I reread this book earlier this summer and was blown away all over again by the gorgeous language and effortless humanity that Schutt manages to build...moreI reread this book earlier this summer and was blown away all over again by the gorgeous language and effortless humanity that Schutt manages to build up in postage-stamp episodes. Episodic writing is usually so typical of student fiction, but here it's masterful and purposeful, and it makes the book all the more compulsively readable.
It won't be for everyone... Those seeking a linear plot and a lot of exposition will be frustrated. Fans of Mary Gaitskill, people who voluntarily read poetry, those seeking something off the beaten track of contemporary fiction, though, will love it.(less)
I'm going to refrain from assigning any stars to a collection I was fortunate enough to be a part of; and although there were so many amazing stories...moreI'm going to refrain from assigning any stars to a collection I was fortunate enough to be a part of; and although there were so many amazing stories by writers I'd never encountered before (and some old favorites), it would probably be impolitic to list those without commenting on every single other story in the collection... So I won't do any of that. What I WOULD like to do is take an informal survey.
For those of you who've read Maggie Shipstead's amazing story "The Cowboy Tango": If someone came up and handed you that story out of context and told you it was by Annie Proulx, would you have believed it? (This isn't to suggest for a second that Shipstead is being derivative -- she's not, and if anything it would be like Proulx branching out in a different direction. I'm raising the question because of the setting, the bleakness, and the quality of the writing.) For me, the biggest giveaway actually would've been the title: Proulx has written so many cowboy stories, including a marvelous one called "Them Old Cowboy Songs," that she'd hardly go around calling more stories "cowboy." So if anyone's game... Would you have fallen for it? If not, why not? If so, why? (less)
I probably shouldn't give stars when I'm only halfway through a book, but I can't imagine I'll change my mind by the end of this one. I picked up the...moreI probably shouldn't give stars when I'm only halfway through a book, but I can't imagine I'll change my mind by the end of this one. I picked up the audio book for the car (really just as background research for my second novel), and I'm so hooked I'm making excuses to run errands just to listen to it. I do love the voice of the reader -- she sounds like an older, sophisticated woman, leaning close to fill you in on gossip she just learned -- and I'm reminded again of how much a reader can make or break an audio book (something sadly outside of most writers' control).
I don't imagine anyone will mistake this book for either serious literary criticism or intense, analytical biography. It excels at being exactly what it intends: a deliciously gossipy and truly funny overview of the Algonquin Round Table and some of the more sociable writers of the 1920s.
I'll be ordering this author's other books, and I already queued up "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" on Netflix.
And if anyone in the Chicago area desperately needs help with an errand that requires an hour or more of driving, I volunteer.
Updated: Finished the book. Yep, loved every minute of it, and she did a great job of wrapping up the story with the decade, even though the lives in question were, in some cases, just getting started. (It had a bit of an Animal House ending in that regard, but the sudden infusion of lively background music on the CD made it all quite festive.) Recommend most highly.(less)
This was my favorite debut novel of 2011. It's probably not for everyone, but it's definitely for me -- the layering of personal and family and German...moreThis was my favorite debut novel of 2011. It's probably not for everyone, but it's definitely for me -- the layering of personal and family and German history, the extremely unreliable narrator, the fabulous payoff of the revelations at the end... and sharp, original prose.
The closest thing I can liken the book to is Murakami, but I actually hate Murakami. I always feel like I've been listening to whole-tone jazz with no tonic, and his novels seem to end arbitrarily, no better than if they'd ended fity pages sooner. (Minority opinion there, I'm aware.) The difference here is that we're waiting the whole time for a payoff -- we know the main character, Margaret, has blocked out a traumatic period of time, and we know the novel will be over when she remembers the event -- and when that revelation comes, it's not what we expected, but it's inevitable and disturbing and worth the wait.
In that regard, it's a bit of a shoot-the-moon book (an apt analogy here, as there's a strange game of hearts being played with a ghost at one point); Higgins is willing to take risks that will, for the first two hundred pages, make her character appear foolish, until we realize we've been duped. Several red herrings in the plot really fooled me. I thought I was a step ahead of at least Margaret, if not the author as well -- and then I was the one played for a fool. Which is just about my favorite way to feel when I'm reading: like someone much smarter has just totally schooled me.
I wish this book were getting the same attention as some of the flashier, lighter debuts of the year -- but cream rises, and I can envision this author's second or third novel winning a major award, at which point everyone will come running back to read this one.
(I feel, in recommending this book, a bit like I felt a few years ago when I insisted everyone had to go see The Lives of Others. I knew some people wouldn't get into it, but damn it, they OUGHT to, and so I'm going to recommend it anyway.)(less)
I really did like this weird little collection, but I feel I ought to give the caveat that all of these stories, with the exception only of the last o...moreI really did like this weird little collection, but I feel I ought to give the caveat that all of these stories, with the exception only of the last one, are deeply disturbing. (less)
I might abandon this. The subject matter interests me, but Abbott is of the I'm-so-psychic-I-can-just-make-stuff-up school of historical writing, and...moreI might abandon this. The subject matter interests me, but Abbott is of the I'm-so-psychic-I-can-just-make-stuff-up school of historical writing, and it's intensely irritating. Lots of "She looked out the window and saw a dove fly by, and she reflected on how sad she was, and the pancakes she'd eaten for breakfast were sitting heavy in her stomach" kind of sentences. Really? You have documentation on that? It makes me doubt everything else she's saying. And really: when you're writing about brothels, do you seriously feel the need to make it MORE interesting through embellishment? (less)