Theodore Dreiser is rapidly overtaking Sinclair Lewis as my favorite early- to mid-century writer. Yes, his writing can be clunky, but it's adorably cTheodore Dreiser is rapidly overtaking Sinclair Lewis as my favorite early- to mid-century writer. Yes, his writing can be clunky, but it's adorably clunky ... I don't know how else to describe it. His writing is chewy like good multigrain bread, clutzy like a newborn foal ... oh heck, I can't describe it, but it hits me just right.
I decided to reread "Sister Carrie" after reading (and loving) his Trilogy of Desire. I hadn't read it since college, and my recollection was that I didn't find it all that interesting back then. Clearly, my tastes have evolved. I should probably go back and try to reread "An American Tragedy," which I read just a few years ago, but which elicited a similar "meh" response from me.
Probably driving my "meh" response (back in college, and maybe just a few years ago too) was how poorly Dreiser depicts his female characters. But once you've read more widely in the period and you start grading on a curve, you realize the guy really deserves higher marks on that score than he gets when judged in a vacuum. His "Carrie" may be frustratingly passive and drifting at times, but eventually she gets fed up and strikes out to take care of herself ... which was absolutely SHOCKING at the time. I guess when I first read this I didn't quite understand just how shocking her actions were.
Loved the book. But I do think it's even more remarkable when read within the context of similar writers (Lewis, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, Cather, etc.) who were writing around the same time....more
I have often cited Sinclair Lewis as one of my favorite writers, and a huge influence on my own work. Reading "Kingsblood Royal" has helped me get a bI have often cited Sinclair Lewis as one of my favorite writers, and a huge influence on my own work. Reading "Kingsblood Royal" has helped me get a better handle on what, exactly, I find so admirable about his writing. Not that I think this is his most admirable book; this one is just easier to dissect because it's one of his later works, and by this point he knows what his best tricks are (always some variation on giving the pompous the rope they need to hang themselves with) and he fields them effortlessly, if somewhat predictably. This book is Sinclair Lewis distilled right down to his essence. Broad, unsubtle, overdone. If he has a point to make, he makes it, and it stays made. No plot-twist goes unforeshadowed, no peccadillo goes unamplified.
But, for all that, he is still a writer of incredible subtlety and sensitivity. Somehow, he balances all that boistersome satire with beautiful quiet moments. His characters never feel *real*, precisely, but they feel *relevant*. They feel timeless. They may be silly and vain and their dialogue is often *appalling* (Lewis' rendering of female dialogue always comes across as stilted, and I thought Sophie was particularly bad in this book) but when he's good (as with Neil Kingsblood's internalized angsting, which goes on for most of the first 3/4 of the book) he's great.
I generally read Lewis more for the craft than the content, but I did think that in "Kingsblood Royal" Lewis handled some very difficult material with quite a bit of grace. Contrived? Yes. A bit silly in places? Sure. But still, very well done overall....more
A wonderful sequel to "Lovers and Beloveds," "Son in Sorrow" plays out across a much larger canvas, both in space and time. This book's many characterA wonderful sequel to "Lovers and Beloveds," "Son in Sorrow" plays out across a much larger canvas, both in space and time. This book's many characters, plots and subplots gives it an incredible feeling of richness. But even though I found this book more complex and layered than its predecessor, these different threads are woven together with consummate skill. The sex scenes (which the author always handles beautifully) are fewer and further between than in the previous book, but that's a natural result of her opening up of the narrative. All in all, a really splendid read and I can't wait for the third one!
I really loved this book. I'm a sucker for 19th century political machinations (as well as social intrigue) so this was right up my alley. The writingI really loved this book. I'm a sucker for 19th century political machinations (as well as social intrigue) so this was right up my alley. The writing style was crisp and elegant. One I will reread with pleasure!...more
Despite the fact that all the male characters are named Jim, Jimmy, James, Jimps (or, just for variety, Joe, Joseph, or JoJo) and the main female charDespite the fact that all the male characters are named Jim, Jimmy, James, Jimps (or, just for variety, Joe, Joseph, or JoJo) and the main female character is known by a half-dozen apparently-interchangeable versions of Ellen, and the author kept makingupfaky pretentiouscompund words, and there were not enough scene breaks so you'd be reading along with one set of characters then surprise! they've been replaced ... I ended up liking this book a lot. I think it the fragmented style is perfectly suited to the atmosphere of dislocation, and even the multiplicity of extremely similar names can be said to be a stylistic choice, reflecting the interchangeability of human experience (?? maybe??) At the end of the day I think this is a far better candidate for "the great American novel" than, say, The Great Gatsby. It definitely a candidate for a reread. Also, now I can't wait to read the USA trilogy....more
LOVERS AND BELOVEDS is one of my favorite recent reads. Vivid characters, lyrical prose, crisp narrative, a beautifully detailed and richly ornamentedLOVERS AND BELOVEDS is one of my favorite recent reads. Vivid characters, lyrical prose, crisp narrative, a beautifully detailed and richly ornamented world ... I can't wait for the next one!...more
I absolutely loved this book. It was dense, chewy, not particularly stylistically elegant, but so fascinatingly detailed. I love the character of CowpI absolutely loved this book. It was dense, chewy, not particularly stylistically elegant, but so fascinatingly detailed. I love the character of Cowperwood. The reader is truly forced to question the very fundamentals of morality, namely, what constitutes "decent" behavior in an indecently corrupt world. While Dreiser presents Cowperwood as a crook, he also skilfully shows how he is acting with complete and utter integrity within his sphere and setting. Brilliant, brilliant character study, invaluable insight into the times. Starting "The Titan" now....more
MECHANIQUE is an enormous book—not in size (for it is rather physically compact) but rather in scope. Valentine has an astonishing talent for suggestiMECHANIQUE is an enormous book—not in size (for it is rather physically compact) but rather in scope. Valentine has an astonishing talent for suggesting a thousand words of backstory with a dozen or so well-crafted words. And yet, the effect is not at all spare or stripped down; you walk away feeling as though you've just read an epic. All the characters are fascinatingly flawed, full of contradictions. There are no villains in this story; everyone's motivation is understandable and, to varying degrees, sympathetic. The antagonist, if there is one, is human desire: specifically, the desire to create (to "play God") or the desire to be free of a creator's tyranny. All the characters play out this drama in one way or another, against a lush and seedy background of greasepaint and spangles.This is a wonderful book that will reward repeat reading--I recommend it highly....more
I enjoyed this book quite a bit, as I generally do with all E.L. Doctorow books. The language was beautiful, the pacing was lyrical, and the historicaI enjoyed this book quite a bit, as I generally do with all E.L. Doctorow books. The language was beautiful, the pacing was lyrical, and the historical details immersive. All that being said, I'm a bit puzzled as to why Doctorow chose to deviate from the true story of Homer and Langley Collyer as much as he did. He switched their birth order, made Homer the piano player instead of Langley, and (most egregiously) kept them alive well into the 1970s, when in point of fact they died in the mid-1940s.
I guess the story that Doctorow wanted to tell couldn't be made to fit the actual facts of the brothers' lives. But if that was the case, why use them at all ... why not use a couple of fictionalized brothers *based* on the Collyers? It seems like Doctorow was trying to have his cake and eat it too, and it just didn't work for me.
What did work for me was the depiction of Langley's hoarding behavior and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Homer's reaction to it. I thought Langley was by far the most interesting character in the book, but I never felt like we got to spend enough time with him. I am in awe of the challenge Doctorow set himself with a blind protagonist (who eventually goes deaf as well!) but it left me feeling quite distant from the rest of the world Doctorow built, when I really wished I could have gone deeper into it. Definitely not as weighty as some of Doctorow's other works like Ragtime or The Waterworks. But an enjoyable read nonetheless. ...more
"Moonshine" tells the story of Zephyr Hollis, an underpaid and overworked social worker in Lower East Side New York in the Roaring ’20s. A “vampire su"Moonshine" tells the story of Zephyr Hollis, an underpaid and overworked social worker in Lower East Side New York in the Roaring ’20s. A “vampire suffragette,” she is outspoken in her defense of the rights of downtrodden “Others”—supernatural beings including vampires, golems, faeries, skinwalkers, etc. Along the way she has to deal with her Demon Hunter heritage, a burgeoning singing career, a slightly flaky roommate, and her attraction to a mysterious gentleman who is very literally “hot.”
There was a lot to love about this book. First of all, I was thrilled with Johnson’s unique take on the economics of vampirism. Not every vampire has to be a bloodsucking fiend. Instead, vampires have a choice—they can work with humans to sate their hunger for blood (through blood donations & blood banks) or they can turn to more criminal methods of obtaining it. Johnson draws both sides of this equation very well. I also liked the heroine, Zephyr. She was powerfully self-reliant and socially conscious, but always remained sympathetic, with a wry edge of humor. While she could hold her own in a fight, she never triggered my “kick-ass heroine eyeroll.” I really liked the hero, Amir, and would have liked him to have more time on stage … he was emotionally ambiguous without being a standard tortured bad-boy.
Overall, MOONSHINE was a fast, absorbing read, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a surprisingly fresh take on the vampire mythos (who knew it could be done?) and a glimpse of a 1920s New York that never was....more
I bought this book on my recent trip to Florida so I'd have something to read on the plane home. Like all of Malcolm Gladwell's books, it was a fun, sI bought this book on my recent trip to Florida so I'd have something to read on the plane home. Like all of Malcolm Gladwell's books, it was a fun, swift, engaging read. I've been finding myself quoting parts of the book to my family, especially the part about how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something. I generally quote that to my daughter when it's time to practice her flute. She does not appreciate Mr. Gladwell's insights on the matter, I'm afraid.
I learned a lot from this book. I was fascinated at how he detailed some elements that we don't normally think of as elements of potential success, including the month you are born, or even the positives or negatives of the specific era in which you happen to live. Of course, a lot of the research he presented about class and socioeconomic status was pretty much just confirming the common wisdom.
An incredibly interesting, fun, and informative book. I would recommend it (along with all of Gladwell's books, honestly) to anyone.
**spoiler alert** This was an interesting book. It tells the tale of a doomed romance between an asylum inmate (an artistic chap who murdered his wife**spoiler alert** This was an interesting book. It tells the tale of a doomed romance between an asylum inmate (an artistic chap who murdered his wife) and the wife of one of the asylum psychologists. However, as a framing device, it's told through the POV of another person, a male psychologist who was friends with the wife and her husband. The idea is that he's relating her story well after the fact, having become her counselor after the ultimately tragic conclusion of the affair. If you look at this book just the right way, it looks kind of fascinating; the tragic and doomed romance is actually less interesting than the way the narrator filters it for the reader. However, that's all done pretty subtly and sometimes instead of feeling subtle, it just feels like we're being distanced from the action by this sometimes-intrusive narrator.
One thing that rang true about this book was its very accurate depiction of the stages and emotions a woman might go through when she's in a relationship with an emotionally unstable man. She gives up her normal steady life in order to follow this dream, and the consequences were very accurate. Except for the part where she leaves him after he first hits her/starts showing signs of being abusive; generally in abusive relationships, she would have stuck it out a whole lot longer, but then again, McGrath DID have to keep things moving.
I couldn't decide whether to give this three or four stars. I ended up giving it four but I may still change my mind. ...more
I really enjoyed The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow. I purchased this book on a whim, as I've never read anything by Morrow before. It turns out thiI really enjoyed The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow. I purchased this book on a whim, as I've never read anything by Morrow before. It turns out this is quite an oversight on my part, as he is an extremely well-regarded writer of science fiction and fantasy. After reading this book, I went out and immediately purchased Towing Jehovah and The Philosopher's Apprentice, both of which I'll review later.
I particularly enjoyed the historical millieu of this book, and the loving attention to period detail and dialect. Jennet Stearne was a compelling heroine, smart and strong. I thought her relationship with (the much younger) Benjamin Franklin was nicely done, as was the depiction of the challenges she faced as an intellectual in a time when intellectual exploration (particularly by women) tended to be viewed as unnatural and probably unholy.
There was little I did not like about this book. I did wish I could have understood Jennet's relationship with her brother Dunstan more clearly. It would probably have made the climactic ending work just a bit better for me.
In any case, I would recommend this book highly to those who enjoy well-crafted historical fiction....more
This is a "Dollar Tree" book. I'm fascinated by the kind of books that they sell at the Dollar Tree ... usually Christian inspirational works or remaiThis is a "Dollar Tree" book. I'm fascinated by the kind of books that they sell at the Dollar Tree ... usually Christian inspirational works or remaindered(?) hardcovers. I picked up LITTLE PINK SLIPS and CELEBUTANTES last night. I started LITTLE PINK SLIPS first because a skim through CELEBUTANTES virtually guaranteed that I would find it annoying in my present state of mind.
OK, now I have finished this book. It was all I expected it to be, which is not saying too much as my expectations were rather low. Trying to write a review of this would be like trying to write a review of an episode of "The Real Housewives of New York." I mean, it was a diverting enough pass-time, I guess, but there wasn't much to it other than that.
I can say that I didn't much care for the heroine. She was really judgy and uptight, and unquestioningly overpriviledged. It was hard to sympathize with her. I might have liked her better if she had even the tiniest shred of humor, or showed just a little bit of perspective on her situation. ...more