When I heard that Toni Morrison was coming out with a new novel, I was absolutely excited. I loved Paradise and Beloved (so much so that I've never wr...moreWhen I heard that Toni Morrison was coming out with a new novel, I was absolutely excited. I loved Paradise and Beloved (so much so that I've never written a review of either of them) so I pre-ordered a copy of Home as soon as I could. I got my copy yesterday (the release day) and I finished it this morning. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but this novella was different altogether from any of my expectations.
This novella was very different from other Morrison books that I've read. (I'm calling it a novella because it is only 147 pages long. I know some of you don't like the term, but I do, so I'm using it.) It was, first and foremost, easy to read. Beloved took me over a month to get through because it was so dense and so difficult; Home took me only a few hours. I was, I have to admit, a little surprised and even disappointed at how easy the prose was. Though the chapters switch between narrators, with a majority of the chapters being from Frank's perspective, the narrators of each chapter are always characters that have been previously introduce and are always identified in the first few sentences of their chapter. The reader never has to figure out who is talking or what is going on, so long as they can remember names. The chapters alternate between the story itself, told by the various narrators, and chapters in which Frank addresses the author directly, telling them what really happened, how he really felt, and occasionally correcting things that the author previously wrote. I really enjoyed those chapters, because they called attention to the act of storytelling itself, to the fact that someone who is not the characters is writing these things, to the idea that sometimes the author messes things up. I thought that technique was very cool, and it isn't something I've seen Morrison do before.
Possibly because the book was so short, I had a hard time connecting to the characters the way I have with her other novels. While they are good round characters, they aren't nearly as fleshed out as Sethe or the women from Paradise. I feel like this was more a novel of setting and theme than of characters, which is usually ok by me, but since this book was about Frank finding his sense of home, I wanted to connect with him a bit more. While it let me down in character development, it was great in setting. You get a good sense from the writing of what life was like for poor black people in the South, the way that injustice and violence from whites and the police was normal, an everyday hazard to be avoided rather than something surprising or unusual. Home includes a lot of the things that were happening at the time, segregation, eugenics, bebop, and obviously the Korean war. Mostly these elements are woven into the story seamlessly and organically. To balance out the injustice and sadness there were always communities, churches, and helpful strangers who supported each other where law and prejudice let them down. I loved that this book showed the ways that black people rallied and helped each other. So often we think of blacks before the civil rights movement as being poor downtrodden helpless people, but the reality is that they were often very strong, supporting each other and getting through with hard work, community, and a refusal to let poverty and hate grind them down. I think this book did a great job showing that without watering down the real pain of injustice and violence that comes with war and segregation. It's a delicate balance, but for the most part I think it's a balance that Home strikes very well.
As I mentioned earlier, the writing in Home is much easier and simpler than in the other Morrison novels I've read. The themes were generally just as subtle and nuanced as I expect from her, with the situations, problems, and solutions feeling real and honest rather than contrived or pedantic. That said, some parts of the last few chapters felt a little too obvious for me. Unlike in Beloved, in Home Morrison basically hands the reader the solution or moral that Cee and Frank have to find, explaining it to us in clear language. While this isn't always a bad thing, and in some novels those revelations are often the most beautiful parts, in Home it felt a little too easy. Maybe it's because I was expecting something more like her other novels, but the simplicity of those last few chapters left me a bit disappointed. They were beautiful, thematic, and they structurally balanced out the novel, but they just felt too easy.
So, after all this, what did I think of Home? It was good, definitely, but it certainly wasn't her best novel. I think it would be a perfect introduction to Toni Morrison for people who haven't read her books and don't want to start with anything too difficult. It has all of her usual themes, her lovely use of setting, and her realistic characters, but it's shorter in length and has much easier prose. For people who don't usually read difficult literary fiction, this is the perfect introduction to Toni Morrison. For those of us who love her partially because of her difficulty, this probably won't stand out as one of her best novels. The writing was much more mature than in The Bluest Eye, but it wasn't as complex or as moving as Paradise or Beloved. I would definitely recommend it, but it isn't going to join her other works on the list of my favorite novels of all time.
Rating: 4 stars Recommendations: Readable prose, realistic setting, ok character development. A quick, enjoyable, and contemplative read from a wonderful author. Not as substantial as some of her other works.(less)
Sometimes a book comes along that knocks me out of complacency and reminds me exactly why I love to read. The Other City by Michal Ajvaz was one of th...moreSometimes a book comes along that knocks me out of complacency and reminds me exactly why I love to read. The Other City by Michal Ajvaz was one of those books. At once incredibly intelligent and captivatingly beautiful, it is a rewarding book for anyone who loves to read beneath the surface and find meaning just beyond the frontier.
After discovering a strange book in an alien language at an antiquarian book store, an unnamed narrator comes into contact with a strange other world, "a place where libraries can turn into jungles, secret passages yawn beneath our feet, and waves lap at our bedspreads." (from the blurb) He finds The Other City, a city that is at once the same place as his home city of Prague and something entirely different. Surrealist and strange, the people he meets and events he witnesses initially baffle both the narrator and the reader. The struggle of the reader to understand the book mirrors the experience that the narrator has trying to understand the strange new city in which he finds himself. Is there meaning to be found here? The answer is, of course, yes, but it is never quite the meaning that we expect.
What struck me first about this book was the vivid imagery. Though surrealism isn't usually my favorite aesthetic, the descriptions in The Other City were so beautiful and real that I didn't mind the initial confusion that necessarily comes with a surrealist text. Even the strangest and most incomprehensible of things are described in luminous prose, glowing with life and color. These descriptions help to create the atmosphere that defines the strange city.
Though the descriptions are beautiful, The Other City isn't just a text of images. There is a plot to this book, and the reader is just as invested in discovering the inner workings of the other city as the narrator is. I wanted to reach that inner courtyard and hear the music of strange fountains. Not only is the subject interesting, but Michal Ajvaz is a critical theorist, and his incredible intelligence shows in his writing. This is a book driven not only by conventional plot, but also by ideas and philosophies, which are always being found, challenged, and changed. As someone who loves to think and engage with ideas while I'm reading, I greatly enjoyed this intellectual side of the book. Whether it's notions of otherness and frontiers, the true nature of monsters, the relationship of language to reality, or the act of reading, this book handles ideas with a mix of beautiful prose and intellectual dexterity. Ajvaz manages to contemplate ideas without being pedantic or boring the reader. Instead, ideas become vitally significant, a way of making sense of a world that seems to defy logic and understanding.
A book about frontiers, monsters, and the act of reading, The Other City is stunning in both the depth of its ideas and the beauty and quality of its writing. For readers who need to understand every word of a book, The Other City is definitely not going to be enjoyable. But for those of you who like difficult novels, this might be the book for you. If you want a novel that will make you think as often as it takes your breath away, I absolutely recommend The Other City.
Rating: 5 stars. Recommendations: Don't give up if it confuses you at first. Keep on going. It's worth it.(less)
I don't usually like blurbs. I find that they often misrepresent the books that they are supposed to be describing. That said, I don't know that there...moreI don't usually like blurbs. I find that they often misrepresent the books that they are supposed to be describing. That said, I don't know that there is any better way to describe Mr. Palomar than "a vision of a world familiar by consensus, fragmented by the burden of individual perception. This books isn't plot driven, or even character driven, so much as it is a book of images, thoughts, moods, and ideas. Contemplative and deliberately paced, Mr. Palomar is different from almost anything else I've read.
Mr. Palomar is a series of scenes or vignettes, grouped into three large categories, that are based on things that our main character, the middle-aged Mr. Palomar, sees and thinks about. From the waves on a beach to an albino gorilla in a zoo, from the stars and galaxies to the inner workings of his own mind, Mr. Palomar, like his telescope namesake, is always looking at something, and trying to divine from those individual moments the laws of the universe. Many of his musings are about perception and how we should look at things. Is a cheese shop really a museum of human civilization? What to turtles think about while mating? Is the most important part of speech actually silence? How much can we interpret the past, or physical objects, or other people, without distorting them? These sound like big weighty questions, but Mr. Palomar's thoughts are so rooted in observation and imagery that this book never becomes too abstract or loses its connection with the reader. Instead, it connects with that part of all of us that stays detached, thinking about ourselves and our place in the world.
For people who want a books with a plot, I would not recommend this book. Though Mr. Palomar is very relatable in some ways, he is also a very introverted and detached character, and though the entire book is composed of his perceptions, I wouldn't say this is really character-driven novel either. Mr. Palomar is, if nothing else, a novel of mood, images, and thoughts. It is a book that rewards rereading, with shades of meaning and beauty in everything from the overall organization all the way down to individual sentences and word choices. Bathed in the feeling of detachment and isolation so common in modern society, Mr. Palomar is about trying to make sense of the world in which we somehow find ourselves.
Rating: 5 stars Recommendation: Read this if you like contemplative novels built on mood, images, and ideas.
I am not a big fan of the summer novel. I tend to read exactly the same kind of novels during the summer as I would any other time of year. That said,...moreI am not a big fan of the summer novel. I tend to read exactly the same kind of novels during the summer as I would any other time of year. That said, I honestly think that If You Want Me To Stay is the perfect book for summer. It's one of the rare books that manages to be exciting and readable without compromising on quality. Full disclosure: Michael Parker is one of my professors at UNCG, and his class on the contemporary novel was one of my favorites. It was partially because I loved his teaching that I decided to pick up his collection of short stories (review here) and then one of his novels. I can tell you now that I have not been disappointed. Set in North Carolina during a hot summer (much like the one we're having now), If You Want Me to Stay is a luminous example of the power of voice in creating a truly enjoyable reading experience.
Narrated by a 14-year old boy, If You Want Me to Stay is above all an incredible example of the effective use of narrative voice. Joel Jr. is an incredibly interesting narrator with a voice that is both unique and believable. Having lived in North Carolina for a good portion of my life, I can tell you that I have met boys who talk exactly like Joel. He is sometimes funny, sometimes cynical, almost always honest, and completely real. But Parker's use of voice goes far beyond the simple mastery of dialect. Where Parker really shines is in how he gets into Joel's head. If You Want Me to Stay starts with a sort of free narrative style, with Joel as the narrator. He tells the story, but with little asides, thoughts, and observations thrown in that make it feel like a real person talking or thinking. What I really loved about the style was that as the novel progressed Joel's narration became more stream-of-consciousness than not. The last few sections are in a nearly impressionistic style, painting the images Joel sees and mixing them with his thoughts, feelings, memories, and the music that courses throughout the novel. It's a great device, because the narrative gets more stream of consciousness as the boys get more tired and confused, making the style match the content and theme of the novel. Parker's use of voice and narrative style was by far my favorite part of If You Want Me to Stay, and I would recommend it for that alone.
As I mentioned in my review of The Geographical Cure, Parker is also incredibly talented at building setting, able to put readers right into a place without a lot of exposition or superfluous description. If You Want Me to Stay is no different. In this novel, Parker creates the perfect atmosphere of central and coastal North Carolina; the muggy summers, the boggy forests, and the beach towns all come to life in a way that is both delightful and unobtrusive. Having lived in North Carolina for a majority of my life, I can tell you that he absolutely nailed the setting. But what's great about Parker is that while he makes the place a real and integral part of the story and of the characters, he doesn't hit you over the head with it. Instead, the setting is woven into the story in much the same way as it is woven into our lives. It is important in that it is always there, but not so important as to steal the scene from the characters or themes. Instead, it creates a kind of atmosphere that I found very effective and enjoyable to read.
Now, there were a few things that I thought could have been better about this novel. While I loved the way that Parker weaved music into the story, I thought that it was occasionally too much, especially towards the end. I understand why he chose to use the music, and it worked very well thematically, but sometimes it was so much as to make Joel's character seem unrealistic. No-one thinks about music that much, no mater what they've been through. Since Joel was otherwise an incredibly lifelike and well-drawn character, this stuck out a bit and bothered me. Also, while I found the story be be generally well-paced and well-structured, there was a part just before the end that went on for too long, and that threw the structure off and made it drag a bit. Other than those two things, the book was very well put together and flowed perfectly from one scene to the next. Those two problems were more slight annoyances than real issues.
Overall, If You Want Me to Stay was a thoroughly enjoyable novel. It was fast-paced and interesting without sacrificing good writing or round characters. While it isn't something I'd call a modern classic, it is definitely something I would recommend to anyone who wants their summer reading to be both enjoyable and intelligent. I can assure you that I will be picking up another of Michael Parker's books again in the near future.
Rating: 3.5 stars Recommendations: Realistic characters, great setting, a great summer read. Some profanity and violence.(less)
Veronica is another book I picked up because I had to; it was assigned for my Contemporary Novel class. Now, if you know me, you know that I usually l...moreVeronica is another book I picked up because I had to; it was assigned for my Contemporary Novel class. Now, if you know me, you know that I usually love books that I read for class, so this was not necessarily a deterrent. In fact, that class had been really enjoyable so far, so I was looking forward to discovering another great book. Sadly, Veronica didn't quite live up to my expectations.
Set between the 60's and the 90's, Veronica is the story of a young model named Allison and her friendship with an older woman, Veronica, who is dying of AIDS. While the present action is a fifty-year-old Allison narrating her day in the first person present, describing going to work and walking home and other routine things, the timeline continuously jumps back into the past, telling the story of Allison's life, how she got into modeling, her rise and fall in the career, and her friendship with Veronica. The novel spends more time in the past, going over memories and events in Veronica's life, than it does in the present action. This jumping back and forth in time, mixed with the rarely-used first person present point of view, makes the novel hard to understand at first, but within an hour of reading you get used to it.
The writing in Veronica is sometimes very beautiful, and it's clear that Gaitskill can turn a phrase, but that beauty is marred by the self-consciousness of the writing. I was almost always aware of the writing itself, and it gave me a feeling that the author was trying too hard to sound meaningful or artsy. It came off as self-conscious and even pretentious at times, and that really annoyed me while I was reading. I'm all for evocative artistic writing, but often this book skipped past beautiful and went straight into the realm of truly purple prose. The first person present point of view, while an interesting choice, wasn't executed as well as I would have liked in some cases. There were times when Allison was thinking things that no-one could possible think in the present. No-one sums up their entire friendship with someone and that friend's philosophy on life in the few seconds it takes to shake their hand, and those kinds of realizations and philosophizing should have been used in retrospection only. In a book otherwise focused on accurately portraying consciousness through flashbacks and sentence structure that mimics thought patterns, this kind of inaccuracy sticks out like a sore thumb. Add that to the times when the author had a "Here's a metaphor, let me explain it to you" moment, and the writing in this book annoyed more than it pleased.
Veronica wasn't a complete failure. I could tell what the author was trying to do, and there were times when she succeeded. The juxtaposition of cruelty and beauty in her descriptions and the sequence of events was a good way of communicating the theme of the novel. Though the tone was too detached for me to ever feel for the characters, the events that took place were often glamorously violent or destructive, and that has its own interest. Still, the occasional shock value of the plot and the attempts at thematic meaning just weren't enough to make this novel worthwhile. If I hadn't been reading it for class, I don't think I would have finished it, and I'm almost positive that by this time next year I will have forgotten it completely.
Rating: 2.5 Recommendations: Lots of sex, drugs, cursing, and other things of that nature. (less)
First of all, I would like to say that I bought this book for entirely biased reasons. Michael Parker, aside from being the author of multiple novels...moreFirst of all, I would like to say that I bought this book for entirely biased reasons. Michael Parker, aside from being the author of multiple novels and short story collections, was my professor for the Contemporary Novel class I took this semester. I bought The Geographical Cure because I absolutely loved his class. Parker is an incredibly intelligent reader and critic, and his insights into issues as big as structure and as detailed as syntax made me curious as to how he handled those things in his own writing. Though he is mostly a novelist, The Geographical Cure was the first book of his I could get a hold of, and luckily this collection of short stories and a novella did not disappoint.
Set in the south, Parker's stories have a sense of timelessness that mimics the long hot summer afternoons I grew up with. While the stories vary in length, they all seem to take an indeterminate amount of time to read, existing in their own space and time. The writing is very readable and was never a chore. The narration sometimes rambles and occasionally gets too caught up in the thoughts of the characters at convenient times, but it is mostly clear and realistic, and it never gets to the point where I wanted to skip over a descriptive passage. Parker's stories are focused on character and place, and so the thoughts of the characters are central to the development of the plot, and that keeps them from getting boring or holding up the story. Overall I'd say that the stories in this collection wander, but with purpose.
My favorite piece in this collection was the novella, The Golden Hour. When a bus breaks down in a small North Carolina town, it brings together a prim and privileged teacher, an every-man administrator, an old beach-music star, and a young communist guitarist, and forces them to confront their pasts and how they relate to their present. Told in alternating chapters from three different characters, this novella shows Parker's masterful use of voice and perspective. After I read the first chapter I had one perspective on the characters and what was going on. By the time I finished the second, I was forced to question everything I had initially thought. But this wasn't a simple case of an unreliable narrator. Instead, Parker convincingly wrote from the perspectives of two people who didn't see the world the same way, and I came out of the novella thinking that they were both right, in a way. The accuracy and realism with which he created his characters was truly impressive. That and the firm sense of place that they occupied combine to make this novella both completely convincing and totally interesting. As a big fan of realistic and engaging characters, I thoroughly enjoyed The Golden Hour.
The short stories in the book were also very good. They ranged in length, from the short Love Wild, about a man's relationship with a woman and her emotionally challenged brother, to the medium-length The Little Marine, about a boy taken on a trip across the country when his mother runs away with her lover, to the rather long As Told To, in which a man is given his brother's memoir to proof-read and has to confront years of pent-up emotion. Each of these stories is a separate world, with fully-formed characters and a strong sense of place. Though some were more forgettable than others, each provided a reading experience that was thoroughly rewarding. If these are the kinds of short stories Michael Parker writes, I cannot wait to read his novels.
Rating: 4 stars
Michael Parker has a new book coming out in Spring 2013, Five Thousand Dollar Car, which I was lucky enough to hear an excerpt of at a reading earlier this semester. Based on what I heard, I am very much looking forward to its release. Keep an eye out for it!(less)
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates is an easy book to read, but a difficult book to review. With effortlessly beautiful writing and incredibly vivid...moreRevolutionary Road by Richard Yates is an easy book to read, but a difficult book to review. With effortlessly beautiful writing and incredibly vivid characters, this book sucks you into the world of 1960s suburbia with all of its subtleties and quiet dramas. It is, in fact, the skill with which Yates develops his characters that makes this book so difficult to review and to completely enjoy.
Honestly, that GoodReads summary doesn't do the book justice at all. Revolutionary Road is the picture of perfect character-building. From the very first chapter, the use of dialogue and short, clear passages of description give the reader an incredibly strong sense of who Frank and April Wheeler really are. Right away, I felt like I knew these characters, like I had met them a thousand times before. While this is itself a rare accomplishment, Yates takes this book to the next level by subverting the reader's first perceptions of the characters. By slowly adding chapters from the perspective of characters other than Frank, Yates gives the reader a different angle on Frank's character, his marriage to April, and his relationship with his neighbors and friends. Slowly, the reader discovers more depth to both April and Frank's already round characters, and not everything that is discovered is flattering.
It is this evolution of the reader's perception of the characters that makes this book so difficult to review or even completely enjoy. The truth is that there is one character who I absolutely hated more than I have hated any other character in any book, and possibly more than I've hated anyone in real life. I spent the whole book torn between wanting to know what happened next and wanting to throw the book across the room out of sheer anger and frustration with that character. In short, I wanted him to die in a fire. While I'll admit that it takes incredible skill to make a character so believably unlikable, and while I understand that the absolute horribleness of that character was crucial to the theme and plot, it also makes the book difficult to enjoy, or at least it did for me. I'm usually ok with unlikable characters, but this one hurt and frightened me on a deep emotional level, possibly because he was so real. Maybe I'm particularly sensitive to portrayals of spousal abuse and manipulation, but there were times when I considered just not finishing it, even though the writing was incredible. If it hadn't been required reading for a class, I might not have. That has never happened to me before, and I honestly don't know what to make of it.
To be honest with you, I still don't know how I feel about this book. The writing was beautiful, easy to read, and incredibly enjoyable. The characterization was among the best I've ever seen. But, despite those two amazing qualities, that one character and all the horrible things he did to another character made reading this book difficult. Because of that difficulty, I cannot recommend this book to wholeheartedly. While I think that a lot of people would greatly enjoy it, there are people I know who would find this book too disturbing and emotionally intense, and because of that I cannot recommend it to everyone. If you don't mind reading a book that has abuse, manipulation, and a seriously messed up character in it, then I would recommend this book as one of the best examples of writing and characterization I have ever read. If you think reading about those things would bother you, then you should definitely skip Revolutionary Road.
Rating: ? Trigger warning for domestic abuse and emotional manipulation.(less)
The tale immigrant workers in Canada, laced with a strange mix of real events and magical realism, this book has an almost hallucinatory quality at ti...moreThe tale immigrant workers in Canada, laced with a strange mix of real events and magical realism, this book has an almost hallucinatory quality at times. Told mostly from the point of view of a distant main character, with bits and pieces from other characters whose relationships are gradually revealed, this book sometimes bypasses emotional impact for clarity of theme, poetic language, and metafictional elements. The language is at times painfully beautiful, but it is also very self-conscious and obvious, in a way that sometimes bothered me. If you like lyrical and poetic novels, then this might just be the book for you. If self-conscious and occasionally purple prose is a pet peeve of yours, I suggest you stay away from this one.(less)
On the surface, Mrs. Bridge doesn't sound like the kind of book you'd want to pick up. The story of a typical 1950s housewife, it seems from the blurb...moreOn the surface, Mrs. Bridge doesn't sound like the kind of book you'd want to pick up. The story of a typical 1950s housewife, it seems from the blurb on the back to be way too boring to even merit consideration. I am glad, then, that I was made to read this book for a class. With its interesting structure and realistic characters, Mrs. Bridge is an incredibly well-crafted and enjoyable piece of literature.
Mrs. Bridge tells the story of Mrs. India Bridge, from the time she gets married until the end of her life. Set in suburban America around the 1950s, her life as a housewife is understandably not terribly eventful. Still, there is something compelling about her, something real and honest about her character that made me want to keep reading. The reality of the novel made me wish that she would improve, do more in life, be a better person. I celebrated her small triumphs, and was disappointed at her inevitable failures. Even though she was silly and superficial at times, even occasionally racist and sexist in a way that only middle-class white women in the 1950s could be, I still cared for her. This isn't something I say about many novels, but I swear I know Mrs. Bridge.
The novel itself has a very interesting structure. Instead of going straight through every event in her life, the novel is made up of about 130 short chapters, each averaging a few pages in length. Each chapter is an episode, a single event or occurrence in Mrs. Bridge's life. The episodes move in chronological order, so despite the strange structure the book is not at all confusing, and is actually a very quick and easy read. All these little episodes come together to form a sort of pointillist painting of Mrs. Bridge's life and of the suburban middle-class that she is a part of. Ranging from the silly to the sad, these little pictures show her attempts at growth and understanding in a world whose conveniences have made her life so easy as to be useless. Though very often silly and shallow, Mrs. Bridge is a tragic character.
Though I wasn't expecting to at first, I really loved Mrs. Bridge. I loved the crazy short chapters that I read like I eat potato chips, promising "just one more, and then I'm done." I loved the language, which was simple and readable without being dumbed-down or simplistic. The mix of mocking irony and gentle affection made the tone of this novel seem honest, and closely matched my own feelings toward the characters. Some of the chapters cut right to my heart, hitting home in a way that I never really expected a story about an aging housewife would. Though I never would have picked it up on my own, I can honestly say that I am glad I read Mrs. Bridge.
I read this book for my Contemporary Novel class, and I really enjoyed it. It is a quiet novel, telling the story of an English professor, detailing h...moreI read this book for my Contemporary Novel class, and I really enjoyed it. It is a quiet novel, telling the story of an English professor, detailing his work, his marriage, and his hidden inner life. While it could be argued that not much happens in the book, it still stays interesting and readable throughout. This is a book driven by character, and shows that even someone who seems uninteresting and passive on the surface can have a vivid and complex inner life and a story to tell. This book made me care about and identify with the characters in a strong and visceral way that both surprised and pleased me. While it certainly has its flaws, and while it might not be the most memorable book I've ever read, I would still recommend Stoner to anyone with a love of reading.(less)
Tinkers is a book that I went into without any expectations. I read it for my Contemporary Novel class, as the last book of the semester. If that clas...moreTinkers is a book that I went into without any expectations. I read it for my Contemporary Novel class, as the last book of the semester. If that class has taught me anything, it's that my expectations for books based on the cover or the blurb on the back tend to be pretty far off. If you saw this book on the shelf, you might be tempted to pass it by. It's small, a short little paperback that looks like it might take only a few hours to read and forget. If you decided to grab it, you'd find that despite it's little size, this book is filled with worlds of imagery and language. It is a book that stretches time. Though it's dense and takes a little longer to read than you would expect based on its length, while you're reading it you feel almost as if time has stopped, as if you have been reading this book for an indeterminable period that could be minutes or days. This book is, to put it simply, something else.
An old man lies dying. Confined to bed in his living room... he is now finally released from the usual constraints of time and memory to rejoin his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler, whom he had lost 7 decades before. In his return to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in the backwoods of Maine, he recovers a natural world that is at once indifferent to man and inseparable from him, menacing and awe inspiring. Tinkers is about the legacy of consciousness and the porousness of identity from one generation the next. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, it is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, and the fierce beauty of nature. (Goodreads)
Tinkers can be a little disorienting. Told at least partially (and perhaps totally) from the perspective of George, a man hallucinating on his death bed, it jumps back and forth in time and space without much warning or explanation. Through these jumps the reader learns of George's childhood, of his father's life and childhood, and the ways in which they are different and the same. Always enclosed in a Maine landscape that is described with ecstatic hallucinatory clarity and brilliance, the lives of fathers and sons, of families and generations, unfolds in a strange non-linear and sometimes circular narrative. The prose is lyrical. I hate the overuse of that word, but there really is no other way to describe the rhythm and sound of this writing. The descriptions are poetic in their beauty, and the meditations on time are at once direct, in that they are clearly talked about in the text, and subtle, in the way those meditations are mirrored and confirmed in the structure of the novel itself. The quality of the writing and the high level of craft are self-evident. No matter how enjoyable you find the book, it is impossible to walk away from it not thinking that Paul Harding is a gifted writer.
You all know that I have a history of being disappointed by prize-winners (see: Wolf Hall, A Visit from the Goon Squad, The Road, etc) but I honestly think that Tinkers deserved to win the Pulitzer. I am still shocked that this was Harding's first novel. It's a beautiful book. It's not always the most enjoyable read, in fact at times it's downright frustrating, but it is definitely an experience worth having.
Rating: 4 stars Recommendations: It's confusing and jumps around a lot, but just stick with it. It's ok if you get the characters confused or don't know where you are. That's part of the point. Just enjoy the prose, and it will all make sense eventually.(less)
When I heard about The Lover's Dictionary, I wasn't sure that I was going to like it. It seemed to be one of those books that wasn't going to live up...moreWhen I heard about The Lover's Dictionary, I wasn't sure that I was going to like it. It seemed to be one of those books that wasn't going to live up to the hype. The premise is definitely original. The book is written entirely in dictionary entries, with each word giving a window into the relationship between the narrator and his girlfriend. It sounds like an interesting premise, but I was worried that it was going to be too cute and clever to really work. I went into the book with trepidation, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out.
I think the strong point of this book is the honesty of the story and the clever way that the author used the format to enhance that story. Because the dictionary entries are in alphabetical order rather than being arranged chronologically, the story is disjointed and non-linear. This means that the reader discovers the story bit by bit, piecing together a relationship from glimpses of moments and feelings relayed out of order or context. I feel like this gives the story a sense of suspense and forward motion. Some entries will pick up where earlier entries left off, filling in gaps and changing the story from one page to the next. The way he would repeat and elaborate on conversations that he had mentioned earlier was very effective in both keeping the book moving forward and in creating a sense of unity throughout and otherwise fragmented book. I also think the fragmentation comes across as a very honest way to portray memory. When looking back over the course of a relationship, I don't usually see things in perfect chronological order. My memories are a kaleidoscope of the best and worst times, of turning points and everyday moments that come together into some kind of coherent whole. I think the format of the book is a good way of showing that remembering process.
The Lover's Dictionary book was a very short read. I read it in the course of a few hours on a lazy summer afternoon. Despite what I said in my previous paragraph, it isn't a particularly heavy book. Instead, I like to think of it as a great summer read. Because of all the short entries, it's great for reading on a day when you may have only a few minutes here and there. The writing style, while both pleasing and intelligent, is also very readable. If books were films, this book would be a mini-series. It's broken up into convenient episodes and it isn't too difficult to understand. That said, this book isn't fluffy or silly. It is probably one of the most intelligent and realistic "easy summer reads" I've recommended. Levithan has somehow managed to make a quality work that still qualifies as easy and enjoyable. If you are having the kind of lazy summer I've been having, but you still want a book that isn't going to insult you, I would definitely recommend The Lover's Dictionary.
Rating: Recommended A short but intelligent read that, while it won't change your life, is definitely worth your time. (less)