This book is both subtle and blatant, mundane and surprising. Not that I know from personal experience, but from what I saw of my own parents' relationship, Erdrich does a superb job of capturing and manifesting the miseries, sufferings, indignities, and surprising, crystalline beautiful moments of joy in love, in marriage, in an enduring relationship and in parenthood.
Irene and Gil have been together more than ten years, perhaps closer to twenty years, but Erdrich tracks an ever-increasing distance between them, a gap that is widened by distrust, disgust, and the ebbing of affection. There is talk of a decisive moment, of a singular, distinctive turning point... there is disagreement as to whether this moment does or does not exist. In the novel, it does not seem to exist, but rather the plot hinges on an ebbing and flowing of emotion, like the ocean's tides on a beach. This wave-like quality of the narrative and plot tug the reader along, back and forth, so that it's hard to imagine what will or will not happen. I can't say that I was satisfied with the novel or with it's ending, but I was impressed with it's verisimilitude, with the simulacra of life, art, love, marriage, family, and Native loss/retention of identity that Erdrich has therein crafted.
What an incredibly heavy emotional novel. This story is really well-crafted, and I spent about half of the book on the verge of tears; it is that powerful. The structure is imaginative and suspenseful at the same time, with retrospective reflections on the past alternating between the protagonist Alice's childhood and adulthood. The family is given greater depth through vignette-like glimpses into Alice's mother Ann's life and into Alice's father's mother Elspeth's life.
O'Farrell deftly treats timeless and universal themes like family, love, loneliness, grief, secrets, and, throughout, she subtly investigates the purpose of life or the meaning of living or what motivates any of us to get up in the morning and keep going day after day. I am impressed by the strength of the protagonist's character; her centrality to the story is inarguable despite her relative inactivity in portions of the book.
One of the stories in this collection is called "Jewels Flashing in the Night of Time". I think that title is an apt description of the 15 stories in this collection. Although a slim volume, the stories contained herein have a crystalline quality like stars or jewels. I'm reminded of the phrase from Disney's Aladdin: "diamond in the rough". In a world of uninteresting literary creations, Justin Taylor has fashioned some flashing and valuable jewels.
These stories are like looking through windows into peoples' lives. The descriptions render vivid scenes, so much so that these stories have a cinematic quality to them. Each is like its own short film in a thematic collection. The common thread among them all is the most basic thing any writer addresses: the human condition, the nature of interaction between humans, the complexity and mystery of relationships.
I love these stories. I imagine them as a collection of Polaroid pictures that the author perhaps found in a drawer of a new apartment into which he moved: each picture's inexplicable drama or unknown truth re-imagined by Taylor into something incredibly human and totally relatable.
I love Neil Gaiman, and I really like Tori Amos, but this book that was a highly personal gift from Neil to Tori should have stayed personal and priva...moreI love Neil Gaiman, and I really like Tori Amos, but this book that was a highly personal gift from Neil to Tori should have stayed personal and private. Or, if it was to be published for mass consumption, give it some context, like the story of Tori calling her baby-bump a "blueberry". This tale has great sentiments, and I absolutely adore Charles Vess's illustrations... but Gaiman's prose/poetry left me wanting, for once! Some people seem to think that this is a children's book, but it was filed under the "parenting" section of my library. It is best suited for the type of reader for whom it was originally intended: a mother-to-be. Since that's not what I am, I feel certain that I missed some vital emotional connection to this book's content.(less)
These stories have such beautiful, haunting imagery and such subtle, yet powerful emotions. The symbolism of everything is intense- names, colors, flo...moreThese stories have such beautiful, haunting imagery and such subtle, yet powerful emotions. The symbolism of everything is intense- names, colors, flowers, etc. Francesca Lia Block has an incredible skill with metaphors, a magic with characters, and a dream-like imagination with her plots.(less)
I picked this book up from the library yesterday after waiting a few weeks on the holds list. As soon as I got home at ten p.m., I began to read... An...moreI picked this book up from the library yesterday after waiting a few weeks on the holds list. As soon as I got home at ten p.m., I began to read... And I kept reading and reading until the book ended. I put it down at three a.m.
I was really surprised by how quickly paced this story is, yet how much emotional ground it covers at the same times. The main character is constantly walking a fine line between honesty with herself and necessary deceit of others. Collins sets up really great parallel imagery after Katniss is actually in "the arena" and participating in the Hunger Games. Each morning Katniss wakes and reflects on the surreal situation she finds herself in, then she imagines her life back at home. She pictures her sister and mother and imagines the chores or everyday routines they are doing while she is fighting for her life. As the novel progresses and Katniss becomes more detach from reality and more invested in her own survival, these reflective interludes diminish in frequency. I think their decreasing occurrence is an excellent and subtle way of showing how Katniss's world really shrinks down to the immediate and the vital and just the necessary information and awareness for survival. She and the other competitors become very primal and animal-like in their reversion from social structure to primitive, wild competitiveness.
Katniss is a natural seeming character who is really easy to identify with. Throughout the story I really wanted what was best for her. I was really rooting for her in the Hunger Games. Even though I know there are three books in this series, I still worried about her survival and her well-being. Now, I can barely stand the wait for the next book to be available from the library!
Honestly, this story didn't make me feel much of anything for almost the first two-thirds of the book. Maybe that was intentional, an emotional coldne...moreHonestly, this story didn't make me feel much of anything for almost the first two-thirds of the book. Maybe that was intentional, an emotional coldness, a frozen unformed opinion, the ice queen in the story spreading her coldness to the reader. Yet somehow Hoffman packs so much emotion and raw human truth into the last few chapters that suddenly the whole book is cast in a new light. It all begins to make sense and the symbolic power of things like ice, fire, and butterflies become clearer. Hoffman skillfully ties together the major themes of mortality, regret, guilt, and fear (being afraid of getting hurt, of losing someone/thing, of making a mistake etc.). This novel also has Hoffman's trademarks of magical realism, real-life tragedies, unlikely or ill-fated love stories and, throughout, the power behind beliefs, even superstitious or illogical ones. Ice Queen surprised me by being an excellent example of all the things that Hoffman excels at in her writings.(less)
Someone I really respect recommended this author to me. I was looking to read In the City of Shy Hunters, but wound up picking up The Man Who Fell In Love With the Moon and this book. It took me a while to get through the other novel, but this book read like taking a shot of whiskey. It is all the things I found in Man Who..., but sharpened, distilled, and condensed. It is a super quick read, but chalk full of serious thematic material like racism, family conflict, the danger of secrets, and other such taboo topics.
It is basically a coming-of-age story of the teenaged protagonist. His family lives through a strife-filled year or so. The narrator's name doesn't come up in the story much; it is pretty downplayed, which gives that "everyman" universal sense to the story. It could be any of us readers in his place.
The blurb for this novel simplifes the storyline and leaves the intricacies and details of what unfolds to be discovered. There are some very graphic elements in the story, but they do not overpower the narrative. Actually, the narrative is characterized by verisimilitude, I would say. The narrative unfolds the way that a person would orally tell a story, complete with tangents, off-shoots, and the circular way of coming back to where the narrator left off.
I enjoyed and was impressed with this novel, especially because of its relative brevity (just over a hundred pages or so) and the fact that it was Spanbauer's first. To me this story is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, but, of course, it is its own story and a valuable one at that. Another thing I found especially valuable about this edition is the introductory elements, including a letter by Spanbauer that gives some context and depth to the writing of this novella.
I really love these sorts of inter-connected stories. I love the recurrence of symbolic images and the power of recurring themes. Hoffman has distilled the best qualities of her novels into these short stories, connected by one place over time. Different families through successive generations find themselves at Blackbird House, whether drawn there by unknown, invisible forces or called there by some deep emotional resonance... the characters in these stories struggle with life and emotion and relationships and the call of the sea and the longing for something more, something other.
I love this book. I love these stories. But I felt sort of like it was unfinished. Perhaps Hoffman intentionally left the idea that somewhere out there Blackbird House exists still, and perhaps we, as readers, will find ourselves drawn there. But really, it seemed as though she ended the last story as a work in progress, a life in progress. She left off with the future just opening for that particular story's protagonist. I liked that element, that open ending, of that one story, but as the last story in the book, I felt that there could have been some other sort of ending, whether something circular that tied back to the first story, or something more final to finish the collection.
Altogether, this collection is one of my favorites of Hoffman's, along with The Story Sisters. I would recommend it to anyone who likes distinctive characters and a hint of magical realism.
I found this installment in the series to be a bit weak. It seems like a tangent that I am hoping will be integrated into the ongoing storyline in the...moreI found this installment in the series to be a bit weak. It seems like a tangent that I am hoping will be integrated into the ongoing storyline in the next book. However, I didn't feel invested in or interested by the characters in these stories, unlike how I feel with Bigby, Snow, Rose Red, Boy Blue, etc. Of course, I still enjoyed this collection, just not as much as some of Willingham's other Fables.(less)