**spoiler alert** This story has elements of humor, violence, hypocrisy and religion - all of which provide insight into the characters. The grandmoth**spoiler alert** This story has elements of humor, violence, hypocrisy and religion - all of which provide insight into the characters. The grandmother is a judgmental and religious person who views herself has superior to others. Her criticism of others' behaviors and actions are sanctimonious. As the main character, she fostered tension.
"The Misfit" is the other key character. The interaction between the grandmother and The Misfit plays out and amplifies the hypocrisy of the grandmother, who focuses on her own safety and on trying to "help" The Misfit find God, rather than on her family's safety. The interaction also demonstrated the potential of The Misfit to have been something else, as he considers his views on people and killing. It is a nuanced story that is familiar yet shocking.
All that said, I didn't really connect with the characters, so it gets a rating of 3.5/5 stars. I don't need to like the characters, but I do need to find them compelling or to connect with them in some way. I didn't have that with this story. ...more
I rated this book 3.5/5 - it had some good elements (e.g., pacing and descriptions of the hardships of the solders), but it was a bit battle-heavy forI rated this book 3.5/5 - it had some good elements (e.g., pacing and descriptions of the hardships of the solders), but it was a bit battle-heavy for my taste. There was also some frustration that it sort of stopped mid-stream, prior to a resolution to the war - of course, given the title, this was not unexpected. It is inspiring to read about how the colonists, many of whom had little education and few resources, gave their full measure to achieve the abstract constructs of freedom and independence. Their commitment was inspiring and their sacrifice was humbling. The leadership was a bit of a mixed bag, but obviously inspired the men, who rose to the occasion. Overall, it is a good book, though reiterated the fact that battles are not my favorite topic!...more
**spoiler alert** This book traced Nabokov's life from birth to death - and actually before and after, with information about his parents, siblings an**spoiler alert** This book traced Nabokov's life from birth to death - and actually before and after, with information about his parents, siblings and son. The author posits that Nabokov put into his novels many of the most significant events that occurred during his lifetime. His characters either practice or experience anti-Semitism, abuse, imprisonment of one form or another, and so on. The author goes through each of his books and ties aspects of the book to real and often specific events from real life. Although in reading Nabokov's books, I saw many of these references, I'm not sure that I agree that they are so closely drawn from his life versus the broader experiences of life that he lived through.
I fully believe that Nabokov drew on the experiences of his life. How he delicately weaves history with nuanced characterizations is part of what makes him brilliant, IMO. Pitzer gives a literal, "matchy" approach to showing the parallels between Nabokov's life and his novels, which seem not only overstated, but also limiting. On one hand, it is brilliant if he inserted real events obliquely into the narrative. On the other hand, it loses some of the magic if it is "copied" from real events rather than synthesizing something new that is inspired by history and his (and his family's or friends') experiences. His stories are so inventive that I think the latter would hold for me - I would be a little disappointed if his work was so tied to real life - not sure whether that makes sense. I give the book 4/5 because, although I didn't completely buy Pitzer's argument, I'm again impressed by Nabokov's ability to be subtle. ...more
**spoiler alert** I enjoyed the book, though thought it dragged a bit and there was little surprise in how the story unfolded. Not every story has to**spoiler alert** I enjoyed the book, though thought it dragged a bit and there was little surprise in how the story unfolded. Not every story has to keep me on the edge of my seat, but if what happens is going to be fairly obvious, the story could at least move along faster! This one seemed to be both slow and predictable. That said, the topic and the dilemmas faced by the characters were interesting enough to keep me engaged.
The story focuses on choices and rules, and on not only understanding those of other people but also one's own. What is right and wrong, and what conditions may cause a person to change his/her mind? How can we judge others when we all make compromises along the way in life? How can we help others - how can we be useful?
I found Dr. Larch very compelling - he saw a certain hard reality and didn't sugar-coat it; instead he responded. He did things that he wasn't necessarily happy about, but that were needed. He understood the nuance of people's lives and their opportunities and their options, which were often minimal. He didn't judge the women who came to him He did sometimes judge those who had more options and had greater power in certain situations. I admired the fact that he made an effort to focus on the important things and not get too caught up in the nonsense - at least until toward the end of his life, when crankiness became more prominent!
The rules part was interesting as well, as most of the characters had their own sets of rules, in addition to some of the more general/common ones. These rules informed the choices, so it was important to see what people were thinking and which elements/rules were given priority.
**spoiler alert** What a terrific read. It is stylized and atmospheric, featuring snappy dialogue and interesting characters. The story is short (only**spoiler alert** What a terrific read. It is stylized and atmospheric, featuring snappy dialogue and interesting characters. The story is short (only about 115 pages) and reads quickly.
The main characters in the book are quite a collection of personalities. Walter Huff is an insurance salesman who wants a little something extra in his life so he conspires with a psychopath to kill her husband, after selling him a life insurance policy. Walter and Phyllis plan to split the money from the life insurance policy - double indemnity for an accident, which is the unlikely fall from a moving train.
Phyllis is quite a woman ... sultry when she needs to be, but downright cold and calculating at the core. She manipulates Walter to perfection, getting him to help her dispose of her wealthy husband. And we find out that she has some other skeletons in her closet.
Walter is a bit of an interesting guy - he is obsessed with Phyllis (and the money and excitement) at first, but then his attention and affections shift to the murdered man's daughter. He seems to be driven by something, though it's not really clear what.
The film version with Barbara Stanwick and Fred MacMurray is snappier and more noir-ish, I think. The movie dialogue is so distinctive that I was a little disappointed that the book was a little less stylized. On the other hand, the film seemed a little over-the-top at times, so the book felt a bit more real. Both are great fun and provide an entertaining break from real life!
I give this a 4/5 because, while it is terrific, there seemed to be something missing. ...more
**spoiler alert** Arrow of God follows the life of a chief priest who leads his community as they try to please their gods and live productive lives,**spoiler alert** Arrow of God follows the life of a chief priest who leads his community as they try to please their gods and live productive lives, while trying to figure out how to deal with colonization of their lands by the British.
Ezuelu is a generation removed from Okonkwo, the main character in Things Fall Apart, but is in the same setting. Like Okonkwo, he had dealings with the missionaries and other white men who were coming in greater numbers to the African continent. Both stories focus on trying to balance traditional views with the new Christian views. Like the first book, the Christians took advantage of opportunities to draw people to their flock and made people question their traditional beliefs.
One aspect of the story I found to be interesting is how detrimental pride can be if taken too far. Both Ezuelu and Winterbottom (the head of the colonial powers in the area) were overconfident in their abilities and didn't look at the potential consequences. They both felt that they not only knew best, but really didn't listen to the ideas or perspectives of others. This led to the downfall of both and distrust among their people. This parallel story was interesting because it was juxtaposed against the broader story in which the Africans were losing their land/life and the British were gaining land/resources.
In the first book, the colonization of the region resulted in disruption of lives and traditions. In this book, the focus was on the "normalizing" of the British presence. They had courts and jails, churches and businesses. They drew people off the farm and into other workplaces. They took advantage of their ability to read and write and to access capital and resources - finding ways to dominate the economy and force people to join "their side". This transition was confusing - should Ezuelu try to make peace/appease or fight?
The importance of friendship was also an important component of this story. Knowing who to trust and who will tell you the truth is critical when weighing options and finding ways to lead people. During such confusing and complicated times, in particular, the ability to consult others and trust their loyalty can help one find the best path forward.
This and the first book in the trilogy both featured characters with a mix of traits - good and bad. I like that, despite the differences in culture and life options, I could understand these characters, or at least relate to some of their experiences. I give this book a 4/5. Like Things Fall Apart, I enjoyed the story but felt like there was something more that I wanted to hear about. ...more
**spoiler alert** I really love the way Nabokov, in both this and Pale Fire, is able to be amusing but not mean or cynical when dealing with a fairly**spoiler alert** I really love the way Nabokov, in both this and Pale Fire, is able to be amusing but not mean or cynical when dealing with a fairly ridiculous character - he isn't trying to score cheap points at their expense. And he writes so beautifully - he has really become one of my favorites and I look forward to reading more of his books, as he seems brings something new with each one.
Pnin is an odd duck, but he is so sincere and persistent that he's charming and just elicits protective feelings. He is a Russian emigree who comes to teach at a small college in NY state - essentially, he is a combination of Nabokov and one of his colleagues who were teaching in American colleges in the 1950s. Unfortunately for Pnin, academic politics are not his forte and he ends up getting the short end of the stick.
Of course, there are the predictable language issues - not getting names quite right, etc. - but Pnin also is something of a bull in a china shop in dealing with people. Those who don't take the time to get to know him, think him ridiculous; those who take the time to know him see sweetness and enthusiasm. His clumsiness at times is due to excitement about a subject or a person or an event. He likes to bring together different people so that conversations are new - he doesn't like to repeat things, but wants to always move forward, e.g., he keeps moving to new rooms every year. On the other hand, he likes coziness: "his spaces" in the library, etc. and "his people" who seem to understand him in some way.
The book is actually a series of short stories published in The New Yorker - critics have noted that it is not exactly a novel, nor does it read like a collection of short stories. I would agree with this criticism, as the chapters don't really flow together as a narrative, but they do reference each other. I could have happily read about Pnin and his (mis)adventures for many, many more chapters. I give the book 4/5 stars....more
**spoiler alert** The story was non-linear, which is fine, but more than that it was disjointed. The story included the impact of sexual abuse, the me**spoiler alert** The story was non-linear, which is fine, but more than that it was disjointed. The story included the impact of sexual abuse, the methods and ethics of mental health treatment, the rise and fall of a marriage, the class and cultural issues of interaction between people, and the decline of a man from world-class charmer to alcoholic small-town doctor.
Although the book starts with one perspective, it shifts in Book 2 - from young actress Rosemary to middle-age psychiatrist Dick Diver. The shift brings welcome depth and insight, as Book 1 seemed a bit anemic. Rosemary was the newcomer to a group of wealthy people partying in Italy and France, but as she entered the group, she could have done a better job in bringing the reader along. It was a loosely affiliated group with its own complex structure that was not the easiest to navigate or integrate.
The issues of mental health also were a major part of this story - both Nicole's sexual abuse/schizophrenia and Dick's addiction. Their opposing trends were fascinating. Nicole started out vulnerable, weak and unstable, and she found her voice and confidence. Dick was the ultimate in suave, charming and sophisticated, until he hit the bottle and nosedived to become an angry and pathetic man. This couple could not get together on timing! Along with this, the power balance shifted - from Dick as husband/psychiatrist who ran the show to newly healthy and wealthy Nicole who supported the family's changing lifestyle.
The story had many engaging elements, but didn't come together enough for my taste - there was a disjointed quality about the events described, which often seemed to be included to reinforce points already effectively made in beautifully written descriptive passages. ...more
**spoiler alert** The first two "books" of this story really dragged for me. I think part of that was because they in some respect were character stud**spoiler alert** The first two "books" of this story really dragged for me. I think part of that was because they in some respect were character studies, but the characters were just not that interesting, though they could have been. The plot sort of lurched from one life-changing event to the next. I found the writing to be very repetitive - the concepts were not that difficult, but seemed to be reiterated numerous times and yet were only explored on a superficial level. Book 3 was great - moved along and addressed a wide range of issues.
This book focused on a young man who valued money and society and all their trappings above everything else, even above another person's life. Clyde grew up in an odd and poor environment, with little education and few opportunities. He had drive and ambition - the former in a good way, as he worked hard and wanted to become better at whatever he was doing; the latter in a bad way in that he valued stuff and position in society over everything else.
Clyde had an obsessive personality when it came to women. He was attracted, then obsessively attentive and emotional, then disengaging and finally dismissive (or worse). Hortense and Roberta were very different women. Hortense was sort of brassy and didn't really like Clyde, but he had money so she used him because she liked stuff. Roberta was lonely and kind and loved Clyde with all her heart but she was poor. A third young woman, Sondra, was rich and fell in love with Clyde and he with her - Clyde's disengagement was forced as he went to prison for killing Roberta and Sondra dropped out of his life. So, what was it about these women that drew him? Hortense shared his love of stuff; Roberta shared his intellect and quietness and desire to achieve something more/leave her past; and Sondra had money and the good life and she was beautiful and sweet. He was really rather scary with all of them.
The inclusion of religion in the first and last part of the story was interesting, with Clyde trying to figure out what he feels and who he is. His family is strict in their religious beliefs, which pushes him away. In the last part of the story, as Clyde faces the death penalty, he revisits religion and begins to find peace with himself. The last section of the book is nuanced and lovely - he seeks to understand truth and forgiveness and responsibility.
This book, like several long books I've read lately really could have used an editor! Books 1 and 2 would have been better had they lost some of the repetition. I give Books 1 and 2 a 3/5 rating; Book 3 gets a 5/5 rating. So, overall I give the book 3.5/5....more
I love Agatha Christie books - they are relatively short but still seem to tell a good tale - and Hercule Poirot as a character, so it's always fun toI love Agatha Christie books - they are relatively short but still seem to tell a good tale - and Hercule Poirot as a character, so it's always fun to pull one off the shelves and challenge my little grey cells.
It's always hard to talk about mysteries without giving away something vital. This story had a good cast of characters that seemed believable - not too quirky but each having enough of a personality to serve the story. The "whodunit" part of the story offered enough of a surprise to be fun - though I had my suspicions about halfway through! One of the better Poirot books, I think....more