I've never really disliked anything Bookworm's Bookclub curator Michael Silverblatt has selected (with the exception of the completely unreadable book...moreI've never really disliked anything Bookworm's Bookclub curator Michael Silverblatt has selected (with the exception of the completely unreadable book by John Barth). They range from moderately enjoyable to fantastic. This one falls on the 'moderately enjoyable' part of the spectrum.
Patchett's writing is straightforward: she doesn't use any esoteric devices (that I'm aware of anyway) to carry the story. It feels light enough not to be burdened by a story told poorly (this one is told reasonably well), but not particularly deep. Themes touched on have been touched on before, numerous times: identity, loss, faith, parenthood (mostly the first two), and she makes a yeoman (yeoperson?) effort to get into the hearts and minds of each of her 6 primary characters (Tip, Teddy, Doyle, Kenya, Tennessee and Sullivan), most of them reasonably deeply but none incredibly so.
The one area that I had a little trouble with was her presentation of the character of Kenya. She is 11 years old for all but the last chapter, but she had perspective and reflections a little too deep to be plausible. I won't give any spoilers, but suffice it to say that if Kenya is indeed supposed to possess depth or wisdom beyond her years, then Patchett gave little/insufficient time to making that case. I understand the difference between writing for children and writing about children, so I'm not suggesting that Patchett ought to've whipped out a different set of verbs and adjectives when dealing with this character. Only that when we are 'in Kenya's mind', I thought a few times, "an 11 year old really talks like this?" or "why would she say that?".
This review is probably on the nitpicky side. I'd even go so far as to recommend the book, because it's not long or abstruse. Patchett is certainly notches above contemporary 'mass market' fiction writers. This is NOT pap, not by a long stretch. I'm just not sure whether this novel (since it's the only one of hers that I've read) puts her in a category with the contemporary greats. I don't know if it's potent enough to impress, but the flipside of that is that it's probably not potent enough to offend. It was, at the very least, good enough to make me give her other work (probably Bel Canto) a try.(less)
One of the best works of non-fiction I've ever read. Throughly researched and footnoted, yet with an unintrusive style, it doesn't come off as 'inacce...moreOne of the best works of non-fiction I've ever read. Throughly researched and footnoted, yet with an unintrusive style, it doesn't come off as 'inaccessibly academic'.
I can't imagine that this book is not the definitive work written to date on John Brown, a critical figure in America's history. Admittedly, I haven't read others, but given this ones comprehensiveness, even-handedness and readability, it gets my unequivocal recommendation to anyone interested in American history, particularly the 19th century/Civil War era.
I've read some other reviews that suggest that Reynolds comes down on the 'Brown-as-martyr' side, and that's probably a reasonable assertion. Though he does give plenty of 'air-time' to the arguments of Brown as murderer, so all in all I think his analysis is more than fair.(less)