Station Eleven is set in a time after a flu has wiped out most of the world's population which sounds like a grim premise. But what a shimming, luminoStation Eleven is set in a time after a flu has wiped out most of the world's population which sounds like a grim premise. But what a shimming, luminous book! The narrative moves back and forth in time and follows an actor, Arthur, and various people connected to him, some of whom do not survive, and some of whom do. Among those who survive are a prophet--perfectly, spookily rendered--a troupe of performers, The Traveling Symphony, and the curator of the Museum of Civilization. The characters do not always realize their connections, but the reader is able to watch those connections emerge and it's terrific fun. This post-apocalyptic world is fantastically imagined and brings into sharp relief the beauty and wonder of what was lost. Flight! The Internet! Air conditioning! Soap! To say nothing of mothers, sons, sisters, friends, neighbors, all kinds of people the loss of their presence, perhaps only seemingly small in retrospect. But it is also a meditation of what remains: humans' enormous capacities for cruelty, but also kindness and connection, creativity and wonder, and to seek new worlds....more
The Home Place is a well-written first novel about a woman, Alma, a high-powered attorney working in Seattle, who returns home to Montana when her youThe Home Place is a well-written first novel about a woman, Alma, a high-powered attorney working in Seattle, who returns home to Montana when her younger sister, Vicky, is found dead, apparently from exposure. It quickly becomes clear that Vicky may have been murdered. So the novel is a whodunit. But there's a lot going on in The Home Place. Besides Vicky's murder and Alma's homecoming, there's also the question of what will become of Vicky's adolescent daughter, Brittany; a rekindled romance; and the tensions surrounding a corporation's campaign designed to scare the locals into signing away their mineral rights. All that action, oddly, sometimes made the pace flag. But overall, The Home Place succeeds. I thought it did so especially as a depiction of Alma's search for own metaphorical home place as she reckons with the guilt she's felt since turning and fleeing from her family's literal home place and the choices she made there, as well as what her sister's death will mean for her future....more
Small Blessings is a rarity in that it is one of those stories that is serious without being heavy, sweet without being insipid. It is a warm and hopeSmall Blessings is a rarity in that it is one of those stories that is serious without being heavy, sweet without being insipid. It is a warm and hopeful story, that is indeed charming, as many other reviewers have noted. It takes place on a college campus and concerns a professor, Tom, who lives with his fragile, largely shut-in wife and shrewd but tender mother-in-law; the newly arrived campus bookstore employee, Rose; and Henry, the son Tom never knew whose arrival in town follows Rose's and really sets in motion the events of the novel. There are other characters in the orbits of these four, also tying to lead decent lives in spite of their imperfections. Some of what happens seems more improbable than not, but not outlandishly so. (In this way, the plot reminded me a bit of one in an Ann Tyler novel.). Besides, the characters are all so endearingly flawed, but well-meant, and the writing so insightful and fluid--some really, really lovely writing--that it is easy to forgive a plot that asks the reader to believe in what could be true, however unlikely....more
I came to Wild with low expectations, and it exceeded them, which is to say that I liked this book more than I thought I would. Still, at the time theI came to Wild with low expectations, and it exceeded them, which is to say that I liked this book more than I thought I would. Still, at the time the author hiked the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), she was young, and an inexperienced hiker, and her lack of perspective and ineptitude in the early going makes her a tedious narrator, even if you can appreciate her honesty. The author lost her mother, the only parent she ever really knew, young and this loss unglued her. She hikes the Pacific Coast Trail to try to gather herself together, to heal, though she realizes this purpose only over time. Initially, it seems like she simply doesn't know what to do with herself, and hiking the PCT seems like a better choice than some others. She is at her best when she shares the moments when she gained perspective regarding this loss, and those in which she realizes that her mother was a person, separate from her role as the author's mother. Although the author strained my patience, I appreciated her honesty, and was moved by what she shared of the healing she realized on the PCT.
Passages to remember:
"I felt fierce and humbled and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too."
"This was once Mazama, I kept reminding myself. This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was ponce an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill. But hard as I tried, I couldn't see them in my mind's eye. Not the mountain or the wasteland of the empty bowl. They simply were not there anymore. There was only the stillness and silence of that water: what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began."
"It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I'd done was true. . . .To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands many more. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything . It was my life--like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be."...more
The Girl You Left Behind is a bit of a rarity: an intelligent, enjoyable historical love story. It moves between German-occupied France during WWI (aThe Girl You Left Behind is a bit of a rarity: an intelligent, enjoyable historical love story. It moves between German-occupied France during WWI (a less often explored it of history) where Sophie, a woman whose husband has left to fight with the French, tries to survive and find her way to him, somehow, and modern day London, where events force Liv, mourning the death of her renowned architect husband at a young age, to move forward. At the novel's center is a painting with a history uncertain, of great value to both women in their respective times. All the characters--particularly Sophie and Liv, but really all--are complex, well-drawn, and believable, and the action moves swiftly. This is a love story that manages to be full of heart, without being treacly or overly sentimental....more
The Children Act concerns Fiona, a middle-aged and childless High Court judge in the Family Division who is called upon to decide a case involving theThe Children Act concerns Fiona, a middle-aged and childless High Court judge in the Family Division who is called upon to decide a case involving the refusal of a boy, just shy of majority, to receive a blood transfusion because of his religious beliefs, at very nearly the moment she is faced with a crisis in her marriage. Her judgment in the case has unintended consequences that transform Fiona's life. The is so much to enjoy in this graceful and compact novel--above all, the supple, unadorned prose for which Ian McEwan is known; it's a true joy to read. But Fiona is sort of maddeningly objective and capable of an equally maddening remove from her own life, which makes the novel feel a bit chilly. To be fair, it also makes the emotional gush of its end feel that much more intense. I felt for Fiona, but I often wanted to rattle her and tell her to stop being so ridiculous all the same....more
The Smartest Kids in the World explores K-12 education in three countries whose students perform well on an international assessment test that measureThe Smartest Kids in the World explores K-12 education in three countries whose students perform well on an international assessment test that measures how well students think or problem solve: Finland, South Korea, and Poland. To do so, the author, journalist Amanda Ripley, follows three US high school exchange students who each spend a year in one of these countries. The book is well-researched, but the author doesn't let the narrative get bogged down by data. Instead, she skillfully weaves it in to support observations or, just as often, to serve as a take-off point. When the data is the voices of the exchange students, their fellow students, their teachers, administrators, or their host families, Ripley allows those voices to speak for themselves. She also allows the different stories she's following to speak to each other, flipping back and forth between them, so that what emerges isn't a report divided by country, but ideas she's exploring through the experiences of the exchange students as she follows them. It's an approach that works well, and mirrors the fact that in spite of the book's provocative title, she seems more interested in furthering a dialogue about what is possible than in calling any country out for where it comes up short. It's a thoughtful book with a hopeful tone that makes a compelling case for creating conditions in which teaching can emerge as a highly regarded profession and be supported as such, for what might be gained by insisting and focusing on rigor in our schools, and for believing kids are tough enough not only to recover from failure, but to learn something from it. One might disagree with where Ripley lands, but again, it's thoughtful and optimistic, and encourages dialogue that is the same about the future of education in the US....more
Range of Motion, as other reviewers have noted, is a testament to the power of faith, love, and friendship. When Lainey's husband falls into a comma,Range of Motion, as other reviewers have noted, is a testament to the power of faith, love, and friendship. When Lainey's husband falls into a comma, she keeps the faith and friends buoy her up when her spirits flag. Berg's characters are well-drawn and there's some insightful, lovely writing in here. A quick, but satisfying--affirming--read....more