Run, do not walk, to read Gone Girl. Finally, a character-driven best seller that deserves to be. Character and nothing but character, driving an intr...moreRun, do not walk, to read Gone Girl. Finally, a character-driven best seller that deserves to be. Character and nothing but character, driving an intricate and tightly-woven plot. Fantastic sense of place. Satire and psychological depth in equal measure. Satisfying ending. what a portrait of a marriage. Hurry up! Get in line! worth it!(less)
What a remarkable find! Thanks, NY Times Book Review.
A totally character-driven novel, at last! Surprising, contemporary, deeply felt, this book tell...moreWhat a remarkable find! Thanks, NY Times Book Review.
A totally character-driven novel, at last! Surprising, contemporary, deeply felt, this book tells the story of a young US soldier whose unit was caught on tape defending its position in Afghanistan and, as the heroes of the moment, they're given a week off during which they appear at the Super Bowl. Then it's back to the front lines.
Sound like a thin idea? Maybe. But this writer brings you into this young man's head and heart, and creates his days off in ways I don't think you'll forget. True to the character's age and experience, true to the sour notes of modern sports and TV culture, and true to the dynamics of bro-love, this book will make you laugh out loud and squirm in your chair. Let's put it this way: you'll never forget the author's description of Beyonce's stepping off across the field at half-time.
Do yourself a favor: read this book, then keep an eagle eye out for more from this accomplished author.(less)
Another highly-recommended summer book, Seating Arrangements = WASPs have a wedding. I readily confess to a weakness for "inside the world of the rich...moreAnother highly-recommended summer book, Seating Arrangements = WASPs have a wedding. I readily confess to a weakness for "inside the world of the rich" stories and seem particularly vulnerable during the hot months. They're all here: the WASP protagonist (father of the bride), his long-suffering wife, the hot bridesmaid, the problematic daughter, the cad groomsman, the secretly-gay old relative (gasp!) Seating Arrangements is of a slightly higher caliber than normal, showing off its author's way with an image and evocation of place, both of which are very good. But the author is a grad of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and wrote the book on the dime of Breadloaf and other network-your-way-in stipend providers, so you'd expect her to know her way around decent writing.
I think we may see more from this author, and given the shark tank that's the world of modern publishing, she's lucky this book was published. She has talent but this book probably should have marinated a little more, or an astute editor might have guided the author away from this particular worn-out story. I finished it a few days ago and cannot for the life of me remember how it ends, apart from not being as good as the ending of Six Feet Under -- but what is?(less)
One of the most highly-touted books of the summer, Beautiful Ruins trades heavily on its connection to Richard Burton -- the actor, not the explorer -...moreOne of the most highly-touted books of the summer, Beautiful Ruins trades heavily on its connection to Richard Burton -- the actor, not the explorer -- and current Hollywood stereotypes, which appear to be having a long shelf life. The book is jam-packed with story but little of it is driven by memorable characters. The character-driven plotlines are few and overall, the plot is heavily manipulated.
A nice beach read. I'm disappointed when "best" books turn out like this. In reaching for creativity, I believe the author over-reached and, thus, disappointed himself. Any one of the 5 plotlines might have made for a decent tale by itself. Taken together, kind of a mess. (less)
Of course, the winner of the Man Booker Prize -- for the first of this planned trilogy, WOLF HALL -- will be a skillful writer. But I don't think her...moreOf course, the winner of the Man Booker Prize -- for the first of this planned trilogy, WOLF HALL -- will be a skillful writer. But I don't think her Man Booker can prepare you for the gorgeous prose that makes WOLF HALL and BRING UP THE BODIES such delicious feasts.
Mantel's prose is chewy, dense. While her masterful plot races forward, she stops to ponder the beauty of a thought, or a butterfly's wings. You stop with her and you don't want to leave that place of beauty. She paints her scenes with subtle brushstrokes.
But apart from her skill at making sentences and pages, I believe, as a fellow writer -- as if I might even fantasize that I'm in Mantel's company in any way -- that it's her understanding and manipulation of structure that keeps you riding along with her. She knows that a historical novel need not be solely told in linear fashion. She circles around and back to deepen our enjoyment. Her control of point of view is a master class in itself.
Finally, she has rendered a character who is not sympathetic -- unless you're into murder and mayhem and weakness of soul -- and then penetrates him with compassion so that we understand and feel him. Cromwell, in this telling, never fully believes in himself and never loses his connection to his poor beginnings. Even as we shrink from his 'achievements,' we connect to him as a fellow human.
Do read these books! The finale should be a humdinger. Five stars!(less)
This is Waldman's first novel, and it's very good. She's a strong writer -- precise, economical. Those two talents carry the book forward. The tale --...moreThis is Waldman's first novel, and it's very good. She's a strong writer -- precise, economical. Those two talents carry the book forward. The tale -- of a contest in New York to identify a design for a 9/11 memorial -- is character-driven for about the first two/thirds of the book, and it moves along splendidly. The characters drive the plot, as it should be.
Then, in the final third, Waldman's precise descriptions of every nuance of every character's emotions as the ending nears serve only to slow the pace, which is the last thing you want to do. In my opinion, these explorations didn't add much to the overall story and, therefore, weren't worth it. By cutting about 50 pages, Waldman would have achieved a read-all-night page turner.
But this is a quibble. By exploring the nature of America's reaction to Islam in those early days following the attach, Waldman has made a great contribution to our literature about it, which I've been finding piss-poor. In The Submission, we learn a great deal from characters who are deeply drawn. While it's hard to avoid stereotypes when telling a tale like this one, Waldman mostly achieves that avoidance. I'll eagerly await her next book. (less)
Stunning! Inventive, mysterious, seductive. Barry's first novel is dystopian, but not really; romantic, but not really; poetic, but not really. Barry...moreStunning! Inventive, mysterious, seductive. Barry's first novel is dystopian, but not really; romantic, but not really; poetic, but not really. Barry has unleashed his imagination and given us all something brand new. This was one of those books I didn't want to end. I'm a huge fan of the "sideways" revelation and Barry does that perfectly, giving us the story with sideways brushstrokes. The characters are memorable.
Cannot wait to read more from this gifted writer. (less)
This was The Big Book of 2011 -- a first novel by a graduate of Harvard's MFA Program. Through the connections he made via Harvard, the author was abl...moreThis was The Big Book of 2011 -- a first novel by a graduate of Harvard's MFA Program. Through the connections he made via Harvard, the author was able to get his book in front of an interested publisher directly, without querying, etc.
Naturally, this story set my teeth on edge, given how near-hopeless it is to get published. I just finished the book, and it's good. Not great, but I could see why it got published so quickly, especially for a first novel:
* It's set on a college campus. * It's a baseball story. * Two of the main characters are gay. * SHORT short chapters.
This novel hits the above notes, which are all the rage in current publishing circles. My take: good characters, one great one (Schwartz). The female characters, not so great. The main female character -- who is the only woman in the book who's drawn even close to fullness -- is kind of anesthetized. The male characters are much more enjoyable and are much better done.
Harbach is a good writer. He creates some impressive images and doesn't over-use them. He creates a sound sense of place and his pacing -- avec the short chapters -- keeps the book moving. So I'd call this a good read. Did it move me? No. I didn't find much in it that I didn't already know, which is always disappointing -- you want fiction to show you something new, to hold up reality, turn it around and return it to you transformed. For me, this didn't happen. But I'm sure with this leg up, Harbach will be in a position to continue to produce novels and will hopefully deepen his vision. (less)
Obviously, Henderson is a strong writer. She wrangles a large cast, multiple plot complications, and yet delivers gorgeous imagery as a punctuation to...moreObviously, Henderson is a strong writer. She wrangles a large cast, multiple plot complications, and yet delivers gorgeous imagery as a punctuation to her narrative, but it never feels like the images are coming directly from her -- rather, they come from the characters.
However -- and this is a huge 'however' because this book wound up on most "Best of 2011" lists -- this is a messy book. I could identify two entire subplots that added little to the overall surge of the story and only confused matters. I'm an attentive reader yet I was frequently confused about which characters were currently onstage and what their backstory was. Many of the characters were mere names. The author seems proud of her knowledge of male adolescent hygiene, or lack of -- pages of this stuff. And for a 'Best Of' book to sport usages like "off of" throughout the book is unforgivable.
Upon finishing the book, I was struck by the feeling that the author wanted to commemorate the existence of the punk downtown culture in NY in the 80's. OK, worthy goal. But as a result, many characters existed to serve the story and not the other way around. We have all the usual suspects: the potheads, the punks, the unwashed male teenagers, the early victims of AIDS, the pregnant teenage girl, most of them musicians. We never get the music at all, although this is supposed to be a through-line that supports the story. Add in adoptees, missing parents, birth mysteries -- that's a lot of weight to carry. If the book had been shorter and tighter, perhaps some of the main characters could have carried a more focused story. I'm sure we'll see that better novel from Henderson in the future. (less)
Thrilling! I'm a sucker for end-of-the-world-as-we-know=it books, and this was a great one. While delivering plenty of excitement, this apocalyptic ta...moreThrilling! I'm a sucker for end-of-the-world-as-we-know=it books, and this was a great one. While delivering plenty of excitement, this apocalyptic tale is well-grounded in practical possibility. Our protagonist is fully developed and engaging. His story emerges slowly and with tantalizing details. Similarly, details of the world after the Bad Thing are revealed slowly, which sets up the ending perfectly. Whitehead is a proven excellent writer and he doesn't disappoint here. You'll have fun with this one.(less)
A first novel by a young Bosnian man. The writing is inventive, creative, and dead on. But beyond that, Prcic uses the raw material of his own life in...moreA first novel by a young Bosnian man. The writing is inventive, creative, and dead on. But beyond that, Prcic uses the raw material of his own life in the best possible manner. He takes that raw material and adds just the right touches of fantasy and imagination so as to wring the most meaning from the tales he has amassed. He weaves four distinct storylines together to present a portrait of a soul undergoing torture: the common torture of growing up, added to the exquisite tortures mankind devises during wartime, plus the psychological torture of disrupted lives. Prcic's energy is fantastic. I hope we see much more from his keyboard. "Shards" grabs you and won't let go. Hope you love it!(less)
Although the central premise of this book -- a retelling of Genesis from Cain's point of view -- is intriguing enough by itself, it's the writing that...moreAlthough the central premise of this book -- a retelling of Genesis from Cain's point of view -- is intriguing enough by itself, it's the writing that makes this spectacular. Saramago is sly, uproariously funny, inventive, passionate, and compelling in this tale. I didn't want this to end. If you're not familiar with this Nobelist in Literature, "Cain" is a good entree into his work. Read it!(less)
Too cute by half. I acknowledge that every now and then, a Big Thing in the culture passes right by me, and Swamplandia! is one of those things. While...moreToo cute by half. I acknowledge that every now and then, a Big Thing in the culture passes right by me, and Swamplandia! is one of those things. While there were portions of the book that had, in my opinion, some writing of astonishing beauty, I found the whole thing so unbelievable that I got annoyed. I respect an author's right to create whatever s/he wants. However, I found this story and these characters to be off the beaten path for its own sake. Nothing resonated as real. I forgot it as soon as I finished it. The book's winding up on Best Books Lists of 2011, so there's something going on with it that I'm just not understanding. Not great, although we'll definitely see interesting work from this author in the future.(less)