Herman Koch possesses the superhuman ability to endear his highly flawed, often morally ambiguous characters to his readers. Like Vladimir Nabokov bef...moreHerman Koch possesses the superhuman ability to endear his highly flawed, often morally ambiguous characters to his readers. Like Vladimir Nabokov before him, Koch utilizes humor and some very deft writing to render sympathetic middle aged men with inappropriate feelings - and general disrespect - for both young girls and women in general. Likewise, he is able to pull off making a doctor's decision to commit vigilante justice seem not just acceptable but morally necessary.
Summer House with Swimming Pool revolves around a vacation home shared by three groups of friends. The first family, actor Ralph Meier, wife Judith and two sons are the wealthy family who rented the home. They invited their family physician, Dr. Mark Schlosser, his wife and two daughters, aged 12 and 14, as well as Hollywood director Stanley Forbes and his indecently young girlfriend to come along with them.
What follows is at first an odd and wacky trip, followed by increasingly disturbing sexual and sexually suggestive situations. All the characters, in turn, feel an attraction for someone else in the group, save perhaps Stanley's young model girlfriend, who is instead an object of lust. What begins as a fun holiday with friends spins further and further out of control, until one of the Schlosser daughters is raped. By whom, is the question.
Dr. Schlosser chooses their host, Ralph Meier, as perpetrator without enough evidence to convict. Yet, when given the opportunity to diagnose Ralph with cancer he instead tells him there's nothing to worry about, effectively handing down a death sentence.
But did Ralph do it? And what gives Schlosser the right to condemn?
Summer House with Swimming Pool is a masterful novel, at once hilarious and highly charged with sexuality. It begs the question who is innocent and how is innocence defined?
I would highly recommend this book as fast-paced and at times keenly funny, noting it presents mature themes. I was so impressed I'll now go back and read his first novel, The Dinner, which I'd been avoiding due to its incredible popularity. If there's one thing that screams "Overrated!" it's great press and holding the top spot on every imaginable list. However, Summer House with Swimming Pool has convinced me Herman Koch is a major talent to be reckoned with. I guess sometimes the masses are right, after all.
[Thank you to Edelweiss for a free e-ARC of this book](less)
I had such high expectations for this novel, all crushed. Pseudo-curmudgeonly bookstore owner - A.J. Fikry - recently widowed after his pregnant wife...moreI had such high expectations for this novel, all crushed. Pseudo-curmudgeonly bookstore owner - A.J. Fikry - recently widowed after his pregnant wife is killed in a car accident, meets a young, up and coming publisher's rep named Amelia. He's somewhat bristly and grumpy, making her feel a failure. She returns home feeling let down and inadequate, only to find that's just how he is, a particular man with a very particular taste in books. All well and good.
He's a literary snob - again, fitting - and a man who knows the value of literature. Occasionally he talks books but not often, considering he is a bookstore owner. His ownership of a copy of Tamerlane was the best indication he has a grasp of the value of rare books, the most interesting detail about A.J. the reader. The fact he derided it, rather than objectifying its importance, was a flash of the crusty nature never allowed to blossom fully. His character just isn't given enough time to develop before the author lets loose with the rest of the plot.
What lost my interest was the breakdown of any opportunity for real tension to develop between A.J. and Amelia or A.J. and anyone. Instead, the author spoon feeds the reader an overly sweet story, not dramatic as much as melodramatic. There was no urgency. The characters were hardly distinguishable from each other, all milksops with barely any personality. Where is the complexity?
There is none.
The novel's written for book groups who prefer mainstream fiction with lots of relationships to dissect, everyday moral dilemmas to further discussion. The author has succeeded in her intent. Aside from that, there's nothing literary, nothing permanent or memorable. (less)
I had the pleasure of meeting author Kevin Brockmeier a couple summers ago, in the most idyllic setting imaginable for another literature loving nativ...moreI had the pleasure of meeting author Kevin Brockmeier a couple summers ago, in the most idyllic setting imaginable for another literature loving native southerner. It was a literary cocktail party, nay a soirée, held in the shadow of William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, MS. Sweaty fellow book fiends sipped mint juleps from clear plastic cups, nibbling snacks from little paper plates sagging in the humidity. It was hotter than hell; hot as June in Mississippi, which it was.
Author Tom Franklin was there, Jesmyn Ward wasn’t (she was a no-show; she called in sick). Also present was Susan Gregg Gilmore, a very sweet, pretty and feisty southern woman who writes sweet, feisty southern novels a la Fannie Flagg. Not my genre but the woman was an awful lot of fun at the book exchange held later. Her determination to snag the cookbook she wanted was downright vicious. I can respect that.
Two reps from Random House, Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman (their podcasts are hot stuff!), were the event facilitators. It was a mixer, a get-acquainted occasion setting the tone for a literary weekend in Oxford: a weekend of talks and book signings, book chats, eating far too much great food and shopping at the legendary Square Books. And again, shopping at the legendary Square Books. Good lord, did I shop at Square Books.
The next afternoon, Brockmeier was part of a panel of southern writers talking about what characterizes the fiction of the U.S. South, moderated by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness. It’s a setting he knows well, having grown up in Arkansas and Mississippi, raised by his divorced parents: with his mother in Arkansas during the school year, in Mississippi with his father in the summer. This autobiography, while it is set in the South, does not rely on that. Rather, it’s the author’s own story of a boy’s life on the cusp of adolescence. It could have been set anywhere and been just as effective.
A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip starts with Kevin arriving back in Arkansas, reconnecting with his friends before school starts. They do the sorts of things boys do: hang out, throwing rocks at glass bottles; sleeping over at each other’s houses; eating junk food and watching TV. Despite the fun they had together, the time they’d spent apart over the summer had created a rift. The experiences his friends shared created new behaviors and “in” jokes, while Kevin stayed in the place they’d been over the previous school year. For him, time had stopped, freezing his friendships where he’d left them. Picking up again proved more difficult than he’d anticipated. Seventh grade was going to be very different.
When school starts, the rift widens. It starts with his friends giving him a hard time for making all the same old, tired jokes, then progresses to hostilities. Kevin goes about his life, pretty much a normal seventh grade kid able to dress out for gym faster than anyone else in the school, his sense of himself and his self esteem relatively high for a child shuttled back and forth between divorced parents. Not that he isn’t self aware, even occasionally fatalistic. He is at that pivotal age: 13. The time of life when things fluctuate quickly and often without warning. He can see early childhood behind him and high school in front. But for the most part, he manages to hang on to being a kid just a bit longer.
“Something washes through Kevin’s face. He would be willing to bet he is blushing, even if no one can tell. He sees his life as an endless series of but whys. Thad says you’re a liar. Kenneth isn’t speaking to you. Sarah will never kiss you again – it was only an accident of circumstance that she kissed you in the first place. It’s too late for you to become a different person. You’ll never be tall, and you’ll never be strong. You’ll always run fastest when no one is watching… Nothing you love is going to last. It’s impossible to rewind grades on their spool, impossible to pause them, impossible to replay the good parts.”
The man I met and observed in Oxford appeared reserved and quiet, not that a rambunctious, spirited kid in seventh grade can’t mature into a more serious man. If that were the case, the world would be full of overgrown adolescents. The book surprised me in that way. I was expecting to read the serious story of a quiet, introverted kid but while he was gangly and awkward, he was also social to the extent of any average kid his age. Maybe a bit more so, considering he had the gumption to write and act in a play he’d written, something a quiet child would never do (I, personally, would have rather died). What differentiates his childhood from the average is his imagination, the fact he was a kid who loved telling stories and read a lot. He’s resilient, funny and popular with a certain geeky group, plus girls and adults. The crumbling of the relationships with friends he’d had all his life hurt him but this kid wouldn’t allow defeat. Kevin Brockmeier had an awful lot of fortitude.
Putting further literary digging aside, the book is fun and funny, with a great depth. If you’ve read Brockmeier’s other books you’ll know he is a very serious, literary writer. His reputation is so strong, I was surprised he wrote an autobiographical book at all. Surprised and thrilled he’d let his guard down this much. How fun is it for a book nerd to get a glimpse into the youth of a favorite writer? I’ll tell you: outrageously fun. Crazy fun.
I enjoyed this book so much, appreciating what Brockmeier shared, even when the stories weren’t all that flattering or seemly, coming from a man with his credentials (SEE: Dressing as the only black kid in school, complete with makeup, in an ill-advised attempt to gain positive attention). While it could be read by someone looking for funny stories about a kid growing up in the South, its complexity and occasional forays into deeply introspective writing give it heft. Yes, there are some cringe-worthy moments most of us can identify with – to our shame – but overall it’s highly philosophical about the passage of childhood, not an “entertainment,” as such.
“Honestly, I just don’t want anything to change.”
“Me either,” says Thad.
“I’m sick of things being different all the time.”
He turns onto his left side, his sleeping side, and lies there listening to the whoosh of the air conditioner. The day keeps coming to light again in bits and pieces … and the tingle of his sweat cooling in a humming rectangle of air, and who liked him and how much and why? One by one his thoughts flow from their outlines like a cloud, and then the cloud rolls over him and he is asleep.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I requested A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip from Amazon Vine for review but I knew it would be good. Turns out, it’s better than that: it’s great.(less)
I don't read a lot of books about animals. I love animals and I love books, just not mixed.
But what I do love is author Paul Auster. When I saw he'd w...moreI don't read a lot of books about animals. I love animals and I love books, just not mixed.
But what I do love is author Paul Auster. When I saw he'd written a book about a man and his dog that was it. Sold!
I'm stealing Amazon's review/the PR blurb, because it says it all so well (and I'm feeling lazy):
"Meet Mr. Bones, the canine hero of Paul Auster's remarkable new novel, Timbuktu. Mr. Bones is the sidekick and confidant of Willy G. Christmas, the brilliant, troubled, and altogether original poet-saint from Brooklyn. Like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza before them, they sally forth on a last great adventure, heading for Baltimore, Maryland in search of Willy's high school teacher, Bea Swanson. Years have passed since Willy last saw his beloved mentor, who knew him in his previous incarnation as William Gurevitch, the son of Polish war refugees. But is Mrs. Swanson still alive? And if she isn't, what will prevent Willy from vanishing into that other world known as Timbuktu?
Mr. Bones is our witness. Although he walks on four legs and cannot speak, he can think, and out of his thoughts Auster has spun one of the richest, most compelling tales in recent American fiction. By turns comic, poignant, and tragic, Timbuktu is above all a love story. Written with a scintillating verbal energy, it takes us into the heart of a singularly pure and passionate character, an unforgettable dog who has much to teach us about our own humanity."
If you love animals - dogs, especially - as much as I do you may get all weepy - as I did. I loved it.(less)
Peter Ackroyd may very well be God. I haven’t met him but I’m feeling pretty good about this. Any other explanation as to how he manages to produce so...morePeter Ackroyd may very well be God. I haven’t met him but I’m feeling pretty good about this. Any other explanation as to how he manages to produce so many huge books filled with so much knowledge in such a short space of time (commonly termed “prolific,” to be concise), all so well written, comes up short. I bow to him. Even genuflect. He is my hero and he is superhuman, with an exhaustive bibliography unparalleled by any writer save, perhaps, Joyce Carol Oates. His body of work encompasses:
Three volumes of poetry
Thirty-four works of nonfiction (to date)
Six television programs
As I said, unparalleled. I have read precious few of his writings. There is much work to be done, all of it pleasant.
This second volume in his History of England series is exhaustive and exhausting, though not necessarily in a negative way. The level of detail is staggering, best ingested in small portions. This is not a book to race through. Rather, the more slowly you work your way through the better, to aid in the memorization of the cast of characters buzzing in and around the Tudor family like bees in a hive. It’s nothing if not phenomenal. Perhaps majestic. Mind blowingly incomprehensible. Very, very impressive.
Ackroyd begins with Henry VII, whose victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field assured him the throne, ending the Wars of the Roses. The simplified story is that Henry’s son Arthur inherited the throne from him, taking Katherine of Aragon as his wife. Arthur was not long for this world. Enter Henry VIII, who married his brother’s widow, immediately beginning the series of affairs that lead to much beheading of suspected unfaithful wives. Oh, but the beheadings and elicit sexual exploits are all but microscopic compared with the Reformation, England’s break from the Catholic Church effected by Henry’s demand his marriage to Katherine of Aragon be annulled, so he could marry that tramp Anne Boleyn. And the political intrigues, and the wars, and Henry’s ballooning weight and ulcerous legs. And the treachery. And the wars. And the blood and the blood and the blood. At the same time it’s riveting, it’s disgusting.
Upon Henry VIII’s death, the powers that be went mad jockeying for power. The winning straw was drawn by Lady Jane Grey, or her uncle, rather. Jane was too well educated to believe this could ever be a good thing but she had no choice in the matter. Into the Tower she went while, it was hoped, things would settle down enough to bring her out to rule. It was not to be. Poor Jane was executed – after nine days as queen – upon the successful rout by Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary. Mary, a devout Catholic who abhorred her father’s break with the Church in Rome, went about the business of undoing what her father had started, destruction of all Catholic trappings and killing of those practicing the religion. “Bloody Mary” attempted a bit of religious cleansing of her own, sentencing hundreds of Protestants to death for the crime of obeying the monarch, her father, who threatened to kill them for being Catholics.
It wasn’t really such a great time to be English.
After two years, Mary sickened and died. A bit of relief there, when she was succeeded by Henry’s son Edward VI, the product of his marriage to that slut Jane Seymour. Edward was nine years old upon his accession, so his uncle Edward Seymour acted as regent until the day Edward would come of age. Without his lifting a finger, Protestantism at last came to be the de facto national religion of Britain during Edward’s regency. It’s a really long story, filled with yet more killing and manipulation. But, as far as almost-monarchs go, Edward VI didn’t seem half bad. He’s largely in the background, left to his own devices save for the occasional raising of his head to ask a question or declare something or other, but what we do know of him may have made him a decent monarch. Damn the 16th century and its short life spans!
Edward sickened and died in 1553. Following Edward was Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, monger of wars and cousin of Mary, Queen of Scots. Then things really got interesting. Wars and intrigue, political back-stabbing and attempts to marry Elizabeth to various leaders for reasons of political gain characterized Elizabeth’s rule. Overshadowing it, how to solve a problem like Queen Mary. The English defeated the Armada and Elizabeth kind of, sort of worked out the whole religion thing.
Of course, Ackroyd fills in a few more details. Never before have I felt I understood the complex relationships amongst the Tudors and their hangers on until reading this volume. The family is a universal favorite, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I icons of British history, yet the whole story of who did what to whom – and who didn’t but got beheaded, anyway – is far stranger than any fiction. Peter Ackroyd accomplishes a breathtaking juggling act, keeping it all straight with minimal confusion for the reader busily working out all the Henrys and Edwards and Marys, and what country was at war with which in an age when power and alliances shifted seemingly daily.
He’s so easily read, unlike any dry history we all suffered through in high school. I don’t know how he nails it but he does. He’s developed a method of telling a complex story in a straightforward way, so there’s no having to go back and read pages or even chapters to understand what’s going on. I already said it: he’s God. Or at least the God of British history. This is why I’ll be going back to read the volume preceding Tudors, The Foundation, and look forward to Volume III. The accomplishment thus far is astounding.
If you’ve had an interest in the Tudors, don’t bother with any other, single book. Read this, then have a go at Hilary Mantel’s series if you’re like me and hadn’t made it far before getting too muddled to carry on. I feel much less intimidated by British history of this era now, much better educated, though there’s more to be known. That’s the encouraging part, what makes my heart beat a bit faster. Riveting as this read was, fantastical and entrancing, it leaves out much branching off from it.
There is always more to be learned. Thank God – a/k/a Peter Ackroyd – for that.(less)