Well. Re-reading this timeless treasure led me to discover that the Nancy Drew mysteries are not the novels of genius I once thought they were. This o...moreWell. Re-reading this timeless treasure led me to discover that the Nancy Drew mysteries are not the novels of genius I once thought they were. This one had the particular distinction of not only being poorly written, but also containing numerous offensively discussed stereotypes about Japan and Japanese-Americans. People are described as "Oriental" and "Asiatic," and the entire mystery is really just an attempt for Carolyn Keene to describe for impressionable youth the "exotic" customs of the nation of Japan. Despicable.
The mystery is solved at the end through the discovery of some weird cult ritual that comes out of left field and makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, the mystery is never really solved, so much as Carolyn clearly took a hit off the bong, wrote a paragraph, called it a night, and then sent the manuscript off without editing it.
I think what's most displeasing is that Nancy's long-suffering, blue balled boyfriend Ned finally makes an appearance, only to once again be denied any sort of romantic dalliance with super prude Nancy. Jesus, Carolyn, just let them have sex already!(less)
I like to read Anita Shreve when I am tired out on "literary" novels but am not quite at the point where something by, say, Sophie Kinesella sounds ap...moreI like to read Anita Shreve when I am tired out on "literary" novels but am not quite at the point where something by, say, Sophie Kinesella sounds appealing. Shreve's novels are usually romances of two kinds; ones that build to a tragic emotional climax, or ones that are centered around lost love or an event in the protagonist's past that gets revealed over the course of the novel. I like to call them "trashy reads," but in truth, I think Shreve usually brings quite a bit of quality to her work.
I say all this because, in my opinion, Fortune's Rocks is what Shreve intended to be her "masterpiece," the culmination of her various tricks and flourishes she had developed in other books. Is it my favorite of hers? No (that would be Sea Glass). Is it the most accomplished thing she's done? By far.
The novel is structured like a three act play. The first act centers around the blossoming of a romance; the second act on the fallout it creates; and the third (and best) act on the attempt of the protagonist to rebuild her life through (misguided?) means. Shreve paces her plot flawlessly to suit this pattern, and I say that the third act is the best because, for once, Shreve tackles the moral dilemmas she usually skirts that are created by the romances in her novels. Here we are confronted with the consequences that an affair has created, and whether or not its participants have the right to try to reconstruct their lives, and if so, how far they should be allowed to go to do it. It's tremendous, especially because Shreve hides any sort of bias she might have, causing the eventual resolution to feel both earned, and true.
The only reason I'm giving this book four stars is that the "romance" in the book is of a highly questionable nature. Shreve does her best to make you accept it as a given, but it never lost its disturbing air for me, and it somewhat tainted everything else the book sought to accomplish. But otherwise, a fine novel, and well worth checking out.(less)
Technically, it's 3.5 stars. This book has a fairly routine premise (man can time travel, things happen) but the author executes it surprisingly well....moreTechnically, it's 3.5 stars. This book has a fairly routine premise (man can time travel, things happen) but the author executes it surprisingly well. It's told from the vantage point of Clare, the wife of the title, and her husband, Henry. What's interesting about the book is that you are forever going back and forth, not just between Henry and Clare, but between scenes of their lives, so that things you read later in the book have already been hinted at and reavealed earlier in the novel. Instead of feeling as though you're reading the same thing twice, though, the reiteration of events previously discussed adds meaning and depth to what otherwise would be a one trick book.
While the plot is interesting and I loved the character of Clare, the reason the book gets the rating it does from me is because I did not care for Henry as a narrator. As the main character, you're supposed to feel sympathy with his plight, but most of the time he comes off as an arrogant asshole, and it's hard, when he wines and complains about his life, not to feel as though he's brought most of it on himself. I think part of the reason this occurs is that, because of the premise the author has laid out, Henry has to be so defined by his time traveling capabilities that she was incapable of rendering him with the same nuance she lends to her other characters. The book, really, is actually sort of done in by this, in that the other characters are so fascinating that it makes you resent having to spend so much time with self-absorbed Henry, when you could be interacting with Clare, or Kimi, or any of the other more fully realized characters.
I also had a hard time grasping the "intricacies" of time travel. In order to go along with the premise, you have to believe (although this is never stated) in the theory of time that postulates that past, present, and future exist simultaneously at all times. Even with this idea in place, though, some of the plot points seem questionable, and it's fairly annoying when you lose focus on the plot as you try to piece together how a certain "quantum leap" has managed to occur in the way it has. In the end, I found it best to just accept the time traveling without analysis and move on, but the academic part of me feels a little cheated (Michael Chricton would never have written so vaguely!)
Still, an interesting blend of science fiction and romance, and really, that doesn't happen often. (less)
Birds of America is a story collection by one of the most talented (but minimal) writers around, Lorrie Moore. The stories here are not big or grand o...moreBirds of America is a story collection by one of the most talented (but minimal) writers around, Lorrie Moore. The stories here are not big or grand or epic, but work simply as little one-act plays, exposing the inherent complexities and dramas in the everyday lives we all lead.
Moore's writing style is subtle, and laced with a fantastic sense of wit; witness, for example, her slight mocking of the health fad craze in the names she creates for juice bars; or her sly commentary about the misnomer of "busy bee" in the story "Whatever You Want, Fine." Added to this wit is a keen sense of what it means to be on this earth and to interact with someone else (I'm being cliche here, because I'm no Lorrie Moore), to have an effect upon someone's life simply because you happen to walk a similar road together for awhile, and it is the way in which she explores this truth that gives her stories the weight they need to avoid being simple comic pieces.
The three best stories, in my opinion, are "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens," "People Like That Are The Only People Here," and "Which is More Than I Can Say About Some People." The first story deals with a woman who has a wonderfully loving husband and a great daughter, but can't get over the loss of her cat, and so decides to undergo therapy that guarentees to "cure her by Christmas or the last session is free!" The second deals with pediatric oncology in a harrowing and moving way, about the distance illness brings between people, and the last deals with a mother and daughter, on a road trip through Ireland, and the ways in which revelations of character don't end simply because you know someone for years and years.
These are wonderful, wonderful stories, the kind that make you think about your own life, examine it in the ways the characters are examined here, that affirm realizations you yourself have come to or guide you toward ones you haven't, and I don't think you can ask for much more than that from a book.(less)
This was a light read. At times funny. "How to Be Good" is the only other Hornby novel I've read, but in comparison, this one pales. The characters he...moreThis was a light read. At times funny. "How to Be Good" is the only other Hornby novel I've read, but in comparison, this one pales. The characters here aren't very fully realized, and many of them are grating and static. While the initial set-up of the novel is intriguing, I feel as though Hornby skates over potentially explorable issues or dilemmas in favor of humor and surface level answers and explications.
Good for a plane ride or day at the beach; not so good for thought provocation.(less)
This was my first Alice Munro exploration, after years of having read about her reign as the queen of short stories. Overall, I was impressed, but not...moreThis was my first Alice Munro exploration, after years of having read about her reign as the queen of short stories. Overall, I was impressed, but not all stories are created equally, and some resonated more than others.
I was particularly impressed with "Passion," a story that flashes back on the summer of a young woman working as a waitress in a lake front community. With her future seemingly set in stone, she happens to come into contact with a wealthy family that owns a home on the lake, and quickly becomes emeshed in their world. She becomes particularly taken with the mother of her boyfriend, a bipolar, semi-alcoholic, and then, later, with the brother of her boyfriend, with whom she shares a memorable (passionate?) 24 hours. The story works on many levels as entertainment, but I enjoyed it for the ways in which it called into question the definitons of love and passion, and what it means to experience (or lack) either, and the effect that even a short taste of both can have on ones life.
There is also a set of three stories all relating to the same woman at different points in her life. I enjoyed the first one most, wherein she meets her future lover on a train, a momentous trip that also begins her self-definition. But the other stories have weight, too, especially when dealing with issues of mother/daughter relationships, and the impact that parental choices can have years down the road.
Munro is obviously talented, and I'd recommend picking this up. (less)