the crime has changed both Therese and Laurent. One line really explains exactly what Zola set out to do with his novel:
"It would be interesting to study the changes that are sometimes produced in certain organisms as a result of particular circumstances. These changes, which derive from the flesh, are rapidly communicated to the brain and to the entire being."
Therese's shifts from fear and disgust, to guilt and begging for forgiveness, to needing to be abused, to finally needing any sort of peace (even in another murder or death) were fascinating. The most interesting aspect of the novel is that Laurent and Therese set out to find a way to be together, connected, and achieved this. Unfortunately, they never predicted the form their connection would take:
"Their hatred was inevitable. They had loved each other like animals with a hot passion of the blood; then, in the nervous agitation of crime, their love had become hatred and they felt a kind of physical dread of their kisses; and now, with the suffering that marriage and a common life imposed on them, they rebelled and raged against one another."
This is the first novel by Zola I've read, and won't be the last. The dark, claustrophobic tragedy of the story was definitely overridden by how interesting, thought-full, and intense it was.
Themes: tragedy, evil, crime, classic, adultery, murder, France, guilt, madness, selfishness, living like an animal...more
The experiences of Munro's characters in this collection are pretty well removed from my own. Most are women in their 50s or so, looking back on youngThe experiences of Munro's characters in this collection are pretty well removed from my own. Most are women in their 50s or so, looking back on young marriages in the 50s, affairs and divorces in the 60s or 70s, visiting old friends or acquaintances after or during deaths of parents.
That said, what Munro does without fail in every story of hers I've read is capture the universal feeling of fear and excitement as your life changes and transforms, and the scarier feeling of realizing that there's no way to understand or predict what those changes might really mean in the future. Munro beautifully walks the line between two opposite results of the decisions her characters make - both freedom and entrapment, and has a lot to say about aging along the way.
Two quotations that capture this for me:
"People make momentous shifts, but not the changes they imagine."
"We had power, Anita thought. It's a power of transformation you have, when you're stuffed full of fear and eagerness -- not a thing in your life can escape being momentous. A power you never think of losing because you never know you have it."
The second, especially, speaks to the wide open-ness of youth that disappears over time; this is something I've just started glimpsing in the past few years as I approach 30. I was also fascinated by the long quotation below, that expresses very well the way that generations of women can be very similar in their differences. It's a lovely insight that applies, of course, to far more than just sex.
"My mother had grown up in a time and in a place where sex was a dark undertaking for women. She knew that you could die of it. So she honored the decency, the prudery, the frigidity, that might protect you. And I grew up in horror of that very protection, the dainty tyranny that seemed to me to extend to all areas of life, to enforce tea parties and white gloves and all other sorts of tinkling inanities. I favored bad words and a breakthrough, I teased myself with the thought of a man's recklessness and domination. The odd thing is that my mother's ideas were in line with some progressive notions of her times, and mine echoed the notions that were favored in my time. This is spite of the fact that we both believed ourselves independent, and lived in backwaters that did not register such changes. It's as if tendencies that seem most deeply rooted in our minds, most private and singular, have come in as spores on the prevailing wind, looking for any likely place to land, any welcome."
The more Munro I read, the more thrilled I am by her. Lucky for me, I've just scratched the surface of her work.
Themes: short stories, aging, changes, infidelity, marriage, love, friendship, women, being trapped, being free, struggle...more
I really enjoyed the premise here - that Daniel is procrastinating on his dissertation and what we're reading is what he is writing instead. It's cleaI really enjoyed the premise here - that Daniel is procrastinating on his dissertation and what we're reading is what he is writing instead. It's clear that he's reliving his and his sister's childhood because it's the only thing he can write while his sister is fading. He unconsciously switches from 3rd person to 1st in his writing and he holds places for vignettes and scenes he wants to add later. He also gets a little meta about the reader, especially when discussing things that make him look bad or weak, and this strikes me as pretty cutting edge in when Doctorow published the book in 1971.
Daniel is struggling to come to terms with not knowing the truth about what his parents did. He wants to believe they're innocent, and just victims of circumstance:
"In a world divided in two, the radical is free to choose one side or the other. That's the radical choice. The halves of the world are like the two hemispheres of Mengleburg. My mother and father fell through an open seam one day and then the hemispheres pressed shut."
He also is struggling with his need for complete control - over his wife, his sister, and his family's story. He needs to know the truth and be in control, even when it hurts those he loves. Along those lines, Daniel is not a nice person. He's pompous and abusive, especially toward his wife and infant son. But he is saved from being unsympathetic by the innocent child version of himself who lives through a nightmare.
Doctorow includes many asides in the novel, which are part of who Daniel is, and document his obsessions with the past through a tendency to wax philosophical. They feel like lectures.
A man in Daniel's youth talks a while about television: "Look there, what do you see? Little blue squares in every window. Right? Everyone digging the commercials. That is today's school, man. In less than a minute a TV commercial can carry you through a lifetime...commercials are learning units."
There is also a long lecture on the downfalls of Disneyland which isn't worth quoting. I did, however, enjoy a musing on technology:
"Technology is the making of metaphors from the natural world. Flight is the metaphor of air, wheels are the metaphor of water, food is the metaphor of earth. The metaphor of fire is electricity."
Finally, there's a long quotation about prison as a metaphor for death that I want to hold on to:
"Who wrote that Russian story, was it Babel or maybe Yuri Olesha, about a man dying in his bed. His death is described as a progressive deterioration of possibilities, a methodical constriction of options available to him. First he cannot leave the room, so that a railroad ticket, for instance, has no more meaning for his life. Then he cannot get out of bed. Then he cannot lift his head. Then he cannot see out the window. Then he cannot see his hand in front of him. Life moves inward, the sensations close in, the horizons diminish to point zero. And that is his death. A kind of prison cell concept of death, the man being locked in smaller and smaller cells, his own consciousness depleted of sensations being the last and smallest cell. It is a point of light. If this is true of death, then a real prison is death's metaphor and when you put a man in prison you are suggesting to him the degrees of death that are possible before life is actually gone. You are forcing him to begin his dying. All constraints on freedom enforce conditions of death. The punishment of prison inflicts the corruption of death on life"
Themes: 1950s, 1960s, American communism, family, innocence, Cold War, sex, family legacy, destruction of childhood, sibling love, the obscurity of truth...more
This is a beautiful, brutal book. Every page is full of the very real trauma and neglect that Esch Batiste and her family face in extreme rural povertThis is a beautiful, brutal book. Every page is full of the very real trauma and neglect that Esch Batiste and her family face in extreme rural poverty. It's heartbreaking, even without the climax: the destruction of hurricane Katrina.
Despite the brutality (including alcoholism, dogfighting, stealing and sexual relationships) there is great beauty in the very human characters Ward has created. Esch is thoughtful and caring, very capable of love, and an engaged reader who identifies with the mythic character Medea, who she is reading about. Medea's betrayal of her brother and subsequent heartbreak after being betrayed by her lover provide a good foil to both Esch and the only other important female character in the book: China, a fierce pure-white pitbull who only has eyes for her caretaker, Esch's brother Skeetah.
The other characters are just as beautifully human: Skeetah and his loving if occasionally misguided care for China and her puppies; Esch's brother Randall, who shows a clear love for the youngest child, Junior, a willingness to play the role of father, and intensity as a basketball player; and Big Henry, the only friend of the Batiste boys who doesn't get Esch to sleep with him and the only one who clearly cares about her.
For me, this is one of those rare books where everything comes together. The story, which occurs over a week and a half, is action-packed, but Ward sacrifices neither character development nor language and style to further the plot. Looking forward to reading more of Ward's work!
Themes: hurricane Katrina, family, Jason and Medea, betrayal, life and death, rural poverty, children raising children, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, dogfighting...more
This book is like a kaleidoscope. Each story hones in on a discreet life experience of a multi-racial woman in her 30s, and frames that experience inThis book is like a kaleidoscope. Each story hones in on a discreet life experience of a multi-racial woman in her 30s, and frames that experience in a very personal, emotional way.
When one story ends, the next story is a completely new image, but all these elements are still the same. Each one is about identity and its ties to race, gender, and family. Each one is told from deep inside the experience (and memories and emotions) of its protagonist. Each one has something to say about the sacrifices these characters make for men, for their children, for their parents, for success, for conformity, and for beauty.
This theme of sameness comes full circle in the story Triptych which tells the same story three times with three different women as protagonist. The details change, but the overarching plot points, struggles, decision points, and outcomes are the same.
It's easy to take from this book that understanding and embracing our own identities is a common struggle, and that our appearance, gender, relationships, and upbringing all work both for and against this process. As a woman nearing 30 (though I'm not multiracial) I identified with many of these protagonists, and understood most of their decisions and hang-ups very well.
All in all, an excellent, well-structured and thought-provoking collection of stories.
Themes: women, race, motherhood, gender roles, relationships, sacrifice, family life, multi-racial, definition of success...more
My heart ached the whole time I read this novel - for Tora especially but also for her mother, for her aunt, for her friend Sol and Sol's mother. ThesMy heart ached the whole time I read this novel - for Tora especially but also for her mother, for her aunt, for her friend Sol and Sol's mother. These women do not have easy lives, but Tora's burden is most difficult to bear. She's just 11, but she is abused both sexually and physically by her stepfather, her mother puts up an invisible wall of sorrow and silence, and she is an outcast because her father was a German soldier (the novel takes place in post-World War II Sweden).
The early pages of the novel are a bit choppy as various characters are introduced and background information is shared, but it soon settles into a good rhythm with Tora at the forefront. The ending is exceptional - Tora's waking dreams and nightmares are palpable and visceral. Absolutely deserves its international reknown.
This is the first in a trilogy about Tora, but I'm not certain the other two novels have been translated - I'll have to check into it.
This novel is written in a very fragmentary way, comprised of short 1 paragraph to 3 page scenes that jump around in time and, occasionally, in perspeThis novel is written in a very fragmentary way, comprised of short 1 paragraph to 3 page scenes that jump around in time and, occasionally, in perspective. This style fits well with the narrative, which is about a middle-aged former punk rocker who is still trying to cope with multiple tragedies in her past, as well as to overcome the destructive coping mechanisms she is naturally inclined to use. When Quinn's thoughts return to the past, which is constantly, the narrative returns there as well.
The author also shares information very slowly, often including a snippet of dialogue or a thought that is only placed in context or made understandable many pages later. This is sometimes effective and interesting, and sometimes frustrating and tedious.
To me, Quinn seemed too smart and too aware of her flaws and faults to be quite as mired in them as she is. Her meltdown-like reaction to trigger phrases and foods (pancakes, raisins, 'bullet in the brain') make sense in the flashbacks to her high school days, but make a lot less sense now that she's in her 30s. If she wasn't so aware and alert to her issues, then it would have made more sense.
Also, I wasn't quite compelled enough by the story and didn't see enough of a future for Quinn to be stimulated by the holes and missing pieces that were gradually filled in over the course of the novel. None of them felt eye-opening or thought-provoking. None of them even were a relief to put into place for me, though I did appreciate that the author remembered to close each little mystery she opened - there were no oversights.
I think there are probably people who would like this better than me - it's well-written and well-constructed, but just didn't grab me emotionally or mentally.
Themes: loss, grief, tragedy, death, music, sex, betrayal, guilt, coping, punk rock, food...more
bell hooks is a feminist theorist and writer and this is part of a group of books she wrote about love. This one examines love from a female perspectibell hooks is a feminist theorist and writer and this is part of a group of books she wrote about love. This one examines love from a female perspective, delving deeply into feminist theory, where feminism both succeeded and failed, and the utter importance of learning how to love for everyone (not just women). She discusses the importance of loving yourself before you can love anyone else, and the fact that love cannot exist in patriarchal relationships. She discusses the false idea that women are naturally more loving, showing how this is part of patriarchy, and argues that everyone can (and must) learn to love, optimally beginning in childhood.
I don't know a whole lot about feminist theory, but what I learned about it here I found fascinating. hooks' treatise on love is passionate and positive, and goes a long way to build up strength and determination in readers.
For the most part, I find her discussion fair and balanced, and rooted in eliminating patriarchy and creating equality for all people. However, there were some early points, especially in the discussion of sex, that seemed off to me. She argues (rightly) that women should be able to say no to their partners, even over extended periods of time. However, a few pages later, she describes a feminist whose male partner has said no to sex with her over an extended period of time and accuses him of withholding sex. Perhaps she is right about the man in this particular case purposefully withholding, but I would argue that women are equally capable of purposefully withholding and men have just as much right to say no, even over extended periods of time.
Her discussion of love is wonderful and, I would say, flawless. She discusses attitudes like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," their roots in patriarchy, and the unfairness of both sides of the coin: teaching women that love and nurturing are their realm and they should accept that men won't get it, and teaching men that strength and silence and dominance are their realm and showing emotion or communicating on a deeper level are emasculating.
All in all, a book worth reading that I never would have picked up on my own. Looking forward to discussing with my book club!
This definitely feels like a mid-series book. The saga continues, there are new revelations and characters and event, but it picks up and leaves off iThis definitely feels like a mid-series book. The saga continues, there are new revelations and characters and event, but it picks up and leaves off in the thick of things.
The most important new theme in this volume is homosexuality and a surprising number of characters turn out to be homosexual or bisexual. I was put off my the description of what Proust calls 'inverts' at the beginning of this volume - he basically says inverted men are women and it's obvious when you see and hear them - as any modern reader would be.
But much of what followed was interesting. I'm intrigued by the Baron de Charlus' characteristics and power struggles, and I was amused by a few episodes related to this theme: M. Nissim Bernard and the tomato brothers, Morel repeatedly ditching the Prince de Guermantes, and Bloch's cousin and another woman causing a scene at a party.
The other new theme, which builds on the narrator's obsession with place-names and the emotions they evoke, is etymology. There is endless etymology in this volume (through Brichot) and the end result is the breakdown of meaning in place-names for the narrator.
The least interesting part of this volume is the narrator and his jealousy. His treatment of Albertine is (purposefully, I know) sophomoric and agonizing. I know that the next volume is going to focus on Albertine and the narrator's jealous and crazy love for her and I'm not too excited about it. The strands of the story that focus on social conventions and many of the other silly, strange, vain, neurotic, or even crazy characters are more interesting to me.
Themes: Parisian aristocratic social life at the turn of the 20th century, social structure, climbing (and falling) on the social ladder, love and conquest, homosexuality, jealousy, changes of heart, etymology...more
This is a more expansive collection than Bad Behavior (published 20 years earlier), which mostly featured young women in personal and sexual turmoil.This is a more expansive collection than Bad Behavior (published 20 years earlier), which mostly featured young women in personal and sexual turmoil. While the turmoil theme is still prominent here, there are plenty of other themes, the variety of characters (gender, age, sexual orientation) is quite wide, and the collection manages to tackle its themes from a variety of directions - in my opinion, this is the mark of a good collection of stories. Bad Behavior managed none of this, and it goes to show what a difference 20 years of experience can make.
What I love most about Gaitskill's writing is how very TRUE it feels. Her descriptions and situations are never idealized or glossy - everything is gritty and sharp and blatant, even when that means overtly sexual or disgusting or what many people would consider devient or perverted.
Of the 10 stories, I very much enjoyed 7 of them. Mirror Ball really spoke to me - I was fascinated by the way Gaitskill anthropomorphized the soul to explain what it's like to be utterly altered by someone you meet without understanding why or how it happened. The Arms and Legs of the Lake says so much about the cost of war to those who return. The final story, Don't Cry, juxtaposes different types of struggle - the struggle of war, the struggle of grief when you lose your spouse, and the struggle of trying to achieve something that seems impossible.
The choice of Don't Cry as the overall title of the collection was a good one. Each story very much speaks to the need for great inner strength. Only in Don't Cry, does a character break down, let go, and cry.
Themes: women, relationships, sex, turmoil, souls and soul-speak, writing, aging, grief, death (of a partner, in particular), inner strength...more
After all the Proust (not to mention a fabulous novel by Woolf) that I've been reading lately, I felt a little smacked upside the head by the heavy-haAfter all the Proust (not to mention a fabulous novel by Woolf) that I've been reading lately, I felt a little smacked upside the head by the heavy-handedness and predictability that tends to come with a contemporary first novel. The gun was an tragedy waiting to happen the moment it appeared, and Lystra even teases the reader with it on a few occasions (he pulls it out at least three times). Also, when we're in Danny's heads, many sentences started with "and then I thought..." which bothered me after a while, though it would perhaps be the way a 14-year-old would tell a story after the fact.
As far as the main character and the setting though, Lystra did a wonderful job. Danny is a very realistic and sensitive 14-year-old and his coming of age felt very real. The northern Michigan setting is gorgeous and, as a major snowstorm falls during the climax, effective. Imagining myself in Danny's place was not difficult, and his discoveries about sex and love and the way life works were authentic, if nothing new to me.
I would definitely read a second novel by Lystra.
Themes: coming of age, sex, love, relationships, teenage pregnancy, life and death, lying, Northern Michigan, 1950s, math, youth, social stereotypes, friendship...more
This is a well-written, well-layed-out book. Elliott is an excellent writer and, despite the fact that this book is simultaneously a memoir and a crimThis is a well-written, well-layed-out book. Elliott is an excellent writer and, despite the fact that this book is simultaneously a memoir and a crime story and is only generally in chronological order, everything here flows. I never felt lost and Elliott did an excellent job of fulfilling what he set out to do in his own unique voice. All that being said, this was not my thing. I'm glad it was well-written (might not have made it through otherwise) but I didn't love it and it just isn't the sort of thing I enjoy reading. It didn't do much for me - his lessons didn't resonate for me and I didn't really take away anything from this book.
Themes: power, sex, drugs, sadism, pain, murder, control, lies, depression, being 'damaged', memory vs. reality, fathers ...more
I'm definitely wrestling with how I feel about this book. The writing was excellent - beautiful language, vivid description, interesting and real metaI'm definitely wrestling with how I feel about this book. The writing was excellent - beautiful language, vivid description, interesting and real metaphors, highly dimensional characters. Hamann frequently described little things that said a lot about her characters - like when Eveline describes how as a child her stuffed animals were all tied to together in pairs with ribbons and string so that they'd be buddied up if they needed to be thrown out the window in a fire.
That said, Eveline was so silent throughout this book - she didn't have a voice in her life until the last 50 pages. This is the point of her story, so really Hamann did an excellent job, but her silence drove me crazy. I knew everything she was thinking and feeling (the narration spends all its time in her head) but she rarely *did* anything. She allowed everyone around her to decide things for her, including who she should love and be with. She didn't even physically move herself a lot of the time - she's constantly being picked up, pulled, preened, hugged, led by the hand, etc...
Anyway, the novel is about Eveline's path to acceptance of authority over her own life (and the risk inherent therein), and maybe I would have enjoyed this story more 4-6 years ago, when my own life felt a little more like it was out of my control. But reading this novel now, I just felt frustrated that Eveline wouldn't act! And at 608 pages, it was a long time to feel frustrated.
I think that this just wasn't the right time for me to read this book, though I would probably recommend it to a female college student....more
I have a favorable impression now that I've finished, but in the beginning I really wondered if I would like this. There are so many characters withinI have a favorable impression now that I've finished, but in the beginning I really wondered if I would like this. There are so many characters within the first ten or so pages and I absolutely could not keep them straight - especially since they are all inter-related in various ways. As the book went on, I figured out which ones mattered here and ignored the rest, but before I got to that point I did a lot of looking back. I wonder if this problem would have been less apparent if I had read the other novels Erdrich has written about these characters in Argus, ND. I have the sense that some of them are only mentioned in this novel because they are featured in another novel and readers would be interested to get a little bit of an update. Since this isn't a series though, this novel really should have stood alone a little better in the beginning. I did love the magic of this novel - Lipsha's communications with his mom, Zelda's power, and the fear of Fleur. All of these things could be read as reality or symbolically and I really enjoyed that dichotomy.
Themes: modern Native American culture, gambling, visions, superstition, crime and poverty as inescapable cycles, love, luck, dancing...more
Ed White describes life in New York City in the 60s and 70s. His status as both gay man and writer are key to his experiences and how he describes theEd White describes life in New York City in the 60s and 70s. His status as both gay man and writer are key to his experiences and how he describes them.
The book is more about other people - his friends, lovers, etc - than it is about him. Many famous people feature, including Susan Sontag, William Burroughs, and James Merrill among many other. The book is also more about the signs of the times than it is about him - he describes how the influx of gay men and writers into New York turned it into a place where promiscuity was part of life and where free love and separating friends from lovers from fuck buddies was the order of the day. This turned into the beginnings of the gay rights movement and beginning to see being gay as natural and part of your identity rather than as a disease or psychological issue. He then describes how AIDS changed all this in 1981, and how many of the people he'd known began to die of the disease. He and virtually all of his contemporaries who were living the same lifestyle are HIV positive and a large number of them have already died.
I expected more about Ed White, but in some ways his discussions of the gay/writer culture in New York is probably more interesting. However, this isn't an overly personal story, though White does indicate his particular involvement with each person he mentions (sexual, professional, friendship, etc) in a factual sort of way.
That said, there are some nice passages throughout that give a good sense of White's feelings about this period of his life:
"Love is a source of anxiety until it is a source of boredom; only friendship feeds the spirit."
"Because fiction depended on telling details and an exact and lifelike sequencing of emotions, and on representative if not slavishly mimetic dialogue, and on convincing actions, it required heightened and calculating powers of observation...for a writer even the dreariest, most featureless evening among dullards became a subject for sastire, a source of "notes" on the new bourgeoisie, a challenge to one's powers to discriminate among almost interchangeable shades of gray."
Themes: New York City, 1960s, 1970s, writer culture, gay culture, AIDS, literature, art, friendship, sex, autobiography ...more
This novel is chock full - of everything. It's full of philosophy, politics, religion, characters with depth, treatises on everything from God to artThis novel is chock full - of everything. It's full of philosophy, politics, religion, characters with depth, treatises on everything from God to art to music to shit, sex, comparisons, authorial interjections, and shocking images and events - such as the assisted suicide on the mountain top or several of Tereza's dreams.
I loved this novel because it didn't let me stop thinking the whole time I read. Having recently read Anna Karenina, I had fun finding how this referred to it, mainly in the comparison of several relationships. The repetition of themes such as betrayal, unbearable lightness, and eternal return lent this story a weightiness and a chronology that it would have lacked otherwise.
Everyone should read a book like this, where the musings matter more than the story but the story and characters don't suffer for that.
Themes: sex vs. love, betrayal, lightness vs. weight, eternal return, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, coincidence, weakness vs. strength, communism, Czech Republic, man vs. animal, God, "es muss sein", Oedipus and punishment for crimes committed unawares ...more
For the first 250 pages I hated this book, but I have to admit that it did come together a bit in the last 40-50. The ending pulled in all the elementFor the first 250 pages I hated this book, but I have to admit that it did come together a bit in the last 40-50. The ending pulled in all the elements and I was finally able to see into Victor - see who he really was and how he was changing. I wish that the entire book had been more like these last pages. I think there were two problems: 1)Too much shock value. I have no problem with X-rated or bizarre events, but many here seemed to serve no purpose other than to shock. 2)Too much telling. Repeatedly, Palahniuk would end a scene in the middle and then later on relay through dialogue or description what had happened. Why not show the scene?
Themes: sex, morality, addiction, human nature, responsibility, being needed, heroism, reality vs. invention, rebellion, social commentary ...more
While there were aspects of this book that were disappointing, I ultimately really enjoyed it. And I think that my disappointment, especially at the eWhile there were aspects of this book that were disappointing, I ultimately really enjoyed it. And I think that my disappointment, especially at the ending, was purposeful. After all, if the narrator had been successful in writing a strictly censored love story, it would almost be an endorsement of censorship as a practice. I loved the way the narrator faded in and out of the love story and became as much a player in it as Sara and Dara. I also enjoyed seeing his perspective on how he chose to write different pieces of the story and the historical information he imparted - like what music and poetry in Iran used to be like, and how writers use fruit and plant items to describe parts of the anatomy that they can't name. There were a few twists in the story that felt a little too easy or convenient, and I'm not sure if these can be justified by the fact that the narrator is doing whatever he can to get this story to be approved by Mr. Petrovich.
I really enjoyed the first part of this book, where we discover Ariel's history, her angst over relationships and sex, and her interest in all sorts oI really enjoyed the first part of this book, where we discover Ariel's history, her angst over relationships and sex, and her interest in all sorts of things (especially science and philosophy) and the connections between them. However, it quickly got a little over the top.
Much of the discussion of theoretical physics and speculation about how things like thought, faith, and time work was interesting. The idea of the troposphere was also interesting, but it just didn't seem to come together well enough.
Ariel's experiences in the troposphere and how she solved problems were just a little simple for such a smart cookie. All the talk about how smart she (and Dr. Burlem, and Lura) is made me think that the way the troposphere worked should be a little less convenient and simple and should have given me more 'aha' moments or impressed me more. It all just seemed a little too easy, and predictable, and Dr. Burlem and Lura seemed just a little too impressed with Ariel's train of thought as she worked out information about the troposphere.
I suppose the problem I have with the book is all about world building and then living within the framework of the world that has been built - most science fiction and fantasy authors have this down really well, but Scarlett Thomas spend a little too much time waxing theoretical and adding more and more detail instead of solidifying clever details about the world she created and sticking with them. This makes the changes and additions over the course of the novel just too convenient.
SPOILER: I was also disappointed in Ariel's decision to stay in the troposphere because she didn't want to live without Adam. It wasn't like her and made for a strange ending. END SPOILER
A quote I like: "But if something wants to be a story, it will be."
Themes: philosophy, physics, science fiction, religion, thought experiment, metaphor, life and death, science, consciousness, reality, the unknown, uncertainty, dreams, time and space, homeopathy...more
This novel has been on my to-read list for an extremely long time and now that I've finally gotten around to reading it I, in some ways, wish I had reThis novel has been on my to-read list for an extremely long time and now that I've finally gotten around to reading it I, in some ways, wish I had read it 8-10 years ago and, in other ways, am glad I didn't read it when I was a young and obsessive college student myself. Not that I would have taken a page out of this book or anything, but I definitely would have had a strong emotional reaction. Reading it now, I feel personally beyond what Esther Greenwood is facing, and maybe that's a good thing.
As a look into the lives of young women of the 50s, this novel is fascinating. Esther's confusion about sex and love and her path in life are heartbreaking and very nearly destroy her. There is a moment where she sees her possible futures as ripe and beautiful figs on a tree. All she needs to do is choose one, but she can't. She doesn't want to choose between love and career, and as she considers her choice the figs begin to blacken and rot.
This is a beautiful microcosm of early feminism, and the way that freedom could trap women just as much as patriarchy because once a decision was made there would be no turning back. A career woman wouldn't marry or have children and a mother would have a lifelong role as housewife.
Esther's hangup with sex also says a lot about coming of age as a woman in the 50s. She wants to lose her virginity so it will stop hanging over her head, but she has no access to birth control and is plagued by the not yet outdated notion that by losing her purity she will be cast aside by men, her community, and the world at large.
Esther's confusion and fear and indecision plummet her into despair and the second half of the novel is a close look at the various mental health options in place in the 50s, from impersonal male psychiatrists and electric shock therapy, to low-quality state hospitals and high-quality private hospitals. It is at this point in the novel that the meaning of the "the bell jar" becomes clear. Esther, and by extension other young women of the time, feels confined under glass, breathing her own "sour air" and unable to free herself from her prison, though the ending does offer hope.
Themes: youth, women, sex, mental health, 50s, suicide, the college life...more
Diamant was exclusively a writer of non-fiction when she took on this project and, seen in that light, the results are impressive. In fact, I found thDiamant was exclusively a writer of non-fiction when she took on this project and, seen in that light, the results are impressive. In fact, I found the first 1/2 or maybe even 2/3 of this book extremely well done and fascinating.
I enjoyed Dinah's internal monologue as the story occurred, though I did feel as though her perspective got a little muddled early in part two. At that point, Dinah in the story was a small child and the author occasionally seemed to forget that Dinah is telling this story with the benefit of her years and give us the child-Dinah's perspective only.
The last part of the book I found both predictable and a little boring. I saw things coming that aren't part of the bible story (like when she'd reunite with Benia and who Joseph was). About 50 pages before the book ended, I was more than ready. The key themes of how women pass along their stories and knowledge, how critical the mother/daughter relationship is, and how we are all bound together as women, had been covered and the novel was down to just tying up very long and very loose story threads.
Ultimately, I'm giving this book one more star than I would give the writing alone because it made me think. I've been thinking about the ways that daughters see their mothers through a mixture of both unconditional love and judgment and how continuous that cycle is over generations. I've also been thinking about menstruation/coming of age and the ceremonies (or lack thereof) that have accompanied this over time.
Themes: women, sex, menstruation/fertility, coming of age, biblical history, biblical society, women's roles, mother/daughter relationships, storytelling, midwifery, love, life cycles, midrash, gender and class issues...more
Received for free through Goodreads First Reads I have mixed feelings about this book. It's the very first 'chick-lit' I've ever read, and I did enjoyReceived for free through Goodreads First Reads I have mixed feelings about this book. It's the very first 'chick-lit' I've ever read, and I did enjoy it more than I thought I would. Giffin keeps the story moving well and navigates its twists and turns without giving away too much ahead of time.
One thing I could particularly relate to was Rachel's relationship history. I've definitely missed opportunities because I was too shy, too scared, or deluding myself. I like that Rachel (eventually...) seizes this opportunity that she missed before, despite everything that's telling her not to - it's very redemptive.
I did feel, however, a little frustrated with Rachel. She did seem a little boring to me and I wasn't sure what Dex saw in her. Her personality was pretty flat and she had little drive. She was just too passive to be a fun character. Darcy is the absolute opposite of this, and I didn't understand why the two had remained friends so long.
I also think this book should have ended just a little sooner. After the climax, there's a chapter where Rachel is preparing dinner for her and Dex, cooking for the first time. The end of that chapter would have been a perfect ending.
On a side note, I can't believe the next book is from Darcy's perspective! I would not enjoy spending a whole novel in the mind of a character who seems to have no likable qualities.
Themes: friendship, relationships, New York City, love, marriage...more
This is a love story, through and through, but it's far more fascinating than I would have imagined. It delves into the way that love manifests itselfThis is a love story, through and through, but it's far more fascinating than I would have imagined. It delves into the way that love manifests itself in a marriage and it's also an extremely interesting look at aging and what this means for love.
The setting is so well-done - I felt immersed in the Caribbean of the early 20th century - and the characters are outstanding. There are just 3 major characters and each is full of depth, flawed, realistic, and likeable. I have no complaints - it's clear to me why Marquez won a Nobel Prize.
I enjoyed One Hundred Years of Solitude more than this story because I'm such a fan of magical realism and the generational epic type of story, but Love in the Time of Cholera is still moving and wonderful.
Themes: love, old age and aging, South America/Caribbean, sex, cholera, marriage, relationships...more
This is a re-read but there was actually very little I remembered from the first time I read it at 16 or 17. The themes of writing, lust, and man as bThis is a re-read but there was actually very little I remembered from the first time I read it at 16 or 17. The themes of writing, lust, and man as both protector and criminal and how this affects women are very interesting. The idea that women are objectified sometimes, whether they are being protected or assaulted, is very thought-provoking. The repeating motifs of disability, fear of impending tragedy, violence, and untimely death are also more clearly for a purpose to me this time around.
I appreciate that Garp's writings are included. Since they are discussed in such detail, it's useful to have read them, and they give good insight into Garp's mindset. The first chapter of 'The World According to Bensenhaver' was especially interesting because it gave me a better sense of how Garp was coming to terms with what happened in the driveway than anything else could have.
Despite the tragic ending, I wasn't as sad as I would have anticipated. after all, this novel makes clear that death is very much just a fact of life, and the whole point of the epilogue is to show that everyone dies anyway, eventually. The last part of the book (once the 'under toad' takes over) was less engaging for me. There are fewer 'scenes' from then on and it feels like the beginning of the end - there's a lot of 'wrapping up' going.
Themes: sex, lust, infidelity, feminism, family, writing, wrestling, death, fate/omen (under toad), accident and blame, guilt, 'personal vision', fame protecting vs. victimizing women and family ...more
Cal was an extremely interesting narrator. I loved the way this novel ebbed and flowed - the author did an excellent job of revealing details at exactCal was an extremely interesting narrator. I loved the way this novel ebbed and flowed - the author did an excellent job of revealing details at exactly the right time, whether they came chronologically or not. The topic was unique and sucked me in. The other amazing thing was that Cal's point of view managed to be both a male and female perspective. Right after I finished this book, I picked up the New Yorker and read an article about a South African runner who is a hermaphrodite and having read "Middlesex" definitely lent a sensitivity to my reaction to this runner. Having spent two weeks in the head of someone so similar made the article an extra-interesting read. I loved the events of this novel, from Desdemona's silkworm shed in Turkey to her mock-courtship with Lefty on the boat, and from Callie's relationship with 'the object' to her transformation to Cal as she made her way across the country.
Themes: gender, identity, coming of age, Greek culture, immigration, sex, family, secrets, Detroit ...more