I mean, can you actually make qualitative judgements like "I liked" or "I hated" when you are talking about Haruki Murakami? Does a star rating have aI mean, can you actually make qualitative judgements like "I liked" or "I hated" when you are talking about Haruki Murakami? Does a star rating have any meaning in this universe where value is beside the point and understanding is an irrelevant state of being? His novels are all exactly the same, and none of them make any sense, and reading them is eternally frustrating, but I will never stop.
PS. I know motivation is anathema to Murakami, but an FYI that I picked up this specific book because I'm going to see a play version of it at Lincoln Center in a few months and I wanted to see how the two might resonate....more
Unfortunately, this felt more like a parody of a Toni Morrison novel rather than an actual Toni Morrison novel. (In truth, it felt like a parody of aUnfortunately, this felt more like a parody of a Toni Morrison novel rather than an actual Toni Morrison novel. (In truth, it felt like a parody of a novel, period, considering it was really more like a 90pp. novella set in big type with lots of white space to bulk it up to a $25 hardcover.) Sadly, Morrison's larger than life emotions weren't heady, but maudlin; the usually legendary and mythic tenor of the events curdled into cliche. The writing felt not pitched in a heavenly key, but just overwrought....I mean, this is a book that includes the lines "her eyes were full of stars" and "she knew freedom wasn't really free" in completely non-ironic contexts.
That said, ANY Toni Morrison novel is still a cause for celebration. Why? Well first of all the woman is 84 but still cranks them out -- not just books but essays, reviews, speeches, etc., all with something vital to say if (as with this novel) slightly diminished means of saying it. I mean, God Help the Child -- she won a Nobel Prize literally a generation ago. That means, yes, there are actually people with published novels in 2015 who have never been alive in the world where the Nobel Laureates didn't include an American woman of color. How amazing is that?
More importantly, the arrival of a Toni Morrison novel means the arrival of a Toni Morrison promotional/speaking tour, and what an unmitigated joy that is. I won't link to the NYT profile of her that everyone was passing around recently, because I'm sure you read it, but I would point you to her recent writings on The Good (aka Altruism). This is a true American genius still writing truth to power and delivering it to us unfiltered and uncompromisingly. And no amount of cliched writing or slight novelistic misstep can ever diminish that....more
Van den Berg seems to be stuck in short story mode. Her writing is full of myriad emotional moments and striking tableaux, but she failed to muster upVan den Berg seems to be stuck in short story mode. Her writing is full of myriad emotional moments and striking tableaux, but she failed to muster up any larger sustained thought to make the whole thing cohere into a novel-length work with anything to say. Coincidence that this book had the same editor (Sean Macdonald) as Jeff van der Meer's Southern Reach Trilogy, another pseudo apocalyptic novel which was similarly full of striking moments but not much else?...more
I was ridiculously excited on hearing about this book because (until about 3 weeks ago) I, too, was a Girl(y man) on the Train, riding a commuter railI was ridiculously excited on hearing about this book because (until about 3 weeks ago) I, too, was a Girl(y man) on the Train, riding a commuter rail to and from a major city every day (I was in New York not London) and really obsessed with the experience of what being in that train does to your psyche and how you process the world going by you as a result. It's an uncanny and intense feeling that I don't think any fictional work has really captured (outside of the whole "OMG commuting is soul deadening" which is only one small part of it; it's less existential ennui and more existential abject fear). And then wow, I flipped my shit when in the first few pages of this book the character revealed that she rode the daily 8:04am train that ran for 54min, because that's what I did, too. Here it was, this woman and I were going to have a Vulcan mind meld! Rock on!
But yeah, no. This book was pretty terrible. That train psychodrama is relevant to the story for about 15 pages and then a really poorly crafted thriller takes over. I mean really poorly crafted. Dude, A character disappears, but it's obvious from literally the EPIGRAM (intro quote before the book begins) what happened to them. Seriously! And literally anyone who has read a plot synopsis of a Law & Order episode can figure out whodunit, so of course you spend the whole book being like "it can't be that person, that's so obvious" -- BUT IT IS, BLANCHE, IT *IS* THAT PERSON. I mean this shit doesn't need to be an M. Night Shyamalan spectacle, but at least add a twist that's interesting.
Anyway. It feels like Paula Hawkins is this respected journalist who decided to "try her hand" at doing up something after reading Gone Girl. Which is good for her and all that, but yeah, no. I think literature is barreling on the 8:04 express toward a crucial point in needing to talk about the merit and brilliance of so-called "genre" fiction (hate that term), and maybe this book will nudge it along farther. Because this woman is a writer, but she is not a thriller writer. She had a great (actually, pretty middling) idea that could have been spun out into something genius. but a thriller takes actual skill to write, a skill she does not possess just by virtue of her being a writer....more
Totally recommended, especially if you are feeling in a bit of a book rut. As nearly every reviewer has noted, Smith takes incredible risks here -- inTotally recommended, especially if you are feeling in a bit of a book rut. As nearly every reviewer has noted, Smith takes incredible risks here -- in tone, structure, plot, character, even ideas -- and they are not all totally successful. But oh what risks! While in the end it left me emotionally feeling 3-star-ish, I bumbed it up to 4 because of all the brilliant things Smith had going on in the language, especially the del Cossa section, which was genius. (And this is coming from someone who LOATHED Orlando.) When you finish the book, whichever section you end with, go back to the first page and just start re-reading a few pages; from literally the first word ("Ho") you'll be amazed how allusive and chock full of wordplay it is, how Smith has had this whole thing set up brilliantly all along though it seems so loose, carefree, and like a drifting stream of consciousness. It's so rare to find a book that is trying to say so much about such a huge topic but doing so in such a playful and utterly enjoyable manner.
I mean let's face it, if this had been written by a literary Jonathan (Foer, Lethem, Franzen, etc.) it would be weighty like a ballsack pumped full of its own pretentiousness. Even The Blazing World , Siri Hustvedt's brilliant novel that also tackled the same intersection of gender, art, and history, though full of wit and humor, was also jammed full of troubling rage, and still took itself incredibly, incredibly seriously. Anger definitely has a place when it comes to the topic of the systematically obliterated presence of women in society, but I also enjoyed this lighter-hearted (though no less weightier in ideas) take on the whole thing.
Forgettably average. Klay writes well enough, but the quality of the stories in this collection is alarmingly uneven, and nothing he puts forth here hForgettably average. Klay writes well enough, but the quality of the stories in this collection is alarmingly uneven, and nothing he puts forth here hasn't already been said better and with more sophisticated force by countless other war chroniclers -- like, say, Dalton Trumbo in Johnny Got His Gun, which FYI won the National Book Award SEVENTY-FIVE years before Klay won his.
I want to say I'm puzzled at all the accolades this thoroughly passable book is getting (especially in all the contests where it's besting the far superior Station Eleven), but I'm not really surprised -- Klay is a handsome, young, straight, white, Brooklyn-based, Dartmouth-educated male who takes himself very seriously in interviews. (Awards people eat that shit up faster than they change their Facebook profile photo to "Je Suis Charlie" and think they're doing something important for the world.)
Now of course, the writer Atticus Lish is also a handsome, straight, white, Brooklyn-based, Harvard-educated male who takes himself very seriously in interviews; like Klay, he's also a 13-month Iraq vet out of the Marines (oh yes and the spawn of Gordon Lish), and like Klay he ALSO just wrote a well-crafted, critically-lauded book about vets trying to acclimate to civilian life (and civilians) after returning from the Iraq Wars. And yet that book, Preparation for the Next Life, did not feel in any way phoned in or overhyped. Lish's novel has a preposterously soap operatic ending, but that ending felt earned, and his entire story was vital, brutal, and breathtakingly new from first word to last. I can't say with certainty why these two books with near identical points to make came to them so dramatically differently (Lish is about 15 years older than Klay), but I can say with certainty that the older man's book is the one to seek out....more
Givhan is a beautiful writer, so the actual act of reading was relatively painless. Unfortunately, it wasn't clear who she wrote this book for -- a toGivhan is a beautiful writer, so the actual act of reading was relatively painless. Unfortunately, it wasn't clear who she wrote this book for -- a total fashion addict or a more general reader with an interest in cultural history -- and I think both camps would come away from this feeling unsatisfied. Fashionistas will find little they didn't already know -- true to her position as a journalist in Washington, D.C., Givhan is ever politic in her judgements of and gossip about even the most awful, narcissistic boors -- and the lack of photos (especially color ones) is a huge miss for those interested in the visual spectacle of it all. (A documentary about Versailles '73 came out last year which I think might be of more interest to the budding Halstons among us.) Similarly, someone interested in the racial/sexual cultural upheavals of the 70s will not find a very strong through-line to sustain their interest here, as much of the book is focused on what effectively amounts to reciting the LinkedIn profiles of several of the designers. Yes, In the last few chapters, Givhan tries to extend the book's scope to take on a larger conversation about the past, present, and future of people of color in fashion, but it felt a bit tacked on and unconvincing as a fully fleshed out argument -- the "Black is Beautiful" moment deserves its own book, for sure, and Givhan deserves a more expansive place to expand on her thoughts....more
2.5 stars. There were frequent moments of aching, searing emotion in this book, but the stiltedness of the characterization and the choppiness of the2.5 stars. There were frequent moments of aching, searing emotion in this book, but the stiltedness of the characterization and the choppiness of the format (not quite short stories, not quite coherent chapters) nearly negated all that, and makes this book difficult to recommend. Shields seems to have too sophisticated a point about family to make to cram into a short story, but clearly doesn't have enough control over her craft to sustain a novel-length thought....more