I might have skipped this semi-autobiographical novel entirely if I’d only read James Wood’s rather negative opinion in his New Yorker review. Luckily a friend pointed me toward Johanna Fateman’s Bookforum review, and I reconsidered. It’s a strangely tricky book, as I suspect readers will either relate or entirely not-relate to the character Sheila’s ambition to be the best person she can be. But those who do relate may enjoy how she explores this conceit, while others may be disgusted by the ugliness of it and what that, indirectly, says about them.
The story doesn’t have a traditional structure with its confessional nature and sections written in play form and emails written as lists and one notably...more
Not long after unpacking my books after moving, a friend asked for a book recommendation, and I pulled The History of Love oﬀ the shelf, which reminded me that I had put this one, Krauss’s ﬁrst novel, on my list a while back. The History of Love has stayed a favorite of mine for several years and her next book Great House treads in pretty similar territory; so it was a surprise how diﬀerent this book felt.
Most of the story is from the perspective of a man who was found wandering in the desert, with no memory of who he is. This turns out to be caused by a tumor, but after surgery only part of his...more
Waiting for the paperback version of 1Q84 meant being rewarded with a manageable three-volume set and also hearing the mixture of enjoyment and ambivalence that early readers already worked through. Since I’ve read so much of Murakami’s work, I knew I’d read it regardless of the overall less-than-stellar trend in responses. Most of the book was entertaining to read, but the length is a tough aspect. At times it feels long for the point of being long, like content is just padded on to draw the story out longer. Murakami loves the banalities of his characters’ lives, so this level of detail is not entirely out of place in his work. But there were also moments of inconsistency and...more
Sometimes when you’re stuck with a book you can’t get into and can’t let go of, the best thing that can happen is to stumble upon something else that will give you the route to move on to the next one. In this case, I’d been carrying around Zadie Smith’s On Beauty for several weeks, untouched beyond the ﬁrst twenty pages, before a stoop-side giveaway presented this novella as an alternative. While the integrity of unfamiliar books abandoned to the dangers of the street is inherently suspect, tastes are subjective. And I did come to The Woman in the Dunes through a box of books left on a street.
The Bathroom is written in such short sections that the...more
Somewhere on the internet, Netherland was compared to Open City, and I swapped my copy of the Teju Cole book with my friend’s copy of this one so we could compare our comparisons. There are a lot of parallels from the post-9/11 New York City setting to the searching meanderings of the main characters, though the main diﬀerence is probably that Netherland has a more traditional progression that ends on a note of resolution. In general, a lot more happens and the isolation of the protagonist from those around him is less extreme for the most part, though much of those isolation is equally profound.
In Netherland, the Dutch-born ex-pat joins a cricket team after his wife and son...more
I’d been reading this book oﬀ and on for about six months, having gone through a few periods of being too distracted to read, before I decided it was time to hunker down and ﬁnish it.
It’s a bit tough in the beginning since the best character tragically exits the scene in the ﬁrst section, and there is a bit of a grieving period. It takes a while to see what the other characters have to oﬀer — through their raw, often ugly emotions — and then by the time you get behind them, there are layers of betrayals to contend with at the end.
There is so much in here, I’m sure I will read this again eventually. I think it’s more of...more
Comparisons to W. G. Sebald alone sold me on this debut novel from this Nigerian-American writer. His character Julius also grew up in Nigeria and now lives in New York City practicing psychiatry; in his spare time he wanders the city (and at times travels to other cities to wander) in contemplation, revisiting events from both near and distant pasts of his own and sometimes his patients’. It’s a story with a light plot, and I imagine all the meanderings are elevated with a decent understanding of the Manhattan landmarks. At least I felt more attuned to places I could picture from my own memory.
Julius is kind of frustrating character because it seems sometimes that he is too passive...more
I was around the corner from my usual library branch when I ﬁnished The Stranger’s Child and felt that I should get another book in my hands promptly. Since reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men last year, I’d never oﬃcially added this to my reading list, but it was on the right shelf at the right time.
Agee died of a heart attack while writing this book, so Agee’s protégé David McDowell edited together pieces of manuscript into a novel and published the novel posthumously. About three years ago English scholar Michael A. Lofaro published a new version aiming to more accurately represent Agee’s intentions — largely by making the story chronological. This seems kind of funny since...more
I haven’t read any of Hollinghurst previous novels, but I’ve been told they involve contemporary gay men having lots of sex, and therefore you may not feel comfortable reading them on the subway. At his Bookcourt reading forThe Stranger’s Child, he used the phrase “uncharacteristically restrained” in response to a question about the lack of detailed action on the pages of this book. But there is plenty going on between the chapters and sections and after a while that becomes the point.
The story begins just before the outbreak of WWI and focuses on two families who initially come together when two Cambridge students meet and start a secret aﬀair. Cecil Valance is a rather mediocre poet who...more
The most frequent comment I see about Jim Shepard’s writing is that he attacks such a wide variety of worlds, in terms of places and places in time. It seems to go against the “write what you know” commandment passed down to aspiring writers, except each story feels convincingly accurate; he is apparently able to research well and therefore know more than the average person. In this collection among the oﬀerings the characters include is a “black world” operative at Los Alamos, a soldier on Papua New Guinea during WWII, the creator of Godzilla, the French child serial killer Gilles de Rais, and a group of Polish climbers attempting a winter expedition in the Himalayas.
My favorite in...more