I've been a fan of Blake Butler since I read one of his pieces in an issue of FENCE a few years back. I immediately read an excerpt of his novella EveI've been a fan of Blake Butler since I read one of his pieces in an issue of FENCE a few years back. I immediately read an excerpt of his novella Ever online, although I still haven't managed to find the whole thing. One day I hope to.
As soon as I saw the description of this new novel last year, I couldn't wait for it to be released. It's easy to see where the comparisons to Danielewski's House of Leaves come from. Both novels are fundamentally about a family living in a strange house that certainly has a mind of its own. However, in many ways, the two books are quite the exact opposite of each other. Danielewski's narrative is very convoluted: a story within a story within another story. It's very much a labyrinth of prose that the reader is compelled to read through, at times perhaps hoping he will never find the end. That's how it was for me. I had such a difficult time putting it down, reading the whole 700 pages in 10 days. For me, that is fast. Butler's book was a very different experience. The prose is very sparse, the narrative minimalistic. It reminded me a bit of a prose poetry collection, reminiscent of Cortazar and Michaux, Edson and Simic. I read it slowly, section by section, and it ended up taking me almost 4 weeks, despite being much shorter in length. (To be fair, I stopped in the middle to read Jennifer Egan's Goon Squad.) My favorite parts were the comedic lines, the ones that made me laugh out loud. I liked the lists and the IM conversations, the different narrative forms that broke the monotony of the detached voice a little more. House of Leaves is eerie and unsettling in a way that gets immediately under your skin. This novel creates more a sense of uneasiness, both within the characters and the readers, that blankets you, makes it hard to move. It's more subtle. Plot matters a little less, I think.
Comparatively, I did enjoy House of Leaves more, but as I said, they are very different books. I appreciate Butler's style very much and look forward to reading his other works. I hope to buy this book someday and give it a closer reread as well.
**spoiler alert** I originally put this book on my to-read list only because I read that there was a powerpoint presentation in it. And I absolutely l**spoiler alert** I originally put this book on my to-read list only because I read that there was a powerpoint presentation in it. And I absolutely loathe powerpoint, but I definitely thought that it would be fascinating to insert one into a novel. Months later, I was reading the New California Writing 2011 anthology that Goodreads sent me, and there was an excerpt (of the third chapter, "Ask Me If I Care") in it, one of my favorite pieces in the whole anthology. And a few days after that, the novel won the Pulitzer.
At first, I was only going to give it 4 stars, but I keep going back to the powerpoint chapter, which I think is both the strongest and the weakest part of the book. I initially thought that it was maybe a bit too long, but there is a definite poignancy to it that you don't expect. Assuming that we're supposed to make a connection between the "Rock and Roll Pauses" and this powerpoint "pause" in the prose, well, it both succeeds and fails in my eyes. I think the pause works really well. (And the information itself was fascinating because I've always loved those moments of silence in music, where you think the song has ended, and then a second or two later, the music floods back to your ears, stronger than ever. I've just never put that much thought into it myself. I wrote down all the songs mentioned so that I can check out the ones I'm unfamiliar with at some point. Unfortunately, many of my favorites did not appear in the analysis.) The part that fails for me is the last chapter that comes right after the powerpoint. In theory, it should be the strongest, most compelling chapter in the book, but it wasn't. I think part of the problem was that I didn't really care about Alex. The very end also fell flat to me.
Obviously I commend Jennifer Egan for using all of these different forms to tell one large story. I think some worked really well. Other decisions seemed a bit arbitrary. I felt like I wanted Rob to be a bigger character since we got a 2nd person POV for his chapter which tends to be very intimate if done well, and it was. I wanted a bit more from Bennie's old gang: Alice, Scotty, Rhea, and Jocelyn. Maybe it was because I read "Ask Me if I Care" before anything else and got attached to those characters early on. But here are my favorite chapters:
1. Found Objects 3. Ask Me If I Care 5. You (Plural) 6. X's and O's 9. Forty-Minute Lunch... 10. Out of Body 11. Good-bye, My Love 12. Great Rock and Roll Pauses
Looking at this list, I guess chapter 13 was even more of a letdown since I had enjoyed the three proceeding chapters so much. I think the powerpoint is the key though. It lifts the novel to another level and makes you think about it long after you put it down.
**spoiler alert** * Please excuse my inability to string a coherent paragraph together in these recent reviews. My brain is so dead.
Let me start by sa**spoiler alert** * Please excuse my inability to string a coherent paragraph together in these recent reviews. My brain is so dead.
Let me start by saying I really wanted to love this novel. I waited so long to get my hands on a copy, and it seems like just my sort of thing, what with the complicated teacher-student relationships and the theatrical production and meta. Everyone knows I love meta. There was some beautiful writing and some great passages that I wanted to quote but I had to return the book to the library. I've never really seen someone describe a theatrical production at such length instead of writing it out like a play, and it was fascinating. The only problem is when you have characters speaking as if they are on stage (and let's face it, people do not act like they do in real life in a play) and yet, you are not able to watch it play out, it doesn't quite work. The resulting effect is somewhat awkward, especially when you take into account everything else in the production being described, such as the saxophone teacher's observations. She is kind of a godly figure but it was very confusing to dissect the essence of her role. Was she played by an actor? She was removed from all the action in a way that the other characters weren't. And as much as I loved watching the two worlds (reality and theater) collide at the end, the non-linear narrative was quite difficult to follow, especially at the beginning when I hadn't figured out what was going on. I hope to read it again someday. I definitely liked how the student-teacher relationship served as the catalyst for the whole story and yet was basically not what the novel was about at all. Fascinating all around, wish it was a little less helter-skelter but I still give props for trying something so unique and interesting, as always.
I really liked this a lot. While I was reading, it constantly struck me as a fusion of Don DeLillo's White Noise and Tom McCarthy's Remainder, but itI really liked this a lot. While I was reading, it constantly struck me as a fusion of Don DeLillo's White Noise and Tom McCarthy's Remainder, but it still had a different flavor of its own. This is going to sound terrible, but I also think the book is one of the best adult novels written by a woman that I have read in a very long time. Add that to the fact that it was her first novel and she was relatively young at the time, and I find it really quite impressive. Sure, I think she loses her way a bit in the middle, and there were parts at the end that I found somewhat boring, but for the most part, the narrative definitely possesses that fragile honesty that I often like. The epilogue, while well-written, seemed unnecessary and of an awkward perspective. However, the relationships portrayed were really quite beautiful. I can't wait to read her other stuff.
**spoiler alert** This is Leslie Jamison's debut novel, but you might say I've been a fan of hers for many years. I first read her work when I was 14**spoiler alert** This is Leslie Jamison's debut novel, but you might say I've been a fan of hers for many years. I first read her work when I was 14 or 15 years old, in the first of a series of PUSH anthologies that publish winners of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. It was a story called "Citrus," and to this day remains one of my favorite short stories. At the time, I was new to the style of dissecting a story into short, bite-size vignettes that stood alone but somehow came together to form a much larger whole of inter-connecting puzzle pieces. After that, time and time again, I found myself drawn to stories like those, and of course, based my senior thesis around that technique.
As it turns out, I was re-reading "Citrus" last year and became curious about what had become of Jamison, so I googled her name and found a story of hers published by A Public Space, her bio stating that she'd attended the Iowa Writer's Workshop. I also found out she had a book coming out this year, and I immediately put it on my to-read list here on goodreads.
To make a long story short: The book came out; I read it. I guess it would be accurate to say that I was impressed and a little disappointed at the same time. Her prose is quite beautiful, there are some very poetic and honest lines (my favorite is the part with the dog pawing at her arm like he had buried his bone there...amazing) that rival those of Richard Powers and Denis Johnson. In the beginning, I felt it was too much. Every sentence felt so loaded but they came off short and clipped. I barely had time to linger over one before the next hit me. I liken it to riding in a car with someone who keeps slamming the brakes, stepping on the gas, then slamming on the brakes, non-stop. The rhythm felt bumpy and awkward. Somewhere along the way, maybe a fourth of the way into the book, it stopped bothering me. I don't know if it got better, if I got used to it, or if the voices just began to feel more natural to me. Stella and Tilly blurred together in my mind. I loved how they were almost like a single person at different periods of their life. On the other hand, I did sometimes feel like their voices were too similar. I found it to be a very brave first novel. It definitely goes places that would make anyone uncomfortable. I can see how some people might not enjoy it. I liked the way the relationships were handled, very real.
I look forward to other books by Leslie Jamison, something drastically different from this maybe, to see what she's capable of. She's very young (only four years older than me) and I feel that she has a lot more to offer in the future.
**spoiler alert** I really love this novel. It's at once a comic book, a family drama, a mystery, a bildungsroman, and much more than that still. Nick**spoiler alert** I really love this novel. It's at once a comic book, a family drama, a mystery, a bildungsroman, and much more than that still. Nickerson is a lovely writer. There are some great moments of clarity and truth in here. My favorite is when Margaret is describing the incident when she briefly doesn't recognize her sister in their apartment elevator, but these great moments are sprinkled throughout. I also love the idea of the island's library of unpublished manuscripts, and the way the librarian kept writing "editor's notes" that take you out of Margaret's head and allow you to watch the other things going on in an almost voyeuristic manner.
My only complaint is the constant shifts between Margaret's first person POV and third person of the boy's. I can understand the reasons, as Margaret is the heroine, and having her first person is vital, while having his would make him her equal which I do not believe he is as a character in the story. However, the first and third person POV just don't jibe well with each other in this narrative.
**spoiler alert** I'm determined not to fall behind on reviewing again.
This was extremely well-written. I questioned the style a little when I first**spoiler alert** I'm determined not to fall behind on reviewing again.
This was extremely well-written. I questioned the style a little when I first began the novel but quickly grew accustomed to the rhythm of the prose. There are some beautiful metaphors and phrasing used to describe the most mundane and everyday things. The most impressive thing about the novel is the intricate relationships explored. I'm always looking for novels that successfully depict the very complicated push-pull relationship between a teacher and student. Most stories quickly veer into absurd satire or complete implausibility. This novel, however, not only nails the relationship but also tackles the relationships between student-student and teacher-teacher quite well, at least from my personal experience and observation. Satire IS present, especially at the start of the novel, but it's subtle and almost completely disappears by the end. I found Dixie Doyle to be too much of a caricature initially, but when all is said and done, I think she is an excellent foil for Liz Warren.
The everyday relationships and characters in the novel were so realistic and familiar to me, that I almost wish that Gaylord hadn't developed the sexual aspect of them as it isn't apparent from the front flap. However, I suppose it was inevitable, and for the most part, it was handled so well, with the affair itself lasting no longer than 2 or 3 pages. Here, it's the build-up and the aftermath that are most important -- and most interesting. I look forward to a second novel by Mr. Gaylord.
ETA: The cover of this book is amazing (I just stared at it for like a minute, completely entranced) and it's done by Rodrigo Corral, my #3 in book coETA: The cover of this book is amazing (I just stared at it for like a minute, completely entranced) and it's done by Rodrigo Corral, my #3 in book cover design. It's probably what made me pick up the book in the bargain bin at Borders.
This reminds me of Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, not because they are really anything alike but because of the way she and Sherrill handle the coming-of-age of a young girl. Coincidentally, I also read Prep at the start of a new year (2006) and reading this gave me a similar feeling. I thought it was very well-written (there are some amazing passages that made me very jealous) and the characters believable and likable, esp. Whitman. He was my definite favorite, and his relationship with Inez the most compelling part of the narrative. In a way I'm glad he only made short, often faceless appearances though. It made it that much more bittersweet. My main issue with the book was the ending. I was glad she was friends with Robbie again but I didn't care about her that much and didn't feel like that was the focus of the novel, so I wish it had just ended with her and Whitman or her and her father.
**spoiler alert** My favorite line: "Margaret's death had shaken us, like three dice in a cup, and spilled us out with new faces in unrecognizable com**spoiler alert** My favorite line: "Margaret's death had shaken us, like three dice in a cup, and spilled us out with new faces in unrecognizable combinations" (51). I love that. It's gorgeous.
The poetic language, though, is one of the issues I had with the book. It flows so well throughout but Nico says right out on the first page that Margaret was the poet (singer), Aaron was the painter, and she was the scientist, the one who took things one at a time. To me, the way the book is written, it seems like the POV of a writer or artist. But I'm not sure if that is a commment on Nico's personality and voice, because it does have the honesty of a very perceptive and sensitive pre-teen/teen, which I think Nico is.
The other thing was Aaron. I'm not quite sure I believed their relationship. On one hand it was the most natural thing in the world, and reading the description of it was what drew me to the book in the first place. I was ready to believe it and buy into it, but the way it was presented seemed off somehow. I also wasn't sure I liked the epilogue-ish ending. I seem to be reading a lot of those lately. I wish writers wouldn't do it so much.
Nevertheless, this is a beautiful story about the loss of a family member. It actually reminded me a little Alison Smith's memoir Name All the Animals, which is typically a good thing.
I love how this is very intimate and private (because the all the letters were originally intended for one specific person) but the advice in the lettI love how this is very intimate and private (because the all the letters were originally intended for one specific person) but the advice in the letters is still so universal and accessible. Which is obviously the reason they published it and titled it the way they did.
I really love letters #1,7, and 8. My only thing is sometimes the letters get too philosophical and "deep" for me. Writing is something you shouldn't overthink. And my opinion is that most young writers would do just that if they really took this book too seriously. There is something to be said about the honesty of Rilke's voice though. Some of these things might sound cheesy or manufactured coming from someone else. But he sells it, and what more is there to admire than a stranger's honesty and caring?