Holy cow but this book cuts you. And cuts you. And cuts you. You can almost predict the events of the book by asking yourself, what would be the mostHoly cow but this book cuts you. And cuts you. And cuts you. You can almost predict the events of the book by asking yourself, what would be the most painful plot turn right now?
Gratuitous nastiness is no basis for a book, but Boyle has a serious purpose. If you ask me, he's rewriting 'The Grapes of Wrath,' with a contemporary cast of California bohos and illegal Mexican immigrants. Just like Steinbeck, he's pulling no punches. And just like Steinbeck, he's showing us something that isn't comfortable to look at, but which we owe it to ourselves to really see and think about.
The bohos are caricatures. They're over the top in ways that diminish the power of the book but lend it a few bitter laughs. The immigrants are drawn with a gentler hand. ...more
Carol Shields sees with such deilghtful clarity. It almost doesn't matter, the story you're there to experience. Those crystalline moments in which shCarol Shields sees with such deilghtful clarity. It almost doesn't matter, the story you're there to experience. Those crystalline moments in which she lets you see through her eyes are enough.
Listen: "He loves this light-filled city in the same unarticulated way he loves the throwaway intimacies of Safeway cashiers..."
And again: "Fay knows what adolescence is. It is a time of intense concentrated boredom, it is never-ending in its sameness. People like to speak of the violent mood swings teenagers experience, but in fact most of adolescence is a killing procession of tedious days and numbing nights that must somehow, by imagination or a shared dramatic gesture, be kicked alive."
Or here: "'But are you fucking him?' Iris Jaffe wanted to know when she phoned Fay at her office on Thursday morning.
Fay and Iris have been friends for thirty years, and part of their code of friendship demands that Iris make shocking statments and that Fay feign shock. 'Iris!' she said, or rather exclaimed."
My only criticism of this book is that, like other Shields books I've read, particularly "Unless," the plot, particularly its conclusion, leaves me restlessly dissatisfied. Like she's not in it for the plot and so gives it bare attention. That said, I'd read every page she ever writes for the joy of seeing the most familiar things so fresh and new they become treasurest....more
I should have loved this book. It is written with Shields' perfect attention to word choice and image. I think perhaps I failed the book, though, lookI should have loved this book. It is written with Shields' perfect attention to word choice and image. I think perhaps I failed the book, though, looking for deeper forces at work in the plot when actually it was a simple story (at the level of plot) about a woman who reads her fears and insecurities into her daughter's apparently bizarre behavior, behavior that makes more sense after missing information is provided in the final pages of the book....more
Holy cow I could not have been more disappointed in this book.
(moderate spoiler alert....)
Probably I was set up for disappointment by a reviewer who,Holy cow I could not have been more disappointed in this book.
(moderate spoiler alert....)
Probably I was set up for disappointment by a reviewer who, at least as I recall, said Grossman was half Philip Roth and half J.K. Rowling. I expected Rothlike depth and bleak, honest examination of the human condition and human society mixed with Potteresque magical fun. What I got was a magical school a la Hogwarts except with lots of drunkenness and self pity and sex. And then a magical land a la Narnia except our hero is a self-absorbed ass and I pretty much wanted him to get his butt kicked because that's what he deserved.
And the book reminded me once again of a question I have asked myself many times: is it possible to create a character smarter than you are? Grossman's premise is that magical abilities exist randomly in the human world, but only among the ultra bright, the kids who ace their SATs and win science fairs without even trying. So all of his characters are supposedly brilliant.
Yet I cannot remember a single thing any of them said or did that made me stop and think. I can't think of a single thing that happened that made me stop and think. And there were tons of frustrating inconsistencies. The school's headmaster seems to be an idiot. Yet he was once one of these genius kids or he'd have no magic. The students start school at the end of high school. So by year four (out of five) our main character has to be at least 21, not a kid at all by some standards. And yet he refers to himself and his cohorts as 'teens.' And although he asks the question, why does he get this free magical education, neither the main character or the author ever come up with a satisfactory answer. It's like the author does not know why such schools would exist. Since most of the kids graduate into a life of magical, drunken ennui, I sure have no idea, even after reading the entire book.
The only bit of the book I really enjoyed playing with in my mind was a recurring discussion about whether the Narnia-like land these kids visit, which they all learned about in a Chronicles of Narnialike book series as young children, is a 'real' place or a story that they enter, whether the things that happen to them should be expected to have the logic of life or that of story. That was a neat idea and I wish Grossman had delved into it. But he didn't seem to know what to do with this cool idea besides posing it.
Grossman's book is probably not helped in my mind by the fact that right after I finished this book I started Ursula LeGuin's "Gifts." Two of the things she does best are things he does poorly: cast an original, revealing light on an already-explored idea; and create characters who say things you want to ponder later.
Sorry for the harsh review, Lev. I really wanted to love this book. : (...more