It seems like all my friends have read, are reading, or are about to dive into this trilogy, and now I am among them. When gray, cold winter is comingIt seems like all my friends have read, are reading, or are about to dive into this trilogy, and now I am among them. When gray, cold winter is coming on, I'm especially drawn to books with bleak, bare landscapes and themes, and this one fits the bill. The culture of Isle of Lewis, and especially the annual voyage to outer island An Sgeir that plays such a key role, is even more compelling to me than the murder mystery. I'm hooked....more
I won't say much except how much I loved this book. A friend introduced it to me saying, "It's about a girl who loses her brother and sister, and howI won't say much except how much I loved this book. A friend introduced it to me saying, "It's about a girl who loses her brother and sister, and how she copes with that loss." I almost wish the jacket copy said something like this, but then, I like a slow reveal. The book is so well written, with such wit in every paragraph, and when I finished it this morning, I was in tears. So, so good....more
This is the first time I've read Roth. Not sure what took me so long, but this was a very satisfying entry into his writing. I'm finding it nearly impThis is the first time I've read Roth. Not sure what took me so long, but this was a very satisfying entry into his writing. I'm finding it nearly impossible to call this anything but a very "American" novel, and I mean that in the best way.
The story centers on Seymour Levov, nicknamed "Swede" due to his Nordic good looks. He's a high school star athlete, and then a Marine. He falls in love with a former Miss New Jersey—literally a beauty queen. They marry, have a little daughter, and move from Newark to the fictional, moneyed Old Rimrock. It sounds like the most clichéd of clichés, but it plays out in a horrific way. That little daughter grows up to commit a violent crime as a twisted form of political activism, then goes into hiding. The bulk of the novel is about Swede trying to cope with the aftermath, and with the wrenching loss of his beloved daughter.
The thing with Roth is that he's wordy. This is dense writing, and sometimes the narrative seems to ramble, or go off on sudden tangents. He reveals a significant plot point, then pulls away for paragraphs (or pages, often) before finally coming back around to the effects of that action. It's very hard not to skip these introspective passages and jump ahead to see what the hell has happened. But the writing makes you want to slow down and simply savor it.
I called this very American. What I mean is not just about this one version of the American Dream blowing up in Swede's face. It's the post-war hopefulness and innocence and how that segues to the turmoil of the 60s. It's the glove making business he inherits, begun by his grandfather, this interesting intersection of craftsmanship and factory manufacture and pure business grit (I loved all the details about this trade - just so authentic). It's the way religion is so important, even as faith itself is not. Swede is a secular/cultural Jew, while his wife, Dawn, is a non-practicing Irish Catholic lass (a pre-marriage interview between Swede's father and Dawn is a priceless negotiation about how any future children will be raised). It's that shift from immigrant to businessman to wealthy success story in three generations, and the move from the tenements of the city to the fresh air and rolling hills of the affluent countryside. All of these American stories are here, and more.
This isn't a quick read or an easy read, but it's a rewarding one. ...more
**spoiler alert** I loved the premise: a woman—loving wife, devoted mom to three mostly grown kids, and all-around "good girl"—simply walks away from**spoiler alert** I loved the premise: a woman—loving wife, devoted mom to three mostly grown kids, and all-around "good girl"—simply walks away from her family and her life and starts anew elsewhere. I think there are probably many, many women living a similar family dynamic who might fantasize about this kind of do-over, even if they never actually walk out the door, or as Delia Grinstead does here, down the beach away from the annual family vacation.
But Tyler lost me. I can buy that Delia pulls off this great escape without much forethought (if she thought it through, she might never have even made such an attempt), but I wondered at her lack of introspection once she'd left her family. Most of the narrative is simply moving forward in her new life. She boards with a kooky real estate agent, quickly finds a job as a secretary with the lawyer in the small town she's chosen, very much like what she did for her doctor husband (and her doctor father before him) in the small town she came from. She makes a few friends, gets a cat, takes a different job, this time taking care of and living in with a widower and his son.
It's all very tame. She goes from the domestic role she's known most of her life to another that is strangely similar. And I don't take issue with that. Sometimes (oftentimes?) that's what a do-over is: a chance to do the same thing but with a different outcome. I wasn't expecting Delia to hike the Appalachian Trail or become a barkeep in some redneck town. Just leaving is enough of an adventure. I just wanted to understand it more, understand how she came to walk away, especially from her children. There is something archetypal about the mother-child bond, and it's completely unexplored here.
But as the story continues, Delia seems happy, and you root for her. Which is why it's so deflating when she returns to her family. It's her daughter's wedding that calls her back, and it's disheartening to see her slip right back into that old skin. Her husband, as staid as ever, hasn't changed. Yet she stays. Just as her leaving went unexamined, so does her return. I loved the story, got carried along, for sure. But in the end I simply put the book down and sighed ...more
I'm a fan of graphic memoirs, and this one's a pip. Cartoonist Roz Chast digs deep into the difficult realm of watching one's very aged parents get clI'm a fan of graphic memoirs, and this one's a pip. Cartoonist Roz Chast digs deep into the difficult realm of watching one's very aged parents get closer and closer to death, while they pretty much refuse to talk about end of life decisions - hence the title. They are relatively healthy and fiercely independent. They have no profound or life-threatening illnesses. They pretty much just suffer from late-stage living: declining health, garden-variety dementia, an inability to live on their own coupled with a deep, deep denial of just how fragile their situation is. It sounds grim, and it is, and Chast doesn't hold back: bedsores, broken bones, incontinence, and a harrowing case of eruptive diverticulitis. But it's also funny and poignant and very thought provoking. You think you want to live to a ripe old age, but at what cost?
I was attracted to this book after hearing Huston interviewed on Fresh Air and learning she'd spent much of her childhood in Ireland. And what a childI was attracted to this book after hearing Huston interviewed on Fresh Air and learning she'd spent much of her childhood in Ireland. And what a childhood. Huston's Ireland is very much like Downton Abbey transported to County Galway. There's a picture of the place, St. Clerans, a massive stone structure called the Big House. All of the rooms are named—the Grey Room, the Red Sitting Room, the Gun Room, etc.— and lovingly described. Other reviewers found this tedious, but I think it gives a good sense of the privileged class in Ireland. These people are NOT a bunch of boggers.
No, this is how the one-percenters live in Ireland, at least as they did in the fifties and sixties. There are butlers and a "succession of housekeepers, cooks, maids, and menservants," and a nurse, called Nurse. There is artwork and cultural artifacts from all over the world, including a bargain-basement Monet Huston's father purchased with gambling winnings. There are trips to London and Paris to go shopping to get more beautiful things for their beautiful home. There are stables with fine horses (Huston is an expert horsewoman) and fox hunts, complete with Huston and her brother being blooded—"a ritual that involved having one's face painted with the bloody brush of the recently dismembered fox" and yes, the "brush" is the tail of the animal. Huston calls the women she rides with "women of the county—the exiled daughters of the British aristocracy, whose forebears had established a great holdings and new titles in Ireland in the eighteenth century, under George III, and were fighting hard to hold on." She goes on to write, "And yet they were more than tolerated in modern Ireland. The Troubles did not extend to the West Country until later, in the seventies." I can't help but wonder if this is just a young girl thoroughly unaware, due to the remove of money and entitlement, of how the aristocracy is perceived by the common people around them.
Other bits of oblivious privilege: she and her brother travel to Dublin for their polio shots, being "among the first children in Ireland to receive the vaccination." Of course, they were. And Huston naively relates the story of how she "took a pound from Dad's bureau...and bought eight black babies from Biafra. For two shillings and sixpence, you could christen them any name you liked, and keep them fed for a whole year. I named most of my babies Anjelica Mary." It's oddly sweet and offensive at the same time.
But for all that, I liked reading her version of Ireland, her version of childhood. After all, this is the daughter of John Huston, the revered director, so her childhood was unlikely to be common. Huston has a lovely way of writing, an easy way with words and metaphor. She is not so great with narrative, though. Rather, she flits from anecdote to anecdote, rarely landing or digging deep, even in matters having to do with that famous, sometimes distant, sometimes absent father. Maybe it's privacy or self-protection, but this is what I would have liked to learn more about. What we get instead are hints and a lot of surface description. This book could almost be titled "A Story Lightly Told." Since this book ends when Huston is only in her twenties, we'll see what the next chapter brings, and yes, I'll be reading the next book when it comes out. ...more
I got this book for my husband. He loved it and kept sharing bits from it, so I read it as soon as he turned the last page. It's part memoir, part rocI got this book for my husband. He loved it and kept sharing bits from it, so I read it as soon as he turned the last page. It's part memoir, part rock-and-roll tell-all, part cautionary tale, and part insider's view of "the business." It sounds like it comes straight from Levon's lips, an Arkansas boy's telling of how it all went down, how I'd imagine he'd sound if he was telling it while sitting at his own kitchen table. I love The Band, and I loved The Last Waltz, and it was hard to read of Helm's bitterness as The Band as we knew it best ended (Robbie Robertson's unilateral decision, according to Helm). Worse, Robertson—again, according to Helm—walked off with the profits from making The Last Waltz, after partnering with Martin Scorsese and brokering a deal that seems to have left the other band members in the dust.
Lots of drugs, lots of alcohol, lots of nookie, but mostly, lots of music, from Helm's start with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks (side note: Helm kept talking about Hawkins doing his famous "camel walk." Google that and see where Michael Jackson might have picked up some of his moves) to other future Band members coming on board with the Hawks to backing Bob Dylan during his electric, boo-inspiring tour to coming into their own as such an iconic "American" band (all but Helm were from Canada).
There are also profound losses along the way, Richard Manuel, then Rick Danko (so very hard to hear the bile Helm has for Robertson related to Danko's death). They all continued to make music in various side projects, as well as a Robertson-less Band that toured and recorded, but never to the kind of audience the original band enjoyed.
The book was originally published in 1993. This edition has an afterword and epilogue that shows some sweet vindication for Helm: the Midnight Ramble concerts at his Woodstock barn (with daughter Amy in the band), performing with a rotating list of prime musicians who joined him, and winning several Grammy awards for best Americana album. Especially sweet since he regained his voice after throat cancer—raspier, but still that authentic Levon twang.
There are some things that are distracting. There are long quotes from band members, friends, or others in the music business that are kind of shoehorned into the storyline with an intro like: "Rick Danko remembers how it went down..." or "Let me introduce you..." And Helm seems to get over his heroin addiction in two sentences (really?). And it seems pretty biased. But then again, it's his story so he gets to tell it his way. In all, it's a compelling read by a man who saw it, lived it, and survived it. Best enjoyed with a chaser of a viewing of The Last Waltz.
Like many, I read this after reading Gone Girl. Fewer twists and a lot more blood. Pretty brutal to read, more so than I usually like, but also prettyLike many, I read this after reading Gone Girl. Fewer twists and a lot more blood. Pretty brutal to read, more so than I usually like, but also pretty compelling. ...more
I was looking for something kind of Gone Girl-esque, a twisty, compelling page-turner about a missing spouse with did-she-or-didn't-she undertones. ThI was looking for something kind of Gone Girl-esque, a twisty, compelling page-turner about a missing spouse with did-she-or-didn't-she undertones. This isn't it. There are no twists of plot, but rather a slow unveiling of information. Dani, the first person narrator, spends an awful lot of time mulling over and revisiting every aspect of her marriage with Ian, the "he" of the title. And she does the same looking back on her marriage with Mark, the abusive man she left to be with her so-called soul mate. For a story that centers on a guy who vanishes in the night after a party, who may be dead or who may have taken off, it seemed to go slow.
And yet...all that introspection reveals the subtle layers of a marriage, the tortures of two people leaving their spouses to be together, and how the early lust and freedom from soured marriages may not be enough to make a lasting bond. The doubts are there...were they just trying to get out of bad relationships and turned to each other as some kind of safety net? Is it bad enough that Ian would leave everything behind - his children, his successful business, everything he's ever known? Or bad enough that Dani might do him in in a forgetful alcohol- and drug-fueled daze? It's enough to qualify as a page-turner, if not a gripping one.
So it's fair to say that the character development is stronger than the plot. But this is a mystery, and the core of a mystery is "what happened?" I spotted something early on that I thought pointed in a fairly obvious direction. You might spot it and wonder, too, and you'll probably be right. ...more
I asked the owner of a small bookstore which book she most recommended and she immediately reached for The Book Thief, and gave me the brief synopsis:I asked the owner of a small bookstore which book she most recommended and she immediately reached for The Book Thief, and gave me the brief synopsis: a story narrated by Death about a little girl in Nazi Germany. None of that sounded especially interesting to me, but her enthusiasm did, so I bought it. Then I shelved it and pretty much forgot about it until I learned it was coming out as a movie, so decided to read it.
It's a good book. The language is poetic, sometimes almost thick with imagery and metaphor. Sometimes the story is a little choppy, with Death interrupting or accentuating the storyline with little bold-faced bits: lists or questions or even plot points (bluntly telling which character will die when). It took me about a hundred pages to go along with it. There are also stories-within-the-story, little hand-drawn books created by a young Jewish man hidden away in a basement. It took me a while to understand that this was YA book (something the bookseller didn't mention).
Not a big deal. Liesel is a convincing little protagonist, forced to endure some horrible early losses, and perhaps more horrible later ones. She forms strong bonds with other characters: Papa, the accordion-playing sweetie, Mama, firm and foul-mouthed, but with her soft spots, Rudy, her partner in crime, Frau Hermann, the Nazi wife with the awesome library, and of course, Max, the creative Jew harbored in the basement. Sometimes the relationships seem rather "story-like," but not objectionable. After all, this story is narrated by Death.
Liesel is a girl obsessed with words, with language, with books, and Zusak is equally enthralled with lush language. So most readers, with presumably the same love of the written word, will at least like this book. It won over this reader.
It gives nothing away to say that this book is about a girl who dies, is born again, dies again and is born again, since that is on the jacket copy. SIt gives nothing away to say that this book is about a girl who dies, is born again, dies again and is born again, since that is on the jacket copy. Since many of the ways she dies are so commonplace, it makes you wonder how any of us make it through to adulthood in one go (or IF we do). Young Ursula cycles through her same life within her same family, but has a growing awareness of her unsought ability to come around again. In small and not so small ways, she tweaks her experience to alter outcomes in her life and in those around her.
I'm not a huge fan of time travel -type books (I didn't love The Time Traveler's Wife, for instance), or of speculative fiction (I think that's the term), but this one grabbed me. It doesn’t fit neatly into a time travel slot because it actually feels quite plausible and even real. The characters are equally authentic: I love Ursula's relationships with her siblings and free spirit Aunt Izzie. That said, I sometimes found it confusing to fit the bits together, or remember what role a minor character played in one of Ursula's earlier "lives." That sent me paging back through to refresh my memory more than once (probably more about my aging brain than the structure of the book). So it isn't a perfectly smooth reading experience; it's intricate and thought provoking, the kind of book I'll want to reread, in order to "relive" it, and see Ursula born to live again. ...more
It's about a couple who retreat to a cabin on a Minnesota lake to recover from the husband's bruising defeat in a political campaign. Or it's about aIt's about a couple who retreat to a cabin on a Minnesota lake to recover from the husband's bruising defeat in a political campaign. Or it's about a woman who goes missing from that cabin - no trace, no note, no sign of foul play. Or it's about Vietnam, and specifically the harrowing My Lai massacre. Or it's about a boy, the son of an alcoholic, bullying father, who becomes a basement magician, perfecting the art of the vanish and the effect and the misdirection and the double consummation (read it-it's in there). Or it's about the long reach of the worst kind of secret. It's a manual on how NOT to tend your houseplants. It's a mystery...a thriller...a war story...a love story...and more. If that sounds fragmented and confusing, it's not. It IS intricate, and it's a really fine book.
Tim O'Brien is genius at combining capital H History with his story, melding fictional narrative with actual events, and placing characters of his own creation alongside people who lived and breathed and left a record. Here, the story exists on three planes. There is the story of the missing Kath Wade, with the story of her life with her husband, John, who may or may not be involved in her disappearance. There are interspersed chapters titled "Hypothesis," which give varying explanations of what may have happened to her. And there are sections titled "Evidence," including tantalizing excerpts of interviews and quotes from people and characters, imagined and historical, all cited and footnoted. These bits of evidence cohere into all kinds of conclusions, and none of them necessarily conclusive.
The narrator is found in these footnotes, as he obsessively examines the story and the stories behind the story. As he claims," I have tried, of course, to be faithful to the evidence. Yet evidence is not truth. It is only evident. In any case, Kathy Wade is forever missing, and if you require solutions, you will have to look beyond these pages. Or read a different book." So, forewarned. If you like things tied up neatly when you finish a book, you will be frustrated. For me, it was a literary page-turner, full of dread and sadness and wonder. Best book I've read in a while.
Well, my Tana French marathon has fizzled to a close. I loved her first three books, but this one felt like a slog to me. The thoughtful character devWell, my Tana French marathon has fizzled to a close. I loved her first three books, but this one felt like a slog to me. The thoughtful character development I've come to expect, the psychological nuance: all gone. This one feels more like a straight crime procedural. It felt like the whole story was the slow unpicking of the crime, bit by bit, clue by clue.
As is her usual way, French takes a minor character from a previous book and makes that person the central figure and first-person narrator of the story. This time it's Mike "Scorcher" Kennedy, the detective with the highest solve rate on the murder squad. He's pretty rigid, a firm rule follower, and he's linked with a rookie partner, Richie, to investigate a triple murder. Richie makes for a nice contrast to Kennedy's inflexibility and crisp, yuppie sensibility. He's a little lower class, a little more "street," and has an easy rapport with most of the witnesses. French does really well with dialogue, and uses it to set off the differences between the two detectives. That, and their growing relationship as partners, was my favorite part of the book.
What didn't work for me was the side story of Kennedy's sister, a young woman with an undefined mental illness who wafts in and out of the story, bringing a bit of havoc each time she appears. French's previous books all had an additional crime that took place many years in the past, one that the detective was involved in and that had some sort of psychological stake for him or her to deal with. In this story, that long-ago bit is more a tragedy than a crime, and it feels shoe-horned into the modern crime rather than interwoven in an authentic way. There is also a things-that-go-bump-in-the-night bit that drags on and doesn't conclude satisfactorily, to my mind. One person makes a decision that seems completely out of character, perhaps just so the story would go a certain way. The questioning of suspects seemed slow and repetitive. A good editor could have tightened that up. And finally, the crime and its resolution felt forced, at least to me. Sigh.
I hate to dislike this book, as her others were such a treat. If you'd like a long Irish episode of CSI, you might love this. I guess I just don't.
Another great one from Tana French! Every spare few moments I have, I go off to Ireland through the pages of her book, this one set in one of the old,Another great one from Tana French! Every spare few moments I have, I go off to Ireland through the pages of her book, this one set in one of the old, dodgier sections of Dublin. After reading three of her books, I recognize what are becoming signature French elements: crimes separated by many years that seem to be connected; a first-person detective/narrator who was more of a minor character in a previous book; a tight, layered story; really rich, authentic, complicated characters; and that Irish dialogue that sounds like the real deal.
In this one, the actions centers on Frank Mackey, an undercover detective who gets pulled back to his old neighborhood when a suitcase belonging to a long-ago girlfriend - a girl he'd thought rejected him and left for England - shows up in a deserted house on the block. Though not officially on the case, Frank becomes intimately enmeshed in every aspect of the crime surrounding Rosie's disappearance, and the crime that comes after.
This is French's darkest novel, and she does dark very well. Frank's family is a study of alcoholism, dysfunction, deeply entrenched bitterness, and violence. The enabling has slipped to the next generation, with grown children pretty much taking turns to protect the mammy from the da's alcoholic blows. Frank ran from this bunch twenty-two years ago, but he's of the same blood: a hard-drinking, sometimes violent man who has that same streak of bitter hatred. He's just handled it better and channeled things in a different direction. I liked Frank better in The Likeness, where he came across as more contained, more bemused. In this book he can sometimes be more of a brute, but in this book, we get the back story, and see why. What redeems him is his relationship with his young daughter, and his fierce loyalty to finding the truth about Rosie.
It's a rainy day, and I've got Broken Harbor ready to crack open. Time to continue my Tana French binge. ...more