Well, in my defense I picked this book up during its free kindle giveaway and started reading it while I was in the hospital and wanted something very...moreWell, in my defense I picked this book up during its free kindle giveaway and started reading it while I was in the hospital and wanted something very light. And to be fair, I am not this book's intended audience. I don't watch Gossip Girl or Housewives or any of the other "same theme" shows mentioned in so many of these reviews. That being said, the book was as light and substance-free as you could possibly want a book to be (unless, of course, we're talking about mind-altering substances).
First, what I liked: I enjoyed this book as a kind of anthropological study. In Part 1 of my study, I learned how my midwestern liberal arts college education has exactly zero in common with an Ivy League education, if Kunze's descriptions are to be believed, which seems reasonable. I enjoyed the descriptions of the social setting at Harvard, seeing how residence life, social life, and academic life were really a different beast than anything I ever knew. I never aspired to great academic heights, but I enjoyed taking her picture of Harvard and trying to imagine how I could have fit myself into it. (It would have been a disaster. I don't have the social or academic spine for something so competitive.)
In Party 2 of my study, I finally realized that I have been out of college for ten years. I have a hard time believing it. I still have this feeling like I just graduated and I'm barely out in the real world. But in Kunze's story, we have an academic setting that is full of cell phones, Facebook, and computers taken to class. These things are completely foreign to what my college time was like. We had just discovered the grand and beautiful use of PowerPoint, back in my day, and warnings that "Wikipedia is not an acceptable source to cite" on a research paper didn't start being made until my senior year. :p So that's a little depressing.
But as anything other than a social study, this book was kind of ridiculous. The characters were one-dimentional. At the end of chapter one, I could already tell you exactly what was going to happen to all of them, and with a couple of exceptions (the story ended before the full plot rolled out, and there was a lot more substance abuse than I expected), I was right on all counts.
The hardest thing for me to understand is the protagonist's A-1 stupidity. Here is a girl who is a "soccer prodigy," smartest girl in her high school class, and experienced in the ways of relationships. You need these things to get accepted to a place like Harvard, so that's okay with me in this case. Kunze sets Callie up as an outsider by making her blonde (huh?), from California, and not wealthy. I would expect a girl like that to have some common sense and a touch of good judgement, but Callie has neither. She spends the entire book drooling over boys (who all fall in love with her because apparently she emits magical pheromones... can't think of any other explanation for why all these dudes think she's so great. All she does is get drunk and ruin their shirts over and over again), drinking too much, smoking weed, and trying desperately to get accepted by people that she doesn't understand. And, of course, somehow managing to perform brilliantly in her classes and extracurriculars along the way.
I didn't realize the book was the first in a series when I started reading it, and was therefor kind of satisfied when it ended with Callie's life pretty much ruined. "Haha!" I thought. "She's paying the consequences for all her seriously bad judgment." Nah, not really. We just need three more books before all can be resolved into a happily ever after where she gets the grades, the rich hot dude, and the social acceptance we always knew she deserved desired. I don't think I'll be reading those. (less)
2.5 stars, I guess. I wavered between really kind of hating this book and being completely intrigued by it. I guess that's how I managed to finish it,...more2.5 stars, I guess. I wavered between really kind of hating this book and being completely intrigued by it. I guess that's how I managed to finish it, even though I kept thinking that I didn't like it. I'm usually quite good at giving up on books I don't like. Life is too short.
I marked this as historic fiction, but in reality this story is purely fueled by the characters. It could have been set anywhen. The author cleverly uses interweaving narratives of three different characters to slowly reveal the drama and tragedies of a Pennsylvania family, from the early 1900s through the 1960s.
The bits of drama and intrigue alluded to so heavily in the beginning and gradually uncovered as the story progresses are what kept me going. I really wanted to know what "the murders" were about. (Though when they actually happened, I almost didn't realize that was what the characters had been referring to.) I wanted to know who Jamie was and how he got away. I wanted to know how Those Awful Women had ruined everything.
But the characters themselves? Tragically flawed (in the classical sense, I would argue), every single one. I like my characters a little flawed. Nothing worse than too much saccharine. But these folks had nearly no redeeming qualities, and I dislike that at least as much. I disliked Aidan for (view spoiler)[being so persistently selfish. He never quit, not even at the very end. Sure, he had some personal growth, learning to be involved with other messy people, but his actions were so selfish right up to the end, and other people just kept getting hurt (and killed!) because of it (hide spoiler)]. I disliked Francis because he was (view spoiler)[so horrifically socially damaged. Whether it was his horrible family or his own selfish drive for success, I never really understood. He has one noble moment in the whole story, but it passes quickly and then he's right back to being abusive and slightly psychotic (hide spoiler)]. I even disliked Elyse, meant to be the most sympathetic character, I think, because (view spoiler)[she never broke free from the vicious cycle of her family. That's a bit of an unfair assessment, I know, because I don't think people in abusive situations can just choose to separate themselves, the way I kept wishing she would, but it was hard for me to read her justifications and flip-flopping between love and hate (hide spoiler)].
On top of this, all three narrators were unreliable. I liked this, in that with three different perspectives, I the reader was allowed to make my own judgment call on what was ultimately "truth". I like that there wasn't a single truth, the theme that life is how we see it, that history must be interpreted. I liked that a lot. I didn't like the bits where, because I knew the narrators were unreliable, I occasionally had no idea what was going on. At the climax with Elyse and Francis, (view spoiler)[ I began to suspect Elyse was making everything up, that the attack was a complete figment of her imagination, but then it wasn't. It also took me way too long to figure out that Lothian's "Jamie," at the end, was actually Francis, because I had completely forgotten about the bit where the real Jamie died, by the time I got to the Jamie/Francis bit. Eesh. (hide spoiler)]
So all in all, I have to give this book props for being clever and having very interesting perspectives, but I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy it very much.
(Setting-wise, it reminded me of The Archivist, another recent-history novel that I didn't really love.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This is not a beach read. That was my first mistake. The book drew me in with characters who were all fascinatingly flawed, showing through their mult...moreThis is not a beach read. That was my first mistake. The book drew me in with characters who were all fascinatingly flawed, showing through their multiple perspectives how each character perceived the others, and then how they truly acted and felt beneath the display and deception. Slightly more than halfway through, however, the horrible behavior of nearly all the characters began to overwhelm me, so that I found myself skimming through much of the last half of the book. The "shocking climax" promised by the dust jacket was the least shocking thing I've ever read; it was the only possible ending for the book, the one you saw coming from the very first moment. I finished the book feeling slightly abused myself, and wishing I could get some of the uglier actions of the characters out of my head. I admire the author for her exploration of the darker sides of human nature, but I will probably not be picking up any of her other novels or recommending this one to anyone else. I prefer my books much more on the lighter side.(less)
I found this book to be depressing. It glorified the affair and the destruction of the family, using a deux ex machina to create resolution that allow...moreI found this book to be depressing. It glorified the affair and the destruction of the family, using a deux ex machina to create resolution that allowed the protagonist to escape any accountability. Gross.(less)
I enjoyed this book immensely. Gruen's style draws you in from the very first page, her characters are three-dimensional and you can't help wanting to...moreI enjoyed this book immensely. Gruen's style draws you in from the very first page, her characters are three-dimensional and you can't help wanting to find out what happens to them. The conclusion to the story was not only brilliantly surprising, but also perfectly satisfying. If I had to pick an author to be like when I grow up, Gruen is currently at the top of my list.(less)
I'm always fascinated by stories depicting school life in the UK (at private schools or academies, anyway). . Attitudes from both faculty and students...moreI'm always fascinated by stories depicting school life in the UK (at private schools or academies, anyway). . Attitudes from both faculty and students seem to be so very different about these schools, regarding status and loyalty. These attitudes were explored in some depth in this novel. The characters and back story were compelling, though I was a little frustrated with how long the conflict continued to build before any glimmer of understanding began to dawn upon our protagonist. (And who, really, was the protagonist? I think that would be an excellent point to debate in a reading group or English class.) When the pieces did start to fall into place, though, everything clicked quite satisfactorily. The twist in the tale was cleverly done, taking me entirely by surprise. Authors always get bonus points from me when they manage that. All in all, I'd say this is a very satisfying read.(less)
This novel was an unfattening, uncomplicated read. It felt like stopping off once a day at the local cafe to listen to all the latest gossip about the...moreThis novel was an unfattening, uncomplicated read. It felt like stopping off once a day at the local cafe to listen to all the latest gossip about the other folks who live in the area. There really isn't much of a plot. The storyline which seems most central - that of the Peploe? painting - is so surrounded by tangents peering into the lives of peripheral characters that I'm hardly sure it actually was the central story. I constantly felt as if I ought to be bored by the lack of action and coherence, but the characters were interesting enough that I had no problem staying with it all the way through. Knowing that the novel was originally serialized in a daily newspaper (daily!) gave me a great respect for the author. And since not much happened, not much was resolved, leaving plenty to do with subsequent books. I will certainly try out the next installment.(less)
I'm just not sure what to make of this book. John Irving is one of my favorite authors. His ability to craft interesting and believable characters is...moreI'm just not sure what to make of this book. John Irving is one of my favorite authors. His ability to craft interesting and believable characters is one of his strongest talents, and in that regard, this book is no disappointment. Even the setting is intriguing: who hasn't wanted to live in a hotel at some point in their lives?
Perhaps the thing I found most unsettling about the story was how casually the subject matter is treated. Death, sex, and more death: it's all treated in a nearly off-hand fashion. On the final page, I feel pleased that the main character has ended up in the situation he's in, but I feel like he's exactly the same person he was when he started. The use of the dog, Sorrow, as a running metaphor throughout the tale was interesting but felt forced. I just didn't come away from this novel with the same sense of satisfaction that I've found in his other works.(less)
This is not my normal fare - I usually like my novels light and flaky. It came highly recommended however, and I found myself very quickly drawn in by...moreThis is not my normal fare - I usually like my novels light and flaky. It came highly recommended however, and I found myself very quickly drawn in by the story and the characters. I enjoyed it very much. The end felt a little abrupt, but even that seemed to fit with the overall theme of seeking to find ways to define race and reality.
The writing was very interesting, the characters fascinatingly drawn, but I finished the book feeling a little too much like I'd just witnessed a real...moreThe writing was very interesting, the characters fascinatingly drawn, but I finished the book feeling a little too much like I'd just witnessed a real life. I prefer my fiction to be much less realistic and more warm-fuzzy. And I just don't understand what happened to Calmer in the end. Where did that bullet come from?
This book is, by far, the best book I've read in recent memory. (And by recent, I mean years.) It was so good, I cried a little when it was over. I'm...moreThis book is, by far, the best book I've read in recent memory. (And by recent, I mean years.) It was so good, I cried a little when it was over. I'm not lying. Everything was right about it - the voice, the metaphors, the setting. I haven't read any other books by Gary Schmidt, but I'll be looking for them.