fiction


Yeah, I’ve been putting off admitting anything more about reading or seeing Twilight. I think it’s best to combine it all in one post and get it over with.

I agree with what the lead actor said in the interview that prompted this whole adventure for me. He says the books make you feel “uncomfortable” and “shouldn’t have been published” (!!!). HAH. But I seriously can’t discuss this anymore in public, I have to put it behind a cut.

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Kate lent me this book and if I remember correctly, was kind of noncommittal about it. (Yes, Kate?)

It’s actually two stories in one volume, Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow, translated from Japanese. Both deal with themes of loss and grief and home. And I don’t know. Despite some glowing reviews, I just wasn’t feeling it. Kitchen in particular seemed to be straining for too much cutesy and whimsey, and it just got on my nerves. I liked Moonlight Shadow better, maybe because it was shorter and less overtly determined to be offbeat. Eh, still not that great.

Bottom line: meh. I can’t really recommend it, but I’m not feeling like buying a billboard to warn you off it either.

I feel like I’ve liked almost everything I’ve read lately, which is a great streak to be on. I’d never heard of this author, but according to the bio in the front of the book, he published over 200 novels and at one point was the best-selling author in the world, so I guess I live under a rock made of illiteracy. On the other hand, he retired from writing in the 70’s, so maybe I can be forgiven. Also, he published in French.

Anyway, this was an engrossing psychological novel written from the point of view of the husband in a couple who drives from Long Island to Maine to pick up their kids from summer camp over Labor Day. He’s deeply disaffected and ill-at-ease with a lot of the aspects of his life. The decisions he makes trigger destructive events, even as he hopes they will be grand and meaningful, and mend an emptiness in his existence. This is an intense exploration of modern alienation before such a thing was hip. I’m somehow reminded of the short stories of Raymond Carver.

Red Lights provided me with an interesting contrast from The Awakening which was a female-POV book, which also featured a protagonist who was tragically alienated from contemporary societal expectations and conventions. The novels were written ~50 years apart, and the writing styles are extremely different. If I was more ambitious, I would spend some time writing a term paper delving more deeply into this pair of novels. But I am not!

I know the book was translated from French, so this isn’t the original text, but I did want to quote one paragraph that I adored. The couple have just exchanged some meaningless dialogue about the temperature in the car and whether to put on a coat.

Why did they feel an obscure need to exchange remarks of this sort? Was it to reassure themselves? If so, what were they afraid of?

Wow.

Bottom line: recommended

This poor book languished for years on my shelves. “Oh yeah,” I’d occasionally think, “that’s supposed to be good, an American classic, I should read that some day.” I finally took it off the shelf last month and read the back of the book, which contained this quote:

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.

That is dynamite, knockout stuff that evidently freaked the crap out of her contemporary society. This book was written in 1899.

As you might gather from that passage, the heroine of The Awakening is an unconventional woman. While vacationing with her husband and 2 children on the Gulf Coast one summer, Edna Pontellier learns to swim, falls in love, and slowly realizes that the life she is living is not fulfilling. That realization propels her to make major changes, which have repercussions I won’t spoil.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel as if that passage (and this book) could still be written today and would seem just as relevant as it must have been in 1899 – maybe more so. It feels seditious. It feels dangerous. It feels real and revolutionary.

I don’t know a lot about literary movements so all I can say is that the writing seems old-fashioned but in no way inaccessible to a modern reader. Some of the writing, particularly the end, was breathtakingly poignant.

I feel self-conscious recommending it, as if my recommendation will be interpreted as some kind of anti-family manifesto. But I think my friends who bother to read my blog know I’m not anti-family. I’m just exceedingly sympathetic to the plight of anyone (particularly women) caught in the oppressive expectations of a domination-based hierarchical social system that’s slavishly devoted to narrow gender roles. F that.

Bottom line: very highly recommended.

This book, a loaner from my mother-in-law, turned out much worse than her previous loaner (Middlesex, which I rather liked). Oh well.

The word that keeps coming to mind when I think about how to describe this book is “micro-melodrama”. It wants to be melodramatic, I think, but the stakes are so small and the setting so mundane and the characters so dull and the storyline so plodding… micro-melodrama is all I can come up with. I think it was supposed to be charming chick-lit (a term I abhor).

Bottom line: not recommended in the slightest.

What’s next: I’m reading First, Break all the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. I think it’s going to be a pretty quick and engrossing read. I’ve also begun reading What Is Intelligence? but it’s slow-going.

Looks like I have time to write up a book review before going out of town again.

My bookclubbers were pretty excited to read this acclaimed first novel. The book was slow for me, and while some of the writing was gorgeous, the dialogue didn’t always ring true; it read like a work-in-progress rather than a finished novel sometimes. I’m glad I had the bookclub to discuss it with, because I got a lot out of the conversation, and felt more impressed with the book than I had been. Hopefully I can remember some of it…

One of the interesting sidelines we discussed was the difference between the bookcovers that we had (images ripped off from Amazon):

TBTTHB1  TBTTHB2

My edition is the one on the left. I must be pretty obtuse, because it took me until bookclub night to realize that the image is of a broken windowpane. Authors don’t typically have a lot to do with cover art, that’s the marketing department, but it’s interesting the way both covers try to illustrate themes of vandalism and urban decay in quite different ways.

Something I missed or didn’t think much about while reading the novel was to get deeper into the Dante’s Inferno allusion. The title is a line from The Inferno, and the main character, Sepha, lives and works on Logan Circle [get it?] in Washington D.C.

Bottom line: somewhat recommended, especially if you can read it with people smarter than me :-)

Next up: The bookclub is reading some short stories this month but I’m not even sure what they are or if I’m in town when they meet next.

For a long book, I have relatively little to say about it. I might be the last person in America to read it. I mostly enjoyed it, especially the colorful family history that led to the birth of Cal, the narrator. Cal’s present-day story was surprisingly less engaging than just about everything else in the story. And I felt ever so slightly strange about reading an “Oprah” book.

Bottom line: recommended

What’s next: not sure. Despite having a shelf full of reading list, I managed to buy another one to add to the pile: The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic. So maybe that, or maybe I need to try to cram Good Calories, Bad Calories before I see my brother-in-law (who gave it to me) and father-in-law (who became briefly obsessed with it) later this month.

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