Hometown story of "gentrification" in Logan Circle, immigrant longing, assimilation and attraction. What the American Dream looks like from the insideHometown story of "gentrification" in Logan Circle, immigrant longing, assimilation and attraction. What the American Dream looks like from the inside struggle; how race, class and culture clash on every day terms, how (again) stasis (depression?) breeds tensions that must ultimately brew into change. ...more
This sad story couldn't have been told better by anyone else than Krakauer, who himself feels the pull of the wilderness. Part of what makes this narrThis sad story couldn't have been told better by anyone else than Krakauer, who himself feels the pull of the wilderness. Part of what makes this narrative successful is Krakauer's own presence of what this story meant to him, in the truest form of personal essay, and how the respectful exploration of "Alexander's" life revealed his own truths about ego, adventure, and being a civilized society misfit. I also appreciated that he didn't feel it necessary to psychologize Christopher McCandless' motivations. ...more
This compelling read also educated me about high-altitude climbing, since Krakauer wrote with such detail and intelligence. Eight died during this attThis compelling read also educated me about high-altitude climbing, since Krakauer wrote with such detail and intelligence. Eight died during this attempt to summit, and the narrator's introspection and descriptions of nature, and of the people, transported me to the point of shivering. ...more
A novel far advanced for its time, equally because of its sexually explicit nature and its rant against the incursion of the modern and mechanized worA novel far advanced for its time, equally because of its sexually explicit nature and its rant against the incursion of the modern and mechanized world, and the welcome death of the English class system. Constance Chatterley, a knighted major's second daughter, lives a carefree life of privilege, exploring culture and sensuality (and a youthful sexual encounter), until the Great War changes the climate of Europe. She marries Baronet Cliffor Chatterley who becomes wounded in the war, paralysed from the waist down. He pursues a life of the mind, producing mildly successful books that are destined to come to nothing (attn: analogy). She takes one dissatisfying lover, and over time feels stultified and depressed by the life of the mind, and Clifford's new interest in improving the colliery in his village, and the value and method of industry there. The gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, becomes her lover, and the two find unbounded passion, meaningfulness, and a return to the truth of human connection amid modernization, despite the specter of scandal,his reluctance to embrace hope, and their child to come. ...more
This narrative wasn't a story; it was a running commentary on memories of Kalish's life on an Iowa farm during the 1930s. Subtitled as being about theThis narrative wasn't a story; it was a running commentary on memories of Kalish's life on an Iowa farm during the 1930s. Subtitled as being about the Great Depression, the family farm was insulated from the GRAPES OF WRATH sort of deprivation associated with that era. There are no clear characters, very little dialogue, no sense, really of who the narrator is, or of her age, or about her sisters and brothers, her parents, aunts and uncles, except by what they ate, how they prepared it, how they were thrifty to the extreme. While these facts are interesting, I found myself wondering about Kalish's intent.There is no introspection that gives wisdom to an examination of one's past. She hints at a brief struggle with Christian faith, but never goes further, and only at the very end do we finally learn something concrete about her actual life. I found it to be a charming little book filled with stories and recipes from back in the day. I'm amazed that the NYTimes considered it one of the top books of 2007. ...more
Evocative writing about smells. Stage-ephemera store owner Camilla deals with the death of her cousin Eve and her difficult relationship with her perfEvocative writing about smells. Stage-ephemera store owner Camilla deals with the death of her cousin Eve and her difficult relationship with her perfumier father, Jordan, who has a past relationship with a Russian stage director before the Revolution. Camilla has dreams about her past, which are supposedly revelations brought on by the Director's doppelganger. The insertion of this spirit-narrator feel forced and self-conscious, and unnatural to the contemporary NYC setting. The plot also seems contrived and old--mistaken identity of one's father, and how Camilla's relationship w/Eve's daughter, and her decision in her relationship hangs on that balance, as if the writer thought: Let's make this a "literary" book. ...more
This amazing show swept me off my feet. I went three times. His stars, his landscapes, his dark yet soaring vision... The catalog doesn't do justice tThis amazing show swept me off my feet. I went three times. His stars, his landscapes, his dark yet soaring vision... The catalog doesn't do justice to the art, which fills a gallery wall, and requires one to sit and be carried into the rough-hewn scene of distance, farm fields, crumbling buildings, destruction, construction, yearning, such yearning......more
Unbelievable twists and turns in an increasingly madcap plot bring out the sheer inventiveness of the characters in this surprisingly modern novel. ThUnbelievable twists and turns in an increasingly madcap plot bring out the sheer inventiveness of the characters in this surprisingly modern novel. The language yields a thickness that recalls the Russians, and is dramatic, sometimes melodramatic, often archaic, all adding up to a richer sense of language that hearkens to a pre-Victorian era of plague, pestilence and deep struggles. The characters therefore appear darker and more medieval than their European literary contemporaries. This richness in language gives zeal to Klein's obsessiveness over books, that seems hermetic and ancient: yet there's a moment when Klein knows he would be lost if he were to actively think about the electrons burning below the ink that creates the words he reads and memorizes with his "terrifying exact memory."
Leaps between points of view occur within paragraphs, even sentences as if the voice was experience a rapid cycling from character to character. But it adds rather than detracts from a complicated plot because each character interprets the world in uniquely twisted ways. Without fluctuating point of view, it would be difficult to convey what are already scenes of confusion and mayhem, when one person thinks an action means one thing while another thinks something entirely opposite, and both advance on their individual opposing interpretations, with satirical results.
Canetti allows his characters pages and pages of internal soliloquy, letting them rant and rave through personal histories and justifications, rationalizations, prejudices, and ultimately motivations. This becomes a fascinating and effective method of understanding difficult characters. Despite the lack of physical action or setting or movement in a heavily expository writing, the points of view add forward movement to the plot, because what is of primary interest are the passionate motives of each person, the interplay of misunderstanding and what evolves as a result. ...more
Halima Bashir tells her story in the familiar memoir style of a coming of age narrative, except hers is the rarely heard story of the revered SudaneseHalima Bashir tells her story in the familiar memoir style of a coming of age narrative, except hers is the rarely heard story of the revered Sudanese subculture of the Zaghawa, a family’s love and the demise of both in the harrowing tragedy Darfur. Most striking besides the horrors of genocide she experienced and painfully describes, are the gentle yet fierce relationships she portrays within her family—mostly that between daughter and an aristocratic, wealthy and generous father who always believed in her, encouraged and enabled her to attend medical school, and defends her to the end. Bashir’s narrative immortalizes her lost family and also her village culture, one she describes as being based on deep paternalistic traditions as rigidly imbued with and terrifying as the necessity of female circumcision and as lofty as their Muslim faith. Hers are a farming people with a warrior nobility and ancient and mystical traditions; a people who are hospitable and neighborly to the extreme, loving, openly caring and concerned for the betterment of each other. That she rises above her village traditions and straddles the new world, and the Arab-dominated big cities, through education is largely due to her father’s wisdom, political foresight, and faith in his own culture and family. This is a story rich in describing the day-to-day details of what makes a nation beloved—its food, style of community, ways of life, its language and social order—and how hatred and war are bringing about its annihilation. Bashir’s voice is clear and she maintains a balanced tone that is nonjudgmental and for the most part apolitical, until tragedy strikes, when bewilderment and anger appropriately enter her tone. At times the narrative feels a little sentimental or overwrought, but it is easily forgivable as her yearning is so deeply rooted in grief and pain that is palpably brutal. This book is a testament to survival, the need to bear witness to the destructive forces of hatred and inhumanity, the need for family and culture, the need to heal, and love. ...more
The NYT found this book to be exceptional, but I found it to be lacking in broad strokes and deeper explorations of universal meanings touched upon. TThe NYT found this book to be exceptional, but I found it to be lacking in broad strokes and deeper explorations of universal meanings touched upon. Told mainly from the point of view of Paul Tarrant, and additionally through the eyes of his love interest, Elinor, and their successful artist friend, Kit Neville, the three were students in the early 20th century at the Strand, schooled by an apparently quasi-famous teacher/artist of the era. The story revolves around Paul's quest for love and for what will give his art meaning. He goes to war in the medical corps, and there discovers the pain and horrors of dying men in Ypres, France. Elinor, from a higher class than Paul, does come to love him, but she remains distant and disconnected to the war, which has become central to Paul. Instead, her art flourishes and she gains entry into Bloomsbury society, partly because of the upper crusts' morbid curiosity about the horrors of war that Elinor briefly experienced during her one visit to Paul. Kit loses Elinor to Paul, but gains fame in his art, while Paul cannot escape the things he witnessed and the losses he survived, which give rise, finally to his art and its meaning. Barker's details bring to life the decline of the classes in this period of British history, and a vividness for sexual tension and youthful yearnings, but the story remains simplistic, only skimming the surface....more
Structurally interesting and loaded with pop-culture and sci-fi references, Díaz takes a meta-fiction approach to look at the DR diaspora, and how theStructurally interesting and loaded with pop-culture and sci-fi references, Díaz takes a meta-fiction approach to look at the DR diaspora, and how the brutality of the Trujillo regime affected the descendants of one feisty family. A snapshot of DR culture and ethos/pathos and its version of spirit/fate/destiny embodied in fukú. Switches focus and sometimes pov from chapter to chapter to delve into downtrodden Oscar, his angry mother Belí, fiery sister Lola, and homeboy narrator, Lola's future boyfriend, touching on sex, history, tragedy, violence, social decay, the quest to Fit In and find love. Even though I'm familiar with DR history and culture, had trouble with heavy Spanish and Spanglish usage and the slow start to the story. After the ponderous prologue and cheeky first chapter, though, the language and characters captured and held 'til the end. I'm not always a fan of postmodern writing, and often a critic of the Pulitzer committee's choices, but admired his structure, consistency and knowledge....more
David Fuller is not the first white person to write a successful historical fiction from a southern black slave’s viewpoint. William Styron, in THE CODavid Fuller is not the first white person to write a successful historical fiction from a southern black slave’s viewpoint. William Styron, in THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER proved that any inherent racial controversy could be countered with excellent writing, nuanced characters, a living backdrop of history and setting, and a gripping plot. SWEETSMOKE achieves this quality, presenting a complex story of a slave, Cassius, the layered intriques among his fellow slaves, the personalities and foibles of the slave-owner family on this Virginia tobacco plantation, and a murder mystery, all set during a teetering period that would prove to be among the bloodiest and a turning point in the Civil War.
Fuller’s screenplay writing skill is evident in his clearly visualized scenes, alive with detail, his use of dialogue, and his careful plot construction: holding back information to compel readers forward, such as the identity of the person who has died in the opening pages of the book. Cassius senses how all the other slaves turn their heads when he passes, how the master’s wife and the house workers, how the very air, conspire to hold back the name, which he knows will be painful to him. Descriptions of the brutality and violence of slave life and war are as equally detailed as Cassius’ careful observations of expressions and body language, but the language of violence is more spare, allowing a sharp picture without melodrama and excessively emotional language that would get in the way of the terrible inhumane acts that the system fostered.
I had a little trouble accepting that Cassius would survive while witnessesing the confluence of viscious battles in Manassas and Antietam, but by then Fuller had shown what an exceptional survivalist Cassius is. I also wished that more time was allowed for readers to linger on the seemingly brief, yet important relationship between the murdered person and Cassius, to help understand his motivations for finding her killer and his need for revenge.
The story is also told through the point of view of Ellen, the matron of Sweetsmoke Plantation. Fuller’s interesting choice to use her voice, rather than the more obvious choice of the master Hoke Howard’s viewpoint allows us to see aspects of the stresses of plantation life from within, and not from the blustering power-holding pinnacle there, but from a more fragile and wary player. It provides insight into the tricky relationships and attachments of slave and master and how it affected every part of life, one’s relationship with one’s spouse included.
Although somewhat farfetched, Fuller’s use of Shakespeare’s JULIUS CEASAR and THE ILIAD allow moments for Cassius to focus on questions of his identity and the nature of slavery, but in the back of my mind I was thinking that even with Cassius’ (hidden ability to read and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, such texts are difficult to grasp without context, and likely had vocabulary and archaic syntax that would have made understanding of them more difficult than they seemed to be for Cassius. I also found it odd that the dialogue by slaves was never in quotes, while everyone else’s was. Since this was never explained, I assume it indicates that these were voices that were never really heard, and it did have the effect that the spoken words were internal, were thoughts, and not spoken. It was at times confusing, and the reasons for lack of quotes felt a bit contrived and therefore obtrusive.
I also had a little trouble with the very first paragraph, the opening scene. It was written with a cinematic approach, as if a camera were entering onto a scene of two boys fighting, but the focus that would have worked better for me would have been to know from the outset that we were seeing this scene through Cassius’ eyes. But in summary, Fuller, in SWEETSMOKE, succeeded with a difficult challenge: to portray slaves and slave owners as human, real, flawed and powerless, both as victims to a human evil. I’m a harsh critic, so I give it 3.75 stars. ...more
Coetzee quickly establishes a deep intimacy with the main character, David Lurie. It is especially curious that our sense of knowing Lurie is so persoCoetzee quickly establishes a deep intimacy with the main character, David Lurie. It is especially curious that our sense of knowing Lurie is so personally intense when it isn't until page 9 that we learn his first name, page 18 his last name, and later his profession, teacher of communications--all things one typically learns in the first few minutes of meeting a man in real life. When we meet Lurie, we're also given a concise summary that sets up a situation; we are put inside the mind of a man to learn that sex is considered a problem in need of a solution. Details bring reality, delineating time and place, and hit at Lurie's character, his solid physical presence, and a context.
Coetzee's first paragraph performs the amazing feat of drawing a wide general stroke along with a finite detailed reality, a pattern he continues throughout the novel. It promotes both the intimate knowledge of Lurie and also provides opportunities to expand and philosophize on the nature of man. Lurie is not immediately a likable character; therefore our intimate understanding of him laid against the background of man's nature becomes all important, a suggestion that some of what Lurie is, is also in us.
As detailed scenes unfold a plot of shocking violence, an intensity of deep meaning continues in an undercurrent: depth is provided with more subtlety than outright exposition with apt metaphors and internal monologues. As the novel unfolds, so does my amazement with Coetzee's ability to layer multiple meanings in the framework of one man's struggle with advancing age. Lurie's ambivalence and how he deals with his daughter's rape, and his own entrenchment and victimization become emblematic of South Africa during apartheid, although not once is this sub-theme mentioned. His search for deeper meaning can be conjectured to be another parallel to the root problems of apartheid--that the invisible, that which was desired, was not to be glimpsed in such a social state. We are fortunate that within the words and images of this book, Coetzee is able to give us a glimpse of this invisibility. ...more
The narrator is virtually invisible, yet integral I providing a dry tone and unique first person point of view. There is no iNotes on “Somewhere Else”
The narrator is virtually invisible, yet integral I providing a dry tone and unique first person point of view. There is no indication of gender, nor, surprisingly, does it matter. The narrator is part of a group and is an observer, like the reader, of events and action which gradually unravel to reveal the story. Because the narrator is a passive characater who does not impart judgment and feeling on her observations, we easily take up the job of judging, coming to conclusions and deciding for ourselves what to feel and what to make of the events that we see through her descriptions. And we do, but not without some hints.
Paley cleverly gives the narrator a dry, humorous and ironic tone, in perfect harmony with this story. Despite its self effacing invisibility, the tone is rich with imagery, ripe with similes. Paley wields powerful words with ease, and her command ranges from the complex, to the simple, to the biting, lovely, funny, and ironic commentary.
The story has two halves: the first shows the tourist group in China; the second occurs “about three months later” when the group member who shot more than 4,000 pictures until his camera “simply closed its eye, exhausted,” invites the others to a party and slide show at his house. It is at this event that the two half stories are joined by a single incident with a camera and one character in the distant past, joining an urban gangster theft of a camera with the theft of the photographs of Chinese people, raising the spectre of people’s racial beliefs and prejudices. This is a deep and dangerous subject, yet her joining of these two disparate halves of her story are perfectly suited to enlighten us on the subtlety of human nature, both stubborn and sublime....more
This gritty and violent psychological thriller has been lauded by so many young men. Its core of persistent self-destruction and the joy in that proceThis gritty and violent psychological thriller has been lauded by so many young men. Its core of persistent self-destruction and the joy in that process is written with abrupt, choppy structure that puts one on tilt equally as what the protagonist himself is feeling. It’s a case of the writing supporting the story in metaphysical ways, and for this book it works. It’s dark and disturbing reflection and the rhythmic writing and graphic descriptions of pain and the promise of violence are not gratuitous, but are still difficult to swallow. Perhaps this is the modern man’s nihilism, this expression of eager joy in painful self annihilation, but it leaves me with no lesson other than lingering sadness. It is hugely original and unique, challenging the form of the novel, but its subject is too hopeless for me. ...more
This 1935 classic novel remains as fresh as it must have been shocking back then. Hurston writes with such verve and takes a single moment, a sole senThis 1935 classic novel remains as fresh as it must have been shocking back then. Hurston writes with such verve and takes a single moment, a sole sentence of description or thought into a vastness of human understanding. This book has been celebrated as an early feminist novel, of a Black southern woman who finally comes into her own after one respectable, traditional (and abusive) marriage, then a relationship that smacks only of danger, and finally with one true love. But it is so much more than that. The tender details of the protagonist’s sensuality and interiority are strikingly unique even after this third read. Janie remains a unique and powerful heroine, and the setting of hardscrabble but active and vivid lives in the Floridian swamps and small towns remains a vivid as if those towns are still there. In some ways they are. ...more
Marriage night. Those very two words are fraught with anxiety and expectations. And if, like these two characters, you are virgins, those two elementsMarriage night. Those very two words are fraught with anxiety and expectations. And if, like these two characters, you are virgins, those two elements can combine to explode into cavernous distances of truth that will—in their utter failure to meet expectation—necessarily end the marriage, and will stunt the lives of the survivors forever. The power of dreams when desire is unfulfilled is what this novel reveals in the character of Edward and Florence, newlyweds who honeymoon at an inn on Chesil Beach. Sex is so central to our lives, yet few writers can capture its nuances of maneuvering, its essence of character revelation as does Ian McEwan. Because sex is the expression of our deep need for intimacy—and all we throw in its way because of our fear of intimacy—to write an entire novella on the story that culminates in the clashing of two separate, and irreconciliable, desires is rare, and in this case, enriching and rewarding. ...more