Terry upends our socially accepted notions of what prison does, what inmates are like, and what it is to be a tool of rehabilitation. (for a fuller reTerry upends our socially accepted notions of what prison does, what inmates are like, and what it is to be a tool of rehabilitation. (for a fuller review of this collection: http://www.cleavermagazine.com/cardbo...
Winman somehow develops a full, resonant tale through odd stops and starts and implied specifics. The opening frame sets you up for a tale of friendshWinman somehow develops a full, resonant tale through odd stops and starts and implied specifics. The opening frame sets you up for a tale of friendship, which of course this is, but then you immediately wander off through a forest of more-ness. It's also an exploration of family dynamics wherein the parents embrace otherness, a charting of sibling bonds, a revelation of truth--adulthood reveals exactly none of the answers or stability children expect that it will, and a study of the truism that people change, even after you suppose they cannot. And sometimes that change means that you no longer fit together. Also, God was, in fact, a rabbit at one time....more
The collection's appeal goes beyond the allure of dystopian exploration and beyond the dissection of relationships. He quietly--yet not exactly subtlyThe collection's appeal goes beyond the allure of dystopian exploration and beyond the dissection of relationships. He quietly--yet not exactly subtly--highlights the problems with blind faith, our society's constant hunger for change,and reality television. I like that all sexuality is not a character or a problem or needful of discussion, just the backdrop to the drama.
Umrigar creates characters who are steeped in hurt, and who act accordingly, as much as their place within the caste system allows them to. Bhima andUmrigar creates characters who are steeped in hurt, and who act accordingly, as much as their place within the caste system allows them to. Bhima and Sera, matriarchs for whom womanhood in this society equals suffering, illuminate the difference between upper and lower class pain. What we see is that there can be an end to suffering, if you are Parsi. We see how Sera's evil mother-in-law rises above (sinks below?) the trope to inflict psycho-emotional abuse on every level, how Feroz physically abused her without shame, remorse or repentance, and we suffer along with her. But Feroz dies off-page, and in truth has no real bearing on Sera's actions within the novel. She is already free of him when we meet her, and as the Evil Mother-In-Law has suffered a stroke that renders her powerless, Sera is truly free. All of her pain happens in flashback. Bhima, however, suffers more every time we see her. She will never be free. Because she has sacrificed so much, been so beaten down by life and by those with more power/education, because she has poured so much of herself into caring for others, we want to see Sera rise above the caste system and make a difference, a real one, in Bhima's life. We want to see her character grow, because all the ingredients for growth are there. But she doesn't. In the end, she clings to caste and grinds the last of Bhima's hope beneath her foot. And for me, in that moment, she loses all claim to sympathy, and I am then not fully-satisfied with the ending, which feels resignedly hopeless. But maybe that's the point. ...more
I picked this collection up at the AWP bookfair (thanks, Diane Goettel, for the recommendation) and devoured it on the train home.
The cyclical shape oI picked this collection up at the AWP bookfair (thanks, Diane Goettel, for the recommendation) and devoured it on the train home.
The cyclical shape of the collection provides a sense of closure, though we never meet the Claudia to whom our narrator refers. I think most people who were born and raised in "the city" can understand the desire to get away to someplace simpler, believing that all the answers can be found in a place with no street lights. And of course, sadness and pain exist in Nebraska just as they do anywhere else. There are unwanted pregnancies there, wanted pregnancies that yield unexpected trials, evil neighbors--murderous neighbors, anger, fear, exhaustion, confusion, strength and survival. That, I think, is the simple truth accepted by each story's narrators, that each story is telling us: humanity exists, even when surrounded by corn....more
Patchett's ability to interweave an ensemble of sympathetic characters with a suspenseful plot create a story--multiple stories--that make you want toPatchett's ability to interweave an ensemble of sympathetic characters with a suspenseful plot create a story--multiple stories--that make you want to snip the edge and unravel the mystery, and make you hurt for the people involved. And in truth, though we spend lots of time both moving forward and flashing back, there are chunks of story that you just never get. Sometimes that's okay. Sometimes I want to track Ann Patchett down and find out what the hell happened.
Though Dot's character starts to disappear into a Midwestern stereotype, and though some of the interaction between Sabine and Kitty does not feel germane,I still needed them to get the happy ending that of course they did not exactly get (it's okay, though, nobody dies except the people who are already dead, and all in all it's probably for the best that they are dead).
I do have one question for anyone who has read the book, or who reads the book eventually and feels that they can answer: what's the big deal with the magic trick at the end? Why is it so astonishingly impressive? Am I just filled with ennui, or is it only really overwhelming to that select group of people?...more
Barnes splits his novel into two halves: the narrator's life story as he remembers it, and the consequences, sort of, of his life as it actually was.Barnes splits his novel into two halves: the narrator's life story as he remembers it, and the consequences, sort of, of his life as it actually was. The first half reveals the narrator to be almost the anti-Holden Caulfield, in that he knows things are bullshit but doesn't rebel, he runs off and hooks up with a hippie rather than a prostitute, and then dutifully comes home and fills the roles expected of him: son, husband, father, divorced friend, all while maintaining the sort of stoic indifference stereotypically associated with the British. The second half shows us how memory glosses over the sticky parts of life, and how we have no idea, really, how our words and actions might have affected the people we knew. But we should know that already. And while the tone is pleasant, rather like an English grandfather in lambs-wool cardigans with Worthers candies in the pockets, the narrative is not particularly compelling. The narrator, Tony Webster, reveals himself to be more of a spectator than a participant to life, and while he is fine with that role, we as readers want more. He paints Adrian as the superior character with a more interesting life, yet we don't really get to know Adrian, and we don't get to see enough of his life to be fully invested in it. Why give us any of Adrian's background if none of it is connected to anything? This might be more interesting if Tony Webster were a frame to tell us Adrian's story. We don't read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" to learn the wedding guest's story; and I don't know that we want to read this novel to get Tony Webster's story....more
This novel does what it's anti-heroine does: tells a good story. The frame story will appeal to those of us clinging desperately to our physical booksThis novel does what it's anti-heroine does: tells a good story. The frame story will appeal to those of us clinging desperately to our physical books even as Nooks and Kindles make them obsolete (not really--not EVER!). Setterfield captures the sensual nature of book-loving through Margaret, the stereotypical reader/writer who is seduced, despite her natural suspicion, by a master tale-teller: Vida Winter. This creates a bi-fold joy for the reader: recognizing their own idiosyncratic approaches to literature in the frame and getting to read a damn good suspense story. Vida Winter is pretty much perfect: old, wealthy and eccentric enough to say whatever she feels like saying, talented enough to say it in a way that makes you grateful for the telling. The addition of Aurelius Love--and the playing out of his plot--are the only parts of the novel that failed to entirely pull me in, maybe because I expected there to be a nice, tidy connection and I didn't get it (are we annoyed when authors circumvent our expectations or do we appreciate their refusal to cave in to the cliche?) Still, since blizzard season is upon us, I would gladly curl up with a hot toddy and fall into this novel again....more
I picked this up in a supermarket, because I had an hour to kill waiting for someone. By the time my friend arrived, I wanted her to go away so I coulI picked this up in a supermarket, because I had an hour to kill waiting for someone. By the time my friend arrived, I wanted her to go away so I could finish the book. The novel focuses on the idea that you may not really know the people you know best, without slipping into the drippy or the maudlin. The prologue and opening chapter highlight two important facts about depression: that there's no telling when it will take you over the edge; it really can be that sudden, and that it is entirely possible that the people who love you will never see the signs. Chamberlain interweaves the themes of death, and its effect on the living, again without the kind of hyperbolic sentimentality that keeps us from feeling true sympathy. We watch even the supporting characters struggling with loss and their attempts at progress.
However, there are a few places where the book could stand to deal more with emotional ramifications of certain acts. For example, we read that Tara is hurt by the contents of Noelle's will, but she never discusses that with anyone other than the reader. Given the nature of her relationships with the other characters, and the fact that Tara is a talker, I find it unrealistic that she would keep silent about this.
The ensemble first-person works well enough, though I don't think there's sufficient emotional connection with Grace to bother with hearing her voice, and the Anna sections veer toward a coldness that detracts from the book's heart, but overall, the prose works. I like the fact that certain threads are left dangling, and that the readers learn secrets the characters never will (think of all the secrets we'll never know.) ...more
Somehow, despite the title, this book circumvented my expectations. It was odd--and interesting--to read a narrative in which there are no wicked stepSomehow, despite the title, this book circumvented my expectations. It was odd--and interesting--to read a narrative in which there are no wicked stepmothers and the perceptibly wicked stepchildren are either tortured artists or struggling with OCD. The collection of stories almost feels like a novel, because of the tight, interweaving thread, but because they are short stories, there isn't room for a resolution of any of the conflict. That might well be the point, that there is no resolution, that you just keep living and trying for the best, but there are definitely some plots that feel unfinished. It speaks well of the writing that I want more....more
I began this book prepared to be underwhelmed, because we've seen these tropes before: dysfunctional siblings forced to share living space because ofI began this book prepared to be underwhelmed, because we've seen these tropes before: dysfunctional siblings forced to share living space because of a family upheaval, sarcasm as the primary means of communication. We've seen the characters: the oldest, responsible sibling, the diametrically opposite youngest sibling, the one with middle-child syndrome and the other one (there's always an "other" one). But it works. The writing makes the story lines fresh and captivating, the characters sympathetic (most of them, anyway). Tropper gives us poignance without drippy sentiment, and both meets and circumvents reader expectations. Some of the resolutions are unsatisfactory, in that you want something different for the character, but that keeps the story rooted in reality. ...more
The novel drew me in almost immediately. I sympathized with David Pepin--anybody who's ever been in a long-term relationship probably sympathizes withThe novel drew me in almost immediately. I sympathized with David Pepin--anybody who's ever been in a long-term relationship probably sympathizes with him--and became emotionally invested in the plot resolution, until the plot began to splinter and re-splinter. The conceit of the novel-within-a-novel was at first fascinating, when I couldn't tell which part is meta-novel and which part is plain old novel, and then became wearisome, as I continued to have difficulty discerning which part is meta-novel and which part is plain old novel. By the time we get through Hastroll, Sheppard, Mobius and the whole Hitchcock section, I just want to know who-dunnit (or rather, how-dunnit, as there's never really a doubt as to who) already. The interweaving was such that you would have to re-read it in order to find the seams, which would be fine if I were more invested in the novel and/or meta-novel itself. Plus, I felt cheated by the ending, which is never a good sign. I wanted Alice to be more than she was; I wanted to have more sympathy for her. And really, we should sympathize with someone who has been through all of the emotional and physical trauma that she has suffered. But I find her so generally unlikeable. She fulfills the stereotypes about heavy, dieting women, and even when we know her heartbreaking backstory, she's just so bitchy that we still can't connect with her. ...more
**spoiler alert** I can see this as a reboot of Austen's Sense and Sensibility, only here, Sense does not get the guy. The narrative is compelling eno**spoiler alert** I can see this as a reboot of Austen's Sense and Sensibility, only here, Sense does not get the guy. The narrative is compelling enough. This novel does raise some questions for me. Is it okay to have none of the characters be fully likeable? I don't know who we're supposed to root for: Jonathan to be redeemed (and when we discover that this is not possible, for him to be exposed and brought to shame?) Emily to end up both rich and happily married, so that she can continue to try to control Jess's life (although, as an older sister, I can understand her temptation) Jess, who is so extremely leftist in her literal tree-hugging lifestyle that she nearly starves because the fruit is too hard and the candy has preservatives, and whose great, epiphanous resolution is to learn to climb the trees she hugs? George and his Darcy-like pride/prejudice/overbearing pretentiousness? Orion, about whom we have plenty of backstory that seems to have nothing to do with the narrative, and whose only character arc is to fall in love with a woman who is not his fiancee? Molly, who's just a doctor? I think part of the draw is that you want to find out who to root for, but I never found sufficient emotional connection with any of them to feel that he/she/they should "win." The plot begs the question of how September 11th can effectively be used in literature. Should it be the way it was in reality: a cataclysmic event that slammed in out of nowhere and completely altered the course of so many lives? I would say that this seems a little too convenient, too deus ex machina, except that that is exactly the way it happened: people were living out their plot lines and then got blindsided by an external force. In that sense, this is very realistic, but I couldn't decide whether or not it truly works on a literary level. All of this to say I was always engaged enough with the story to want to keep reading....more