Lionel Shriver's "The Post Birthday World" is one of the best books I've ever read, both as enjoyment, and as an insight into the human heart. Shriver...moreLionel Shriver's "The Post Birthday World" is one of the best books I've ever read, both as enjoyment, and as an insight into the human heart. Shriver is a flat out genius at creating these unbelievably believable characters, and then setting them into a situation where the drama moves the story on its own.
In this case, it's the story of Corlis "Corrie Lou", who comes from from London at the death of her mother, to find her radically different brothers (clean living, boring, predictable Truman, and wild, filthy, destructive Mordecai) still in their hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. As the three of them decide how to handle the estate of their parents, which is mostly an old, highly valuable and irreplaceable house, they have to also learn how to deal with the shifting and loyal bonds between brother and sister. There is jealousy and competition for the heart of the fair maiden, only it's of the purest sibling rivalry, not out of the usual lust for a woman who is not a sibling. I was amazed at the depth of the ties and bonds and emotions that Shriver seems to effortlessly create - her characters are so good that all these complicated emotions and behaviors just appear, and have to be analyzed as they go by.
Family struggles, characters collide, plot eventually moves forward. This book was slow to start, but once it did, swept along in directions I didn't...moreFamily struggles, characters collide, plot eventually moves forward. This book was slow to start, but once it did, swept along in directions I didn't think it would go. It takes a while for Shattuck to build her characters enough to set them in motion - and her multiple perspectives don't help - but once we learn them, they do start moving along unexpected paths. It was an entertaining book once I got through the first part - and until I got to the end. Shattuck can't be a mother, but she has done a wonderful job encapsulating the hearts and minds of all the other non-mother characters. (less)
This book is another testament to American wealth, and the relative terms in which it is viewed. In the first chapter, Janice Miller discovers her hus...moreThis book is another testament to American wealth, and the relative terms in which it is viewed. In the first chapter, Janice Miller discovers her husband's company's IPO will make them millionaires - $300 million, to be exact. More money than anyone can imagine. Suddenly, with that number in the forefront, their existing life seems poor, their house modest, Janice's Porche Cayenne a middle class car. Then Janice finds out her husband is divorcing her, and the money is suddenly a background to her devastation. Paul's decision to leave her for her best friend drives her to substance abuse of a new suburban kind. And while the money is still expected, the everyday tragedy of a housewife with nothing outside of her family comes into plain view.
Then there is Margaret, the eldest daughter. Too smart, too idealistic, she has clung to her failing magazine so long that it has sunk her into six-figure debt. Now, as her friends move into high-paying jobs, and her now-ex-boyfriend climbs higher in his lucrative acting career, she has nothing - and she takes herself home to Palo Alto to hide from her creditors. Although, of course, she tells her family, she is there to comfort Janice. They can't know that she, the smart one, the one most likely to succeed, has failed.
And there is fourteen year old Lizzie. Lizzie, who suffers from suburban banality like her mother, only of the kind unique to teenage girls. She has lost weight and been discovered by boys. Only without the protective training developed by pretty girls, she equates sex with love, and becomes the class slut. And as Lizzie struggles with her own problems, with her views on sex and her humiliation, her mother and sister are too wrapped up in their own despair to see hers.
What really struck me about this book though, was the constant taking for granted of money so common among the upper middle class. Margaret's friends spend a thousand dollars on a birthday dinner for a friend, and she is socially obligated to contribute her last $200 towards it (despite her careful, obsessive avoidance of ordering anything but a $17 salad). Janice is careful about money, but only the sort of careful you get on a six-figure income, where you can buy your entire grocery list at Whole Foods. Lizzie drinks the $8 milkshakes at the local upscale diner on a regular basis, and thinks nothing of ordering their $16 burger. Money is a macro-issue for Janice, as she battles her ex-husband for his IPO money. $48,000 a year, for Janice, is next to nothing, because her scale is set so high. Whereas Margaret, who has no access to any funds at all, counts precious dollars, one by one, and sees money on a micro-scale, refusing to ask her parents, still, for help.
What do we define as average these days for income? All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a reminder that we expect too much. Everyone expects everything - a $300MM IPO, a startup that goes on to make thousands, a career in the arts that takes off and earns millions. Everyone wants this, and who ever gets it?(less)
I think the author described it best when he said this book is "basically a secondary world fantasy with Victorian era technology. So rather than bein...moreI think the author described it best when he said this book is "basically a secondary world fantasy with Victorian era technology. So rather than being a feudal world, it's an early industrial capitalist world of a fairly grubby, police statey kind."
This book was so genius on so many levels. Mieville has accomplished a rare feat in creating a completely new universe, with its own magic and history and physics...and yet making it a parallel universe version of today's London. Like London, New Crobuzon is a sprawling city, made up of communities and cultures from around the world. Unlike London, many of those cultures are separate species. But what really amazed me was how well Mieville echoed the modern multicultural city, in all its working parts. New Crobuzon has slums and horrors, but isn't post-apocalyptic. There is still a middle class, a university, and an upper class. This kind of parallel universe idea, of a working city, is what makes this book so unbelievably brilliant. (less)
This amazingly detailed and colorful account of the Little Bighorn battle transformed my impression of Custer's Last Stand. I have picked up the Last...moreThis amazingly detailed and colorful account of the Little Bighorn battle transformed my impression of Custer's Last Stand. I have picked up the Last Stand only in its mythological context, as part of the American collective history. Philbrick brought it into full focus, and put it into multiple greater contexts. He shows it as part of Custer's battalion's history, comparing it to past battles and the commanders' histories. He shows the battle as part of the Lakota people's history, and tells as much of Sitting Bull as a leader. And, of course, he puts it in the context of the history of the Lakota, and the American imperialism that decimated Native America.
One of the aspects I especially appreciated was the way Philbrick goes from military to Native perspectives throughout the book. He doesn't just tell us what the soldiers saw, but tells us what it was like from the Lakota side. Philbrick has included Native American testimonials and recollections, as well as their pictographs illustrating the battle. The combination of perspectives makes this historical battle three dimensional, and even more understandable.
This was, again, a book I read out of curiosity on the subject, so that I could understand what is now an American myth. It is an amazing reconstruction of the few days surrounding the battle, as well as detailed histories of the key figures participating in it. And, as a solid modern historian, Philbrick takes every individual's story with equal weight, regardless of whether they were Native American, or Caucasian. It's a fantastic book on a pivotal event in American history - highly readable, fascinating, well-written. (less)
This was a lovely book, and a delight to read...but it wasn't exactly "Little Altars Everywhere". It didn't deal with that kind of complex family psyc...moreThis was a lovely book, and a delight to read...but it wasn't exactly "Little Altars Everywhere". It didn't deal with that kind of complex family psychology, nor did it tackle Tough and Thorny Issues. I loved being in Calla Lily Ponder's world while reading it. Despite the tragedies and deaths that happened to her, Calla Lily always looks on the bright side, after all. But even though it touched on the violent racism of the South in the mid-20th century, and the devastating loss of a mother from breast cancer, this book was still sugarcoated. In this book, the love of friends and family cures all, love exists wherever you find it, and New Orleans is a wonderful city without the desperate and poor Desire projects rising up across town. It's a beautiful way to see the world, but the book felt like cotton candy.
Calla Lily Ponder is a girl born to two parents who love her dearly. Her childhood love, Tuck, is lost to her when he goes away to school at Stanford. She ends up in New Orleans, at beauty school - like her mother, Calla Lily is gifted at hair, and is able to bring happiness to people through hairdressing. She has wonderful gay friends, and an alcoholic best friend, and meets a new husband in the big city. But then tragedy strikes, and Calla Lily is shaken. Will she ever believe in love again?(less)
I found this book amusing, fascinating, and almost whimsical at points. Whimsical, because it is the rambling account of a man trapped in an airport,...moreI found this book amusing, fascinating, and almost whimsical at points. Whimsical, because it is the rambling account of a man trapped in an airport, by American Airlines, writing his autobiography to the airline. The letter goes so far as to address the anonymous peon reading it in the airline offices directly at one point, reminding us that this strange, long account is actually a letter - to a faceless corporation. Perhaps that is why the narrator is so capable at telling his story, his extraordinary origins, the out-of-sequence episodes that make up his self-centered history. This book reminded me a bit of scenes from Tennessee Williams, but written in Vonnegut's cynical prose. I read this book twice, just to live in the narrator's story again. This was a great, absorbing piece of fiction.(less)
This book was brilliantly put together - a series of cogs and wheels and moving parts that only come together as the three parts are read. As we go ba...moreThis book was brilliantly put together - a series of cogs and wheels and moving parts that only come together as the three parts are read. As we go backwards in time, to see John Stone's rise, we are taken through the pieces of his life which caused his fall. The story was riveting, and the narrative voices compelling, as the story explains the love affair between Stone and his wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth's dramatic history is revealed piece by piece, as it dovetails with her husbands, and the two of them move in a world of finance, intrigue, spies, and national security. In the years leading up to the First World War, Stone was a key player - but how did he get there, and why, when he was poised to be one of the most powerful men in the British Empire, would he suddenly fall out of a window in his own home, killing himself in the process? The book peels back layer after layer of story and time as it takes us from London to France to Venice...and unravels two lives so twisted that the standard chronological progression couldn't have done them justice.(less)
This book was beautifully written, with real insight into the complexities of relationships, through the spoken and the unspoken. However, I STILL fel...moreThis book was beautifully written, with real insight into the complexities of relationships, through the spoken and the unspoken. However, I STILL felt like shaking the narrator and telling her to pull herself together. That may be the point of the author -to create a protagonist who is constantly fallible and constantly failing, but it's dreadfully frustrating to read.(less)
This book was beautiful. It was vivid, with complicated, real characters. The writing flowed wonderfully, and the setting complimented the book nicely...moreThis book was beautiful. It was vivid, with complicated, real characters. The writing flowed wonderfully, and the setting complimented the book nicely. The love story also brought me to tears at the end - but then, I'm a sucker for things like that.(less)
**spoiler alert** I actually love Marian Keyes books - and this is the fourth in the whole Walsh Family series I've read. And I really enjoyed the rea...more**spoiler alert** I actually love Marian Keyes books - and this is the fourth in the whole Walsh Family series I've read. And I really enjoyed the read, even though I cry uncontrollably at any fiction where a woman loses her husband. It's got the same humor and warmth that all Keyes books do, plus updates on all the Walsh sisters from the previous books. Better quality chicklit/summer reading than most books in its genre.(less)
The recent demise of Castro made me curious about what Cuba was like before the revolution, so I picked up this book to find out. I thought Cuba was a...moreThe recent demise of Castro made me curious about what Cuba was like before the revolution, so I picked up this book to find out. I thought Cuba was almost like a Hawaii or a Puerto Rico - an Americanized colony, following the Spanish-American war. I was extremely wrong on that. Cuba, in this book, is its own country, which is a patchwork of poverty stricken people from all over the Caribbean, overlaying the old framework of the Spanish and French colonials. Sharecropping is practiced by the American companies who make up the authority on the eastern half of the island. American families live in compounds, isolated from the real Cuba outside, unable to see how it would breed resentment and revolution. And the Americans living in Cuba, whose perspectives make up this story, cherry-pick what they want of Cuban culture, they also take from its people and its natural resources without thinking twice about it.
This book jumps from narrator to narrator, from K.C., the son of the big boss of United Fruit Company, to Everly Lederer, a Tennessee born daughter of a nickel mine executive, to Rachel K, a third-generation Cuban, who still considers herself the French of her grandfather. This glimpse of American imperialism in Central America and the Caribbean was fascinating, and more so when set against the extreme European style rich and developing world poor of Cuba in 1958.(less)
This is one of those books where all the narrator does is whine, whine, whine. I read this book when I was nine months pregnant, the week before I fin...moreThis is one of those books where all the narrator does is whine, whine, whine. I read this book when I was nine months pregnant, the week before I finally got to go into Cedars to have labor induced. And I seriously wanted to slap the narrator every other page. The author says she wrote the book to speak out against the predominant overachieving mom culture among middle-class women in L.A., but never actually shows any positive alternative behavior to the women she refers to as "mommunists". This book made having a baby sound like a major inconvenience that would last until you could hire a nanny to take over while you went to the gym to get your figure back.
Now that I have a two month old baby boy, I can be all smug and say that being a mom is not the nightmare that these sort of books make it out to be. If you want to read a book about retaining your identity while having a child, this is not the fictional account to read. And if you want to demonstrate alternative behavior to the mainstream in L.A., then buy your baby gear secondhand (or from small providers), go for walks in non-upscale neighborhoods, and drive a car with good gas mileage instead of an SUV. (less)