It was a longer book, and the plot did feel like it wandered at times, but she held my attention all the way through. Entirely believable and wonderfu...moreIt was a longer book, and the plot did feel like it wandered at times, but she held my attention all the way through. Entirely believable and wonderfully written. A masterpiece just as much as the painting. Can't wait to read her other novel!(less)
Awful. Just awfully written. So many reviewers compared it to Gone Girl -- wtf?! Gone Girl was incredible, the way she was able to portray such unique...moreAwful. Just awfully written. So many reviewers compared it to Gone Girl -- wtf?! Gone Girl was incredible, the way she was able to portray such unique and distinct voices in her characters, awesome. So the twist actually was a twist because each individual voice was so believable. Not so in The Silent Wife. ugh. (less)
I debated between 3 and 4 stars here. Because I think my review will be pretty balanced between "likes" and "dislikes" I wanted to put down a 3 - but...moreI debated between 3 and 4 stars here. Because I think my review will be pretty balanced between "likes" and "dislikes" I wanted to put down a 3 - but because I enjoyed the book as a whole...and the things I disliked I think I was meant to dislike...I went for four.
First - the prose. Beautiful. Falling in love with south american voices, I'm not sure if it's the translation (though I'm going to guess it's not) but the metaphors and imagery Vasquez brings out is just stunning.
And the feelings. Wow. Just a master at making the reader feel what the narrator feels - even when you've never lived through the kinds of circumstances required in order to have true empathy...the words and scenes bring it across and you're there. You get it. You're one of them, at least while the words on the page are spilling into you.
But good god - the plot. -- SPOILERS AHEAD---
That's what's confusing. I loved this book but when I got to the end it was IMPOSSIBLE to describe what had happened that I should love it. I was left with an overwhelming, screaming, WHY??. Why did Ricardo get shot, why did the narrator care to dig so far into his life that he lost his own, why did Aura leave. Why did he sleep with Maya but then leave - did he think he could return to his life? Why isn't he fighting for it then? Why didn't he just call her? Why should Ricardo's star-crossed life mean so much more to him than his own? Why do I love this book so much when it's so frustrating?
But there's the rub - I think that was the point. I think those questions, and the unsettling nature of the story, are meant to reflect a truth for many of the people in that generation, in that country, the questions they continue to deal with and how everything seems to lose its meaning. So 4 stars it is :)(less)
Man. I tore through this book. And as I turned the last page I wanted nothing more than to immediately start again. I mean, it's Neil Gaiman so there'...moreMan. I tore through this book. And as I turned the last page I wanted nothing more than to immediately start again. I mean, it's Neil Gaiman so there's little you have to say beyond that to recommend it, but I will say that this book has a haunting incompleteness that is so potent as to be heartbreaking. The memory loss component, blended with the vagueness surrounding the Hempstocksnd and the narrators own life, makes that final question of "was it worth it?" reverberate and echo around your soul until it starts to sound like "would I be worth it?" or "what makes anyone or anything worth any sacrifice" and that's where fiction like this truly shines...where it becomes more real than any non-fiction story. Love. Love. Love.(less)
This book was like a nemesis for me over the last few weeks I've been reading it. So many times I wanted to just put it down and forget I'd ever seen...moreThis book was like a nemesis for me over the last few weeks I've been reading it. So many times I wanted to just put it down and forget I'd ever seen it, but then when I mentioned it to people I got this reaction like "what? Tom Wolfe? He's the best!" and so my curiosity piqued, I'd pick it back up. Now after careful consideration I have crafted the following critique. Note I have only ever attempted one other Tom Wolfe book (Electric Kool-aid Acid Test) and didn't make it all the way through. But here are my thoughts on Charlotte Simmons as it's own unique piece of work:
Now people tell me that Tom Wolfe is this great writer. Reading this book though, I do NOT see it. It reads to me like a young author who is so hell-bent on sounding impressive, and hasn't yet learned how to edit. Some of that could be taste, I definitely enjoy a "show me" versus "tell me" style of writing, but I would argue that this critique is objectively true as well. Here are three key things I disliked about the writing:
1. Colloquialism: I honestly don't mind colloquial dialogue in a novel. Done well (Twain) it can be a great device to further seed the reader's imagination with who this character is. Done right. To me, that means consistent. When not done consistently, it can read as a mockery (see points below re:racism.) If you're going to say someone says "dat" instead of "that" then it is unlikely that they also say "it does not" in the same sentence. "Dat's not wot we do, it does not work" - see how that actually doesn't sound anything like what a real person with that colloquial language style would say? It's because the first half is one way and the second half forgets about it. I'd also say, if you're going to write colloquially, do it, don't half do it and then have the narrator fix the other half? Like "'That's riioght, we're with them' they-am." Why not just put 'they-am' in the original quote? Why remind me how bad you are at this?
2. Big words for the sake of big words: now, I realize that some of the characters in this novel were big word people. That's fine. Put it in their dialogue. We'll get to this more in the narration section, but big words don't fit when you're in the POV of the "dumb jock" but all of a sudden his thoughts read like a poet laureate wrote them?
3. Treating me like an idiot: give your readers some kind of dignity. There was one point where two girls ACTUALLY had a conversation about what sarcasm was and what the different levels were and this went on for 3 pages. Give me a break. I didn't need that, the characters doing it (sorority girls) didn't need that - they were born knowing that. What is this? I physically rolled my eyes during that section it was so bad.
That last point actually rolls into another big gripe - the narrator. Man. It's like this guy has never read a narrated book before. There are two main types of narrators, the omnipotent narrator (knows all, sees all, is just reporting in third person) and the personal narrator (an actual character, reports in first person)
Wolfe chose an omnipotent narrator, in that case you can either leave the narrator completely bland, or you have it reflect the personalities of the characters who's POV you're currently representing. In a multifacet book like this you normally go after #2. What did Wolfe do? a mix of both. The narrator never completely reflected the types of thoughts that would mirror the current character (you would be hard pressed to make me believe that any basketball star would spend THAT amount of time thinking about the slave / master symbology of their lives...) but it also never faded into the background. It was RIDICULOUS to the point of being painful.
This might be because the characters themselves were so painfully lacking in definition. Wolfe sets this book up like he's going to look at archetypes - right? So at first you're willing to give him some slack to set up these absolutely obviously awful caricatures of people. The dumb jock, the dweeb, the frat boy, the prissy girl, the sorority girl, etc. But then they don't come out...right. And not in a "oh they turn out to be more dimensional" way, but in a "they turn out to be a mishmash of his own thoughts apparently" way. I think this has a lot to do with the bleed-over narrator. He gives Adam-esque thoughts to Jojo and Charlotte-esque thoughts to Hoyt. So it just doesn't work.
Sexism / Racism / Homophobia and other ills
This was the most painful of all. You get the sense the author is none of the above, but is so intent on proving that, that it doesn't work? You know? The whole thing with Charlotte LITERALLY LOSING HER MIND over a boy. Come on. I know girls can get a little cray cray but that was over the top. And the actual narrator quotes of how she responded so positively "the way girls do" to Adam asserting himself aggressively. What the ... is that?
All the white vs. black player stuff, and the gay rights stuff, all missed the mark. Just poorly done.
Probably the only interesting part of the whole book is the end when Charlotte questions herself on whether she ever wanted a "life of the mind" or just to be recognized, at any cost, and where her intelligence got her recognized at home, that wasn't it at Dupont so she went another way. THAT was an interesting thought. Start there, with the almost double cross from the main character and move backwards rewriting the WHOLE thing. It's almost like the plot points could still work, with a little toning down in places, but just needs to be rewritten by a more skilled author.
I know that's a hard line to take on someone so beloved but this was my honest opinion that I had before I realized (over the course of reading and hearing from other people commenting on what I was reading) that he was loved at all. If there's another book I should try instead I'm open to hearing it, but for now, I'm a big fat no to this book and this author.(less)
Definitely interesting - and haunting in particular when they decide she's crazy and it seems that may have been a fabrication (or over-emphasized) wh...moreDefinitely interesting - and haunting in particular when they decide she's crazy and it seems that may have been a fabrication (or over-emphasized) which in turn actually drives her more insane. There are obvious parallels to the Paris Wife here, but not just in the genre / topic, also in quality. Worthwhile themes explored in terms of what makes an artist (do they need alcohol/drugs to produce? do they need an "edge" of some sort?), feminism (is your worth only in supporting your husband or do you qualify on your own merits? is it crazy to want your own goals?) and mental health (what is insanity? looking back with a 21st century perspective, zelda has a nervous breakdown which is diagnosed as schizophrenia because she's crazy enough to be pursuing her own goals?)
It's ultimately an incredibly sad story - star crossed lovers who are brought down by their own ambition...and yet more than that, by the times they live in. (less)
Burned through this in one long flight from DC to SFO. Almost wish I hadn't because it was so fun I wanted it to last longer. I thought the way the st...moreBurned through this in one long flight from DC to SFO. Almost wish I hadn't because it was so fun I wanted it to last longer. I thought the way the style delivered the story was just spot on - such a dry, quirky, perfect humor.
Also found Bernadette's character so refreshingly real, not fitting into any "category" we typically force women into. She wasn't a bad mother because she wanted to get back to her calling, but she wasn't a perfect mother either. Ditto as a wife. And as a person. She was just going through life trying to do her thing the best she could and getting lost, then found, along the way. So relatable. (less)
There were parts I liked for sure - beautiful prose and touching moments - but overall it fell flat for me. It felt too repetitive (EVERY guy in this...moreThere were parts I liked for sure - beautiful prose and touching moments - but overall it fell flat for me. It felt too repetitive (EVERY guy in this community is a cheater?) I think there was a lot of truth in some of the themes she was exploring but it was too overdone to be believable for me by the end. (less)
Incredibly, sometimes surprisingly, interesting. Found myself completely engrossed in it, often only realizing later that I may have been embarrassing...moreIncredibly, sometimes surprisingly, interesting. Found myself completely engrossed in it, often only realizing later that I may have been embarrassing myself reading certain passages in public where a stranger may have gotten a shock after a wayward glance at the page. Still worth it.(less)