Clever-ish twist comes at the very end. The novella was tailor-made for book clubs to discuss what really happened. And for everyone else to re-read iClever-ish twist comes at the very end. The novella was tailor-made for book clubs to discuss what really happened. And for everyone else to re-read it to find the clues they missed the first time around. I'm not motivated to re-read. Before the twist, it's a bunch of slices of life events remembered by a late-middle aged guy who regrets a life wasted (but still hasn't learned much). He's the Most Unreliable Narrator Ever - but at least he admits that he doesn't remember things well. He's a bit of a clueless prig up into his 60s; not a narrator you want to have a pint o lager with, or spend more than a hundred or so pages with. On the other hand, it's beautifully written, something you'd expect from Julian Barnes. A prize winner? Hmmmm....more
**spoiler alert** I agree with a lot of the comments that say the book was bloated. If I had to pick a main fault, it was that. What engaged me most w**spoiler alert** I agree with a lot of the comments that say the book was bloated. If I had to pick a main fault, it was that. What engaged me most was how a mother could raise a child with so many needs. I assume Jodi did a lot of research on this. The author's central question for the reader is: if you knew your child would have OI, would you carry it to term, or abort? Of course nobody knows until faced with this. But it's a fertile topic to explore.
The problems. As I mentioned... bloated. By about 25 percent. The whole plot about the lawyer finding her birth mother was only related thematically, and even then not very much. I was not interested. It could be cut. The ending, as others have mentioned, was a twisted O Henry-type. I expected the daughter to die - each chapter is written from a character TO the daughter, so I had to figure something was up - but I didn't expect the death to be so... random. And as others have mentioned, keeping the check on the refrigerator and not cashing it was a big WTH. The other issue I had was the father. His character didn't quite gel. He had two emotions, impotent anger and ennui. I had an urge to skim his chapters. In all, two thirds of a very good book. ...more
**spoiler alert** I had just finished "The Fault in Our Stars," and was looking forward to more from Green. I was a little let down by this, though. H**spoiler alert** I had just finished "The Fault in Our Stars," and was looking forward to more from Green. I was a little let down by this, though. He's a great writer, without question. But the plot was surprisingly thin. The first half is a lead up to the big event, and nothing much happens, except that the narrator falls for two different girls. The big event is a tragedy that happens at the midpoint to one of the boarding school students. This did not come as a surprise, because the narrator, "Pudge" had a curious love of "famous last words." And the chapter headings warned us that something was coming, "twelve days before..." etc. But the second half of the book was about Pudge and his roommate grieving and trying to figure out what really happened. Yet it wasn't a mystery and even if they discovered that the accident wasn't an accident, it wouldn't have changed much. Mulling over "why did she do it?" for more than a hundred pages didn't provide a lot of momentum. However, it's a testament to Green's skill that I was still engaged. In lesser hands I would have been bored out of my mind and thrown the book at the wall. And it was on my Kindle, so that would have been expensive. I'm wavering between three and four stars and came down on four, because I'm having a good day. ...more
This makes two teen-with-cancer books in a row I've read. Maybe this is a sub-genre of YA. Probably not. This and the other, "Me and Earl and the DyinThis makes two teen-with-cancer books in a row I've read. Maybe this is a sub-genre of YA. Probably not. This and the other, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" are very different. That one was a black comedy. This one is a bittersweet almost-comedy. The humor comes from the voice of the main character, Hazel, and somewhat from her love interest Agustus. She's wise beyond her years, and some might complain that she's too wise and savvy to be a believable 16-year-old (or is she 17?). I disagree, possibly because I just liked her character that much. ...more
The groundbreaking aspect about the book is that it takes gay teens' sexuality for granted, something that was not done ten years ago and is still notThe groundbreaking aspect about the book is that it takes gay teens' sexuality for granted, something that was not done ten years ago and is still not done today in most places. In fact, the story exists in a parallel universe where gay kids are out at school and the quarterback on the football team can be cross-dresser with a drag queen name and persona. Cute. So, when being gay or transgender is No Big Deal, we're left with a minor, angsty-teen love story that is light on conflict and heavy on cuteness. Just barely enough story to be contained in 180 pages, and I can't remember much of the plot since I read it a few weeks ago, because there were a lot of minor misunderstandings, and "does he like me or doesn't he?" worries that aren't inherently dramatic.
Only one subplot/scene stands out, and that's when the narrator (Paul, I think) convinces his gay friend to stand up to his Religious Right parents (the only people in the town who have a problem with The Gay). That chapter alone is reason to read the book. However, the beautiful way it plays out is undercut by the premise of the book - that they live in a gay high school fantasia - and therefore takes away some of the impact. It's light and sweet, but that's it. ...more
A funny book about a kid dying of cancer? You don't say?
Well, it IS funny, and I laughed out loud a few times (a rarity with me). The plot is prettyA funny book about a kid dying of cancer? You don't say?
Well, it IS funny, and I laughed out loud a few times (a rarity with me). The plot is pretty thin but this is not a problem: the story is deceptively simple. The narrator, 17-year-old Greg Gaines, tells us at the beginning it is not going to be a book about "the time everything changed forever" or any other cliches we may be used to. And he's right. He doesn't fall in love with Rachel, the girl dying of leukemia. He doesn't know her very well. It's kind of a chore for him to see her and cheer her up. It's profane, with a self-deprecating narrator who makes horrible films with his friend Earl (they know the films suck). Worse, they've been roped into making a film for Rachel. And the film is a whole other level of suckitude.
But the book is terrific, and turns the conventions of a "cancer book" or a "teen book" on their head. The narrator does learn a few things about himself. And there are tears. Maybe it's because I've always been drawn to gallows humor, but this book is a blast of brisk air after reading a string of over-praised, over-hyped, undercooked and dreary books. Worthy of five stars, but...
I'm wavering between four and five stars. It gets one half-star less for its stereotypical depiction of Earl, who's black and whose brothers are budding gangbangers and whose father is absent. I'm sure the author knew he was taking a big risk with that, and hats off for doing it. And, Earl's character is very well fleshed out. But still, eek on the stereotype. ...more
Sigh. When a book wins an award and the majority of reviewers gush about it, I feel like I should pay attention.
The last half of the book almost redeeSigh. When a book wins an award and the majority of reviewers gush about it, I feel like I should pay attention.
The last half of the book almost redeems the first half. Almost. But the first half was so confusing that the payoffs in the second half fell flat. I wanted to go back to the early part and reread it (hard to do on a kindle) and decided not to. I shouldn't have to work that hard to figure things out.
The tone is realistic; I like that. The first person narration seems right. But the setting was... odd to say the least. They're in a boarding school but there's no actual school going on. Where are the teachers? Why are there territory wars with cadets and townies? (The turf wars had little or nothing to do with the meat of the story - why Taylor, the narrator, was abandoned as a child.) And why was every single main character broken? And why did the few adults in the book - all connected to the narrator by blood or by history - have to keep the secrets about the narrator's parents?
I'm equivocating with a two star review. Frankly I'm growing weary of the star system. I would like to dispense with these stars because they say nothing really. Was it a quality book? Maybe. So many reviewers say it is the BEST book they EVER read. Okay, I believe them. It didn't do much for me, and if it hadn't been for their urging to read it to the very end, I might have stopped after 100 pages....more
I was expecting to make it through life without reading anything by DFW. I'm not a big fan of experimental fiction where the author basically uses theI was expecting to make it through life without reading anything by DFW. I'm not a big fan of experimental fiction where the author basically uses the English language to show off instead of just telling a story. That, and his cult of worship made me assume I would hate this guy's work.
This was a book club selection for the month - thanks book club! - so I used it as an opportunity to reserve my judgment and see if I had been right. I was mostly correct. The worst of it pretentious (footnotes that take up more of the page than the story) and nearly unreadable. At it's best - really only in one story, Forever Overhead - it soars. In fact, Forever Overhead does approach brilliance, for me, because it's so real.
Other stories might have brilliant if they had been cut way down, such as Octet. The story about the depressed woman was engaging for about two pages, but went on and on and on until I wanted to seek therapy for myself. One story - can't remember the title - about a geek who has an elaborate sexual fantasy based on the TV show "Bewitched," was mordantly funny. As was adult world 1, where a woman obsesses that she is not fulfilling her husband sexually (or is "hurting his thingie") But even these efforts had me shouting OKAY I GET IT long before the end.
Sexual obsession, sexual dysfunction, obsession about sexual dysfunction and general obsessiveness are the main themes. In general I don't mind spending time with hideous or alienating characters. But please, any DFW wannabe authors, don't alienate me with the writing, too. Couldn't finish it. Probably won't. ...more
Mystery, detective, crime, whodunnit... not my favorite genre. The reason is, usually everything takes a back seat to the plot. There is formula: therMystery, detective, crime, whodunnit... not my favorite genre. The reason is, usually everything takes a back seat to the plot. There is formula: there must be red herrings, at least five possible suspects, physical danger for the detective (in this case a reporter), but character development is an afterthought.
So, Rogue Island is pretty representative of the genre, but doesn't transcend it. That's not a problem, exactly, just disappointing.
Also, in many detective stories, if the narrator/hero is male, he must be schlumpy, a heavy drinker, broke, and have some self-destructive characteristics, and... must be irresistible to hot babes. Same in Rogue Island. So, it was a fast read, not a satisfying read. But I hate to slam it for not aspiring to be a genre-bending, more ambitious work. It's fine for what it is.
- it moves fast. The short chapters help. - the setting. Providence is a major character. I have never been there but it seems like the author knows it well (at least the sleazy parts depicted here) - the humor generally works well. - the newsroom scenes.
- Minor characters, and even the narrator to an extent, are two-dimensional. Again, there is so much plot to cover, so many twists to create, there's not enough time to develop them. Genre problem, I think, more than a flaw of the author. - the arson investigation itself. This is a big problem because it IS the story. Although I didn't care who was setting the fires. - the narrator's obsession with baseball. Skimmed it.
- I wasn't sure why an investigative reporter at a major daily newspaper with almost twenty years of experience was living like a broke college student. He was separated, so, not paying alimony (the ex shows up through a series of calls where she yells at him, and calls him the same name and hangs up, another sub- subplot that is funny at first but wears thin) but no other reason for living in a dump. He doesn't have a gambling problem. So, what's the deal?
In short, it feels like an homage to older whodunnits. It seems very retro. I am going to give DeSilva the benefit of the doubt and say it was his intention.
It's hard to rate a volume of short stories. Each story should probably be rated on its own. I read all but one and a half in this collection. I'm goiIt's hard to rate a volume of short stories. Each story should probably be rated on its own. I read all but one and a half in this collection. I'm going to sit on the fence with three overall.
This is my first exposure to Munro. She has a powerful command of her craft. Not all stories resonated with me. In fact only the last in the three-story series about a woman named Juliet (at three different points in her life) and the story "Tricks" were amazing. A woman is central to every story, and the themes are power (or lack of), and mistakes (specifically how one little mistake can ruin everything). All stories are in a minor key, with few spasms of joy for the characters in an otherwise low-wattage life of (in most cases) barely concealed or acknowledged anguish. The last in the Juliet series, about a woman who can't understand why her daughter joined a religious cult-like group and never contacted her again, even though the daughter, she learned, had what sounded like a conventional life. Munro dares us to follow these unhappy characters through their unhappy choices as their lives play out, mostly, unhappily. It's a chilly read, but the best of the stories will probably stick with me. ...more
I wasn't going to write a review. I had just thought of this book and remembered I read it years ago. Browsing the one-star reviews here, I'm a littleI wasn't going to write a review. I had just thought of this book and remembered I read it years ago. Browsing the one-star reviews here, I'm a little surprised by the Barbara-hate. Maybe my impression might be different if I read it today. But I do think it was and continues to be an important book, and - I know people think this is sacrilege given the subject matter - entertaining.
But it can't be everything. If it were a song, NaD would be, "What do working-poor doooo? (They scrub toilets? I surmise...)" The premise is, an upper middle class woman scrubs her resume, goes undercover around the country and tries to make a living from scratch in the wild jungle of the working class, having to make do with her wits and physical abilities but not her accumulated knowledge or connections. Sort of a non-fiction version of "Trading Places" (great movie and nobody faulted Eddie Murphy or the other stars for being highly paid actors playing roles). Okay, I know, Trading Places was pure entertainment. But fiction lovers, can we agree at least that a fictional version of NaD would be a great premise with plenty of challenges for a heroine who deserves an eye-opening and comeuppance?
Barbara is a middle aged, patrician, highly educated, insulated, well-paid working writer. Some people fault her for writing a book from her own perspective. I don't. She is snarky (the caustic wit was, for me, the best part of the book and I recall laughing out loud in places - mostly when she's getting soaked with her own mop water). Some people have suggested that Barb should have DONE SOMETHING important to help the plight of the working poor. Like introduce legislation to raise the minimum wage? She can't; she's not a lawmaker.
My point is, the book can't be everything to everyone. She's not even writing FOR the working poor. They already know the crap they have to put up with. She has written this for the insulated (though not so safe anymore) middle class and upper middle class, those who may have had shit jobs in college and after - me, raising my hand - but had a little help from family and always knew our education would, most likely, be a ticket out of working poverty. NaD is not a manifesto. It is simply a voyeuristic book that says, "I couldn't live like this and I bet you couldn't either." It is about how poverty begets more poverty, in a never-ending cycle that hardly anyone could break out of. And she didn't even have the burdens of children, drug addiction, etc.
Sure, complain about her snark and her background and how she always knew this one-year experiment would be over and she would enjoy the riches she believed she deserved. I guess that's a reason to hate or dismiss the book, but not for me. I don't think she's directly profiting from the sweat and toil of the working poor. I'm all for social change, and economic injustice has been a big issue for me long before it went mainstream recently. But really, if a book like this can open the eyes of people to the point that they at least think twice before repeating the pervasive meme that "the poor are just lazy," then for that reason alone the book has served a valuable societal purpose. ...more
Approx. four out of five essays are great. Not all are essays in the traditional sense. Some are more memoir, some experimental, some more journalistiApprox. four out of five essays are great. Not all are essays in the traditional sense. Some are more memoir, some experimental, some more journalistic. Many have to do with loss and death, always fertile themes. Standouts are:
- Tropic of Cancer, Christopher Hitchens' account of his cancer diagnosis - Generation Why, about how Facebook is increasing triviality and meaninglessness of modern life - What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones, about the death of a young black girl and how it relates to the dystopia that is modern Detroit (the city relies on revenue from reality shows that exploit its dysfunction) - What Broke My Father's Heart, a simple, unadorned account of the medical industrial complex's insistence on keeping a dying old man alive longer than he or anyone wanted him to be. For anyone with an elderly or near-elderly parent, it's disturbing. - Pearl, Upward. A girl from the sharecropper south moving to the big city alone.
- A-loc. What is this about? Has to do with dreams and plane crashes. - Grieving. A wife recounting how her husband fell apart after he was denied tenure at his university. Who cares? Get a job. - Buddy Ebsen. Didn't get it.
I hate books that make me feel dumb. In some cases I assume it's the author's fault, bad writer trying to be clever, failing. In this case, the guy haI hate books that make me feel dumb. In some cases I assume it's the author's fault, bad writer trying to be clever, failing. In this case, the guy has won every writing award possible, so he MUST be brilliant and I MUST be missing something. It starts off well: aging single man has a bike accident and loses his leg, pities himself and ruminates on his life. Clear, concise. Then it takes a jaunt into Twilight Zone territory. An annoying woman, an author, that he doesn't know, moves in and takes over his life and brings over a blind woman for him to bed. M-kay. It's Charlie Kauffman territory - either you get it and love it or you don't and you don't. I didn't/didn't. ...more
James and Kate have it all - or much of what a 30something urban professional couple might want. Great careers (he's a hotshot freelance journalist, sJames and Kate have it all - or much of what a 30something urban professional couple might want. Great careers (he's a hotshot freelance journalist, she's a retail manager of some kind), a good life in a thriving city, more than enough money to waste (not sure how they have so much money though). Then, the recession hits and immediately it all goes poof. Worse, Kate is pregnant. What can James do now? If your first guess was, earn a bundle of money being a mule driving marijuana across country, you would be correct.
We've been seeing a burgeoning mini-genre of recession fiction where middle class people down on their luck turn to illegal activities to make ends meet or to become very wealthy. There's "The Financial Lives of the Poets" about another out-of-work journalist turned to drug dealing/manufacturing/distributing (tough profession, journalism). On TV there's Weeds and Breaking Bad.
SPOILER ALERT DANGER SPOILERS FROM HERE ON
You can assume that running pounds of pot across country won't go smoothly. After all then there wouldn't be a story. You can guess there will be collateral damage, death, constant fear, wrecked lives and a slide down a moral slope. That's all here, and some of the events are pretty gripping. Just as it's a white knuckle ride when you watch a gambler roll the dice long after he should have given up. So, the drama/suspense is pretty much built in to the story. He/they (Kate gets involved too) could be caught, they could go to jail for a long time, and they and their loved ones could be killed, fine.
It's written in first person from James' perspective and the tone is dry, factual, almost like memoir. It's not clumsy; the author just doesn't spend a lot of effort making it arty. Fine. It is a page turner for the most part, and about 75% of it is believable. What's not believable is maddening). The author seems to have done a lot of research. At a few points I wondered if he had been a drug mule himself.
Here's what strains credibility. One, they both go from upper middle class spendthrifts to penniless/homeless in a matter of a few weeks. In the beginning, James is writing for Playboy/Esquire, etc. and living large, very large he tells us. Then suddenly, no assignments from anyone. I have some personal experience with freelance writing; I've done that for most of my career. Any freelance writer who lives large is an idiot. Unless you're writing a story a week for the biggest glossy mags in the world, year in, year out, you're not going to be pulling down as much scratch as this guy seems to. In good economies, bad economies, whenever, it's up and down. It's slow during the holidays, which is why I have time to read novels. If you're lucky and aren't too picky you can have a sorta-middle class, bordering on bohemian lifestyle. You will not and should not live like a rap star.
Two. They do very little to look for work. They just throw up their hands and say, "well I hear nobody's hiring, so screw it all." When someone suggests to James that he could write for online sites, and James says that doesn't pay enough, you might want to smash James in the mouth. I did. Kate has unemployment, which runs out of course. But she worked in retail... a manager, yes, but retail jobs aren't notorious for paying big. These are not hedge fund managers. Can you say, save?
Three. they had more than 20 grand in their baby's college fund (which Jack uses to buy is first few pounds of pot). Maybe they could have tapped into that while they, you know, LOOK FOR WORK? They would have 18 years to build it up again. But no.
Four. REMEMBER THIS IS THE SPOILER SECTION. James leaves a paper trail. He keeps flying to Sacramento one way to pick up his load and then renting a car to drive one way and paying with credit card. For a year. You think the Feds wouldn't pick up on this obvious drug mule behavior at least once?
A bigger problem is characterization. We never learn James and Kate's back stories. They are presented to us basically in the middle of their financial crisis. Kate is mostly a one dimensional shrew, who says "okay don't get caught and you better buy me some nice things." James is a bit of a cipher who turns cold-blooded (a twist at the end that comes too fast and isn't very believable). But it is hard to feel any empathy for him. That makes it an interesting choice to go with first person - we should be able to learn about him and get into his head. But his head seems like an empty place.
I don't need nice or likeable characters. In fact I prefer flawed ones. But I do need to understand where they're coming from. James admits to us toward the end as things spin out of control that his defining characteristic is/has been greediness. But what does money mean to him, deep down? A clue about that would be nice. It didn't seem like he really cared much about being a journalist - again, that's not a profession one is drawn to when one wants to roll in dough. Ask me about it! No, James is shallow and stays relatively shallow. That would work, possibly, for a satire where we enjoy his descent down the rabbit hole and laugh at him getting his comeuppance, when it comes. But this is a straightforward drama/thriller with very little comic relief. The tone is dry, matter-of-fact.
The other characters are pretty broadly drawn, and I had a hard time keeping the names of his connections straight. They were devices for moving the plot forward.
That all sounds like I hated it. I didn't. But it could have been so much better. There is some trenchant social commentary here about American greed at all levels (after all it was Wall Street greed that gave birth to the crisis) and the diminishing value of real work. In fact I'm almost tempted to give it an extra star for providing a detailed handbook of the drug mule life, should I ever have to resort to that. Don't worry, I won't. I save. ...more