The two main characters were richly drawn, but the plot was squelched by the fact that both of them are living in a private world of pain and can't doThe two main characters were richly drawn, but the plot was squelched by the fact that both of them are living in a private world of pain and can't do anything to escape it. I also wish Strout had either fleshed out the other characters or dropped trying to explore their "private worlds" altogether. Finally, this could have been about 75 pages shorter. I'm comparing this to OLIVE KITTERIDGE, though, which is perhaps unfair....more
Wry, strange, astute in its observations on the placelessness and restlessness of modern American life, and suggestive of a faith that is real yet nevWry, strange, astute in its observations on the placelessness and restlessness of modern American life, and suggestive of a faith that is real yet never arrives as a simple answer, but remains at the margins of this story, beyond the perception of Binx Bolling....more
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
Having only recently learned of The Book Thief, I was surprised to see so many GR friends had read it and given it high marks. Having accepted the affHaving only recently learned of The Book Thief, I was surprised to see so many GR friends had read it and given it high marks. Having accepted the affected narration style, I found the story simple but moving, enjoyable in its details and plot. The characters could have been more nuanced, but I found myself really caring about their fates, even while it's apparent toward the beginning what happens to them. I especially liked the tenderness between Liesel and Hans as well as her friendship with Rudy. Some of the descriptions seemed a bit odd to me--yellow hair, I don't know what that is--but I accepted it as part of the narration style. Really solid YA read with memorable details....more
A gorgeous story of a family's relationship to the land and the pain of living in unrequited love. Memorable characters--with bonus points for a stronA gorgeous story of a family's relationship to the land and the pain of living in unrequited love. Memorable characters--with bonus points for a strong female lead that defies expectations of her sex....more
A challenging, non-linear read with occasional moments of beauty and tenderness. I found that Dillard describes people and relationships in much the sA 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....more
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 themeI 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.
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
I picked this as an introduction to John Updike because I had read it was one of his most theological novels. Themes of doubt and secularization are cI picked this as an introduction to John Updike because I had read it was one of his most theological novels. Themes of doubt and secularization are certainly prominent, and are explored in a clever, engrossing way. Yet I was more intrigued by the structure: the sprawling family epic covering the entire 20th century, one of social disintegration and confusion, embodied in the preacher-turned-atheist Clarence and his progeny. I had difficulty with Updike's seeming obsession with sex (he's been described as having a too exclusively male perspective) as well as some sloppy storytelling in the second-to-last and last chapters. I liked it okay but was certainly not stunned in the way I had expected. Perhaps the Rabbit series is better to start with?...more
A compelling premise--Jesuit priests go on a space mission to meet (and evangelize) other lifeforms--hampered by a tedious structure in which RussellA compelling premise--Jesuit priests go on a space mission to meet (and evangelize) other lifeforms--hampered by a tedious structure in which Russell moves back and forth between present-day and the future (which has already happened, because relativity). I found many sections repetitive, and the ending, unsatisfying given the build-up to its supposed horror and shock. ...more