In the wake of the election there was rage, anger, and fear, but there was a lot of simple lamentation, too. "We don't know each other," "We never talIn the wake of the election there was rage, anger, and fear, but there was a lot of simple lamentation, too. "We don't know each other," "We never talk to each other, "We're living in two different countries." This vital, deeply humane book addresses those statements brilliantly. Hochschild, a liberal sociologist from Berkeley, had been talking to members of the American right for years before Trump the politician was even a twinkle in anyone's eye.
In trying to make sense of the election, I relied on the old "nothing is as apparently good or bad as it seems" mentality, and that there was always a more complex or nuanced backstory to the soundbites and stereotypes that were being slung around, had been slung around for years. Strangers in Their Own Land reflects that. Grounded in clear-eyed observation and research but in plenty of character-driven narrative too, it confronts the paradox of how Louisianans in Lake Charles (the petrochemical capital of the world) apparently vote against their own interest, using their crumbling environment as a central "keyhole" issue. Hochschild, looking to climb over the "empathy wall" with this group and get a clearer view, is less focused on pure economics or plumbing institutions like the media and church. Instead, she wants to know how her Tea Party subjects' emotions and emotional self-interest—grounded in what she calls their "deep story"—play such a huge role in their hatred of government and especially policies like welfare.
The result is a book that feels like a genuine reach across the divide of our national moment. Anyone who cares about deepening their understanding of where we're at would do well to skip the scorched-earth op-eds or cable news shouting fests and check this book out. It is worth way more than the price of admission.
Update: Adding this quote from Obama's interview on the role that books and stories have played in his presidency: "When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever."
Some of the best stories I've read in a long time—all novella-like, unflinching and original. "Interesting Facts," written from the perspective of JohSome of the best stories I've read in a long time—all novella-like, unflinching and original. "Interesting Facts," written from the perspective of Johnson's wife, a cancer survivor, is one of the most unforgettable. It should be anthologized for years....more
This book overcame a lot to have the success that it’s had, and that’s what drew me to it. 730 pages of abuse and existential abyss that only took 18This book overcame a lot to have the success that it’s had, and that’s what drew me to it. 730 pages of abuse and existential abyss that only took 18 months to write (after Yanigihara’s first novel, The People in the Trees, took supposedly 18 years), an editor who originally balked at his author’s insistence on the sheer scale of abuse in the narrative, a finalist for the Booker Prize and National Book Award. Not to mention that readers love this book. It’s a great publishing story.
The highest praise I can give it is that it’s easily one of the most compassionately written novels I’ve ever read. It maps friendship in a way that feels original and real. It refuses to be a redemptive narrative. The humanity is raw—it’s plumbed, and it’s plumbed, and it’s plumbed.
But the prose is uneven—solid third person close, lousy dialogue and scenario. Almost halfway through I could predict with high success when Yanigihara would drop “quietly” or “they were quiet” into a scene, which drove me insane. Most of all is the absurd suspension of disbelief required in the face of the abuse Jude suffers—and there did come the point when I had to abandon it. In an interview with the Guardian, Yanigihara is quoted:
"I wanted there to be something too much about the violence in the book, but I also wanted there to be an exaggeration of everything, an exaggeration of love, of empathy, of pity, of horror. I wanted everything turned up a little too high.”
Props, I guess? But A Little Life should spark a discussion over what kinds of responsibilities a novelist has to her readers. At what point are you just writing for yourself? That's what I asked around page 500. In the same Guardian interview Yanigihara says, “To me you get nowhere second guessing how much can a reader stand and how much can she not.” I think a lot of readers would disagree. ...more
If you're a fan of Poe, or you're looking for some dark and ingeniously plotted literary fiction, here's a novel for you. It's stark and wild and brooIf you're a fan of Poe, or you're looking for some dark and ingeniously plotted literary fiction, here's a novel for you. It's stark and wild and brooding. And it's a lot of fun (in a harrowing way) to see Wyld work backwards to unfold the intricacies of how her heroine goes from a happy family life in Australia to owning a farm on an English island where someone--or something--is mysteriously killing her sheep. The last 20 pages are totally unexpected, and the last sentence is haunting....more
4.5 stars. When you read Franzen, you just have to accept that you’re signing up for some soapboxing: there are always going to be a handful of Grand4.5 stars. When you read Franzen, you just have to accept that you’re signing up for some soapboxing: there are always going to be a handful of Grand Themes to be writ large, with plenty of moments where the narration is unmistakably the author’s voice. Franzen has accepted the role of novelist as “public moralist” (Google the New York magazine article), and he’s carrying this blazing torch unmistakably in Purity. Prose style is dialed back while his canvas expands, moving in a purposely disjointed way from Oakland to East Germany to Bolivia and Denver, focusing deeply on a particular setting or character for dozens and dozens of pages and then yanking you in a different direction entirely.
It’s sometimes exhausting, but it’s absolutely worth it. The key Grand Theme here is information: who owns it, how the possession of it can bring a power both liberating and destructive, how an authentic modern sense of identity is inextricably bound to—if not overshadowed by—its digital counterpart. To me, what makes it all kind of thrilling is the way Franzen does dialogue and third person close; it’s hard to think of many other writers who are using these devices so profoundly. His characters are just as fully three-dimensional as the Lamberts and the Berglunds in The Corrections and Freedom, sometimes maddeningly so. But to see the complexity of their humanity as they navigate a truly disturbing world—to feel vulnerable, deliberate with themselves, get angry, act completely irrationally, commit a crime, repress a longing, lust for someone, feel wildly hopeful, fall in love—is why this kind of fiction is beyond worth the price of admission. Franzen can write stories that feel increasingly rare: Purity makes a lot of claims, but it makes those claims with a beating heart. ...more
Where to begin? I could go on, but really, you just need to read this immediately, preferably with a pen in hand. It's gorgeous and unforgettably moviWhere to begin? I could go on, but really, you just need to read this immediately, preferably with a pen in hand. It's gorgeous and unforgettably moving. It's sad and enraging in its many exquisite and shameful truths rooted in history and the everyday--not just about race but human nature itself. It's also life-affirming, at times joyous, and relentlessly revelatory. Every word Coates has penned here feels essential, forged from poetic steel. It feels destined to be read long after all of us are gone--I would bet anything on that....more