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, perha...moreJudith 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.(less)
Karr is the kind of writer who seems to improve my own writing the more I read her. This, her third memoir, is a searing account of her alcohol addict...moreKarr is the kind of writer who seems to improve my own writing the more I read her. This, her third memoir, is a searing account of her alcohol addiction, troubled marriage, fears about turning into her verbally abusive mom, and highly unlikely conversion to Catholicism. Hard not to gobble up in one sitting.(less)
I picked this book up because it won the Pulitzer for Fiction last year, and immediately I saw Marilynne Robinson's fingerprints all over it, in theme...moreI picked this book up because it won the Pulitzer for Fiction last year, and immediately I saw Marilynne Robinson's fingerprints all over it, in themes and style: an old man, eight days before death, calls to mind fragments of his life and grapples with the memory of his father, an eccentric who suffered from epilepsy. Like Robinson, Harding is keen on capturing the beauty and strangeness of our world, and he vividly describes the bleak winter landscape of 19th-century farmland: peeling birch bark, silvery moon shadows cast atop the trees, tracks left in the snow by people and carts. The language is crisp and beautiful, and I was introduced to so many new words: solder, boreal, tureen, alluvial, intaglio, vitreous, anneal (okay, I might have kept a list while reading).
Harding is interested in perspective and memory, and how people are limited in remembering things as they really were. As such, the narrative jumps from perspective and tense often, and I admit I sometimes had trouble figuring out whose mind we were in, and in which century. This is surely intentional, but it made for challenging reading nonetheless. Also, at times I found Harding's language grandiose to the point of distraction, a bit affected. The same could be said for Robinson, but at least in 'Gilead,' she seems at ease with her diction, whereas Harding seems to be proving himself in sections of this book.
Still, if you like Robinson as well as novels with metaphysical themes, I recommend Tinkers.
A challenging, non-linear read with occasional moments of beauty and tenderness. I found that Dillard describes people and relationships in much the s...moreA challenging, non-linear read with occasional moments of beauty and tenderness. I found that Dillard describes people and relationships in much the same way she describes the natural world, and I'm not sure this is a compliment. Something about the characters here seem removed, as if behind a wall. I never came to care about the characters, and I'm not sure Dillard did either, although she was certainly interested in the philosophical questions about love that they wrestled with. In the end, though, please stick to nonfiction, Annie.(less)
Every one of us leaves childhood wounded, in large or small ways, by our parents. We are born into family systems that bring with them blessings and c...moreEvery one of us leaves childhood wounded, in large or small ways, by our parents. We are born into family systems that bring with them blessings and curses, usually both. How do we forgive our parents, who themselves carry wounds from their own childhoods? This is the question Leslie Leyland Fields asks in this spiritually rich meditation on forgiving people who so often don't think they need to be forgiven. She traces her own journey with her father as well as the experiences of several other Christians. What she ends up offering is a framework for forgiveness that takes Jesus' commends seriously and literally, without kowtowing to either self-help or emotionless duty. This is a prime example of practical theology done well. (less)