The Japanese Lover — Isabel Allende
The story of a Polish refugee girl and her uncle’s Japanese gardener’s son who fall in love, are separated, then meet and separate repeatedly over the course of life time. We learn the story of their romance as the girl, now in her old age, slowly reveals the romance to her young immigrant caregiver and her patient but persistent grandson. It’s a vast story with all of the terrors of the modern world in it. Nazis, the Japanese internment, the chaos in modern Balkans, child abuse, and on and on, but it’s all so good-natured that you don’t really feel any of the horror you ought to. As much as you’ll like that characters you won’t feel any deep emotional tie to them. The story is epic in scope but it never quite grabs you by the scruff of your neck like so many of Allende’s stories do.
*Likeable characters, no great drama in spite of the settings.*
The Girl in the Spider’s Web — David Lagercrantz
I decided to read this in spite of all the controversy surrounding it’s writing. (There were estate issues following the death of Stieg Larsson. The right to publish new books in the series has been the subject of ugly lawsuits.)
I probably shouldn’t have bothered. It’s flat. All of the danger to our favorite protagonists (and I love both Blomquist and Salander) is narrated rather than shown. And the twin sister’s surprise appearance at the end? What the fuck?
It’s originally is Swedish of course. So I can’t tell how much of the awkward writing is in the original and how much is in the translation. But there are so many missed opportunities for depth. The relationship between Lisbeth and the savant boy in particular.
I finished it quickly. But I probably won’t pick up another book in the series. And for what it’s worth I think the Swedish movies/TV series does the best job of portraying the characters.
* The book is not nearly as interesting as controversy surrounding it’s publication. *
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim — David Sedaris
Classic Sedaris. Not his funniest but hey, dysfunctional families are only particularly funny if you come from one. Even then the stories don’t necessarily stick with you. I can’t pick out a favorite because — well I don’t remember any of them.
* Why did nothing stick with me? *
Radiance — Cathrynne Valente
So glad that I gave this book two chances. (I listened to it last month.) The second time through I was finally able to follow the many characters and convoluted time line. Can I just say right here that if I need the little dates that you put at the head of the chapter to follow the shifting time periods in your book you’ve got a writing problem. I should be able to tell from the first three sentences in a chapter who’s talking and at what point in the story.
That said, Valente’s deep dive into the world of cinema or rather what it would look like in her wildly improbable but appealing alternate universe is a lot of fun and filled with lovely prose touches. Just take it slowly and don’t feel stupid if you have to look back to the beginning of the chapter to figure out where in the story you are.
* Valente returns to lyric but readable prose *
Loitering — Charles D’Ambrosio
I do not want my essays about literature quite so commingled with the tragedies of the writer. In fact it bores me. Yes, if your brother committed suicide you will have a different take on a lot of Salinger than if you hadn’t had the experience. And yes, there is probably see sort of essay in that but not one so plainly trying to disguise itself as academically acceptable literary criticism.
DAmbrosio is highly praised but I found myself skimming and then outright skipping. Salinger is for teenagers — sorry.
* Not sure what all the fuss is about. But then again I didn’t really get DFW either. *
The Partly Cloudy Patriot — Sarah Vowell
The title riffs on a Thomas Paine quote referring summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. Vowell takes on the incidences and characters of American History with insight and offers a reasoned (if properly biased — more on that later) view of the present political and social climate. I say properly biased because anyone who does not have an opinion on what history is trying to tell us as we look back on it isn’t reading honestly. History isn’t dry facts and the unanalyzed rotation of heads of state. Nor is it the simplistically glossed patriotic version that we are given like so much pabulum in grade school. SV is no sunshine patriot. Nor is she so slavishly dedicated to the nation that she cannot see the darkness of the clouds that sometimes cover our sun. She sees into both the good and bad that arise from each episode that she examines.
I particularly liked her pieces about the above Paine quote and the very short and pointed Rosa Parks C’est Moi (no you ain’t.) Also State of the Union which reads like a list poem.
* A charming guide to American idiosyncrasies. *
Nothing in Reserve — Jack Lewis
I know Jack, he’s my writing partner on what is a major project at the moment. As is common with writers who work together we know too much about each other. Here are many things that I have sensed rumblings of but never had put into words for me. Sometimes it’s a frightening place, the inside of Jack’s head, but it’s also a place filled with life and hope.
* A war narrative that isn’t really about war. *
I Was Promised There Would be Cake — Sloane Crosley
I have a soft spot for these coming of age — the age being 25 or so — essays. They take place during the second great reinvention of the self. (The first being somewhere in high school when you realize that your parents don’t get the final word on who you are.)
The essays are pretty predictable. At least if you are a middle class, college educated straight woman. No, I’ve never been the unintentional maid-of-honor at a long-lost high school friend’s wedding. Though there was that one grade school friend who included me in her wedding because we had recently reconnected by accident and were still exploring a nostalgic connection. It all came to nothing in the end. We were both still geeks but the focus of our geeking had diverged to the point where we had little to say to each other, and a friendship cannot survive on nostalgia alone.
There are moments of pure light here. The description of the Christian summer camp that her Jewish parents inadvertently sent her to as a clusterfuck of ritual send me slamming back in time to when I sat in a dining hall with all of my friends singing both hymns and the grossly morbid “The Great Ship Titanic”
In other essays she locks herself out of two apartments in a single day (the hazards of moving), volunteers at the Butterfly exhibit in the Museum of Natural History (brief and unsuccessful) and deals, not well, with a passive aggressive monster of a first boss.
She is both what I was and what I wanted to be when I was 25. Though wouldn’t it be nice to see essays from someone who isn’t college educated and working publishing?
* an all day nostalgia sucker for middle class women of a certain age *
Pulphead — John Jeremiah Sullivan
Lots of music here. Also some history and criticism. The starring piece is the first piece. A tale of rock and roll, fundamentalism and a big RV, as Sullivan visits the largest Christian music festival in the USA, nay the whole world — Creation Festival. A mega-church version of a rock festival with Christian Rock bands and tens of thousands of young Christ-loving fans. Sullivan’s take on the whole thing — while starting with an assumption of glib irrelevance to the world at large becomes nuanced and empathetic as he meets various concert goers and band members.
* Particularly good if you like modern music and obscure corners of literature. *
I haven’t got anything written yet about the one book I listened to in February, but considering it’s the 3rd of April. Perhaps I’d better just get this out…