While I found Pam's Drought to have a few drawbacks, I have no such compunctions about her first novel, Candor. In fact, I've already passed my three-While I found Pam's Drought to have a few drawbacks, I have no such compunctions about her first novel, Candor. In fact, I've already passed my three-week-old copy to the first person on my rec list, with the promise to let it make the rounds afterwards.
Oscar Banks is a model citizen, or so he would have you believe. After learning that he (and every other child of Candor) is being brainwashed into his father's idea of the perfect child, he sets out to save himself and every other kid of parents with more money than morals. Make no mistake, though -- Oscar's no goody-goody; he charges a hefty price for his services, building a nest egg to fuel his own eventual departure from Candor. But his "perfect plan" develops a little hiccup in the form of a perfectly imperfect and independent girl who shows up and wins his heart without the slightest effort.
Candor is one layer of manipulation, thievery and misplaced trust woven into another, and then another, and then another. Oscar is both genuinely charming and a complete jerk; I found myself rooting for him to get what he wants as well as a smack upside the head at a half-dozen different points. He's clearly a real kid, with a real kid's foibles, and his oh-so-stealthy, almost Tom-Sawyer-like escapades are so obvious, you realize the only reason he wasn't caught out in his work to "beat the system" years before the novel takes place is because he's the only person in the town completely above reproach -- his father touts him to prospective-buyer-parents as the model of "what your child can be", and those who buy the brainwashing for their own offspring repeat the sale. The entire town is brainwashed -- literally -- to think he's the perfect child, and no one in a position of power ever questions his role or place in it. The perfect rat. Does the rat get the cheese or the trap?
Candor gets five stars. It's exceptionally well written, a page turner that holds up to a second read, and has the best ending I've read in any YA novel. Highly recommended.
There is a ponderousness to this novel that isn't immediately apparent while first reading it. Ozick's prose is terribly light -- she dances from moodThere is a ponderousness to this novel that isn't immediately apparent while first reading it. Ozick's prose is terribly light -- she dances from mood to mood and point to point throughout the 250 pages, like the scherzo she allows Leo to witness in Iris. And yet beneath words that trip and dance across the page, there is a heaviness. There is little action in this story, with it's many interwoven deceptions and the long weeks of waiting, with conversations that are dreaded and truths that are half-glimpsed in a slanted bit of light by those who haven't the power of observation to capture it, or a strong enough sense of self versus other to understand it. There is no complete tying up of ends at the close of the plot; instead the different strands are braided, twisted, and jerked about, and then allowed to float free as the winds wish to take them.
I found the reading experience to be pleasurable (I did read it over the course of a single day, mostly in one sitting), but also dissatisfying and unsettling. The latter is not due to any flaws in the story or the writing thereof, but in the way that the telling opened my mind to wonder about long-abandoned plans (that I hadn't considered worthy of thought in years), or opportunities that were missed from inaction. For example, the shift in perspective entirely to Paris after chapter 42, in which Bea sends a pair of letters to Margaret and Marvin provide only the barest gloss of detail from Julian, Iris, and Lili while laying the burden of choice fully at Marvin's feet, is absolutely masterful. I was giving only a third of my attention to Iris and Phillip; a small portion kept wondering about the resolution to come, but the greater portion couldn't help but sift my own memories for recollections of when I might have passed on responsibility for some unwanted, unearned, and unhappy task. Ozick's touch was too light to inspire a genuine "sit in a corner and think" mood, but her material was sympathetic in a way that forced me into a kind of quickly paced self-reflection, that held step with the cadence of story progression.
Overall, I found Foreign Bodies to be witty, funny, breakneck, and biting. Recommended when you want to devote your mind to a story that inspires you to think and feel beyond where its pages will lead you of their own accord. ...more
Drought is a terrific story -- "the haunting story of one community's thirst for life, and the dangerous struggle of the only girl who can grant it."Drought is a terrific story -- "the haunting story of one community's thirst for life, and the dangerous struggle of the only girl who can grant it."
The background: A capital-C rural, cultishly religious Community was enslaved in 1812 after making a seemingly advantageous bargain with the leader of a local town. For 200 years, the people have survived with little changing in their age, appearance, desires, dreams, beliefs, or their daily existence of back-breaking labor, semi-starvation, and routine beatings from sadistic overseers.
The premise: The deliverance and salvation of the Community rests on the actions and generosity of a young girl born in 1812 and just now (200 years later) reaching adolescence. Ruby's loyalties are tested as she observes, questions, and begins to learn the grown-up truths about the people who have ensured her safety for as long as she can remember, and learns more about the world outside her enclave from Ford, the first outsider to ever show her kindness.
I adore Pam's story-telling voice; she's consistent and fresh, and is gloriously enmeshed in the heart and soul of her main character. She writes from the first-person POV -- a construction that I usually have to talk myself into coping with -- and at no time in Drought did I feel that she abandoned Ruby to tell the audience something we ought to have known.
The plot is full of twists and turns with deep consequences, both positive and negative, for the seemingly smallest of choices and actions. There's nothing predictable about the choices Ruby makes, perhaps because actually having the freedom to make a decision between two options is so novel for her. Like many teenagers coming into their own, she walks the line between accepting responsibility for her choices and painting someone else with the blame brush, and the chilling course leading up to the denouement is fabulously both of her own making and beyond her control.
The only fault I can find with the book is one of characterization. Ruby is very much an adolescent girl just coming into her own; she's alternately thoughtful and rash, impossibly generous and understandably selfish. Twenty-five pages into the story, I find it utterly implausible that she has been alive for 200 years, observing her surroundings with the cautious, hunted-deer skills required to survive in the Community, and is only now thinking to question what she has been taught. As an individual, she's too keen an observer and too critical a thinker for her awakening to be fully believable.
That said, it's quite a good book, and on that I recommend happily. ...more
It's been a privilege to know and count among my most beloved friends for twenty years the poet's children and grandchildren, and to have heard him reIt's been a privilege to know and count among my most beloved friends for twenty years the poet's children and grandchildren, and to have heard him read from this book on more than one occasion. As an adult, I sense a dark humor lurking in the fourth section -- Poet as Minister and Theologian -- that I could not have understood as a child, nodding solemnly along.
"Facts Are mathematical Observations Extracted from Experience And based Upon what Has been done."...more
Hemingway was a vile, cruel, son of a bitch who was also a fantastic writer. I've long thought that his raw, biting fiction couldn't have been createdHemingway was a vile, cruel, son of a bitch who was also a fantastic writer. I've long thought that his raw, biting fiction couldn't have been created from less than his particular hell - what he survived and carried into every moment of the rest of his life - and that great art was a poor trade for ruined happiness. This novel, a fictionalized account that yet rings true with what I've seen in histories and biographies, confirms that utterly....more
A fabulous reimagining of a seldom-mentioned myth.
I'm usually put-off by first person narratives, but within two paragraphs, Beutner drew me in, giviA fabulous reimagining of a seldom-mentioned myth.
I'm usually put-off by first person narratives, but within two paragraphs, Beutner drew me in, giving Alcestis the opportunity to share the only thing she actually owns: her voice, and the truth she can otherwise refuse to share....more
Since I started collecting First Reads, collecting the mail has become one of my happiest tasks. The sense that "something special might arrive for meSince I started collecting First Reads, collecting the mail has become one of my happiest tasks. The sense that "something special might arrive for me" infuses my day with some small bit of happy expectancy -- so much so that I broke my own "no buying more Stuff before moving" rule and bought a book for myself earlier this month. Last week A Knitter's Home Companion arrived in the mail, and I abandoned a ridiculous novel I'd selected from the library with higher hopes than it deserved in favor of curling up on the sofa with Michelle's little book.
This is an odd little book. It's organized into brief, titled sections that are more memoir than essay and laid out so that sweet illustrations, asides, and pattern/technique notes interrupt the flow. After we encounter particular people, places, and projects, a page turn reveals a pattern or recipe redolent of their stories. It's exactly the sort of "real life storybook" that I like, and reminds me a bit of Cherries in Winter: My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times, which I read and loved during the storms of January.
I confess that I don't care for most of the patterns included; I prefer clean lines and clearly defined stitches as opposed to the large gauge, bulky pieces that Michelle shared. That said, the Clutch of Inspiration is right up my alley, and the story of The Mitten Ladies and the Pearl mitten pattern that followed with instructions for charity knitting stopped me in my tracks. Literally; I was reading while walking home from work. As soon as I arrived, I pulled out my stash basket and found something approximating the yarn she called for, then cast on for the cuff. I didn't pick up the book until I'd bound off.
Being that so much of the volume is memoir, I found myself caring deeply for Michelle's family; feeling the ache of loss as she described herself and her husband in their orphaned state, and the hunger after connection she felt -- and found -- in a community of knitters. Characters make any story, and this book is full of gentle sketches of the people Michelle has loved. It's a feel-good read that wraps you up, rather like a nubbly sweater with sleeves you can roll up, in a soft yarn that disguises dropped and twisted stitches with easy forgiveness....more