Kind of tough and depressing to get through - and I say this as someone who can handle books with heavy topics. I made it through the first two storieKind of tough and depressing to get through - and I say this as someone who can handle books with heavy topics. I made it through the first two stories - the first about an infant with shaken baby syndrome and the second about a woman with a flesh-eating illness - until the third story about a 10 year old girl's suicide that did me in. We all have things we can't handle and that's my personal tolerance threshold, right there.
All of these characters have one thing in common: they all wind up in the viewing room of the hospital where Henrietta is the on-call chaplain. This is as much Henrietta's story as those who are dead. She's unsure of herself (at least in the first 30 pages) and we get the sense she isn't quite living her life as much as she should be. There's a holding back, of sorts.
It's a good concept and the writing is okay, but this one just wasn't for me. ...more
Before I begin this review, there are two things you need to know.
First, I happen to be friends with author Ken Goldman. Known the guy for two decadesBefore I begin this review, there are two things you need to know.
First, I happen to be friends with author Ken Goldman. Known the guy for two decades now … and counting.
Secondly, I do not read horror – which just so happens to be Ken’s area of expertise and the genre for Of a Feather, his new book.
But when your friend of 23 years publishes his first full-length novel, you tend to make exceptions. And in this business, it’s considered good manners for writerly friends to support each other by reading each other’s work. Which I try to do, when I can.
That's what I did via an ARC (advanced readers copy) on my Kindle during a recent Philadelphia to Pittsburgh post-holiday trip. My husband (the very reason I know Ken in the first place) was driving us 350 miles across the fields of Pennsylvania, leaving me to become immersed in this novel and its characters.
And Goldman stacks Of a Feather with quite a few of them. There’s 17 year old Socrates Singer who has mysterious powers; Gert Breedlove, an octogenarian who spends her days feeding pigeons by a beloved statue in the park; Socrates’ arch-nemesis, a bully named Frankie Bottinelli; Doc Wiggins, a World War II veteran; Doris Singer, Socrates’ precocious 13 year old sister (definitely my favorite character in the novel); Jamie, a gorgeous teenager (and Doc’s granddaughter); an Indian warrior, and Taryn E. Friedman, an investigative reporter for the local news. (Every town has a Taryn.)
(Even Desiree Chappelle – from Goldman’s novella Desiree – earns a very brief mention.)
(A note on Goldman and his women: he handles his female characters and their interactions especially well; in Of a Feather, there are references to the chicks being strong, resourceful, financially-independent, and entrepreneurial. Hell, yeah.)
And of course, there is a special bird which comes to symbolize so very much for Socrates. He begins to realize that he has more in common with the bird, its history, and its legacy than anyone ever imagined.
In fact, all of these characters are connected. As we discover these connections – in nature, in our personal relationships – we also learn that a duality and a struggle for good and evil is constantly happening all around us.
In the opening pages, Goldman sets his reader up very early on for this conflict and makes us see them at every turn, even at something as innocent as a bird show at the grand opening for a new mall.
“This bird of legend represents the dual nature of our world,’ the elderly warrior explained to a hundred parents whose children were already yawning. “You see, everything in nature contains its opposite, We move in and out of darkness. As thunder contains life-giving rain, that same thunder creates fear and menace, lightning and flood. Wakinyan may serve as a protector of the Oglala, but also he may appear malevolent to those very same tribesmen. Truth flies into this world with two faces ….”
“The Indian smiled as if he had read the boy’s mind. ‘In order to learn, you must first be ignorant.The mask of Wakinyan knows many things, he sees through many eyes, as many as there are birds in the sky. We are all connected, Man with the flowers, and trees with the birds.”
The fact that something so beautiful and good (birds, relationships) also possesses the ability to become ugly and malicious and deceptive is a tough lesson to learn at any age, but especially so when you’re 17 like Socrates Singer and who, like most teenage boys, has …um, one thing on his mind. (More on that aspect in a minute.)
While reading Of a Feather, it’s easy to see the comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic film “The Birds.” (Goldman, a former high school English and Film Studies teacher, has certainly done his homework here.) I may have seen “The Birds” (probably at Ken Goldman’s house), but even a non-viewer could tell that there were enough winks and nods. That’s perfectly fine; you can’t write a novel about Birds Gone Wild and not give a hat tip to Hitchcock. I didn’t have an issue with that at all.
Where my issue came was with one aspect of the writing, particularly the language. Now, I tend not to offend easily but Goldman’s prose is incredibly … raw. I’m talking in excess of rated R raw. You feel squeamish at all the f-bombs and c-bombs – be forewarned, there are quite a lot of them - and other crudities you've never heard before. (Let’s just say you would be well advised not to leave a Ken Goldman story in full view where a child could discover it and learn a few new vocabulary words and phrases.) As I read, I found myself cringing across the Commonwealth.
I also know that this is Ken Goldman's brand of horror.
As I said earlier, I’m not a reader of the genre and certainly not an expert. I can only go by what I read and what I like. So he’ll probably laugh at me for saying this, but Kenny … you’re at your best when writing about affairs of the heart, my friend.
Contrast to the f-blasts, Goldman treats us to passages like these, the ones that resonated with me most. (Talk about opposites and duality – it really is all here in Of a Feather.)
“Socrates had always hoped one person might appear, just one person who would understand his turmoil, understanding it and caring about him anyway, not because they had to, but because they really did care. And then, suddenly, from nowhere – magic! For a few incredible weeks, Socrates mattered, he meant something to two people, and the world had righted itself.”
(We all get this, don’t we? We’ve been there.)
“For Socrates Singer the slightest hint of happiness doomed itself to a short shelf-life.”
“Love, even when double-crossed, should never fight back. To do so seemed a betrayal in itself. This, Socrates told himself repeatedly during those days of early summer, and he hoped he might eventually believe it, when every instinct told him he had (again!) been made a fool of.”
With more than 30 of his stories slated for publication in 2014, there’s nothing foolish about Ken Goldman’s writing. He enjoys a solid following in the horror genre, and after many years of hard work, it’s nice for us as his friends to see his writing career taking flight. If you have the stomach for an ample helping of gore and profanity seasoned with a dash of romance and humor, then perhaps Of a Feather might be for you....more
The Grievers may possibly be one of the best books you’ve never heard of.
This is the somewhat unusual case where I’ve heard of the author before the bThe Grievers may possibly be one of the best books you’ve never heard of.
This is the somewhat unusual case where I’ve heard of the author before the book. You see, Marc’s a Philly guy and although our paths haven’t (to my knowledge) crossed, I’m thinking I had to have read something of his at one point.
He’s just too good.
The Grievers came to my attention in late 2011, when my friend – and fellow Philadelphia author - Beth Kephart shared some reflections about it on her blog. I immediately added it to my Goodreads TBR list. There it sat until several months ago, when I spotted The Grievers on the shelf at the library.
(This is the irony that’s become my life nowadays: I need to move across the damn state to discover an author from my hometown. Somehow, I think that the main character Charley Schwartz would appreciate – and relate – to that.)
“Elvis Costello was singing on the radio. Neil cranked the volume and lowered his windows. As the world flew by at sixty miles per hour, we became children again – or pretended to, at any rate – belting out song lyrics with the wind whipping all around us. It wasn’t freedom, exactly, but a small part of me wondered what would happen if Neil laid a heavy foot on the gas and kept going – past the Academy, through the city, over the Delaware, and straight out to the Jersey shore. Could we have a do-over, I wondered? Could we win back the infinite possibility of childhood?” (pg. 62-63)
When prep school friends Charley and Neil learn of the death of Billy Chin, a fellow classmate, they agree to help the school with the memorial service … which turns into something else entirely. (Those of us who work or have worked in the development profession will especially enjoy this part of the book, as there may be more than a few incidents that sound all too familiar.) It also turns into something of a midlife crisis of sorts for Charley. (Or, as the book description puts it, “The Grievers is a darkly comic coming of age novel for a generation that’s still struggling to come of age.”)
The Philadelphia setting is absolutely dead-on; Mr. Schuster nails every detail of the geography. Although several of the locations are fictionalized, it was pure fun guessing what Mr. Schuster may have been referring to with certain aspects of his story.
I’m oversimplifying, it seems, but Mr. Schuster absolutely does an excellent job with this novel. Discover why – and how – for yourself....more
If you're looking for a novel to read while the government is in the midst of this sequester craziness (since it looks like this is going to happen),If you're looking for a novel to read while the government is in the midst of this sequester craziness (since it looks like this is going to happen), you're in the right place.
Don't leave yet, though, because this book? Is fantastic and absolutely well worth the read, sequester or fiscal cliff or political shenanigans be damned.
Actually, there's a bit of damnation involved in The Bird Saviors, come to think of it.
The Bird Saviors is set in modern-day Colorado in a seemingly not-too-distant future (maybe closer than author William J. Cobb thought) marked by a confluence of high unemployment, food and fuel shortages, extreme climate change and dust storms, illegal immigration, mysterious avian-borne viruses similar in scale to HIV/AIDS, and religious zealots.
One of those is 17 year old Ruby Cole's father, whom she has appropriately nicknamed Lord God. He's a proud but grumpy veteran of a war in the Middle East, who is now
"out of work and has given up looking for more. He lives off disability [he has a prosthetic leg] but its hardly a living. He preaches now at the Lamb of the Forsaken Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints. His congregation is mostly lost souls and the lonely, living hand to mouth." pg. 11
At 17, Ruby is already a mother of a toddler. They live with Lord God, who watches baby Lila while Ruby goes to school and spends her leisure time counting birds (most of which are on the verge of extinction). She gives the birds made-up names - Smoke Larks, Grief Birds, Squeakies, Moon Birds.
Early on in The Bird Saviors, William J. Cobb introduces his reader to a memorable cast of characters that includes
"an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, Nuisance Animal [Control] destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist who is studying the decline of bird populations. All the while, a growing criminal enterprise moves from cattle-rustling to kidnapping to hijacking fuel tankers and murder, threatening the entire community." (from the book jacket cover)
I honestly hadn't heard of The Bird Saviors before seeing it on my library's new books shelf and I believe it's one of the best books you've probably not heard too much about, either. I haven't seen it reviewed on many of the book blogs. (Then again, I'm rather behind on my blog reading.) Powerfully haunting, the writing and symbolism are fantastic throughout the course of the entire novel. You wonder how Cobb is possibly going to connect all these wayward characters- because you know their lives are too quirky not to intersect, as they do, briefly, in the beginning.
But it is in the vivid descriptions of this desert landscape, and the counting of the birds, and the saving of the ones that are rare and injured, where Cobb's skill as an author truly shines. The birds become a stand-in for our own fragility and how we all need some saving from the people we encounter in our lives - our loved ones and strangers alike - and sometimes, even ourselves.
Sometimes, as Ruby and some of the other well-developed characters discover in The Bird Saviors, we find someone else who is also similarly injured, just as broken, who can help save us as we make our way through a scary and uncertain world.
"Ward watches a murder of Crows flap and squawk past the yard, diving and swooping at the wide wings of a Red Tailed Hawk. The hawk glides and beats its wings, fades into the tan sky.
Ward takes these sighting as a good sign, as a sign of hope. Ruby has told him about her conversation with Lord God. Now the blades of hope and faith turn in Ward's head like a windmill. Too often faith is the word preachers use to ask for money. When he questioned the idea of a benevolent God who would let so many suffer and let his daughter die in pain, he was told the Lord works in mysterious ways. That he had to have faith. That he had to let go of his earthly hopes and dreams and put his soul in the hands of the Lord, who would reward him with everlasting life.
Ward can never lose the suspicion that the reward of blind faith is blindness.
Hope is a smaller, more reliable thing. You don't have to bank on the idea of a supreme being to hope for a better day, for Lila not to come down with the fever, for Ruby to keep a shelter over her head, for rain to come in the summer, as it has in the past. Faith is a shield, an excuse, an alibi.
Hope is something you can carry in your pocket. Something you can give to others. Something you can act on." (pg. 285-286)
Do yourself a favor. Sequester yourself for awhile with this one....more
"Tell me about William Whatney," she said. "When I last saw him he was a slim young man in a boat." Peggy burst out laughing. "That must have been ages"Tell me about William Whatney," she said. "When I last saw him he was a slim young man in a boat." Peggy burst out laughing. "That must have been ages ago!" she said. "Not so very long," said Eleanor. She felt rather nettled. "Well -" she reflected, "twenty years - twenty-five years perhaps." It seemed a very short time to her; but then, she thought, it was before Peggy was born. She could only be sixteen or seventeen." (pg. 205)
We've all experienced this, haven't we? This somewhat unsettling realization when something that we perceive in our minds to have occurred "not so very long" ago really happened more like two decades (and then some) in the past.
Nice to see that Virginia Woolf understood that even in 1937 when she wrote this novel.
I mean, I fall into this mind trap ALL THE TIME. I still, on more occasions than I care to admit, think 1990 was ten years ago rather than (gulp) 22 years long gone. I chalk this up to approaching my mid-40s, but after reading Virginia Woolf's novel The Years, now I'd like to look at this differently.
"They talked as if they were speaking of people who were real, but not real in the way in which she felt herself to be real. It puzzled her; it made her feel that she was two different people at the same time; that she was living at two different times in the same moment." (pg. 167)
Yep. That's it exactly. We are two different people at the same time, living at two different times in the same moment. We're a combination of our present and our past. ("What is the use, she thought, of trying to tell people about one's past? What is one's past?" (pg. 167)
Virginia Woolf's second-to-last novel The Years is a commentary about the passage of time, which she brings forth for the reader by showing her characters - members of the large, well-to-do Pargiter family and their extended family - through 1880-1918. (The last chapter is titled "Present Day," which I suppose is 1939, when the novel was published.) The Pargiters live in London, and at the beginning of the book, are in that sort of odd stage when you're just watching and waiting for a loved one to pass away. (In this case, their mother.)
Not too much happens in The Years. People visit each other, talk about their life and their travels. They sometimes die. It's a reflective, thoughtful sort of novel, and truthfully, this takes a little while to get used to - especially if you, like me, are not generally a classics reader or one who doesn't normally read novels set in this time period. (Woolf's passion for the semicolon is also more than a bit distracting.) It isn't until almost halfway through the story that you begin to see the connections among the characters, the passing of time as evidenced by the changing seasons and the weather.
Honestly, up to that point, I kind of considered abandoning this, but then I started gaining an appreciation for what Woolf was trying to say. With the exception of Mrs. Dalloway, which I absolutely loved right off the bat (kudos to one of the most awesome college English professors ever), I'm finding that this is my typical reaction to Virginia Woolf. I start off a little perplexed, a little lost and confused, and then I get immersed in the story.
Just like life, no?
"My life, she said to herself. That was odd, it was the second time that evening that somebody had talked abut her life. And I haven't got one, she thought. Oughtn't a life to be something you could handle and produce? - a life of seventy odd years. But I've only the present moment, she thought. Here she was alive, now, listening to the fox-trot. Then she looked round. There was Morris; Rose; Edward with his head thrown back talking to a man she did not know. I'm the only person here, she thought, who remembers how he sat on the edge of my bed that night, crying - the night Kitty's engagement was announced. Yes, things came back to her. A long strip of life lay behind her. Edward crying. Mrs. Levy talking; snow falling; a sunflower with a crack in it; the yellow omnibus trotting along the Bayswater Road. And I thought to myself, I'm the youngest person in this omnibus; now I'm the oldest ... Millions of things came back to her. Atoms danced apart and massed themselves. But how did they compose what people called a life?" (pg. 366-367) ...more
"I was told love should be unconditional. That's the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyon"I was told love should be unconditional. That's the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever? If I know I am loved no matter what, where is the challenge?" (pg. 414)
I drank the Kool-Aid with this one and my God, was this gooooood.
Gone Girl is the summer's hottest book, currently enjoying the #1 spot on The New York Times Bestseller list. It is the book that every blogger is talking about (well, along with that other book). Normally, with all this kind of hype, I wouldn't want anything to do with this book, but this one was absolutely irresistible.
For starters, it's a mystery, and I don't do mysteries. I scare easily, and I started this while The Husband was out of town for the night. This isn't a fright-fest, per se; this is more of a "what the fuck?!" fest.
(And that's in every sense of the word. Really. Be forewarned that if the likes of the f-word and a lot of gratuituous acts and descriptions thereof are not your thing, Gone Girl has all of the above in abundance. And then some. And then some MORE. I wound up wanting to give this 4.5 stars, and that minus .5 was because of the language and descriptive goings-on and I am far from easily offended.)
For those who have no idea what Gone Girl is about, allow me to give you just the most barest of plot summaries - because this is one of those books that the less you know about it, the better. Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for 5 years. On the morning of their 5th anniversary, Amy goes missing. ("I took a cue from your beloved Mark Twain: What ought to be done to the man who invented the celebrating of anniversaries? Mere killing would be too light." (pg. 109)
OK, enough said.
Sounds simple enough, but there's nothing simple about this book - nor these crazy as hell people who are incredibly, bizarrely complex.
"I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.
It's a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.
And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul-mate, because we don't have genuine souls.
It had gotten to the point where it seemed like nothing matters, because I'm not a real person and neither is anyone else.
I would have done anything to feel real again." (pg. 73)
Nick and Amy string each other along and you, as the reader, are just along for the literary equivalent of Mister Toad's Wild Ride. ...more
One of the most indulgent things about reading a Beth Kephart novel is getting the sense of being fully transported into another time and place. For eOne of the most indulgent things about reading a Beth Kephart novel is getting the sense of being fully transported into another time and place. For example, in The Heart is Not a Size, she immersed her reader in the heartbreak that is Juarez, Mexico. With Dangerous Neighbors, one is swept back into 1876, at the height of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
This literary levitation is one of the reasons why Kephart's books lend themselves so well to being read in one sitting.
That's certainly not a requirement in order to experience the extraordinary sense of place and time that make up a Beth Kephart book, but that is precisely how I tend to read her books, including Small Damages, her fourteenth.
Like the reader of her coming-of-age story, Kenzie Spitzer has also been suddenly whisked away - to southern Spain, banished by her detached mother who is more concerned about what people might think about 18 year old Kenzie's unplanned pregnancy than what Kenzie herself might want or need.
And what Kenzie needs, we learn, are several people she once had but who have now been made distant by the separation of two oceans or two worlds. Her once-best-friend-turned-boyfriend Kevin (and the father of the baby) is enjoying a carefree summer with her friends on the Jersey shore. Her father is dead, gone in an instant from a heart attack. Replacing them all are strangers in the old cortijo in Spain where Kenzie, abandoned by her own mother (a parallel for her own connection to her unborn child) is sent to live, until she has her baby and until it is given up for adoption - no questions asked, no input from Kenzie.
In Spain, Kenzie stays in a villa with Estela, a cook who is an acquaintance of a sorority friend of her mother's. There's Miguel, Luis, sensitive Esteban, a band of musical Gypsies, and the couple who plans to adopt the baby. Each of them has something to teach Kenzie about love, about secrets and regret, about loss, about healing, about distance and time.
"Distance isn't the end of love." She touches her heart and closes her eyes. "You write to him, Kenzie. If you love him." "Maybe he doesn't love me anymore. Maybe that's how it is." "Know your own heart first. Be careful." (pg. 77)
"Nothing goes away, Esteban says, after a long time passes. Not the things you remember, and not the things you still want." (pg. 152)
When you read a Beth Kephart novel, you expect an immersion in color, in poetry and language, a sensory experience, an exploration into the heart. Small Damages is no exception. Here, we feel the heat of the Spanish sun; we hear the sizzle and pop of the onions in the pan while Estella prepares paella; we see the brilliant colors of the oranges and smell their fragrance. We feel Kenzie's hurt and heartbreak; it is palpable on the page. (Since she has lost her dad, she might do well to become acquainted with Katie D'Amore, who lost her mom and who we met in Beth's novel Nothing But Ghosts. They do reside in pretty close proximity on Philadelphia's Main Line, after all.)
Through it all, we go to Spain within the folds of a story that is laden with symbolism and meaning - for it is impossible to miss the religious symbolism and life and death undertones in Small Damages. (Yeah, I'm going to go there.)
It's more prevalent here than in any other of Beth's books I've read, yet is handled beautifully and with such grace. From the presence of the nuns "blackbirding by" to the visits to Necropolis to Kenzie's mother's declarations of what to do about the baby ("I'm calling Dr. Sam. We're going to fix this." "Fix it?" I said), to Miguel's bulls that will soon be taken away, to Kenzie's tender interactions of addressing the baby directly, to the birds (including actual STORKS!), to the storyline about adoption, to Estela's exclamations of Santa Maria, madre de Dios. All this, sometimes even within several paragraphs.
"He points to the sky, and I hear what he hears - a church bell song and also a flamenco song - and suddenly I'm wondering what would have happened if I had had a plan this morning, had not woken up and cold showered and started walking on my way to who knows where. Think ahead, Kevin always said, but I don't know how to think anymore, or what to think about, and now, from around the bend come a bride and groom and a party, and suddenly I am thinking about you - how I wish you could see this, wish I could someday tell you how, at the end of the procession, there was a pig and after that pig there were four boys chasing it straight through the streets.
Your eyes are on the sides of your head, and then they move forward. They are black seeds, and then they blink. I can't remember if it's happened already. You're not some tiny half inch anymore. You're a baby, my baby, but you won't be. You aren't. You are Javier and Adair's, and I know nothing - they're telling me nothing - about them.
'I have something for to show you,' Miguel says, when the crowd is gone and the pig is lost and we can still hear the holler of boys. He takes me around to the other side of town. 'The Necropolis,' he says. It's a low hill relaxed beneath the shade of cypress trees. We walk between slabs of stone walls and down into a world carved out of sand, a world of Roman ruins.
'Two hundred tombs,' Miguel says, and he says, 'Go and see,' He stays where he is. I walk alone through walls that seem carved out of earth toward rooms that definitely are, and everything is timeless, everything is smooth, everything is like it must have always been. Gone is gone; it lasts forever." (pg. 87)
In this life, none of us escapes unscathed. We're all left with damages, small and large. Through Kenzie's eyes, we see those and those of the people in her midst. We see the sting of regret, but we also see the power of choices. Small Damages reminds the reader that even when we think they aren't, our choices are still there, always ours for the making. ...more
“How often do you get to lose everything and start all over again?” ~ The Lola Quartet
When we meet him at the beginning of The Lola Quartet, Gavin Sas“How often do you get to lose everything and start all over again?” ~ The Lola Quartet
When we meet him at the beginning of The Lola Quartet, Gavin Sasaki has, indeed, lost everything. His wife has left after having a miscarriage, he’s been fired from his job as a journalist for fabricating people and quotes, and he’s been evicted from his apartment.
“The point was that Gavin had opened a door, cracked it just slightly, and he could see through to the disgrace and shadows on the other side. If you tell a lie it’s easier to tell another.”
The Lola Quartet‘s very settings are also in the midst of so much true-to-life economic loss: New York City in early 2009, Florida in the wave of the housing collapse. It is to his hometown in Florida where Gavin returns in shame, working for his sister’s business of giving foreclosed homeowners “cash for keys” to their property, and remembering his high school glory days when he and a group of close friends formed and performed as a music group called The Lola Quartet.
As these things tend to go, each member of The Lola Quartet has also had their dreams foreclosed on, too – sometimes by their own doing, sometimes by their the actions of others.
“They sat together in the basement, Jack and Sasha and Daniel with Gavin ostentatiously absent, and it seemed to Jack that their missing instruments were like ghosts. He’s been thinking a lot about ghosts lately, after a movie he’d seen, and the thought of a translucent ghost saxophone sitting next to him was oddly appealing.
The silence was awkward. He thought of these people as his closest friends, but it seemed that without music there wasn’t much to talk about. He was seized by a mad desire to confide in them – I miss everything about high school and I’m not the musician I thought I was, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, jazz has always been my life but now it’s slipping away from me and my talent isn’t going to be enough – but he couldn’t imagine how to begin.”
There’s a bit more to this once close-knit quartet – MUCH more, as it turns out. Music is just one of the connections holding this group together after so many years. (“…when all lies in disarray there’s still order in music.”) Those connections and the losses that result from them seamlessly form the plot of Emily St. John Mandel’s incredibly well-written, suspenseful third novel.
This foursome has a history together, beginning with Gavin’s relationship with his high school girlfriend Anna Montgomery, who disappeared during The Lola Quartet’s last high school concert amid rumors that she was pregnant. Suspecting that the child was his (a suspicion he’s harbored in the decade since he last saw Anna) and fueled by a chance encounter that his sister Eilo had with the child as part of her work in the real estate business, Gavin puts his investigative newspaper reporting skills to the ultimate test as he dons his fedora (literally) and tries to put his life together again while piecing together his past.
Gavin is a rather sympathetic, there-for-but-the-grace-of-God-go-I character. This is more than the typical “you can go home again” novel; it delves deeper, for Gavin’s home has changed (symbolized by Florida’s issues with exotic wildlife) yet remained the same (the oppressive heat still has the power to bring him literally to his knees) yet morphed into a place that, by the end of the novel, is just the same as any other town in America.
In the hands of a lesser talented novelist, The Lola Quartet could easily hit a wrong chord. As a novel that is dubbed as “literary noir,” there is a lot of mystery involved here, much territory to cover, and more than a few characters to connect the dots with for the reader. Fortunately for her readers, The Lola Quartet was written by the exceptional Emily St. John Mandel, author of Last Night in Montreal and The Singer’s Gun. Of those, I’ve only read Last Night in Montreal (and highly recommend it), and after The Lola Quartet, she has now become an author whose work I admire and who deserves much more acclaim than she currently receives....more
Well, The Sense of an Ending has become my default answer to everyone who asks me for a good book to readHave I recommended this book to you yet? No?
Well, The Sense of an Ending has become my default answer to everyone who asks me for a good book to read - and it will be for some time to come. Because, you know, when people know you're an avid reader, all of a sudden you're their go-to girl for all the good books to read. Which, is not a bad thing. (Sometimes.)
I digress. I can also sum up this review in four words.
I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.
I mean, I'm talking I loved everything about this little book. Usually there's something that my critical, nit-picky self can find fault with. Not here. The well-defined characters, the gorgeous writing (I could quote from this all day), how Julian Barnes packed SO MUCH into so few pages ... it's so well worth being named the winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, and you know me when it comes to book prizes - I kind of eschew them. Take 'em or leave them. But The Sense of An Ending deserves every accolade and then some.
Really, if there's anything I don't like about this it is the publisher's description, which says that this
intense novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
That makes The Sense of an Ending sound sort of freakish and a bit sinister. That's NOT what this is. Rather, this is a gorgeous novel about time and memory.
"We live in time - it holds us and moulds us - but I've never felt I understood it very well. And I'm not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time's malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing - until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return." (pg 3-4)
More, please. With those exquisite lines, Barnes had me absolutely hooked on this story. The first section, which illuminated Tony's school days (and those of his close friends, Alex, Colin, and Adrian), has a "Dead Poets Society" feel to it.
In those days, we imagined ourselves as being kept in some kind of holding pen, waiting to be released into our lives. And when that moment came, our lives - and time itself - would speed up. How were we to know that our lives had in any case begun, some damage already inflicted? (pg. 10)
I could quote from this book all day, but that would just prevent you from reading it. Speaking of which, some other reviewers have said that this is a book that is meant to be read in one sitting - and I completely agree. I'd even go so far as to say that The Sense of an Ending would even make for a good, intelligent beach book for those who enjoy reading something of substance along with their sand and surf. We knew from our reading of great literature that Love involved Suffering, and would happily have got in some practice at Suffering if there was an implicit, perhaps even logical, promise that Love might be on its way.
This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn't turn out to be like Literature. Look at our parents - were they the stuff of Literature? At best, they might aspire to the condition of onlookers and bystanders, part of a social backdrop against which real, true, important things could happen. Like what? The things Literature was all about: love, sex, morality, friendship, happiness, suffering, betrayal, adultery, good and evil, heroes and villains, guilt and innocence, ambition, power, justice, revolution, war, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the individual against society, success and failure, murder, suicide, death, God. And barn owls. (pg. 16)
Brilliance. How can you not love writing like this?
I certainly do, and so very much that this is going to be one of the rare books that I will likely (at some point) read again and possibly even purchase. (I very rarely re-read books, and even more rarely do I purchase books that I've borrowed from the library.) The Sense of an Ending is that good.