Mona Simpson's first two novels, Anywhere But Here and The Lost Father, won her literary renown and a wide following. Now, in her third novel, the narrator Ann Atassi has been replaced by a third-person narrator recounting the adventures of young Jane di Natali, but the theme remains the same: the search for, and the attempt to understand, the absent father.
This time the father is a millionaire biotechnology magnate named Tom Owens. Into Owens's charmed life comes Jane, born out of wedlock, raised in communes, and now dispatched into his care by a mother who is no longer capable of providing it; Tom is far from ready for this responsibility. Fans of Simpson's previous novels will not be disappointed by this excursion into the cracked world of family relations.
"Simpson is an attentive observer and a fluent stylist, but it is the element of subtle surprise that draws us through these pages, the magnetism of an original mind that holds us fast." --Booklist
Mona Simpson was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, then moved to Los Angeles as a young teenager. Her father was a recent immigrant from Syria and her mother was the daughter of a mink farmer and the first person in her family to attend college. Simpson went to Berkeley, where she studied poetry. She worked as a journalist before moving to New York to attend Columbia’s MFA program. During graduate school, she published her first short stories in Ploughshares, The Iowa Review and Mademoiselle. She stayed in New York and worked as an editor at The Paris Review for five years while finishing her first novel, Anywhere But Here. After that, she wrote The Lost Father, A Regular Guy and Off Keck Road.
Her work has been awarded several prizes: A Whiting Prize, A Guggenheim, a grant from the NEA, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a Lila Wallace Readers Digest Prize, a Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, Pen Faulkner finalist, and most recently a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
She worked ten years on My Hollywood. “It’s the book that took me too long because it meant to much to me,” she says.
Mona lives in Santa Monica with her two children and Bartelby the dog.
After reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs last summer, it dawned on me the sister Mona Simpson mentioned is a novelist I was already familiar with. I had read her books "Anywhere but Here" (written in 1992 before she met her famous brother) and"My Hollywood" (written in 2011). I couldn't imagine how meeting and realizing she and Steve Jobs were full-blooded siblings must have impacted her life and writing career.
Of course then I wanted to read "A Regular Guy", knowing that it had caused strain with her brother, as the main character millionaire tech magnate Tom Owens is clearly modeled after her brother, and he's a complicated, imperious soul. But what I enjoyed so much is the perspective of Jane, the young daughter he was reluctant to claim and imagine what his real daughter Lisa's life must have been like.
It was a great read even if it didn't have any basis in reality. Clearly Simpson and her brother shared alot of similar brilliant, creative genes.
This was a book club selection, a fictional retelling of the rise and fall (before the return and higher rise) of Steve Jobs. Only in this book Steve Jobs is named Tom Owens, and instead of running a computer company, he runs a company that does something even the omniscient narrator isn't sure about.
And that is one of the fatal flaws of this book. Tom Owens appears to have all his success because he literally is bathed in luck, yet despite the many times we're deep in his inner thoughts, we don't know what the hell either of his companies does to make money. There's some product called N12, but whether it's a polymer, an antibiotic, or a vaccine, I couldn't tell you, and neither could Tom. And I find that completely unbelievable. Nobody could start two firms so important that mysterious Bohemian Club backers are discussing Owens running for California Governor, and not be aware of what the places are doing.
And that's not Owens' fault. That's Simpson's failure to convince me that Owens was who she said he was, or that Alta actually existed in one particular place. Not only does Owens not know how he made his millions, but his town can't figure out if it's in Silicon Valley or the Sierra foothills. I suspect Simpson hasn't been to either place, because she shows Owens voting (for the first time) and literally pulling a lever of an old-fashioned voting machine.
Had Simpson actually visited California, she would discover those machines weren't used out here. Similarly, she can't place the town where the novel occurs, because she describes it as being both in Santa Clara County (e.g. Silicon Valley) and next to a town called Auburn (a real city of that name is a suburb of Sacramento in the foothills, 150 miles away). There's a mention of Grass Valley Community College; Grass Valley is another Sierra Foothills locale. We don't know where Alta is because Simpson doesn't know, so she can't make it real enough. Her Tom Owens character lived in a copper magnate's decaying mansion (as did Jobs, in Woodside, 10 miles from Palo Alto) and then bought a house in "Alta" (Jobs bought a house in Palo Alto). But he grew up in "Auburn." Is Auburn really Los Altos, where Jobs grew up? Is it Mountain View, where he also lived? Both these towns are right next to Palo Alto. Or is this part of the 30% of Tom Owens that doesn't track with Steve Jobs? For example, Tom Owens' mother died at his birth and he was given up for adoption. Steve Jobs' mother gave him up at birth but stayed very much alive... to later give birth to Mona Simpson. So in this novel Simpson literally killed off her own mother as a plot device.
It isn't just the instability of place and business that's the problem; there's also a tendency to shift Point of View more often than the reader turns pages. If I came across this novel in one of my writing classes I would red-ink "POV shift" every three paragraphs. Now, I recognize that a good writer can break the rules if it's done well. But the POV shifts are NOT done well. They're just DONE. And they're annoying. We're deep in Tom Owens' thoughts, no, now we're in his daughter's thoughts, no, now where in her mother's thought, oops, over to Owens' girlfriend, and now over to his friend Noah. This isn't just omniscient narrator. This is adrift narrator.
The Owens/Jobs character is interesting, but he's not the only character we get to know in the book, and many of the others really weren't worth the time to delve into. Mary, the mother of Owens' daughter Jane, is annoying in a way that doesn't enlighten or even entertain. She doesn't grow as a character, and her daughter doesn't even seem to learn anything from her as a negative example. I really had difficulty understanding what Owens ever saw in Mary in the first place, given how often we see how intensely drawn he is to perfect simplicity. (And there's another failing of the book, that drive, which was signature Jobs in his insistence on elegant style in Apple products, makes no sense whatsoever when remaking him as some sort of biotech mogul.)
It's always more fun to write a scathing review than a glowing one. I can't say what compelled me to finish this book after showing up at book club with it 2/3 done. Everyone else had similar frustrations with the book and the characters. I guess I was hoping, even if it didn't get any better, that there would be some cathartic realization for someone, somewhere. There's a happy ending for one of them, and a happy beginning for another, but I can't say I learned anything taking those two hours to finish the last 120 pages.
Not recommended as a literary novel, and not recommended for Steve Jobs fans either.
Finally, I managed to read a novel! I hope this is a sign of things come. As for a review: I surely can't be the only person who found her way to Mona Simpson's 'A Regular Guy' because she read about it in Watler Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography. I've been on something of a Steve Jobs tear lately.
Ms. Simpson is Mr. Jobs' biological sister; the two were raised apart but got to know each other as adults. 'A Regular Guy' is a novel about Tom Owens, a thinly veiled Steve Jobs character. (Simpson has made her protagonist a biogenetical entrepreneur instead of a computer entrepreneur, but pretty much everything is the same, just lightly dusted with fiction: Palo Alto is "Alta," the company is "Genesis" and its spin-off, "Exodus," etc., etc.) Part of the fun for someone who has read the Isaacson biography or otherwise steeped in Steve Jobs lore is spotting all the parallels. Tom Owens throws himself a 30th birthday party very much like the one that Isaacson describes, for example; there's a conventional-thinking manager Owens has hired at Genesis who ends up engineering his ouster from the company; there's a brief romance with a certain college-aged aspiring writer that will sound familiar, and on and on.
The book centers around something else that will sound familiar: Owens' illegitimate daughter, Jane, who is about ten when the book begins and in college when it finishes, clearly has a lot of parallels with Jobs' real-life daughter Lisa. There is a lot of consideration given to the attempts of Jane and the other women in Owens' life—his girlfriend Olivia, Jane's mother Mary, sundry other girlfriends and love interests—to figure out where they stand with this charismatic, enigmatic, careless, charming, frustrating man.
There's a second plotline that deals with a scientist who is friends with Owens and appears to have no obvious real-life parallel in the real-life Jobs universe.
'A Regular Guy' is written in a poetic and lyrical style that sometimes worked for me and sometimes didn't, and there's often a quality of lushness or sensuality to the prose that I associate with writing about California. The novel also has a bit of a disjointed quality that, at best, feels like an approximation of real life and successfully juggles a large number of characters who stand in a lot of different relationships and interrelationships to each other, and at worst can feel a bit distracted and distracting, like a lack of focus.
There are many beautiful sentences and fine observations. The book is clearly the work of someone with great skill. Some of the scenes conjure unique but persuasive moods, particularly the ones of women waiting around for this powerful and mercurial man, and their shifting alliances and conflicts with each other as they jockey for his unreliable affections.
Yet there was something that didn't completely gel for me. Maybe it comes from the inherent difficulty of making the tough, possibly irresistible, but undeniably ballsy move of trying to get inside the heads of real people you actually know and write fiction about them. Maybe it comes from the way that I encountered the book, knowing and expecting it to be in some way 'about Steve Jobs,' rather than coming to it freshly and innocently on its own terms, as a straight up novel.
It's an interesting question, though, since all writers at some level work with things they've been through and people they've known. Why does it sometimes turn into successful fiction and sometimes not? Is there a level of abstraction that's just not enough?
Somebody told me that Simpson's novel 'Anywhere But Here' is good, and I want to check it out. I'm glad I read 'A Regular Guy,' and bits and pieces may stay with me. But ultimately it lingers in some in-between zone: too much a piece of Jobsiana to be a searing novelistic experience, and too much a novel to be a satisfying meal of Steve Jobs lore.
This is a good, but difficult book to read. Mona Simpson writes well; she masters a sort of folky writing style where the reader must infer from the dialogue what really is happening behind what is said. Simpson comes across as a dispassionate but very keen observer of things around her. The real beauty of this book, though, can only be understood if you have read a lot about Steve in real life. Without knowing about Steve, this book is entirely without context. More than anything, this work is personal, it's real, it's poignant and it is written in a deceptively dispassionate way. What Mona has done with her characters - particularly Noah and Jane, is absolutely remarkable. To create Noah on paper, is to my eyes, one of Simpson's greatest accomplishments in this book. Do I recommend this book? Only if you are interested in a serious, slow, literary read and only if you have done lots of homework on understanding Steve.
Hours of my life I can't get back. Like Simpson's other work, but this was disjointed and tedious and it wasn't until I figured out it was about Steve Jobs that it became mildly interesting and made more sense. It wasn't the story itself, another girl searching for her father, but the structure was off and sometimes I could not diagram a sentence: I simply could not understand what she was saying or what a character's reaction referred to. People randomly came and went, the psychological sophistication of the ten year old was hard to swallow, and I couldn't relate to any of the characters. Given Job's personality, I guess it's not surprising but, and maybe this was the point, you're just left frustrated and disconnected with the entire mess. How this book kept getting "comical" or "funny" review comments is beyond me: it was primarily tragic.
The problem for me is that I just didn't get the point of this book.
The words themselves flowed well enough, and they didn't get in the way of the story as I often fear in a literary novel. The story was coherent, and worked well enough in that sense.
I simply didn't get insight into the life of Steve Jobs (or if I did, I just didn't care), and the story didn't have enough strength to stand alone.
This was true of the plot, but even more so of the characters. Tom Owens didn't intrigue me as Steve Jobs, largely because I never saw the charisma the character was described as having. Simply seen as a fictional character, he was both unbelievable and uninteresting, which is pretty sad if you think about it.
At the beginning of the book, I had some hope for Jane (Owens' daughter) and her mother, Mary. Jane simply faded into the story (and that may have actually been the point-- if so, I feel terrible for the real life model of Jane, and wonder what her relationship with her aunt the writer must be like.) Mary turned into a whiny caricature as the woman who sent her 10 year old daughter driving solo cross country to live with her father becomes resentful as that daughter chooses to spend time with her father.
The one character I found interesting was Noah, a scientist that chose to continue to follow his own path rather than work with Owens and his company. He was an intriguing secondary character, and I find it telling that I have no idea if he had a real life counterpart.
I admit, I was relieved that the rest of my book club had a similar reaction, whether they were all to familiar with the details of Jobs and his life, or relatively uninformed, at least about this chapter. Whatever the point was, it was well hidden.
A novel about a curious, complex character and the people who swing in and out of his life. He is brought up by adoptive parents, builds a wildly successful company, develops all sorts of idiosyncratic tastes, has a daughter by a woman he doesn't live with, gets ousted from his company by the person he brings in to run it and has challenging relationships with everyone who gets close to him. So, anything but A Regular Guy. Sound familiar? It should. Written by Steve Job's sister, it is a thinly disguised tale about him. Warts and all. So it's not surprising that it supposedly caused a rift between the two of them. Unfortunately, that's the most intriguing thing about it. Whilst there are occasional insights, much of the writing consists of overlong descriptions of minutiae about the lives of the characters. In the end it just gets to be boring, so I found myself skimming pages in search of the meat of the story. Without the Steve Jobs angle, I doubt I would ever have finished it.
I decided to read this after I saw - and loved - the recent Steve Jobs movie. I had read the Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs, and I was intrigued that this remarkable man had a long-lost sister who turned out to be a rather well known novelist. But... I didn't get very far in Simpson's Anywhere But Here several years ago, and I can't say I'm a huge fan of this novel either. Sometimes intriguing, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes just confusing and unappealing, and ultimately inconclusive ... yet I finished it. I'm not, I think, a big fan of Simpson as a novelist - I doubt I'll read another of her books, because there are so many books and so little time! - but I think the mysterious man who inspired this book (although clearly she took her liberties with her protagonist) is the reason i finished this one.
I found this book harder to get into than "Casebook." The young heroine and her mother are interesting, as is the male protagonist's wheel-chair bound friend,but the story skips around between their points of view and the "regular guy," the father in this book. The focus seems to be more on him but I am finding it difficult to be interested in his character's development. For some reason, I find myself wishing the book would focus more on the other characters. Perhaps the story will become more compelling in the second half, as I found with "Casebook."
Sólo lo leería porque me da curiosidad, dado que lo escribió la hermana biológica de Steve Jobs después de haberlo conocido ya de adulta (y el personaje principal está inspirado en él). Aunque por las reseñas ya se puede prever que no es una escritora fantástica... Anyways, someday, someday.
Note: Written after originally reading book approx May 2012.
"'Really? You wouldn't, in a few years, say, consider running for governor? Or something bigger?'
Owens smiled enigmatically. Then the journalist glanced at Jane and asked whether he would encourage young people to follow his example in having children out of wedlock.
'Just to be clear,' he said, basketing his hands, 'I'm not running for anything. And if I ever do, it won't be for canonization. I'd run for some office that's been held by men who might've done a great job for this country or a poor job but, without exception, men who've made mistakes. Whether they've acknowledged them or not. And I acknowledge my mistakes.'
'Oh, great,' Jane said when the avid young woman left. 'It'll be on the six o'clock news that I'm a mistake.'
A girl is sent from the mountain commune of her youth in search of the millionaire father she's never met. The father, juggling two R&D firms and unconventional political aspirations with an all-consuming love for fine arts and health foods, suffers from reality denial. "Plain" Jane is absorbed into her father's radical network of friends, associates, and lovers, and craves only stability, more and more with every new defiant idea she meets.
This is a story that can only be set in California.
More than location, Mona Simpson's 1996 novel is a product of its time. Often subtle, and with its effect strongest in the superior first third of the book (more on that later), A Regular Guy stitches together the generational identities of the 1960s and the '90s. Both eras, particularly along the West Coast, saw the impact of what flummoxed father Tom Owens himself describes as "the universe cracked open for a little while and a certain number of people got out, some of the brightest people in the world".
The difference: some might call the '60s counterculture a flash in the pan, but Owens, with his technical genius and business acumen, structures it into a way of life. With the identity-challenged Jane filling the role of protagonist, much of A Regular Guy pivots on the follow-up question: 'Now what?'
So the novel opens on what life is like as Jane and her mother, barely a penny between them but plenty of moxie, endure their nomadic ways in the California countryside, post-hippie apocalypse. All the while Owens looms in the distance, secure in his wealth and frustratingly unknowable. Both Jane and mother Mary (curious choice of names) are strong and self-sustaining despite this, but circumstance ultimately sends Jane off on her own to reunite with Owens.
Jane's journey is built up and then told across a chapter, and it's the strongest point of the book. It's a credit to Simpson's writing that the notion of a ten-year old, however street-smart, handling this task feels compelling rather than fantastical. The details of Mary's plan for Jane's pilgrimage ring true with razor-sharp worldly pragmatism, and the anxiety behind the curtain of the dark, open landscape Jane crosses for miles is damn near tangible.
An entirely new world unfolds for Jane, and the bulk of the novel from here on out is driven by the minute details of personal relationships in high society, rather than by any big twists. Simpson's aptitude for connecting small physical details with complex emotional or societal underpinnings is on frequent display. While I appreciated what her metaphors reveal (particularly in convergence with her study of women's roles) about the challenge of, and necessity for, reconciling one's image with unrealized desires, I really came to miss the drive and the tension during the latter two-thirds of the book.
Largely, I think, this is because the novel focuses broadly, skipping around in time and diverting from the main cast to investigate tertiary characters and their mindframes. Consequently, A Regular Guy often winds up reading as a series of short stories about this bizarre family and its associates. To be fair, most of these snippets are plenty palpable, with unique and vibrantly painted settings, and they do a fine job communicating something about the characters.
An oddly memorable example is Owens going on a "bike date"; the same drive that makes him charming ultimately reveals a man detached, aloof about the intimacy he himself engendered, and the hapless woman experiences her own miniature "lights gone out in Araby" disillusionment. Meanwhile Jane, who Owens treats not like a daughter but as a confidante for his romantic adventures, tags along, silent but knowing: she can read the grown-ups like a book.
But almost every tale hinges on a desire unrealized or conviction unexpressed by the character, and all the yearning can get exhausting. More than once I wanted to yell through the book to Owens "Come on, character! Develop already!" For a while it seems like Jane's desire to go to school, which encapsulates the generational conflict between the girl seeking structure and the father challenging norms, would drive the narrative forward, but this is resolved rather quietly.
Granted, for some characters, like Owens' wheelchair-bound scientist buddy Noah (who I kept picturing as Philip Seymour Hoffman), the yearning builds up to a moment in the sun, and there is satisfaction to be had. Others, like Owens himself, and his girlfriend Olivia, left me more befuddled.
Though there's a contextual reason to forgive this. If A Regular Guy seems like a static portrait of a somewhat bizarre person, one who'd be a key player in real-world America, it's no coincidence: Mona Simpson was drawing on the real life story of her brother Steve Jobs and his estranged daughter Lisa.
Thinking about this book as a real-life allegory affirmed my impression of what it's really all about. It's not Owens, because his character development is too minor to the story, and it's not really about Jane either, though it seems that way at first. It's about being a person in Owens' life.
Simpson certainly conveys this well – Owens' charisma comes across best in his scenes rallying his employees and utilizing a unique, humanistic management style, while his aloofness and benign arrogance (his internal monologue on a vegan diet just calls it 'the right way to eat') are prominent as we view him primarily through the people in his life seeking a deeper relationship, stymied by this unconventional man and his drive.
It's in line with this theme that the most interesting perspective I've read was the reaction of Jobs' daughter Lisa, the real-life Jane, in the Harvard Advocate three years after this book hit the press. Mona Simpson, as Lisa's aunt, was a chief confidante during her childhood, and her exposure to Lisa's mindframe provided the source of internal musings for the Jane character.
Intending to sift out the true and the exaggerated, Lisa was surprised to find some of Jane's thoughts and situations matching her own nearly word-for-word, even when she'd never shared them with Aunt Mona. Her essay captures the complex interplay between fiction and reality better than I could ever hope, and ought to be considered as a side text for future editions of this book.
Overall, this is a neat novel for slowly exploring some subtle undercurrents. The characters are realistic, the dialogue even moreso, and the time and place are brought to life, but all is presented in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get fashion. It's not the first novel I would recommend, but given the enormous impact of a man like Steve Jobs precisely because of how he blurred the line between personality and profession, it's a worthy study for a patient reader.
Oh my it was a hard job getting through this book. It was a mess - confusing, convoluted and aimless with a bunch of characters I could barely keep track of (some I just gave up on completely as they were mentioned randomly at different sections and I had long forgotten them by that time). The characters circled each other warily and who could blame them. They are all in awe of a very flawed and selfish character, Tom Owens, who is modelled after Steve Jobs. The author is his sibling and there is no question he was a very eccentric & difficult man who intrigued many who crossed his path. At the centre of the story is a daughter, Jane, who he barely tolerates unless it's convenient for him. She survives despite having a maher who appears unbalanced and a father who mostly denies he's he's her father, ignites her fir the most kart and plain neglects her. His relationships with lovers, friends, colleagues and employees are fraught with tension and indecision. Olivia was hard to figure out - a beautiful woman who fought with him and left him on a daily basis while he pondered whether he wanted to marry her or not. I dreaded picking up the book and trying to figure out this self absorbed man and why everyone is his life put up with him. It certainly wasn't his charm. I couldn't even figure out what he did or what accounted for his wealth and success.
I forgot how I got this book. I feel like someone gave it to me. When i started it I forgot that it had anything to do with Steve jobs and I thought it would follow the girl Jane. About a quarter of the way through it’s focusing on Owens and his scientist friend and I keep wanting it to go back to Jane as they both seem like side characters. I was telling someone about it and described the dad as being like Steve Jobs only not because his company is unclear, he doesn’t seem like the inventor or the master designer, he seems to have these random unexamined political opinions and might run for president. The person then says “is that the book by Steve Jobs’ sister?” I went back and read the jacket and realized it is about this boring flat reflection of a Steve Jobsish guy. The women too are all dips. The looney mom. The lawyer who really just wants a husband so she doesn’t have to work. The sucker of a girlfriend. Couldn’t finish it.
Read for our book club. Ms. Simpson got me rather quickly with the quirky nature of her characters, which she sustained across the entire narrative. However, there were so many characters in the supporting cast, I had a hard time keeping track. perhaps I wasn't reading attentively enough.
I feel like she set out to imagine a sort of silicon valley type tycoon, good natured, lucky, a bit eccentric in his beliefs and in his self-explanation, how he got to this place ... with an aloofness, having achieved (or had from the outset) a kind of un-attachment that certain eastern religions/philosophies would have us pursue.
I'm still puzzling over the title, not a regular guy in the bunch. Somehow, I think her ensemble of characters would be better suited to the kinds of dramatic/comedy series being served up on NetFlix or Amazon Prime these days ... maybe someone should pick it up and go for it.
I hesitated a long time between two stars and three. It's the first time I give such a low rating to a really well-written book. That's what frustrates me most, actually. The wasted potential that went into it. Halfway through the book I started wondering why I wasn't connecting with it more and I read that was likely to happen if you don't have a major interest in Steve Job, which I don't. Still, Simpson creates interesting characters. It's just that the whole story goes nowhere. I don't usually mind that because I'm a big fan of literary fiction; give me good characters over plot anytime. So I really don't know what did it. It could be that I read this story through audiobook, and I don't think that was the appropriate medium for this story, given the frequent shifts in POVs. It also bothered me that the lives almost every female character in the story revolve around the male protagonist.
Disappointing. Weak in structure. Tons of narrative, but constantly disjointing. Like looking down into a model of a created world, getting explained to death while the participants wait endlessly to be moved from one interaction to the next. And then reversed, a little. Frustrating to follow. And seemed frustrating to all the characters, too.
I actually couldn’t finish. I got about 300 pages into it and I was so bored. I kept waiting for something to happen. It seems to be more of a character study but the characters, with the exception of one or two, aren’t even that well developed. The author Ne ver makes it clear why the main character is so appealing other than the fact he has money.
Born in a commune, Jane, like her mother Mary, is preoccupied with her missing father, Tom Owens. Mary teaches her to drive at 10 years of age and sends her alone in an old truck to find him. Owens has become a famous and rich businessman who is anything but a regular guy. Mary eventually joins Jane, and they become part of a narrow social sphere w/ Owens as the nucleus.
Owens is a self made man who worked his way up the ladder via scientific achievement. His lack of social skills hints at Asperger's; he talks to his young daughter about his love life, he blindly idolizes the non-existent "ideal" relationship w/ friends and family eschewing anything sticky or messy or emotional, he dances and flirts w/ other women in full view of his girlfriend w/o a thought, and he honestly believes that he could only fall in love w/ a woman who was young and beautiful. In truth he is egotistical, judgmental, arrogant, and selfish - and despite this, women of all ages continue to find him attractive and mesmerizing. Like moths to a fire, they are attracted and are untimately disappointed. It is painful to watch these women hurt themselves - he is oblivious and egotistically believes they all fall deeply in love w/ him, never to be the same. This story is about active vs passive living - Owens's mantra is the chase, but he has no ability or strength for the hardest part, the follow through.
Did Jane's appearance change the course of her father's life as many of the blurbs suggest? I didn't see it, and I was disgusted by this man and of the obsession w/ him. The women in the novel grew and changed and matured, not Owens. His inevitable fall felt anticlimatic; Simpson's excellent characterization didn't hold it all together.
Another great book by Mona Simpson! I'm so disappointed that this was the last one I had to read by her - now I'll have to wait more than a year for her to release another one. In the first few chapters I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get into it, but became fascinated by all of the characters. She is just such a great character writer. Though frustrating, Owens, the "regular guy", was as irregular as they come and kept me interested and captivated. Simpson's writing seems almost raw at times, like she just puts on the paper the exact thoughts she thinks a character would have, no literary filters applied, if that makes any sense, and that makes her writing seem so much more genuine and so great! I highly recommend this book, it is just as good as "My Hollywood", though I'd still call "Anywhere But Here" my very favorite Mona Simpson book.
Mona Simpson wrote an intimate, rambling, pseudo-biographical account of her half-brother, Steve Jobs, his immediate family and his colleagues. The novel gives the impression of hewing closely to Jobs's life, and suffers for that, given the formlessness of any real human existence. It's also embarrassingly indiscrete, betraying what the reader can only assume are family secrets, and scoring points against Jobs's ex-girlfriends and others. These revelations are both its strength and its weakness. While the indiscretions make it contemptible, on one level, they also lend the book great interest, especially for anyone seeking information about Jobs.
Would I have stayed with this novel if I hadn't known that it was about Mona Simpson's biological brother, Steve Jobs? Probably not. The plot line is messy and the characters, although memorable, are confusing. Simpson's insights into the "anything can happen" world of California start-ups and research in the 1980s are compelling, but not enough to carry the book. On the other hand, her eulogy for Jobs on his untimely death this year are beautiful and touching. I highly recommend reading it in The New York Times of November 30 (available online).
I was curious about this book after reading the Steve Jobs biography. But I kept putting it down and after a few weeks realized it just wasn't capturing my attention, so I gave up. None of the characters were interesting enough to encourage me to read on. I also had difficulty keeping track of all the characters introduced.
P.S. I just reread my earlier review of "My Hollywood" and found that I'd expressed similar concern regarding confusion about too many characters. Perhaps Mona Simpsons's style just doesn't suit me.
3.5 Jobs claimed "it's about 25%" him, but I'd guess that's only accurate if "it" is the novel, rather than the character. The book is, after all, primarily about his daughter and her relationships with those around her. And the portrait of "Jane's" father is only marginally fictionalized - his career somewhat more so, crossing well-trodden actual events with Swanson and Boyer's Genentech. A reasonably well written - if occasionally disjointed - story, perhaps more interesting for its approach to portraiture than as literature.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Even thought this book came out 16 years before "Owens's" autobiography, alot of the story of "Jane" matches up pretty well. I wonder if the personal life part of Owen's biography was just copied straight from this book.
What's really crazy about this book is that Job -err the fictional Owens started a company that produced cancer drugs which was widely successful instead...
3.5 stars because I don't think this was a fictional as its made out to be.
I was curious to see what Simpson would say about her brother, Steve Jobs, in this thinly-disguised portrait; she did not make him a very attractive human being. I found I had to read some paragraphs over, as her language is often disjointed and hard to decipher. The novel would have been stronger with more characters. I especially grew tired of reading about Mary, the mother of his daughter. Still, I never thought of discarding it; it was worth the effort.