This book was a great crossover of my favorite things, all three of which I have read plenty examples of: coming-of-age stories, quirky Southern GothiThis book was a great crossover of my favorite things, all three of which I have read plenty examples of: coming-of-age stories, quirky Southern Gothic tales, and eccentric yarns. Yet it was utterly original and reminded me of nothing I've ever read before. Ava is such a fully-formed, real little character and the first-person format really helps the reader get under her skin. This is surprising not just because she's a teenaged alligator wrestler, but also because she purportedly lives in the shadow of mainland America, in what seems to be a timeless setting. Clues from her brother's experience make it seem contemporary (although thankfully, no technologies are ever mentioned that might scream NOW), and there are a couple of references to her mother's youth "in the seventies," but mostly time has stood still and you just float along in the swamp alongside the characters. An excellent read....more
Take my review with a grain of salt because it is often the case that I award extra points for time travel, period clothes, ten-dollar words for sameTake my review with a grain of salt because it is often the case that I award extra points for time travel, period clothes, ten-dollar words for same ("slat dress"! "reticule"!) and Gothic details. That being said, Willis' labyrinthine plot was truly pure joy to read, especially since she handled the science fiction elements with great deftness and wit. I often wondered if she had drawn diagrams for herself, to keep up with who was where and what was taken and what was left and who knew about it and so forth. I rarely felt lost—a credit to the writer—but it was a dizzying trip to read. A funny comedy of manners (and of errors). Thoroughly satisfying! If you enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, or Daphne du Maurier's The House on the Strand, you'll love....more
Well OF COURSE I was going to read this, as a working sidewalk artist myself and totally into the culture & lore surrounding street painting. SadlWell OF COURSE I was going to read this, as a working sidewalk artist myself and totally into the culture & lore surrounding street painting. Sadly, I'm also a fan of literature, so the writing was excruciating. But you throw in time travel, Italian villas and a painter, and I stay involved... it was like a train wreck I couldn't turn away from. Pass this one by, unless you're a big romance fan. ...more
This book is outstanding, and I'm having to add it to my "favorites." Hustvedt's command of the English language is astonishing, but even more fascinaThis book is outstanding, and I'm having to add it to my "favorites." Hustvedt's command of the English language is astonishing, but even more fascinating than that is her ability to take a philosophical concept—one example from this book might be her exploration of the concept of duality and identity—and then visualize and describe those ideas through artworks created by her characters. And to think that the paintings and installations she describes are entirely fictional! It's really amazing to read and enjoy.
As other reviewers have mentioned, it's sort of a book in three parts (although she only formally divides it into parts one and two). First, a story of friendships and art; second, an agonizing journey through grief and recovery; and lastly, a murder mystery with scary adventure parts.
The New York Times reviewer put it nicely: "Hustvedt is an accomplished art critic and essayist, and her knowledge is put to good narrative use both in vivid portraiture and in her depiction of ''the vanities, corruptions, cruelties, foibles, fortunes and falls of New York's art world.'' But her real canvas is philosophical, and here she explores the nature of identity in a structure of crystalline complexity."