I wanted to comment purely on the storytelling in The Handmaid's Tale, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are plenty of other excellent comments and di...moreI wanted to comment purely on the storytelling in The Handmaid's Tale, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are plenty of other excellent comments and discussions here about the context of The Handmaid's Tale with regards to historical events, feminism, post-modern writing, etc.
I simply loved the way Offred the Handmaid's story unfolded. It was slow and deliberate, despite the horrific events. You are mostly being told the rather mundane yet utterly foreign day-to-day life of Offred in her own narration. Yet, she starts to drop clues from the beginning that getting to that slow, controlled life was a complicated story. Offred offers more and more clues to her background as she becomes bolder in her life.
In some ways, it was a bit like watching Mad Men in that it takes patience from the viewer/reader to get to the payoff. But when it does, events start to spin faster, feeding on themselves - both with Offred's present story and how much she tells the reader about the history of the religious revolution, how she lost her husband and son, and her experiences in the Red Center. The background disclosures seem to go hand-in-hand with her undoing.
About halfway through the book I was so eager and anxious to know more about the background stories that I realized that I was feeling a bit like the poor Handmaids. Just as they were desperate to find friends and pass around information in secreted tidbits, I was desperate for Offred to tell me more about the Canada crossing or how the country could become so religious and militarized so quickly. Will she ever find Moira? Will she become too bold and get caught by the Eyes? Will she get pregnant and secure her future? Will there be a revolution, or will she die?
The reveals end up being so delicious because the reader has been collecting these crumbs of the stories, waiting patiently for the big reveals. At the end I realized I was so immersed in the world that Atwood created that I couldn't decide how I wanted the book to end.
I can see how lots of people are disappointed that some parts of the society aren't fleshed out enough, and you're left without some explanations. However, this is Offred's story, as a representative of the plight of the Handmaids, and she tells you as much as she can when she feels ready. As a narrative, a character study, I found it completely fulfilling.(less)
This is the way life happens. Everyone has a point of view, everyone experiences sadness and loneliness, interspersed with really lovely connections a...moreThis is the way life happens. Everyone has a point of view, everyone experiences sadness and loneliness, interspersed with really lovely connections and scenes.
For some people, those lovely moments are outweighed by the difficulties and the mundaneness of life. People die, your neighbors' kids are troublesome, corporations buy the local store, a co-worker becomes an alcoholic. The stories in Olive Kitteridge are overwhelmingly sad, but filled with compelling descriptions of life in the small-town Maine.
What made reading about Olive and the people surrounding her life so difficult for me is that Olive reminded me of someone in my life. No, more than reminded - Olive IS this old woman; the stubborn, unapologetic, large-framed, slightly abusive Swiss host mother I had the misfortune of living with for a while in my teens. This woman left a huge scar on me, and it frustrates me to no end that I would give this spiteful woman more than a minute's thought.
Luckily, Olive has enough redeeming qualities, that she slowly endears herself to the reader as the vignettes unfold. She is remarkably perceptive, especially when people are in tough spots. She has a bravery in facing tough situations, and hells bells, some funny exclamations. Godfried! By the end, you realize Olive is living her life the best way she knows how.
Ultimately the stories in Olive Kitteridge, like the namesake, present you with the hard truth. It might just change the way you see the people in your world.(less)
Oh, man, I really tried on this one, but I don't think it's worth my effort to finish the book. I totally get the historical significance of Mrs. Dall...moreOh, man, I really tried on this one, but I don't think it's worth my effort to finish the book. I totally get the historical significance of Mrs. Dalloway, but to me, that's just not enough to redeem the rambling story filled with silly people and thoughts of insignificant characters. Yes, the sentences can be very beautiful, emotive and paint a picture. But that doesn't turn the book into a compelling story with characters one would care about.(less)
I love stories where the world is effectively our own, but then one weird, amazing thing happens that turns the world upside down. Contact has this in...moreI love stories where the world is effectively our own, but then one weird, amazing thing happens that turns the world upside down. Contact has this in spades, exploring the political, religious, scientific and personal reactions to an alien signal from outer space. The story doesn't unfold simply or with too many contrivances. And you can be amused at Sagan's inability to predict some technological advances.
I had a tough time rating Contact. On one hand the science, concept and consequences of actions are amazing! On the other hand, the writing can be tedious with too much exposition and background on many characters. Even with the background, the characters mostly feel flat, which is a bummer. It's really the kind of book I'd imagine a high-level science professor to write. And it is!
Read the story to be transported to a world of "what-ifs" and possibilities and wonders of the Universe. Read the story if you really enjoy physics and astronomy.(less)
Although this was a worthwhile read, I don't think the story or the characters will stay with me very long.
I found the inner story -- the reveal of t...moreAlthough this was a worthwhile read, I don't think the story or the characters will stay with me very long.
I found the inner story -- the reveal of the true childhood of the fictional popular writer Vida Winter -- was interesting, dark and twisty with some unusual characters. Unfortunately the outer story -- the personal story of Margaret Lea, the shy, boring biographer/bookseller -- to be just as dull as she is. She is so obsessed and whiny that I was wishing there was no outer story. Except we needed her to do some outside research to progress the inner story.
Some of the mystery aspects were successful in their surprising reveal, but there were just as many that you could see from a mile away. The writing was a little too explicit, a little too neat and tidy. As much as there were some lovely turns of phrase and memorable passages, overall I couldn't help but flinch when a little event was overwritten. It's a shame, because I really wanted to like this book more.(less)
In a near-future world, where genetic engineering of embryos is as possible as choosing the color and features of your new Prius, scientists create pe...moreIn a near-future world, where genetic engineering of embryos is as possible as choosing the color and features of your new Prius, scientists create people who lack the need (or ability) to sleep - for the right price. The knock-on effect is that these Sleepless are smarter, more emotionally stable, and more rational than us Sleepers.
Around the same time, a brilliant scientist creates a new power source, eliminating the need for fossil fuels or distributed power grids - a cold fusion fuel cell for every home and vehicle! America enters a long era of economic prosperity. However, the Sleepers and Sleepless have problems coexisting peacefully, both socially, economically, and philosophically.
Although it has genetic manipulation and technological advancement at its heart, Beggars in Spain is not just a fun cyber- or bio-punk story. It's more a study of social and philosophical consequences of creating a small group of superior humans. When the Sleepless are shunned and hated even as children, their reactions will set up a chain of events that spans generations.
The story is at its most interesting when Leisha, an original Sleepless child, interacts her twin sister Alice, a Sleeper. Theirs is a complicated sisterhood, full of misunderstanding, regret, jealousy, love, and more. The novel generally lacks a lot of characterization, however Leisha, Alice, and at the end, Miri, are the most fleshed out, dynamic characters and make the story sing.
As enjoyable as I found the epic story, I would warn that if pushing a philosophical agenda turns you off, you might well hate this book. Yagaiism, Kress's version of Rand's Objectivism could be considered to have the starring role, and she pushes the philosophy endlessly. Despite this, there are so many fun concepts and situations to think about long after you put the book down. Seriously, how much fun is that?!(less)
My interest in this book was doubly piqued; it's on the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die list and (more intriguingly to me) was featured in the seaso...moreMy interest in this book was doubly piqued; it's on the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die list and (more intriguingly to me) was featured in the season 5 finale of Lost. Why was Jacob so obviously engrossed in this book of mid-20th century short stories?
Each story in the collection is a deceptively simple observation of everyday events, objects and people either set in or relating to the American South. There is a series of events that greatly impacts the characters in the stories - frequently with a twist. Broadly O'Connor comments on the changing face of racism, poverty, and family relations with brilliant and darkly funny observations. It can be very difficult to read about these situations as it's clear they stem from deep within O'Connor's roots.
The trouble I had was with the one-sided personae of the main characters. Usually I enjoy complex, deep and conflicted characters. O'Connor certainly presented plenty of conflict, but most characters were so stuck in their ways they usually couldn't rise above their short-sightedness. It's a bleak view of humanity with almost no chance at redemption. I don't mind bleak, dark, unresolved stories, but aren't people more complicated than that? Don't most characters have some identifiable spark of a softer side of humanity?
Here's what I've been wondering (pardon all these navel-gazing questions): Can I really enjoy a story if the protagonist and antagonist are relatively one-sided characterizations? For me the answer is sometimes but rarely. I really enjoyed the twists in "The Lame Shall Enter First", and the characters in "The Comforts of Home." The rest were just really tough to get through.
Back to Lost - why would Jacob be reading "Everything That Rises Must Converge"? Most likely we won't be able to fully understand that question until the final season when we (hopefully!) learn more about Jacob - that mysterious, mythical leader on The Island. In "The Incident, Parts 1 & 2" Jacob and his nemesis are discussing past events and people on the island. Just like in O'Connors anthology, they describe the everyday comings & goings that often reveal the dark and true nature of the unfortunate stranded souls. Certainly the title is prophetic for Lost - the individual character's story lines all converge on an unbelievable coincidental future and at the end of the 5th season the past was potentially being re-written. No doubt in season 6 the changed past will still end up to a common convergent future for the leads.(less)
Wow, I can honestly say I have never read a book like this - and that's quite a remarkable for this speculative ficti...moreOh no, someone ate my hometown!?!
Wow, I can honestly say I have never read a book like this - and that's quite a remarkable for this speculative fiction lover!
The absolute best thing about the story is the complicated family relationships and the individual characters in the passively dysfunctional Mapes family. These people are seriously twisted, and deliciously flawed. Doyle deftly adds on layers upon layers of oddness, individual but related social problems for each character. They are effectively a doomed family, but it's a slow, unraveling process.
These characters are what kept drawing me right back into the story.
And then there's the somewhat supernatural Audrey Mapes that quite literally eats Kalamazoo. House by house, from WMU dormitories to Bronson Park. She can devour a bathtub in 15 seconds. While the act itself forms the climax of the book, it is not at the heart of the plot. The story belongs to Audrey's sister McKenna, through her diaries and memories. She is the emotional heart of the Mapes family, while Audrey is an odd abstraction, set apart.
There were many things that drew me to this book: * I grew up near Kalamazoo - in the neighboring town that has a hissy-fit that they aren't included on Audrey's menu. * Quite a few years ago I read The Man Who Ate the 747, which also has a pica-obsessed character. Besides the metal chomping, these books couldn't be farther apart in tone. * I had this on my tbr when Amazon pulled Macmillan imprint books in another hissy-fit. I decided to support a few small-time authors by buying a few books from my local indie.
Wow I just flew through The Unit, and now my heart just aches for Dorrit, the Dispensables and for the society.
It's the near-future in Sweden, a socie...moreWow I just flew through The Unit, and now my heart just aches for Dorrit, the Dispensables and for the society.
It's the near-future in Sweden, a society that values capital and societal value above individual life. If you are childless, not in a protected job, have no dependents and no loving relationship, you are considered to be "dispensable." Dispensables are taken to The Unit at age 50 for women or 60 for men-i.e. after they are no longer reproductively viable, with the intent to give back to society through their own body. They donate body parts, participate in drug trials and scientific experiments, all while living in a little enclosed Club Med-like "utopic" dollhouse.
It's a very disturbing situation that Dorrit, our narrator, seems to implicitly accept, even while grieving the loss of her independence, privacy and solitude. She was a novelist who loved living alone, in a remote little cottage with her spotted dog, Jock. Cracks start to form in Dorrit's acceptance and beliefs in society. The new close relationships she develops in The Unit - unlike any relationships she's had before - create an unusual situation for her. She eventually has to decide between those relationships, her place in society and the common good.
I think what's remarkable is Holmqvist's simple, stark, straight-forward writing can still pull you into an unusual world and the complex mental state of a Dispensable. This book will hit you between the eyes if you have made life choices that are out of the mean for our society.
In the end, I'm not sure if Holmqvist is making a statement about capitalism or socialism. The dystopia is not created by some sort of totalitarian regime (as in The Handmaid's Tale or 1984) or as a response to a world-wide catastrophe (as in A Canticle for Leibowitz). Instead, it appears that the democratic society has decided that people who add no value or capital to the society should donate their organs to the more deserving, and remove themselves from life. Somehow everyone is convinced they are choosing this option, yet no one appears to have a choice or claim on their own life. This seems more insidious: to grow up believing that some people have more rights to their life than others just based on who they are.
I was wavering between four and five stars for this one. Ultimately, I can't deny the power of a book that makes me hold my breath and cry and grieve for the characters. (less)
It's the future, and an alien planet needs our help. The Dedelphi are a maternal/sister-based family race who live on a planet of islands and archipel...moreIt's the future, and an alien planet needs our help. The Dedelphi are a maternal/sister-based family race who live on a planet of islands and archipelagos. It's in their very nature to war with other family groups, and as a result they have devastated their planet. Bioverse, Inc. has signed a deal to help the Dedelphi completely clean and renew their planet. Unfortunately Dedelphi are deathly allergic to humans, so while their planet is being restored, the aliens have to be relocated to giant ships and separated by family. But will the tenuous peace and agreements for relocation work?
I read this book as part of my "gender-bending sci-fi" monthly theme. I read it after The Left Hand of Darkness, which probably isn't fair. It's a bit like trying to perform in a talent show, only you're following Lady Gaga or something. (Wait, did I just compare Ursula LeGuin to Lady Gaga?)
The thing is that the gender issues aren't really central to the book. They are a curious characteristic to the aliens Zettel has imagined, but their unique sexual characteristics and the sociological implications aren't really explored. That's fine by me, but then you need to at least make the book a rip-roaring tale. I just wasn't that into it.
This is a very long story with tons of named characters. I think it's trying to be an epic tale, but it doesn't quite succeed. Sadly, I kept falling asleep while reading, only waking when the light on my eReader would turn off. Not really a good sign, is it?
That said, the writing is fine - better than most sci-fi. As a matter of fact, it kind of reminded me of Asimov. Nothing to write home about, but not cringe inducing either.
The best part of the story is the aliens. It's a non-technical matriarchial society who need constant companionship from their sisters. Zettel describes their physicality really well, which makes them the vivid image I'll probably always remember. They come in shades from blue to gray to pink and have giant emotive ears! Unfortunately their actions are pretty human - humans with big families. My Big Fat Alien Relocation.
At any rate, check out the cover! It's one of those awesome cheese-tastic sci-fi covers, but really illustrates the story.(less)
Barbara Kingsolver has this ability to set a scene, and make it feel so lush. She really hits on all the senses, and that just pulls me right in to th...moreBarbara Kingsolver has this ability to set a scene, and make it feel so lush. She really hits on all the senses, and that just pulls me right in to the story as if I'm watching the fireflies in a briar patch on a sweltering summer night in Appalachia. Not to mention all the steamy sexy scenes! Ha-cha!
The story is a summer in the life of 3 women near a small town in rural Kentucky, told from alternating points-of-view. The book doesn't have a traditional plot-arc but more of the day-in-the-life feel, although it is a summer that none of the characters will forget. I loved the intra-textualness of the stories; they overlap and reference each other in unusual ways. It really reminded me of Olive Kitteridge - although in Prodigal Summer the crotchety character is a funny old man who provides the comic relief.
I can see where this book isn't for everyone. You basically have to be both on the right side of her philosophy (organic foods, don't mess with nature) and not be bothered by her sometimes preachy pedagogy. The latter comes across as occasionally stilted dialogue, which is why I dropped a star from my rating. At any rate, it's impressive that Prodigal Summer was written 6 years before the The Omnivore's Dilemma came out even though it feels like it's riding that manifesto's wave. I know, it's the backwards order I read these things.
Kentucky sounds more interesting than I imagined, hillbillies are not stupid, and I've gotta see me a Luna moth!!(less)