I was turned off by the title story of this collection. It recounts the trials of a mother confronting and guiding her high school age daughter throug...moreI was turned off by the title story of this collection. It recounts the trials of a mother confronting and guiding her high school age daughter through a bout of anorexia nervosa--delicate subject--written in imperative sentences. The tone worried me; I thought I might be in for two hundred pages of sentimental whining. Not the case.
Most of the stories are linked to Ruby, the presumed anorexic girl mentioned above, and her daughter Nora, whose main challenges stem from the legacy of body image issues, tumultuous relationships with men, and alcoholism. The reader is allowed to fill in the holes of the two women's biographies: often 2-5 years pass between one story and the next, which is thrilling in its own way. Satisfyingly, as the two women make decisions (mostly about men), they manage to both surprise and confirm the reader's fears. You'll want to root for Ruby and Nora, and every misstep comes to feel like a personal failure. Serber has written two characters you'll get to know like family friends, and watching them change (or not) is like catching up with a distant relative at a family reunion.
Though the stories that don't follow Ruby and Nora are just as carefully crafted as those that do, I selfishly wanted them to be cut for other titles with the growing characters. Something about their absence threw the pacing off for me, though this may be a personal problem. Regardless, they cover similar thematic ground and bridge the gaps of the book in pleasant ways.(less)
This is a quirky, compact book, and that's not meant as a diminutive. In seventy short pages, Villalobos introduces us to a precocious, sheltered son...moreThis is a quirky, compact book, and that's not meant as a diminutive. In seventy short pages, Villalobos introduces us to a precocious, sheltered son of a Mexican cartel operator--a boy whose only understanding of the world outside his father's compound comes from his dictionary, his Playstation 3, and his few acquaintances from the outside world. (He has a count of how many people he knows; though the value changes throughout the story, it's about fifteen . . . total.)
Through the son's eyes, we meet a father who tries to make his progeny happy, which usually means catering to his outlandish desires. Namely, the characters take a quick vacation to Liberia, in search of an elusive pygmy hippopotamus, the boy's exotic animal du jour.
Villalobos also plays with themes of masculinity, family, duty, and patriotism. They are, of course, interpreted through the boy's naive world view. The thing, though, is that his take on the way the world works isn't that far off from the takes of our free-thinking, fully developed peers.(less)
Even if the earth's rotation is slowing, the small dramas and unexpected complications of middle school in southern...moreThis is apocalypse-lite done right.
Even if the earth's rotation is slowing, the small dramas and unexpected complications of middle school in southern California continue to confound Julia, who is awkwardly transitioning from adolescence into her tumultuous teenage years. The earth's slowing has effects great and small. Days and nights get longer, animals struggle to adapt, and solar flares rain radiation from the sky. At the same time, solid marriages are fraying, easy-going people develop paranoia, and Julia discovers her first attraction to a neighborhood boy named Seth.
Karen Thompson Walker tells a story that will resonate with both teens and adults, without pandering to either (a miracle in itself). The end-times scenario is a backdrop for a grander, more universal revelation: that, at a certain age, people begin to understand they're in part accountable for the emotions of others. That how we treat another person can devastate their world, or build for them a paradise. (less)
A fresh spin on apocalyptic fiction. In this case, the agent of social collapse is a wasting syndrome caused by the comprehension of language; it's fi...moreA fresh spin on apocalyptic fiction. In this case, the agent of social collapse is a wasting syndrome caused by the comprehension of language; it's first noticed when parents start to fall ill when listening to their adolescent children yammer and complain. As one might imagine, this particular affliction does a nice job of unraveling humanity from the living room, often ground zero of a traditional apocalypse.
Marcus' story is informed by a likely fascination with linguistics, as well as an author's innate curiosity about the way people make meaning from language. Elements of Jewish mysticism, ritual, and devotion color the protagonist's motivations, making for interesting connections with religious history. Tie the armchair language theory to the plague narrative and existential Judaic howl and you've got an ambitious, confounding, idiosyncratic indictment of our language-driven culture.
The narrator of this debut novel is fantastically, humorously neurotic. His epic self-awareness, and subsequent epic self-loathing/doubt, shows an unf...moreThe narrator of this debut novel is fantastically, humorously neurotic. His epic self-awareness, and subsequent epic self-loathing/doubt, shows an unforgiving, yet sympathetic, portrait of over-privileged, over-educated, inscrutably ambitious creative types. (less)
In the tradition of Great American Novels (i.e. failing marriages in the 'burbs), Lurie's story is a sniggering--yet fair-minded--dispatch from the fr...moreIn the tradition of Great American Novels (i.e. failing marriages in the 'burbs), Lurie's story is a sniggering--yet fair-minded--dispatch from the front lines of a household in the throws of an adultery-spurred civil war. Although written and set in the social upheaval of the early '70s, the novel's attention to emotional and social nuance makes for a more universal account of relationship tensions, foibles, and redemption between cuckold and mistress, between parents and children, and between husband and wife. This was a pleasure to read--and an insight into the complicated emotional mindsets of those on all sides of a mid-life infidelity.(less)
A refreshing collection of mostly horror stories, in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe. Evenson skips most of the gory details for the equally brutal convol...moreA refreshing collection of mostly horror stories, in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe. Evenson skips most of the gory details for the equally brutal convolutions of a haunted mind. Like Poe, many of these stories concern people who question their sensory perceptions, fail in memory, or cannot control their own actions. There's also something of a Bradbury-esque quality to his parable-making: the stories border on the fringe of folk tales (and, indeed, many of them seem to be retelling of Scandinavian fables). Finally, Evenson often writes about storytelling, about the soothing, muddling, and or frightening effect that conveying one's own horror can cause. Highly recommended collection, especially the stories "Dapplegrim," "Discrepancy," "The Other Ear," and "Anskan House."(less)
As a fan of apocalyptic writing and apocalyptic stories, I'm always eager to pick up a new book imagining the near and awful future. White Horse, unfo...moreAs a fan of apocalyptic writing and apocalyptic stories, I'm always eager to pick up a new book imagining the near and awful future. White Horse, unfortunately, didn't cut it for me. Something of a feminized version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the main character, Zoe, leads a series of women on an implausible journey from America to Greece, via a life-shucked Italy. Along the way Zoe must protect herself and her unborn child from rapacious men and mutated humans that, zombie-like, desire the fresh flesh of the unafflicted.
The novel is lazily (or hastily) written apocalyptic fluff, probably pushed through the publishing sausage-machine to capitalize on interest in The Hunger Games. The background of this book's apocalyptic scenario is both cliched and riddled with holes, and the apocalyptic referent she calls out most heavily--White Horse, the name of the mutation/sickness that wipes out 90 percent of humanity, and a clear nod to the four horsemen of a certain Christian telling of the apocalypse--was criminally squandered. Finally, the protagonist/lover relationship is as subtle as a Kate Hudson rom-com.
I suppose that this is apocalyptic beach reading, something to let you imagine the depths of depravity the human soul will sink to in the face of disaster while you curl your toes in white sand. Probably uninteresting or frustrating to anyone who has more than a passing interest in dystopian fiction. If you make it through the book, though, the last line of the novel is clever as heck. (less)
This was my first Melville House book, and I'm not sure I chose the right one to set out with. Although the author, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi,is a revered I...moreThis was my first Melville House book, and I'm not sure I chose the right one to set out with. Although the author, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi,is a revered Iranian novelist, the translation from Persian by Tom Patterdale read inelegantly. (I'm not a translation expert by any means, but this title lacks the poetic flow of so many other Middle Eastern novels I've read lately.) And perhaps this is nit-picking, but the copy-editing was pretty lax. Cool art direction, but this book could have used another three months of production.
The split format allowed for interesting character development; at times the straightforward narrative slips into the mind of the main character, the colonel, or his eldest son, a shell- and life-shocked youngish man named Amir. Both men are dealing with the aftermath of their worlds being turned on their respective ears, and the internal stock-taking, rationalization, and anxiety provide for engaging insights to a country on the cusp of radical upheaval. The Colonel may be most interesting for those with a general understanding of Iranian politics in the latter half of the 20th century, but despite useful footnotes, much of the context will be lost on the casual reader.(less)