Cheesy, hyperbolic, and gleefully graphic. This guy seems to have made a career in writing nonfiction in a lurid, Hollywoodized style. He really does...moreCheesy, hyperbolic, and gleefully graphic. This guy seems to have made a career in writing nonfiction in a lurid, Hollywoodized style. He really does write in a very visually evokative (more like yank-at-your-eyeballs) kind of prose that reads like a screenplay. More power to him, I guess, but I like my nonfiction a little less horror-porn-ish. (less)
Walkabout was the very first book I was ever assigned for school. I remember very little of the discussions my class had about the book, but vividly r...moreWalkabout was the very first book I was ever assigned for school. I remember very little of the discussions my class had about the book, but vividly recall almost every page of the book itself.
I'm surprised at people saying nothing happens in the book because in my mind, each plot point and each detail of Peter and Mary's interactions with the bush boy stand out clearly even 17-18 years after I read it: Mary clucking like a mother hen around Peter, the bush boy teaching the city kids to get water by sucking reeds, the bush boy trying to communicate with the city kids and vice versa, Mary giving the bush boy her underpants, the frenzied eerie ceremonial dance which is the precursor to tragedy, the bush boy realizing Mary is a girl and tossing her the heaviest load to carry, the kids eating a rock wallaby... It was all so well done and so very memorable.
I went in knowing absolutely nothing about Australia, this book was my introduction to words like "outback" and "wallaby". But I never felt lost while reading it, not even in the beginning, which is a testment to the clarity of the prose.
The only reason I'm not giving this book more stars is because it also scarred me a little. Mary, you see, is such a wet blanket. Decidedly the Uncool One, the one who clings to meaningless symbols of civilization at the expense of the more meaningful aspects of it, the one most in need of a lesson, the one who is systematically stripped of her power and self-esteem throughout the course of the book, both by the characters and by the narrative.
I didn't grow up seeing a lot of strong female characters in the media - I grew up in India in the 1980s, I had never seen or read a book with a female protagonist before. Walkabout's Mary was the FIRST real (i.e. independent) happily-female character (unlike George in Famous Five) I ever read about who was powerful and clearly a protagonist ... as it turned out, only in the beginning. Then the whole point of the story turned out to be to strip her of power and utterly destroy her.
I was immensely frustrated with Mary and immensely ashamed of myself by the end of her story. It didn't help that the boys in my class were totally gloating by the end, reading out loud their essays that talked about how this book showed them Mary being a "typical emotional weak girl" and how it fell to boys to show her the way to live and survive. To this day I can't think of Walkabout without that twinge of shame and depression.
Then there is the question of racism which is something I only see in the book in retrospect. The book employs the well-worn "noble savage" stereotype in its depiction of the bush boy, often in a direct authorial explanation rather than any "showing" incidents. The moment when the bush boy tosses a heavy load for Mary to carry is actually his most human moment, THE only one where he isn't acting the part of earth-mother native helping white folks. And then, even though the book is called "Walkabout" and it is the bush boy who is on this journey toward manhood, he dies and the journey to manhood becomes Peter's instead. It would have been so easy to avert it but of course the dark skinned helper must die to further the white heroes' journey. Really sad.
The book is at kids' reading level but because of the potentially sexist and racist message contained in it, I would NOT recommend it to any kids. So, two stars.(less)
A young divorcee moves to the middle of nowhere with a vague idea towards starting a boring new life full of cats and gardening. This book is the stor...moreA young divorcee moves to the middle of nowhere with a vague idea towards starting a boring new life full of cats and gardening. This book is the story of how she gets pretty much the opposite. It's the perfect summer read for those of us who prefer a little chew in our love stories.
What I loved best about The Awful Mess was its exploration of faith. I read this book the same week I read Jane Eyre, and I couldn't help seeing so many similarities! Both books are deeply concerned with Christianity, with "good" Christians and "bad" Christians, and among the best aspects of both books are the portraits of the "bad" Christian characters. Arthur Tennant works ridiculously well as a stand-in for St. John Rivers, they're both scary in the exact same way and for the same reasons. Sharon would make a wonderful Mr. Brocklehurst. Mary Bellamy, in spite of all her protestations of heathenness (spoiler: she isn't at all), is as deeply concerned about being good and honorable as the iconoclastically devout Jane Eyre. It was a very interesting experience to read both books together, and to see so many parallels.
But of course The Awful Mess is overall a very different book. (The hero isn't hiding a crazy wife in his attic, for one.) Mary Bellamy is alternately sarcastically witty and endearingly woebegone. She's also a little too nice to be true: for instance, on the rare occasions that she constructs elaborate revenge fantasies in her head for (I promise you) utterly deserving victims (abusive ex, shockingly nosy neighbor), she immediately chastises herself for the harmless indulgence. She's basically one sex change operation away from turning into Mr. Rogers. It's almost annoying... *almost*. Every time I wanted to be exasperated with her, she made a funny and redeemed herself. It also helped that she was so thoroughly reasonable. She does not suffer from plot-itis at all; all her choices and reactions were true to character, she made no sudden moves and slept with no men that I could not see the appeal of. Definitely a character worthy of carrying a book on her shoulders.
Once I got behind the main character it was easy to like the book. Like Mary, the other characters and the plot itself are all unforced, reasonable, and flow true to natural-seeming course. Nothing's too pat, not even one character (Bert) who I thought for sure was written to fulfil the "pat" quota but even he stops delivering free food when, well, when there isn't anything in it for him. A gratifying subset of endings remain messy, and the neat endings feel very much EARNED (the book isn't called "an awful mess" for nothing).
So: interesting themes, deft storytelling, and a confident voice make this book a really good read. I could not put it down once I started - I was walking around making coffee and going to the loo with my ebook reader in one hand. I'm looking forward to reading a lot more from this author. (less)
I'm stunned at Obama's narrative prowess; a bit in awe of his dispassionate, analytical temperament that shines through...moreStill processing, great read!
I'm stunned at Obama's narrative prowess; a bit in awe of his dispassionate, analytical temperament that shines through in this book; deeply suspicious of his naive idealism pehaps because it mirrors my own and I can't believe POTUS can possibly have the same stars in his eyes that I do.
Is this too meta?
Let me say then that I am at once thrilled and disappointed in his analysis of race in America: thrilled that he really GETS it and makes no excuses for the animosity black peopler feel for whites, disappointed that the book ends with a shrinking of large questions into a single person's reconciliation with his past and present.
Back to meta: I am gladder than ever, after reading this, that this man is president. Read it and you'll know why.(less)
It almost seems like Rowling set out to write the anti-Harry Potter book: a character driven literary novel instead of a plot-driven fantasy thriller;...moreIt almost seems like Rowling set out to write the anti-Harry Potter book: a character driven literary novel instead of a plot-driven fantasy thriller; set in little Pagford instead of a vast magical world; twenty bajillion viewpoint characters instead of being stuck in Harry's head for seven books; a stark, conscientious study of abuse, addiction, and poverty instead of cutesy Dursleys locking Harry up in a cupboard for ten years being treated as a joke.
I really liked this book. Great storytelling, which made for fast reading. And if it wasn't QUITE as deep or affecting as, say, Jonathan Franzen's work, that's at least as much because I am such a foreigner to this book's setting, concerns, and themes, as it is because of Rowling not being as good a writer as Franzen.
But then again, if I am measuring a literary writer against the standard of Franzen, that in itself is a very strong recommendation. Even more than the book I was impressed with Rowling. She seemed as much at home in this genre as in Harry Potter - that's what I call range! (less)