Artemis — Anthony Weir
From the guy who brought you The Martian, one of the finest sci-fi adventures of the last 20 years, Artemis is another adventure in space. This time on the moon with lots of science: lunar shelters and manufacturing in zero G and more than most of us need to know about welding. It’s competent and amusing, but in the end not nearly as satisfying as The Martian was. In large part because I don’t buy the voice of the narrator. She’s one dimensional, a stereotypical rebellious too smart, smart mouthed early 20-something character at odds with the Man. (Or in this case Woman.) At first I couldn’t figure out what was bothering me about her but then someone pointed out she has the sense of humor of a 12 year-old boy. Any woman that smart and that far out of on the edges of society should have a sharper, more sophisticated sense of humor. The “ho ho I just made a sex joke” thing gets really old, really fast.
I hear that there were some very good short stories released while this book was in the works. I’ll go find them.
* I don’t like girls who sound like they are just boys with different plumbing *
Fresh Complaint — Jeffery Eugenides
Short stories by the author of the wonderful MiddleSex. But these… well many of them don’t hold my attention. In fact I had to go back and look at a summary of the stories to be reminded of which ones were here. They are mostly older stories and the lack of mastery that Eugenides showed in Middlesex is evident.
Am I just being cranky or did these really not meet expectations? I am in retrospect unsettled by the misogyny of several of the stories. Nothing blatant just the feeling that the women in the stories are not only not valued by the male characters but also not valued by the author. And the last story in the bunch about a girl who “ruins” herself and an innocent man to avoid an arranged marriage is just plain creepy because the girl simply gets away with it and feels not a moment of remorse. I suppose you are meant to feel sympathy for the man ruined but all you feel a great deal of antipathy for the girl.
* this collection should have stayed uncollected *
Charming Billy — Alice McDermott
The Charming Billy of the title is a dead guy whose wake is the setting for the revealing tale of his life and loves. The tragedy of the “death” of his first love and his subsequent marriage to a woman who devoted her life to him — drunk as he was. Like all McDermott the Irish Americans and plain old Irish shine out. You even like Billy who objectively was more than a little bit of an asshole. Various points of view add up to an entire story.
* more Irish-American loves, laughter, and tragedy *
Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir — Amy Tan
A memoir, writer’s guide, and extended philosophical musing on what it means to be a daughter. Through memory and mementos Amy Tan examines the truths and fictions of her childhood and relationship with her family, all with the understanding that these things are what makes her the writer that she is. Some episodes here are frankly terrifying and many others will make you smile or chuckle in recognition. In many ways families are all alike. They create their stories with the often unclear motivations of polishing things up. But the unpolished version are always there underneath directing the family in its way. And that contrast is what allows us to create our fictions and realities.
* a lovely blend of memoir and musings on the muse *
Jane Austen at Home — Lucy Worsley
I rarely read biography — preferring to learn about a person though their creative output.
Austen’s work’s preoccupation with the need to find a home — in particular to make a good marriage is the lens used here to relate her life. Austen’s gradual falling down from the boisterous, comfortable home of her youth to the cramped and stingy home of her later life is shown in opposition of the happy endings that she gives her heroines.
Maybe I’m just not good at reading biography. But I remain unconvinced that I have learned much about Jane Austen but instead heard a story that her biographer wants to tell. Though really — can there be biography without the fingerprints of the biographer?
* recommended to for those with a taste for feminist indignation *