This is one of those novels that is hard to describe without the word “poignant,” as McGregor describes in ﬁne detail the happenings on one block in a British city on one day that something tragic occurs with the block’s residents as witnesses. The build-up to this one event is a selective peering into of the neighbors’ secret troubles, fears, desires. His ability to bring depth to such a large cast is impressive.
One of those witnesses is a young girl who was in the process of packing that day to move house and, interspersed into the narration of that single day, is her ﬁrst-person account of later ﬁnding out she is pregnant from a one-night stand and her struggle to...more
After the semi-disappointment in Dance of the Happy Shades, I picked up this collection and worked my way through it over autumn in between other books. I’d probably read half of these seventeen favorites in their original collections, so reading this was a combination of ﬁnding and revisiting. I can now be sure that her earlier stories just don’t grab me as completely.
The re-reading of stories was sometimes the best part: the ﬁrst instantly nostalgic ones I’d read in “The Beggar Maid,” the devastating “Runaway,” plus I’d forgotten that “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” was the inspiration for the ﬁlm Away from Her — both are lovely and melancholy but there are deﬁnitely some more internal sections that...more
I read Breakfast of Champions back in high school or early college but for some reason never branched out further. It’s hard to remember my exact reaction, but I’m guessing it was a little more science ﬁction than I found interesting at the time. If my ﬁrst Vonnegut had been this one, maybe that wouldn’t have been the case.
Probably you know what it’s about already: WWII, Dresden, a fatalist optometrist jostling back and forth through time, the 116 intonations of “So it goes” to acknowledge death and mortality. It still felt important reading it now, having read so much by people who read this and probably wanted to be as concise and humorous about terrible things, and...more
It seems most of Oe’s works are at least semi-autobiographical; supposedly all his works feature a character based on his son Hikari who is developmentally disabled. This book is about a similar boy whose name is also Hikari, but goes by the nickname Eeyore, and a similar father who also writes and is the voice of the novel.
Prompted by a major transition in Eeyore’s life, the father looks to the poetry of William Blake to make sense of his and Eeyore’s history and to inspire him towards writing a set of deﬁnitions of the world in terms children like Eeyore could understand. The plot meanders through diﬀerent milestones, and the father seems so focused on his oldest son that...more
For whatever reason, this collection didn’t strike me as much as Modern Life did. But there were poems I liked.
The Crowds Cheered as Gloom Galloped Away
Everyone was happier. But where did the sadness go? People wanted to know. They didn’t want it collecting in their elbows or knees then popping up later. The girl who thought of the ponies made a lot of money. Now a month’s supply of pills came in a hard blue case with a handle. You opened it & found the usual vial plus six tiny ponies of assorted shapes & sizes, softly breathing in the Styrofoam. Often they had to be pried out & would wobble a little...more
I never read this when I was younger, but I kind of wish I had. It’s a complicated mystery based around the occupants of an apartment building who discover they’ve all been named heirs to a $2 million estate, except they need to compete against each other (in pairs dictated by the bizarre will) on a strange riddle in order to win it.
I can’t say I made much of an eﬀort to ﬁgure out the clues myself, but it was the ﬁrst time in a little while that I’ve completely lost myself in reading, so I was just riding along for the last hour. It was a nice break from plodding through Alice Munro’s Carried Away, which I’ve...more
Only recently did I get with the program and start reading David Lebovitz’s blog — I’ve tried to make up for lost time by making his butterscotch pudding several times in the last few weeks. I assumed this book would basically be a printed “best of” the blog (which would further help me catch up on what I’ve been missing), but actually the essays are original to the book, though many of the topics were probably mentioned.. like, most of the list of 15 unlikeable things about Paris shows up in expanded form in the book.
Following a similar approach as his blog, there’s a lot about food (including many recipes) and insider scoops on places to go...more
An entomologist seeks out a remote seaside village for an insect expedition and as night falls seeks shelter from the villagers. They oﬀer him shelter with a widow who lives in a house inside a deep sand pit and he wakes up in the morning to discover they have removed the ladder, trapping him. In time he discovers that a few villagers basically live a life of slavery, spending all night shoveling sand both to protect their fragile houses from destruction and for commerce, as the sand is sold to builders, even though it shouldn’t be due to its high salt content. The beginning of the novel in some ways reveals the ending (he is eventually declared dead since he...more
I was partway through this collection of short ﬁction when I had to check to see if this was Munro’s ﬁrst collection of stories (which it is). So often her stories seem to leave no stone to untouched, and, even though it’s not as long as a novel, you still have the sense that the narrative is entirely complete at the end. Some of these harbor the traditional annoyance of the short story where you are left wanting something more. As the book progressed, there was less of that annoyance, so either I’d adjusted to appreciating those tantalizing absences of narrative or the stories evolved more to my idea of what Alice Munro is all about.
“Boys and Girls” was deﬁnitely...more