I almost gave this book four stars, just for the history lesson it gives of a great writer. But I'm kind of a hard critic, and this isn't better than...moreI almost gave this book four stars, just for the history lesson it gives of a great writer. But I'm kind of a hard critic, and this isn't better than Kurt's real novels, but very different. Vonnegut shows his roots, free of sci-fi, free of crazy twists and ultra intelligent banter. Instead, we get characters who are real, with real problems, and it's interesting to read these very normal short stories by an author who later wrote very stylized books. Not all of them are great. A few are close to bad. But five or six of them are funny, deep, and character rich. It's hard to say that about any short story. I'm not disappointed I bought this book, or spent the time reading it, and may even find a way to use one or two stories in my classroom. But ultimately, it will not be considered a classic, like four of Vonnegut's books should be. (less)
Started really strong and McEwan always has his way with words, but this one just kind of fizzled out. Usually his stories focus on one event, and the...moreStarted really strong and McEwan always has his way with words, but this one just kind of fizzled out. Usually his stories focus on one event, and the psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical reaction that his characters have to that event, and this book is no different. What this book does fail in, though, is the usual plot twists that McEwan's books are filled with. It could have gone so many other directions, all of which would have been better than where it actually went. (less)
Ten stories that are masterfully created, but I will focus solely on one: Babylon Revisited. No word is wasted or unnecessary in this greatest of F. S...moreTen stories that are masterfully created, but I will focus solely on one: Babylon Revisited. No word is wasted or unnecessary in this greatest of F. Scott Fitzgerald's stories. Perhaps only Gatsby gets us to the finish line in such an eloquent and timely manner.
In this story, the main character, expatriate Charlie, returns to Paris (His home during the 20's boom) after the depression (story is written in 1931). The city has changed, and so has he; broker, soberer, depressed, a widow (which some of the drama derives from), and seeking forgiveness for his sins, he is back solely to regain custody of his daughter whom he has lost touch with after living "high on the hop." A series of conversations and bad encounters try to pull Charlie back into his drunken, selfish ways, of which Fitzgerald writes masterfully. The story is about redemption and maturing, and facing our own demons. The end could be construed as sad or hopeful, although I tend to believe the later.
The autobiographical content is what makes it so much more personal. This is probably the closest we get to Fitzgerald's life (maybe Tender is the Night), as he writes about the responsibility of losing a spouse, (as Zelda was now institutionalized after a decade of hard living) the cost of addiction (which Scott and Zelda could attest to) and materialism over family (which cost Scott his wife and later separated him from his daughter Scottie). After the depression, Fitzgerald was a has been, a writer from a different age, who was passed over by writers who understood human suffering like Steinbeck, Faulkner, and even Hemingway...and yet, this story captures that moment after the crash and puts it into perspective in a way that none of those aforementioned authors could touch: emotional bankruptcy.
I could talk about the language, the beautiful passages, the pitch perfect dialogue between father and daughter, the masterfully plotted pace and setups...but that is what you can discover. I've read a lot of short stories, took classes on them, and taught them for a number of years, and no other story gets as much bang for the buck as this story. It helps having a working knowledge of the booming 20s and the depression, the expatriate crowd in France, and Fitzgerald's biography, but none of it is necessary to appreciate the story of a man moving beyond his personal failures to try and create some semblance of familial normalcy after a lifetime of excess.(less)
A short book, or novella, deserves a short review. Here goes:
This is my fifth McEwen book, found it at a used store for four bucks, and thought it wo...moreA short book, or novella, deserves a short review. Here goes:
This is my fifth McEwen book, found it at a used store for four bucks, and thought it would be a good two day read. It was, and it wasn't. This is no Atonement, however, I found it more interesting than Amsterdam...
The pros: *The ennui of the couple is masterfully set-up. On vacation, yet bored, and very British in their daily rituals, the reader knows that something, anything, out of the ordinary is going to upset their "holiday."
*McEwen finds a way to make the trivial, the backgrounds, the settings, the way we all interact on a daily basis about the mundane, interesting in a way that no other author I've read with exception of Steinbeck, interesting. When most authors go off on a tangent, so do I, but McEwen keeps me glued like going back in time and listening to Twain.
*The set-up isn't obvious, yet it is, and often when we think something is going to happen, nothing does, but it adds layers of suspense...A very subtly dark, intense read that will not have you screaming, but squirming.
The cons: *The protagonists aren't given any depth. It's hard to care about either character (maybe the author's intent), and at times, they act like characters in a horror movie (while written very stylistically). I almost liked the antagonists more, even if I found their motivation a little odd, and their psychological issues unbelievable. Still, it is a novella, and probably not the intention to care deeply about any character.
*The chaos of the city is explained, and felt, but slightly annoying. McEwen seems to try to verbalize things that would be better seen, or heard, rather than read. In Saturday he tries to explain Blues rifts, in Amsterdam he tries to make us feel a symphony, and in Comfort he tries to make us see the winding streets. He does a decent job at all these descriptors, but they frustrate me, as I want a different sense to feel, smell, see, or hear the sensation rather than read about it for multiple pages.
*The book has a reputation for being "erotic" and it is not. Not a criticism, I don't like romance novels, however a well placed "scene" is interesting. I found the main characters love making as exciting as late night bra infomercial. McEwen understands the psychology of sex like no other author i've read, but in this early novel, he misses it.
Overall, I struggle with the rating, like I always do in 1-5 ratings (why no rating out of 100?). A good, upsetting, quick read...will stay with you a while, but not McEwen's best. Not the short review I was hoping to give...but long reviews usually mean that the book meant something to the reader, what that is, I'm not sure yet. (less)