I picked this up after having seen it on several "best of 2014" lists, thinking it would center on a death and figuring out why it happened. Instead,I picked this up after having seen it on several "best of 2014" lists, thinking it would center on a death and figuring out why it happened. Instead, this is a plodding family drama in which all the characters are deeply dysfunctional and deeply unhappy. And we learn repeatedly all the ways in which they are dysfunctional and deeply unhappy, as Ng moves around in both perspective and chronology. There are some unique and interesting reflections here on Asian American racial identity as well as mixed-race marriages. But I generally didn't care enough about any of the characters to want to follow this to the end (even though I did). If you are into complex psychological family dynamics, this is your book. If you were looking for anything plot-oriented or mysterious, this is probably not it....more
For all that I could say about the author's overwrought writing (e.g., "This was the worst, most searingly painful day of excruciating hiking I had evFor all that I could say about the author's overwrought writing (e.g., "This was the worst, most searingly painful day of excruciating hiking I had ever been on. Really"), 'Wild' succeeded in at least this way: I now want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
More a journey of emotions than of geography, 'Wild' is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of losing her beatific mother to cancer, divorcing a good man to shack up with a heroin addict in Portland, and seeking her own healing by way of hiking the trail that spans California to Oregon. The physical toll, the bad memories and perpetual sadness, loneliness, and not a few real threats keep Strayed's narrative winding and engaging, if a bit too inwardly focused for large chunks of the story. I was struck by how few details emerged of the *places* that Strayed passed through. We get some details of the landscape, but many more about the emotional places Strayed has been. This is all fine, but, as other reviewers have noted, I would have enjoyed more details about the natural beauty on the PCT.
Still, there is something raw and powerful about Strayed's story. I found myself flooded with empathy during the first section of the book, which describes the ways her mother lived sacrificially and joyfully despite strain, about the way a death ripples out and touches the shores of innumerable others. A person's life matters. Strayed herself seems to find a kind of inner strength during her hike, during which she finds she can do the difficult thing. She can take another step....more
First things first: Let's call a moratorium on jabs against people who publish two memoirs before age 36. YeHere is my review for Christianity Today:
First things first: Let's call a moratorium on jabs against people who publish two memoirs before age 36. Yes, our self-absorbed society is glutted with the genre; yes, many 30-somethings lack the wisdom and experience to say much worth sharing. But the spiritual autobiography—a narrative account of God's gracious movement in the believer's life—is central to the church canon. If Christians throughout the centuries have charged Augustine with "narcissistic navel-gazing" for his Confessions—all 13 books—I can't recall it.
Anyone committed to truly examining the shape of personal faith, unfolding over the years in a broken world, should sense a fruitful opportunity, if not a solemn obligation, to expound at length. And Lauren Winner, while not in Augustine's league as a memoirist, probes these depths as deftly and eloquently as anyone writing today. Her latest offering, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (HarperOne), is a sparse, elegant account of slipping away from the Jesus she so eagerly embraced in young adulthood, by way of Shabbat prayer, Jan Karon's Mitford series, and a dream about being kidnapped by "a dark Daniel-Day-Lewis-type man" who, by the way, was the Messiah. Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life, Winner's breakout 2002 memoir, was about dating Christ and Christianity, about realizing that "I was falling in love with this carpenter who had died for my sins." It established Winner—now a professor of Christian spirituality at Duke Divinity School and an ordained minister—as one of those hip, young evangelicals who could write for both Focus on the Family's singles channel and The New York Times Book Review. (It also doubled the sales of cat-eye glasses.)
The more I think about this book, the more I dislike it.
'A Happy Marriage' is novelist Rafael Yglesias's attempt to plumb the meaning of his 29-year mThe more I think about this book, the more I dislike it.
'A Happy Marriage' is novelist Rafael Yglesias's attempt to plumb the meaning of his 29-year marriage to Margaret, a bright, playful Jewish novice painter whom he meets in New York in the mid-1970s. He does this from the perspective of Enrique Sabas, a novelist plagued by lifelong career insecurities who is now taking care of Margaret during the final stages of her cancer. Chapters of the book alternate from the initial stages of Enrique and Margaret's relationship, to their final days together as Margaret says goodbye to family and friends as her body withers away. The alternating, non-linear structure is at times jarring but also proffers insights into their dynamic and growth as persons and as a couple.
Enrique is Yglesias's thinly veiled alter ego, and we can only assume that the infidelity and doubt that ripped through his marriage is autobiographical. Also, Enrique is self-admittedly narcissistic, thus we are led to believe the same is true of Yglesias. For a book aiming to unearth the mystery of the union of two people, 'A Happy Marriage' remains staunchly focused on one person. Pages are spent dissecting Enrique's whims and emotions; only rarely does it seem he encounters Margaret as a full human with whims and emotions as important as his. Only once do readers hear from Margaret her experience of their life together, and we find out she's terribly unhappy. It might be because at the time, Margaret is raising a young son virtually alone while her husband wallows in self-pity over the failure of his third novel, and soothes himself by having an affair with one of Margaret's best friends. Enrique's complaint and justification is that his wife sleeps with him only once a month, and doesn't seem to enjoy his company any more. Changing diapers is just so not sexy and virile. Poor baby. The only thing that keeps him from divorcing Margaret is the impact on his son Gregory.
There are, thankfully, moments when Enrique is humbled and broken by the finality of Margaret's looming death and his dependence on her. As he overhears Margaret saying goodbye to her estranged mother, he "thought about the withholding wife he had resented so often, the scolding woman he had sometimes desperately longed to be free of, heading thumping with words that beat like drums on his soul, as if God were hammering him into the ground: ...She is good. She is so good and so kind and I am so mean and so bitter. She is full of love and I am empty without her. The steady, patient care he shows Margaret as all her body's functions shut down is admirable and is his salvation; in loving her physically through acts of care, his emotions of love and devotion follow, and he comes to see Margaret for the gift she is to him. And Yglesias is right to speak frankly of his periodic dislike and frustration with Margaret's controlling, fickle nature.
Yet 'A Happy Marriage' never ultimately answers the question it sets out to answer: What made Enrique and Margaret's union last? Instead it is Yglesias's attempt to answer the question of his own life and self through one lens of reality, his marriage. The book is more interested in helping the author self-actualize than get to the mystery of marriage, specifically to the mystery of Margaret. If only Yglesias had realized once in those 29 years that what happens between two humans committed to loving each other is far more interesting - and makes for better story material - than one person's constant, insecure gaze into the mirror of himself. Especially when that mirror isn't well written either.
There's a place in literature for self-actualization. Just call it memoir and title it 'A Happy Person.'...more
Would God take your beloved's life if it were the only way you would turn to him? Honestly the idea repels me, but it's a central theme of VanAuken'sWould God take your beloved's life if it were the only way you would turn to him? Honestly the idea repels me, but it's a central theme of VanAuken's memoir of his blissful marriage to his wife Davy, who dies of a mysterious illness several years into their marriage, after the two have become Christians. The first 60 pages tell of their intense love and the 'shining barrier' they build to protect it. Christ destroys it, as both turn to him after falling in with a 'we love Jesus but we are very intellectual too!' crowd in Oxford. The second half of the book comprises Sheldon's many letters to and from C. S. Lewis, who was a mentor to the couple until Lewis's death in 1963. Lewis is the one who proposes that Davy's death was a 'severe mercy' to Sheldon, and Sheldon is mostly convinced by that explanation.
If you can stomach VanAuken's sometimes melodramatic descriptions of his and Davy's marriage and their blissful existence in Oxford, I'd recommend the book, a 20th-century classic memoir about romance, grief, and theodicy. ...more
One of the most delightful novels I've read in a long time. The characters were so lovingly and vividly sketched, and the central question of how theyOne of the most delightful novels I've read in a long time. The characters were so lovingly and vividly sketched, and the central question of how they were all connected kept me engaged to the end, even while the plot wasn't that dramatic. Krauss manages to touch on family, memory, history, books, and Jewish culture in simple yet profound ways. Highly recommended. ...more
Judith Guest's Ordinary People explores a topic so familiar to us that I'm not sure she succeeds at breaking any molds. But due to my ignorance, perhaJudith Guest's Ordinary People explores a topic so familiar to us that I'm not sure she succeeds at breaking any molds. But due to my ignorance, perhaps she's one of the writers who set the mold in the first place. If this is true, then we have Guest to thank for telling the story of the private grief of three members of one family, all trying to deal with the loss of another member in disparate ways. So disparate is their grief that it drives the members apart from one another, instead of bringing them together when they need each other most. Ordinary People is primarily told from the viewpoint of Conrad, an awkward and reserved teenager trying to cope with the loss of his older brother. Though not many details are given, we gather that Conrad's isolation and guilt is severe enough to land him in rehabilitation to keep from attempting suicide. His father, Cal, a naively easygoing accountant, is terribly concerned about his son and makes earnest attempts to "reach out," though he ends up stifling Conrad more than freeing him. The mother, Beth, is one of those characters you have both compassion and hatred toward. So private and complex is her grief that she copes by taking a limitless number of holidays and vacations, all the while blaming her family for "changing" and becoming so "somber." Guest's prose is simple, based internally on the characters' private emotions, and captures well the ethos of upper middle class suburbia, which tends to create a climate where grief is failure, and there's nothing a few rounds of golf at the country club won't alleviate. While the themes are a bit cliched, we also need these stories, to remind us of the depths of human fragility, brokenness, and deep longing for connection....more