I really wanted to like this book. And at first, I really did (well, once I got tired of trying to make it through the strange prologue parts and actuI really wanted to like this book. And at first, I really did (well, once I got tired of trying to make it through the strange prologue parts and actually started reading chapter 1). The book opened with scenes of the author's mother slowly dying of stomach cancer on the living room couch (and sometimes dying in the hospital). And then we learn that his father died of lung cancer. This guy who's about 20 years old just lost both of his parents and has to take care of his 8-year-old brother. Holy crap, is that a sad but interesting beginning of a memoir, or what.
I liked that part. It was so disturbing that at times I had to take a break from reading-- but I like books that hit me like that. Make it real, make me feel it. Great. And then we find out that the guy's parents were not very good parents at all. His father was an alcoholic and was abusive and his mother enabled him and failed to protect the four kids they had spawned. I liked that part. I'm a sucker for a good old fashioned dysfunctional family memoir -- they're my favorite kinds.
And I liked the book's ending because it suddenly got interesting again. I liked the parts in the middle that flashed back to the author's childhood and/or parents' death. But I found most of the stuff in the middle really really boring and pretentious. I guess to be fair the author had warned me in that boring prologue part that after the fourth chapter the book would get boring because it was about 20-somethings and 20-somethings are the most boring people there are.
20-somethings might be boring (but they also might be exciting)-- but Eggers sure seemed to go out of his way to make his story about his 20's as boring as possible. The way he wrote just went on and on and on about one stupid scene or thing forever and ever amen. I had little to no motivation to pick up the book again and keep reading it, except that I wanted to finish it so I could start reading something more interesting. (I really try to finish books I start, especially well-known books that I am interested in at first. I try to stick with the author and hope it gets better if I like it at first, or if I have a feeling it might get better. And I guess in the end it did get better but I'm really not so sure it was worth my time to get there. The ending wasn't nearly as good for me as the beginning and I felt like I had to wade through pages and pages of complete BS to get there.)
I had also heard that the ending of the book was amazing, so that's another reason I slogged through the middle. To me the ending was good but completely over-the-top and exaggerated, even more so than the rest of the book was, and so it didn't do for me what it has apparently done for some others. I feel like a traitor for saying this and maybe it reflects on my abilities as a reader, or maybe it's just that there's so much hype about the final scene that when I finally read it I was left thinking, "Okay, that's it? That's what everyone was talking about?" Or maybe I disliked the middle so much that by the end I was just done.
The relationship between the author and his younger brother was a mixture of sweet, sad and horrifying. I could sympathize with the author's plight and I could tell he loved his brother but mostly I felt bad for the innocent, precocious younger brother, Toph. Overall that was an interesting part of the book but to me it was told in a very uninteresting way. I really didn't care about their day spent at the park and didn't know why it took so many freakin' words to tell. I found their "conversations" (usually banter and making fun of each other) annoying.
I wasn't sure why the author went off on so many tangents. It would start to seem like a diary entry where he wanted to bemoan the fate of his friends or acquaintances who had had tragedy befall them, but it was hard to care about those characters because they weren't introduced or fleshed out before the tragedy occurred and we only got to see them in the context of their tragedy and how it affected the author. Except he didn't even seem that affected by it but instead more like a bystander who liked to watch the train wreck (maybe because it took away from the constant reminder of the train wreck he was living through). At one point near the end his friend John- one of the characters met with self-induced tragedy- calls the author out on this very thing that bothered me about the book. He said that the author was only interested in people with tragedies and he didn't put any of the nice fun happy normal stuff or people into his book.
So the author essentially called himself out on his narcissistic emotional vampirism of other people's tragedies. He knew what he was doing, yet he did it anyway. And I think that's what annoyed me the most about this book. He knew he was being boring, or obnoxious, or egotistical, yet he did it anyway. When someone has that level of self-awareness it is hard to see him as a victim of tragedy and I start to see him as a person who purposefully stays miserable and likes to inflict his misery on other people. Perhaps I take this book too personally and emotionally but it is hard not to do that when the author invited me into his life in such a personal way. I didn't mind the literary "tricks" of making fun of the memoir form while writing it or having the "characters" discuss the book or call out the author about his book in the middle of the book, but I didn't like them enough to not mind the book's super boring or annoying parts. I almost feel like the author wanted me to not like this book, and so I don't understand when people get slack for saying they didn't like it. To me that's irony at its finest.
I thought it was pretty cool that the author and friends were trying to start some ground-breaking literary magazine but I felt like they went about it the same way he went about writing this memoir and I could see why it failed. In my opinion there's such a thing as too much cynicism, sarcasm, and poking fun of a system of which you yourself are a part. I wanted to yell shut up already and either do something different or stop complaining.
Obviously I had very strong emotions about this book and I was going to rate it 2 stars but I have decided to rate it 3 stars because it did provoke a lot of thought and emotions in me, even if many of them were negative. And I think the writing at some points (especially the beginning) was very good and very interesting, so it wasn't a total bust. But I just wish the whole book was like that and that the author could get over himself enough to tell an interesting story instead of show off his literary tricks. (I know that's harsh but it's honestly how I feel about the book!) If the book were just its beginning, its end and maybe about 25% of its middle, I would give it 5 stars. But I guess it's my own fault for reading something that from its title and its prologue was obviously going to be pretty obnoxious. ...more
I read this book because I want to see the movie, and whenever possible (which admittedly isn't often) I try to read the book before seeing the movie.I read this book because I want to see the movie, and whenever possible (which admittedly isn't often) I try to read the book before seeing the movie. Plus, I had heard some juicy controversy about this book, mostly because it's classified as erotica and also because the author recently filed for bankruptcy after getting into trouble for tax evasion. (I don't really think that has anything to do with the book so I'm not going to go into that).
As for the book being classified as erotica, well, perhaps I'm not prudish enough but I really didn't think there was that much sex in it. It tried to go for more of a story/plot than straight sex and I would say that sex scenes made up about 20% of the book, if that. Erotica isn't really my thing and so I mostly skimmed over the sex scenes but I don't think they were that great. (I'm talking Anais Nin great, as that is the only erotica I've really read). I thought the author's terminology was really blunt and off-putting. Kind of like when people say they "popped out a kid" or "have to go take a dump" etc. Maybe regular readers of erotica would like the sex scenes but I didn't, and it's not because the sex bothered me, but rather because it wasn't very well-written for supposedly being an erotic book.
As for the plot... I guess all I can say is "um?" The first half or so of the book is quite captivating and for awhile I was addicted to the book and couldn't put it down. It starts out when the narrator is in therapy for a "sex addiction" and then flashes back to when she is a child and it gives a lot of background. But there is really nothing there to explain a later "sex addiction" so I was kind of confused about why I was reading about it at all. However, it was interesting.
At about half way through, the book goes into what the narrator terms her "sex addiction" but is really just a series of affairs with people who are more into her sexually than her husband is or ever was. I felt that this book did a disservice to women by sending a message that sexual desire and activity is shameful or forbidden. (I'm not talking about affairs, which I could understand... I'm talking about simple things like masturbation or wishing her husband would be more adventurous in bed). I think the author needs to look up the term "sex addiction" because it is nothing like what the narrator does. Some may say the narrator is trashy and she is definitely unfaithful to her husband, but to call it a "sex addiction" is not just not an excuse but it's an incorrect definition at that! I thought it telling that the husband wasn't given the same shaming for his inability to have sex with his wife or show much sexual interest in her at all.
Still, the book at that point was pretty interesting and I was following along in reading about the narrator's trysts and guilt and juicy pleasures etc. But then after about 2/3rds of the way in, the book just got crazy unrealistic. And its tone changed; it felt rushed and forced, like the author was trying to cram the plots of several different possible movies into one book before she finished it. There was little in-the-moment action or description and instead the narrator just runs through what seems like list after list of the out-of-this-world things that have happened to her and her husband in the past and even crazier things that are happening to her in the future. At that point I was just reading it so that I could finish the book but I kept asking myself, "Huh? Why is this happening and why should I care?" It was unbelievably far-fetched and just bad all around, in the last third of the book: bad plot, bad writing, bad dialog.
To top it all off, the narrator is unlikeable. She seems so entitled and even when she expresses "remorse" for cheating on her husband she is thinking about visiting her lover in the building where he works, and how she would do it except that she doesn't want to drag her lover into her current drama. It's not believable that the narrator feels bad for her husband and wants to change. It's not believable that she thinks she has, or wants to have, some perfect marriage. And the details don't even make sense. She supposedly runs some successful company so that she can have a Mercedes and Land Rover that she continually talks about, yet she's never at work and she just leaves for weeks on end to tend to her personal drama. Her husband is supposed to be an architect but it's revealed that usually all he does all day is masturbate. So it's hard to understand how these two characters supposedly make all their money. And they have three children (including twins) who are mentioned quite a bit in the first half of the book (when the book is pretty good) but are barely brought up at all in the second half (when the book is mostly pure crap), except for some self-serving "I have to go home and hug on my babies that I'm so glad to have" type of BS. These characters aren't working much, they're not with their kids much, and it's hard to see what they're really doing besides not having sex with each other, and one of them is out having sex with other people and trying to kill herself or get herself killed all the time. It's insane.
I think if the author had spent the time developing the character as an adult like she did when the character was younger, more things would have made sense and it would have been a much better book. As it is, though, I feel cheated because I was supposed to be reading a story about a sex addict, or at least a cheater, but instead it turned into a story about everything and anything under the sun except a coherent and fulfilling story. I give it 2.5 stars for entertainment value-- a good first half and a "wtf?!" second half-- but I would recommend skipping it all together as it's not worth the time....more
I read this book because Elizabeth Strout's linked short story collection "Olive Kitteridge" is one of my favorite books, and I wanted to read more byI read this book because Elizabeth Strout's linked short story collection "Olive Kitteridge" is one of my favorite books, and I wanted to read more by the same author. I was not disappointed. Like "Olive Kitteridge," "Amy and Isabelle" is set in a small New England town and features everyday characters with dark secrets, and it is written in a sparse and distant tone that sucks me in from the beginning and keeps me enthralled the whole way through.
I actually thought this book was about sisters, but Isabelle is an older, single mother and Amy is her 16-year-old daughter. Isabelle is known to be cold and distant, and she is very strict in raising her daughter. Amy is awkward, and not just the typical teenager kind of awkward: she is painfully self-conscious and shy, and can't easily relate to anyone except for her one friend Stacey. Amy alternates between love and hate for her mother, and it seems that Isabelle alternates between love for her daughter and hatred for herself or for life in general that is so powerful that it causes her to not be able to love her daughter in the way that Amy likely needs. She doesn't seem to understand, accept, or unconditionally love her, although it's clear that she does love her in her own way or to the best of her ability, maybe. In that sense the book was overwhelmingly sad for me, and I rooted for the awakening of both characters, which does come (to some extent) by the end, but in a more realistic way than one would expect in a novel.
I can't say more about the plot without giving things away, so I won't. I knew nothing about the plot of the book when I started reading it, and I think it's best that way. I will say that the events that unfold are quite shocking and disturbing. There is some dark subject matter here that I imagine some readers wouldn't like. But it remains true to life and is a portrait of both a mother and a daughter as well as a town and its townspeople. It is mostly a coming of age story, as well as a story about a rather dysfunctional little family that is trying to overcome a lot of issues, and it's even, surprisingly, about the power of female friendship and solidarity. At its heart I would say it's about human nature, including all of its hypocrisy, irony and deep dark secrets that everyone seems to carry around with us until we can find the right time and place to unburden ourselves, hopefully with the help of an understanding support system.
I read this book in just a few days (granted, I was on vacation and had a lot of time to read at the beach and on the plane) and was really captivated by it. It's no fluffy beach read but the writing and character portrayal is just excellent enough to have kept my attention despite its heavy and dark story. I would recommend it to anyone although it's definitely more of a book for and about women than men. ...more
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It features a young boy who is sort-of-kind-of named "Brando Skyhorse." His mother constantlyThis is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It features a young boy who is sort-of-kind-of named "Brando Skyhorse." His mother constantly lies to him about his real name as well as about his heritage and upbringing, so it's hard for Brando (or the reader) to know what is real and what is fabricated. He has no real sense of identity but only one that is constructed in his mother's "interesting" imagination.
In addition to having an emotionally unstable, pathologically lying, immature mother, Brando lives with a grandmother who alternatively protects him and throws him under the bus. One of the themes in this book (at least to this reader) is how a child loves his caregivers forever, despite the evils that they do to him. No parent is perfect but Brando's mother is imperfect to the point of being emotionally as well as physically abusive, and while I was frustrated at his constant love of and need for approval from her, I also "got" it in a way that I can't really articulate. I suppose a redeeming factor is that she was quite obviously mentally ill (or at least I "hope" that she was, or else her treatment of Brando would be inexplicable).
Brando doesn't know his real father growing up, and he has a revolving series of stepfathers. His mother tells him that each man, in turn, is his true father and she pressures him to forget about past fathers as new ones arrive. Some of the past stepfathers reappear at different points in his life, however, just to give him enough hope that he will finally have a permanent "father," and then to dash that hope to pieces by disappearing yet again. He finally, as an adult (which is revealed in the prologue so is not a spoiler) makes contact with his real father but in this reader's humble opinion, that father isn't too much better than most of the stepfathers that come in and out of Brando's life.
If you couldn't tell from my description above, I was very disgusted with all of the adults in this book and I felt so bad for Brando. But what intrigued me was his ability to rise above his quite horrible upbringing and forge his own identity and personality. Of course, this personality is not a flawless one and has its share of issues but overall I'm convinced that the narrator rose above his obstacles and dealt with them in the best way that he knew how. He is obviously a bright and talented man and I imagine him to be quite gentle-natured as well. The writing in this book is overall excellent, although there are some tense issues I found problematic. I know that in a memoir there are often flashbacks mixed with in-the-moment "memories" mixed with foreshadowing and the like, but it would often change from one tense to another within the same paragraph or so and that left me a bit confused and distracted. Otherwise I enjoyed the flow of the story and found the subject matter to be very compelling. At times I couldn't put the book down and it was one of those rare treats that I just wanted to savor and immerse myself in.
I thought about giving this book four stars due to the tense issues but it is one of my all-time favorites and so I give it five stars despite its flaws. And I give the narrator five stars for "surviving" such a crappy upbringing and for telling his story so eloquently. I feel that he has made beautiful art out of an ugly past and I was glad that he had shared his story with me....more
Carson McCullers's The Member of the Wedding is such a strange little book. I loved some parts and didn’t love other parts. It revolves around FrankieCarson McCullers's The Member of the Wedding is such a strange little book. I loved some parts and didn’t love other parts. It revolves around Frankie Addams, who is twelve and a half years old. For me this was a really significant age, and I think the book does a great job of encapsulating the feelings and experiences associated with that age: Frankie’s no longer a child, yet she’s not yet a woman. She feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere, and she’s trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be. So the first thing I loved about The Member of the Wedding was its theme, although I think some would criticize it for not having much of a traditional plot.
The second thing I loved about The Member of the Wedding was its setting. Frankie lives in a small town in Georgia during World War II. Loneliness surrounds her. Her mother died during childbirth with her, so she has never had a mother or siblings. Her father works a lot and when he is home, he is in his own world of books and newspapers, and really doesn’t pay her much attention. Her only good girl friend moved away, and she’s not a member of the “club” of popular girls at her school. She used to be part of it at one time, but as she got a bit older it’s clear that she’s different from those girls. Sexual identity is explored in the book: Frankie wants to be a pretty, grown woman, but, with her dirty elbows, her crew cut, and her hyper (some would say obnoxious) personality, in many ways she looks and acts more like a boy.
The Member of the Wedding takes place during the summer, so Frankie’s not in school and she spends her days hanging out at home—mostly in the kitchen—with her black housekeeper Berenice and her seven-year-old cousin John Henry. The constant kitchen setting causes the book to lag and feel like it’s dragging on; I think I would have liked it even better if it was a long short story or an even shorter novel. At the same time, the drawn-out kitchen scenes show Frankie’s daily life and how it’s filled with boredom yet comfort. (“They sat together in the kitchen, and the kitchen was a sad and ugly room. John Henry had covered the walls with queer, child drawings, as far up as his arm would reach. This gave the kitchen a crazy look, like that of a room in the crazy-house. And now the old kitchen made Frankie sick. The name for what had happened to her Frankie did not know, but she could feel her squeezed heart beating against the table edge.”)
Frankie longs for change and adventure, and at the same time she longs to fit in with someone somewhere. (“The spring of that year had been a long queer season. Things began to change and Frankie did not understand this change. After the plain gray winter the March winds banged on the windowpanes, and clouds were shirred and white on the blue sky. April that year came sudden and still, the green of the trees was a wild bright green. The pale wistarias bloomed all over town, and silently the blossoms shattered. There was something about the green trees and the flowers of April that made Frankie sad. She did not know why she was sad, but because of this peculiar sadness, she began to realize she ought to leave the town. She read the war news and thought about the world and packed her suitcase to go away; but she did not know where she should go.”)
All of this leads up to Frankie’s recent obsession: running away with her brother and his fiance after they get married. She has been invited to be in their wedding, and she is so happy to “belong” to something that she really gets very carried away in a fantasy of living a new life in a new place with the newlyweds. She changes to her name to “F. Jasmine,” she finds a pretty pink dress that her father buys her for the wedding, and she goes around town telling everyone her plan to move away with her brother and soon-to-be-sister-in-law. All dressed up for the wedding and on the verge of womanhood, she looks much older, and is invited out on a date with a soldier, which she accepts with a mixture of hesitation and excitement.
What I didn’t love about The Member of the Wedding is that there’s a lot of slow build-up without too much action or delivery. Most of the book takes place over just a couple days, but they feel like years. (I guess that’s how it feels for a twelve-and-a-half year old, too!) I enjoyed the scenes featuring Frankie, Berenice and John Henry in the kitchen, savoring delicious-sounding Southern food and talking about everything from love to race relations to what they would change about the world if they were God. (“Now hopping-john was F. Jasmine’s very favorite food. She had always warned them to wave a plate of rice and peas before her nose when she was in her coffin, to make certain there was no mistake; for if a breath of life was left in her, she would sit up and eat, but if she smelled the hopping-john, and did not stir, then they could just nail down the coffin and be certain she was truly dead. Now Berenice had chose for her death-test a piece of fried fresh-water trout, and for John Henry it was divinity fudge.”)
After awhile, though, I was anxious to have Frankie get out there and experience the real world. I suppose that that was the point of writing the book like that, so the reader could feel what life was like for Frankie. Although it may appear to an outsider—even the reader—that not much is going on, to Frankie, a lot is happening. She is bored and excited, fearless and fearful, lonely and comfortable with the familiar, happy and sad and up and down. That’s all because she’s at the crazy in-between age of twelve and a half. I loved that about Frankie but at other times she seemed very contradicting and hard to figure out. At one moment she would seem so thoughtful and mature, and the next moment she would be stomping her feet and saying cruel things to the people she loved, and seeming very immature and annoying. I guess, again, that’s because of her age and her transitioning. At times Frankie–or F. Jasmine–is confused about her own expressions and mannerisms. At one point she is upset with Berenice for not telling her about a grown-up matter, but happy with Berenice for ironing the little pleats around the collar of her pink wedding dress. “She would have liked for her expression to be split into two parts, so that one eye stared at Berenice in an accusing way, and the other eye thanked her with a grateful look. But the human face does not divide like this, and the two expressions canceled out each other.”
What I absolutely loved about The Member of the Wedding was its language. McCullers has a way of describing the small, even mundane, things in life in a completely lovely and relatable way, and then of course she describes the big, mind-blowing things in life the same way. (“The twilight was white, and it lasted for a long while. Time in August could be divided into four parts: morning, afternoon, twilight, and dark. At twilight the sky became a curious blue-green which soon faded to white. The air was soft gray, and the arbor and tress were slowly darkening. It was the hour when sparrows gathered and whirled above the rooftops of the town, and when in the darkened elms along the street there was the August sound of the cicadas. Noises at twilight had a blurred sound, and they lingered: the slam of a screen door down the street, voices of children, the whir of a lawnmower from a yard somewhere.”)
For me this book is best read all at once if possible. When I put it down and picked it back up it seemed rather boring, like not much was happening, but when I read whole parts straight through, I became so wrapped up in the language and tone that it felt magical. I would like to read this book again when I have time to read it all in one day or weekend. Although I really liked it the first time around, I was trying to cram it in, in between selling my fiance’s house, renting out my house, moving into a new house, planning a wedding, traveling to Vegas, etc. It seems to me to be one of those books that gets better with re-reading.
This is a fast-paced, interesting and well-written book about a dirty old man professor who repeatedly seduces his young art students in New York CityThis is a fast-paced, interesting and well-written book about a dirty old man professor who repeatedly seduces his young art students in New York City. Finally he falls for one and shows some vulnerability. I read this book in two days on vacation in Scottsdale and I recommend it for a great vacation read! ...more
This little book of eight short stories took me about a week to read, and now I’m very sorry that it’s over. All of the stories were very entertainingThis little book of eight short stories took me about a week to read, and now I’m very sorry that it’s over. All of the stories were very entertaining and vivid. It made me feel like I was a nineteen-year-old girl in the first or second decade of the twentieth century. Many of the stories in this book are focused on girls of that age, and I thought it was quite strange that Fitzgerald could write so well about them. Almost all of the stories can be classified as "coming of age" stories in the early twentieth century.
The book starts off with a strong and rebellious nineteen-year-old girl in “The Offshore Pirate.” That first story was probably my favorite. My second favorite was probably “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” which was also about a nineteen-year-old who was figuring herself out a lot more than the heroine from the first story, who knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. I also liked “The Ice Palace” in which a very vivacious teenager named Sally Carroll visits a Northeastern city in the hopes of marrying, and finds out that she misses the colorful southern town where she grew up.
The last story in the collection, “The Four Fists,” features a manly man who gets knocked down by four punches in his lifetime, each of which teaches him an important lesson, and the story takes him from New York to the oil fields of Texas and the ranches of New Mexico. It felt rather refreshing to read a burly story after all the quite feminine ones, but I truly liked them all. The second-to-last story, “Dalyrimple Goes Wrong,” also features a male character and his descent into shadiness. What I noticed is how differently Fitzgerald writes about male characters than female characters – there’s less internal monologue and descriptions of thoughts and conversations, and more action at a swiftly moving pace. One story, “Head and Shoulders” does a beautiful job of explaining a role reversal of sorts, in which the female character shines and the male character withers.
To read this book was to be transported back to a totally different time – anywhere from the 1890’s to the 19-teens, and to totally different places – usually New England towns, Ivy League educational institutions, and country clubs. I enjoyed the scenes about fox trots and flappers and jazz music and I wished, sometimes, that I could have lived back then. But Fitzgerald had great sympathy for his female characters – “The Cut-Glass Bowl” featured a downfall of one of them, and the strong character of Marjorie in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” explains how the young girls can become withered and unloved housewives, many of whom are disapprovingly interspersed into that story.
In fact, if I carry one thing away from Flappers and Philosophers other than hours of entertaining reading, it is a remark on the position of young women in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Many of the stories feature girls at the cusp of womanhood who wear rose-tinted glasses and think that life is about dances and social events. Yet the men are the ones getting an education, seeing the world and taking part in all of the action (again with the exception of the uniquely witty “Heads and Shoulders” plot). In this sense I am very happy to be living in the 21st century and just reading about these female characters in the early 20th century....more
Ethan Frome is set in Starkfield, Massachusettes, where everything is very stark indeed. Much of the story also takes place in the winter, when the NeEthan Frome is set in Starkfield, Massachusettes, where everything is very stark indeed. Much of the story also takes place in the winter, when the New England town is covered in snow and bitter cold. At the heart of the story is, of course, Ethan Frome: a farmer living in the early 1900's who has been dealt a bad lot in life. He had been living away from Starkfield, at college, studying to become an engineer, when his father died and he had to return home to the family farm to care for his ailing mother, Zenobia. He ends up marrying Zeena, the nurse who took care of his mother, more out of duty and gratefulness than love or passion. Before long Zeena becomes a hypochondriac, inventing illnesses and perpetually seeking possible cures for them.
Into this depressing scene steps Mattie, who is quite the breath of fresh air for Ethan. A distant relative—-she was the daughter of Zenobia’s cousin-—Mattie's father had squandered all of the family’s money, a fact which was only revealed after his death. Mattie’s mother apparently dies of the shock and shame, leaving Mattie a penniless orphan. Zeena’s doctor suggests that Zeena find someone to help with the household chores, so Mattie comes to Starkfield to do just that, and also ends up winning Ethan’s heart.
The story is so depressingly tragic that at times I wanted to stop reading it. But it was like watching a scary movie or sitting down on a roller-coaster: you want to stop, kind of, but you also want to keep going. The story starts out by revealing that Ethan was in a freak accident, and then goes back in time, so you know things don’t end up well. The entire feel of the book is incredibly ominous and its pace marches you right on from the sweet tale of a simple and down-on-his-luck farmer who falls in love with a young, care-free girl, to the bad ending you know is coming. The language is simple and no-nonsense, yet it alternatively scares you like Stephen King and pulls on your heart strings like Jane Austen.
There’s a scene near the beginning in which Ethan has gone to pick Mattie up from a barn dance that puts you right there in the middle of their budding relationship, which is technically illicit and wrong, but feels so right that you find yourself rooting for them, even though you know it will end horribly. Ethan watches Mattie dancing, yearning for both Mattie herself and the simple innocence and hopefulness of youth, which is long-lost for him. When the dance ends, a young boy flirts with Mattie and offers her a ride home, and Ethan thinks that soon Mattie will get married and leave him. Yet, she is so surprised and happy that he is there to pick her up, and she reassures him that she’s not going anywhere. The tone of the relationship between Ethan and Mattie is light-hearted, casual and happy, in the middle of this otherwise entirely depressing book.
Despite its tragic subject matter, Ethan Frome is a gem of a book I plan to re-read again and again. I also want to read more of Wharton’s work. This is the first book I’ve read by her and I know that most of the rest of her works deal with the upper class New York society from which she came. I don’t know how she can write so well about a poor New England farmer, so I can only imagine what she writes about those characters that comprise her own element. I give Ethan Frome four and a half stars and highly recommend it to anyone.
I had high hopes for The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. (Maybe I had such high hopes that I had raised the bar too high?) I had read somewherI had high hopes for The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. (Maybe I had such high hopes that I had raised the bar too high?) I had read somewhere that Ms. Clayton used to be a corporate transaction attorney at a large law firm. After she ceased practicing law, she wrote this book. As a lawyer and aspiring writer, I was drawn to it from that angle. Then there was the fact that the book is about a group of aspiring writers, who form a writing group and try to publish. That sounds like me, so I thought I could relate. Finally, the book takes place in San Francisco starting in the 1960's. The interview I'd read with Ms. Clayton said she'd scoured old newspapers and magazines for historical tidbits to include in the book. How exciting! I thought.
Well... I have to say that the beginning of The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel really didn't meet my expectations at all. I found the first third of it quite dull. The characters all seemed stereotypical and flat to me. And it seemed like the story was dragging and almost nothing was happening! I pushed on, thinking a big part of it was that I just couldn't relate to these women. They admitted that they had put their dreams on hold, or permanently curtailed them, to marry their husbands, and their lives revolved around their children. It's not that I didn't want to read a book about housewives, but I think that many housewives, in real life and in books, are awesome. Many have confidence, charisma, interests and hobbies. But these women were so self-defacing that it was annoying. The main character, Frankie, tells the entire story, and she's always saying things like, "I can't imagine that I could actually write a book... I'd like to, but I'm no good, and what would these other women think?" We're not talking about writing a masterpiece novel here, or publishing, just writing in general. I wanted to scream at her, it's not that hard, just get a little self-esteem and try it! I really didn't understand the big deal.
Knowing the author's background, and that she was both a lawyer and a mother, I started thinking that maybe the problem was that she was writing what she didn't know, and it didn't seem real. But even the historical parts weren't that interesting in the first third of the book. The characters were on the outskirts of society, seemingly purposefully left out from everything exciting that was going on. They would see feminist protests on the news, but not attend. (Then Frankie would couch the events by saying something like, "We didn't know what to think of these crazy women on TV... we are just little stay at home moms who don't know anything about the world." Honestly, if I were a housewife I would be offended at the way that women in my profession/position were portrayed by the characters in the book!) Then there would be tidbits of history dropped in all too conveniently, like, "we read in the news that this happened..."(couched by Frankie in terms of "not that we understand what it all means, of course"), which to me isn't all that exciting. It's like too much historical data was given without the main characters really being a part of the context.
I kept reading The Wednesday Sisters since I had had such high hopes. Towards the middle, the book started to get better. And then the last third turned into a pretty good read. I think it's because the characters were actually doing something, making decisions instead of letting life just happen to them. For the first time, some of them seemed like separate characters, instead of all being lumped into one stereotypical housewife. (Some of them still fell flat to me even during the exciting parts). And they also went out into the real world and took part in some of the historical goings-ons, which made the historical parts a lot more interesting.
In the end, I think that the best parts of The Wednesday Sisters make for kind of a stereotypical chick-lit-for-mature-chicks read. Like, ladies that belong to knit clubs and church socials would probably like some of this book. But I bet even they'd be bored with a lot of it. It just doesn't go anywhere, or do anything, until near the end, and I don't know if a lot of people would hang on that long! I hate to give negative reviews, so I'll throw in something positive and say that this book has a lot of interesting parts about writing and the writing process, and it includes some good quotes and tips from famous writers. But even that part is annoying, because one of the women, Bret, will say things like, "Well, you know, Mark Twain always said..." at the beginning of their writing groups, causing Frankie to must out loud "How does Bret have such a good memory and always remember what all these great writers said?" Still, The Wednesday Sisters has some appeal for writers, so I recommend it, with reservations, to other writers. For this reason I give it two stars....more
Although I had some issues with Women Like Us, I absolutely loved it. I should admit my bias up front: this book was written by a Sarah Lawrence ColleAlthough I had some issues with Women Like Us, I absolutely loved it. I should admit my bias up front: this book was written by a Sarah Lawrence College alum, which I also am (class of 2003), and the plot centers around four women who graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1958. I was therefore pre-disposed to enjoy it, but in my opinion, any woman could relate to the plot and characters. That is what makes the book so very readable and also quite depressing. Women Like Usis not a happy story by any means, and its over-arching theme seems to be that women sell out our talent, our ambitions, our own goals, for those of our husbands and our families.
One would hope this is less true now than it was in 1958. At that time most women, including most of the characters in this book, shared the main goal of marrying before age 21 or so. Even intelligent girls from well-off families who went to college did so as something to fall back on, biding time between their childhood/adolescence and the time that their "real" - AKA married -- life would start ("Even at Sarah Lawrence, a caldron of creativity, Art was just an exalted form of occupational thoerapy; you didn't sacrifice romance on its account.")
There are four main characters in Women Like Us-- Daisy comes from a lower class background, having been raised in Queens, but is a very talented dancer who also likes to write. Although the book rotates around the lives of the four different girls, Daisy seems to stand out as the "main" character and I couldn't help but wonder if she was based on the author of the book. Delphine is from a lavishly rich but troubled family, and she is always the center of attention. Franca is tied to men from the beginning and eagerly gives up parts of her soul to be with them. Ginny is the overweight and dorky college misfit, who still somehow fits in with this otherwise seemingly trendy crowd (I never really understood how). The book starts with the girls' senior year in college and then traces their lives through their mostly short-lived careers and the trials and tribulations of marriage to successful and selfish men, and motherhood. Ginny changes her name to Gina and blossoms into the only consistently strong character who continuously follows her dreams into success; I wondered if her character was modeled after Barbara Walters, another SLC alum. Throughout the book Gina is portrayed as self-centered and shallow, and resented by the other three women as incapable of loving anything but herself and her career. To me this represents the two roles into which women have eternally been pigeon-holed: either we are selfless and unhappy (and often "naggy") wives and mothers, or we are selfish and cold career women.
Today it seems more possible to find a middle ground, somewhere where many men lie: we can be family women and career woman, we can have it all. This is what the characters in Women Like Us dreamed of at Sarah Lawrence in 1958, although it didn't turn out that way for any of them. Reading about their horrible experiences in the business world-- most of them went into publishing-- made me feel really lucky that I am living and working today instead of four decades or so ago. In some ways the book made me realize that we have come a long way. In other ways, I realized that many women everywhere are the same. Some of us still ditch our closely-knit friendships as soon as we find a man we think is husband material. And it seems that to many women, a man is still more important than whatever else we used to hold dear: career, education, our own interests and dreams.
I enjoyed reading about this generation of women, and now I want to read books based in similar time periods, such as Mary McCarthy's "The Group" and Rona Jaffe's "The Best of Everything." The women in Women Like Us felt they had been left behind and left out: younger women were marching in the street in the 60's while they were at home nursing their babies and wondering where their cheating husbands might be. They were too early for the women's movement and too late for the old-fashioned notion of Leave it to Beaver and men who had to mean the words "till death do us part." Later they are tossed to the side like used-up goods, left to fend for themselves when they never learned how to do that. That wasn't the way they had planned for things to turn out, but much of their plan involved hitching themselves to men. One thing clear from this book is that a woman only has herself, and she had better not give that up for anyone else, even her husband or children. She has to find a way to hold on to what is important to her and know that she can survive on her own if she has to. The character who comes closest to doing this (besides Gina, who never marries or has children) is Daisy, but it's a hard-fought battle even for her.
Now, for the issues I had with Women Like Us. The writing style is very different from what I'm used to; Abeel often uses short, choppy sentences, or rather, sentence fragmants. From the beginning, I didn't like it and almost stopped reading the book (I'm glad I didn't). But I was annoyed with the style throughout the book, because it made it hard to figure out what was going on. ("Franca offered her own number, mumbling she was overscheduled. A fabrication, Daisy later discovered, to her shame." Why not just say, "Franca gave Daisy her number and mumbled that she was overscheduled, which Daisy later found out was a lie"? This is only one example of many points in the book that drove me crazy by the strange way in which it was written!) Abeel also uses a lot of slang which made the book harder to follow. I think that in this way she limits the appeal of the book to educated East Coast college women. Girls from Radcliffe, for example, are called "Cliffies" (without any explanation, so that the reader has to figure it out for herself), debutantes "debs," locations at Sarah Lawrence and Harvard are mentioned as if the reader has been there before and knows exactly what the girls are talking about and where they're at, and composers and authors are name-dropped without any further definitions.
The entire tone of Women Like Usalso gets very over-dramatic to the point of gagging ("She'd been preparing for this concert all her life," "She was persophone sprung from the underworld!"), but maybe this type of over-sentamentality was en vogue in the 50's. The book also bounces around in time and among the different characters' lives, and, even though I read this long book straight through in about a month, I often became confused, wondering what the date was and mixing up the characters. And the most annoying thing for me was how far-fetched the plot was. I don't want to give any of it away but pretend that one girl nearly dies in a plane crash, to be miraculously saved at the last moment, another goes to prison in a case of mistaken identity, the third gets hauled off to a mental institution and the fourth is shot by a bandit in a super-market.... all of that could have easily been thrown into the plot of this book along with all the other crazy escapades. To me this unrealistic drama was unnecessary and cheapened the book; I thought just telling the rather common lives of these four women over time would have been enough of a plot and I'm not sure why Abeel did this. From the blurbs and cover this looks like it was a "popular" book when it was published in the early 90's (which seems to go against some of the isolating or elitist references I was complaining about earlier), so maybe Abeel felt that she had to make the book exciting and totally plot-driven.
In the end, though, Women Like Us' redeeming qualities are that it is completely relatable and completely readable. I devoured it like I haven't any book in awhile, staying up late or deciding to read instead of do something else because I was so intrigued with the current character's situation. I also like how a theme in the book was writing and that Daisy aspired to be a published writer. Overall I give it four stars and would recommend it to any woman, while challenging her to not to be able to see herself or her female relatives or friends in many of the pages.
It's hard to read, let alone review, a book about rape, but I think that this book it is an important one. Lucky is a memoir about a college student wIt's hard to read, let alone review, a book about rape, but I think that this book it is an important one. Lucky is a memoir about a college student who was attacked and raped in the park by her campus. Despite its difficult subject matter, Lucky reads smoothly. I feel that this is an accessible book for people to read who would like to understand better how to deal with rape, and to see all the ways that it impacts someone.
For me there were four distinct parts of this book (although the writer did not designate them as such – it just felt to me to read like that). The first part was the beginning, in which the actual rape sequence is told right up front. It is hard to digest but is written very clearly and directly. I really felt for the narrator in the next scenes, which immediately follow the rape, in which she goes to the police and is examined and has to tell her friends and family members what happened. At one point she describes something that I imagine must be almost as horrible as the rape itself – having to live the rest of her life as a rape victim:
“I knew exactly what had happened. But can you speak those sentences to the people you love? . . . That question continues to haunt me. After telling the hard facts to anyone from lover to friend, I have changed in their eyes.”
The second part of Lucky: A Memoir, for me, described the weeks and months following the rape. I found this part to be lacking because it seemed to me that the narrator wasn’t really dealing with her true feelings. I suppose that that is how it actually happened, though, and she did a good job of making me feel like I was right there with her in that time and that space, even though I often wanted her to do things differently. At times it seemed like she was pushing the rape out of her mind completely, and writing about her college classes and other things that any book about any college student would include. I wanted her to focus more on the issue, but perhaps she dealt with it by not focusing on it. In this part the theme of writing was introduced, which I did enjoy. Sebold dealt with her emotions by writing poetry and fiction. She took classes and seminars by Tobias Wolff and Tess Gallagher. Tess Gallagher is actually a pretty central character in the book, who accompanies Alice to court when she has to confront her attacker (although she’s disappeared by the end of the book without explanation, leaving me to wonder what happened).
The third part of the book, which I really liked, moved on to show how the narrator was intent on prosecuting her attacker. It was easy to cheer for her and she showed a lot of strength and wisdom. She describes the legal process well and at one point she mentions wanting to go to law school so that she can prosecute other criminals (she later decides to pursue teaching instead, and says it became her lifeline and salvation). It seems very fulfilling that the narrator finds some kind of justice and closure in the midst of all her suffering. At the same time, she is still human. I could tell that the rape had affected her and that in some ways it had changed her in a negative way. She seems to use men for own reasons and disregard what they must be feeling. She has a strange relationship with her father that she never quite explores in depth the way I wanted her to. (At times she has a close bond with her mother, who is always anxious and has panic attacks). Through all of these shortcomings, however, for most of the book she seems strong and like someone to whom most readers would be able to relate, despite the horrible thing that happened to her.
The fourth and last part of the book, though, takes a strange turn. I don’t want to include spoilers so suffice it to say that the narrator is no longer the intelligent, strong fighter that the reader had gotten to know and admire. This made me feel like my hunch was correct that she hadn’t been dealing internally with the aftermath of her rape. I was disappointed at her downfall but, more than that, it didn’t seem to make sense to me. I thought that the writer should have spent more time on the last part of the book and less time with the mundane intricacies of college life. I felt there were issues left unexplored in the book.
Overall, I “enjoyed” reading Lucky: A Memoir, although that is a strange thing to say about a rape memoir. I thought it was well-written and that it dealt with some very important social issues. I especially liked how it explored the subject of how different women deal differently with rape, and the need for there to be open dialogue about it. The writing in parts is flourishingly poetic, which was a strange offset for the subject, but it usually worked. I would like to read another book by Alice Sebold to see whether the tone works even better with a lighter subject matter (although, from what I understand, her novel Her Lovely Bones has anything but a light subject matter). I give Lucky: A Memoir three and a half stars and would recommend the book, but be forewarned that the subject matter is obviously difficult.
I listened to this book on CD, which I don't usually do... somehow I think it changes the "reading" experience for me. (It does allow me to fit in morI listened to this book on CD, which I don't usually do... somehow I think it changes the "reading" experience for me. (It does allow me to fit in more books in small amounts of time, however, so I'm thinking of doing it more). In any event, I became totally engrossed in the story and really, really liked it. I could really relate to the young boy named Oscar who narrates the story--maybe because I'm a very extreme and overly analytical person, just like he is. I don't know who could read (or listen?) to this book without feeling sympathy for Oscar, an extremely precocious and downright geeky kid who has no friends, no close family member relationships, and who is dealing with the tragic death of his father in 9/11. I think the title is great because it's exactly how Oscar talks. I could see how this kind of dramatic over use of adverbs might get on some readers' nerves, but for me, it totally worked. I also feel like New York City is a character in this book and I love how Oscar traipses all over all the boroughs in search of a key to a safe box his father owned, and meets interesting characters all along the way.
For me the story had a rather anti-climatic ending, but I don't know how else it could have ended without being contrived. It's been over a year since I finished the audiobook and now I'd like to re-read the book in print, as well as Foer's Everything is Illuminated.
Double Billing is a memoir by a Harvard Law graduate who spent a few years in the 1990’s as an associate at a large (fictionalized) law firm in New YoDouble Billing is a memoir by a Harvard Law graduate who spent a few years in the 1990’s as an associate at a large (fictionalized) law firm in New York City. I bought this book for my fiance’s father, who enjoys legal thrillers by the likes of John Grisham. He had most recently been telling me about Grisham’s book The Associate. So, I thought, here’s a bird’s eye view into the world of a first year associate at a large law firm, a true story told by the former associate himself. The cover looked intriguing and mentioned the usual exciting suspects: greed, sex, and lies (although I wasn’t sure what the pursuit of a swivel chair part was all about).
After my fiance’s father read it, I decided to as well, because it seemed timely. I was working at the local office of a large law firm where I wasn’t happy. I thought that reading this book would help in a “misery loves company” kind of way. (Disclosure: By now I work at a small civil law firm, where I am much happier, so I am biased!)
The contents of Double Billing, however, not only disappointed me but, more often than not, annoyed me. I found the writing to be mediocre and the narrator to be self-indulgent. At some points I wondered if it was the author’s intention to upset the reader, because the book contained some sexist and racist comments, as well as downright condescending ones, such as this little gem:
“In the hierarchy of criminal practitioners, federal prosecutors are at the top, state prosecutors at the bottom . . . In the civil bar, personal injury lawyers—those who handle “slip and fall” cases—are at the bottom; lawyers at large firms who represent major clients are at the top . . . If you asked a personal injury lawyer whether he considered himself at the bottom of the civil law food chain, he would probably deny it and protest vigorously. On the other hand, his denials would have a strong whiff of defensiveness.”
I wondered what made the narrator think he knew so much about the practice of law when it came to making such blasé comments, when throughout the book, he makes a big deal out of the fact that he knows nothing about being an associate at a big law firm. (When given a document review assignment, he lies to a senior associate about having done one before, messes the process up due to his own ignorance, and then remarks, “There was no course called Document Production at Harvard. No one explained ‘Bates stamping’ or making multiple copies or reproducing file labels or sitting in a warehouse sweating your ass off.”) He also comes off as extremely immature at times, and almost disrespectful. (“We drove to the hearing in White Plains in [a partner:] Caroline’s Lexus. On the drive back to the office, I drew stick figures on the air-conditioned window while Caroline spoke to [another partner:] Eric on the car phone.”)
Having worked at a large and a mid-sized law firm, I had a pretty good idea what Stracher was writing about. Granted, I never worked—-and know by now that I wouldn’t want to work—-as an associate at a large law firm in New York City, but I have had many similar experiences as Stracher. He spends the first few months with little to no work, supposedly reading law review articles all day, which in my experience means you are either lazy or that the partners find you undesirable and you will eventually find your way to the door, by yourself or with an escort. After awhile, however, he does pick up some work, mainly a lot of document review and some discovery requests and responses, which is pretty typical of first year associate work. He even gets to help with a trial, which is a rare experience for a new associate that he at different points in the book appears to appreciate and take for granted.
Much of Double Billingcame off as whiny to me, and perhaps I have been numbed by the corporate law firms to which I sold my soul, but I don’t think anything he described was that bad. For one thing, as far as his rant about document production goes, paralegals have done the "bates stamping and multiple copying and reproducing file labels" work at all three of the firms where I have worked, and I can only imagine a large law firm having even more support staff on hand for these types of tasks. The “lies” he mentions are basically instructing a witness not to speculate about a situation if he or she doesn’t remember what was said or done, and playing discovery “games” with the other side by stalling or objecting before producing important documents. These situations and others have bothered me at various points in my career, but, as Stracher pointed out, that’s the way that practicing law sometimes works, and nothing that he saw violated the law or any professional or ethical rules. He also talks about partners giving busy work and tasks that he himself views as unnecessary to associates so that the firm can keep billing as many hours as possible. This complaint also has merit, but one person’s “busy work” is something another person deems necessary, and I wanted Stracher to deal with these important issues in a better way than casually mentioning them and then moving on.
As far as “sex” goes, there was little to none, and certainly not enough for a book that has the word in its subtitle. One of Stracher’s co-workers is secretly dating a paralegal. (How exciting.) More puzzling to me are Stracher’s sporadic mentions of his own personal life, without ever letting the reader in to the whole story. The book starts when he’s out to dinner with his girlfriend, having just passed the Bar, and ends when his girlfriend finally persuades him to change jobs. In the middle, there are random mentions of times when he has to cancel plans with her or leave her lonely at home because he has to work so much, and other times when she nags him to change jobs and stop working so much. Apparently they had been together for quite awhile and I kept waiting for some detail into their relationship beyond this surface level, and especially for resolution one way or the other-—a marriage proposal or a break up—-but there was none. I was left wondering why he even brought the girlfriend into the book at all.
And the swivel chair in the sub-title? Another disappointment. The entire story can be summed up as: his chair broke and he had to put in a request with the office manager, which was last on her list because he was a lowly associate and not a partner, and eventually, right before he quit, he got his chair. This plot line about sums up the excitement contained in the book as a whole.
If you are an attorney who has worked at a large firm before, or probably any sized civil firm, you will be able to relate to many parts of this book. At some points I was like, “Oh, yeah, exactly,” but other times I was bored because it was so commonplace. If you aren’t an attorney, but are interested in legal books, movies, TV shows, etc., you may like the insider’s view that this book presents. My fiance’s father liked it and it gave us some good conversation material, such as billable hours and different types of attorneys and areas of practice, etc. The book is definitely an easy and fast read. I wonder, though, if some of the legal mumbo jumbo may be confusing or frustrating to non-attorneys. The way that Stracher tries to describe legal issues was pretty annoying to me, full of dramatic language and unnecessary capitalization. (“Imagine: you’re the General Counsel of a Very Big Corporation that has just been sued by an Extremely Nasty Corporation for Unimaginable Injuries.”)
I assume that the intended audience of Double Billingis the general public—-readers who want to know what it’s like to be a young, big wig attorney at a large law firm. On that premise, this book does deliver, although I think the entire “spend a lot of hours doing seemingly useless work, until you can pay back your law school loans and go in-house” spiel could have been told with a lot more excitement.
I recommend this for people who are in law school or thinking about going to law school because in my opinion it gives a realistic portrayal of being a junior associate at a big law firm. The problem is that those big law firms are boring and stuffy, so the book is a little bit like that, too. Still, I think many people go into good law schools (and a lot of debt) with a lot of ambition and high hopes, only to find out that they must sell their souls to large law firms to be able to pay for their education, and this is not the kind of work or the kind of environment they had in mind when they signed up for the gig in the first place. A bit depressing, really, but also remember that not all law firms/ law jobs are like that. In my opinion this book seems to accurately depict large, big-city law firm life. To that I can only say "blah" -- to the idea and to the book!
Rating: I give this book two and a half stars -- I didn't really like it but some people might and it's not absolutely horrible.