I haven’t been doing as many reviews as I normally would because I haven’t been inspired enough to write a full blog on any of these books (except maybe Ship Fever…I got rolling on those pea references). So, I’m going back to the old way for this post – kickin’ it old school. These are going to be quick & dirty reviews. Here, stands enough to convince you, or leave you cold in the shower.
1. For you Mom, Finally – Ruth Reichl
While the title makes you think that this book is going to be some work of wonder about the inspiration of mothers. Or something you buy your mom for Mother’s Day because it has “mom” in the title and you’re running late – all the grocery store flowers wrapped in plastic were wilting. It’s not though, this isn’t the story of glory. It’s the story of a girl who is still angry at her mother for not being the classic motherhood ideal. I think this is also a story of “here’s why I am a cook book author.” Reichl was the Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet magazine until 2009 (ten years since she started) and her mother is the woman who feels constricted in the kitchen like she’s choking on apron straps. Rather than a story about childhood through the lens of your mother, this is a story about depression through the lens of your mother.
2. Shelter – Jayne Anne Phillips
By now, you know, one of my favorite books ever is Lark & Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips. She’s the master of dream sequences, and memories that are fuzzy at the edges. She’s the master of the poetic in fiction. She’s the master of character development even when the character can’t speak, or is confined by illness. I mean, she’s brilliant. Shelter was not. I gave it three stars because I can’t ever see giving Jayne Anne Phillips less than three stars. Shelter is a confusing coming-of-age novel for characters of all ages. She uses coming-of-age as a device to mean coming-into-myself and while I like the idea of that, this novel is too much, too dense, too long, and too nothing.
Jayne isn’t a plot master, you have to love beautiful writing to get through a book by her and not worry about where the arc is coming, or on what page the climax will hill. I think this book needed a plot, and needed a few more arrows for the reader to the moral conclusion. I have no idea, still, what I’m supposed to take from this. On finishing Lark & Termite, I hated it. Lark & Termite took me weeks of thinking and stewing to really feel it and find out it was me I hated, and the book that I wanted to coddle to my chest. Now, it’s the premiere book I use for my own writing. Shelter isn’t quite there. I don’t recommend it, but I do recommend Phillips as a whole.
Quotes: “And in the dark of her something cracks, loud as the crack of the gun, keeps cracking apart.”
“What sort of children holds these sweets in their palm, even eat them as though they are bread or meat? Children far from the smell of wind in Calvary, the river blown smell of wet growth, algae, the greeny water where frogs breed after the thaw, frog eggs a fresh rot smell not so different from the sour yogurt smell of women, the real smell wet inside the fake perfumes” (72).
“Then I’ll have to make do. Isn’t that the term your mother uses, Lenore, ‘make do?’ Cap took another long drag out of the air, and exhaled, ‘it’s sad, that term. Don’t you think?” (96)
3. The War of the Rosens – Janice Eidus
Let me say that I’m bias in many ways before I do this review. Eidus taught a fiction workshop at Chautauqua that I attended over the summer. She’s one of the first predominately Jewish writer’s that I’ve ever read. The book has mistakes in spelling and grammar that are obvious (this is a publisher mistake though). Otherwise, I liked this story, I liked these characters – the writing may not have been anything immaculate and you couldn’t hang the words on a chandelier, but the story itself was dark just the way I like them.
I think the ending is a bit abrupt and the surprises aren’t really a surprise – you expect the bad, the dark, the ugly. Don’t we always expect the ugly? We expect it in our own life when we count the deaths of local high school students and see the burning houses filled with stairs and photographs on the news. This is where hope comes in for most of us (I hope that doesn’t happen to my son or daughter, I hope she survived the flames) – and here is where Eidus asks what is hope to a family that doesn’t have religion?
In writing, I always want darkness. Let me go out on a limb and say I hate cheery pieces of writing. I’m not a child, I don’t need smiles and farm animals, I need death and broken love that splatters on apartment hardwood. I think this story has enough of that. I do wish the youngest sister stayed as strong and compelling as she was in the beginning, throughout.
4. Glaciers – Alexis M. Smith
Glaciers is short and sweet. It’s the story of a girl next door who likes books and thrift stores in the Pacific North West. I’m a fan of its simplicity.
Quotes: “Her sister read that spiders have book lungs, which fold in and out over themselves like pages. This pleased Isabel immensely. When she learned later that humans do not also have book lungs, she was disappointed. Book Lungs. It made complete sense to her. This way breath, this way life: through here” (50).
“She wonders what a group of dresses would be called, if they were living things: a choir, she thinks, a choir of dresses” (77).
5. Ship Fever: Stories – Andrea Barrett
This won the National Book Award. I felt like I was in 9th grade biology and excelling into chemistry as I read through this book. It covers all disciplines; history, science, writing, and does it quite well. While I didn’t like the title story (it was over one hundred pages and not driven enough), I did find stories to hold on to.
Something about me you should know: I love Gregory Mendel. I was obsessed with him in genetics lecture in college. I could hear about peas all day, their roundness, their greenery, the fact that they can hold safe inside a thimble, or under a dozen mattresses. I’ve been involved with peas since I tasted a lesueur, and since they became the organic star of fairy tales. Thread spun to gold, psh, put a pea between your legs and sleep, devastating. Therefore, a short story about Gregory Mendel and his monkish ways is a turn-on for me. I’m pretty sure Barrett is the first pea story I’ve read since “The Princess and the Pea.”
Have I sold this one yet?
Quotes: “Her desk is very small, meant to hold a few letters and a vase of flowers: useless for any real work. The books she’s taken from the library spill from it to the floor. Gorgeous books, expensive books” (Rare Bird).
“Six days later a weak spot on the wall of his aorta had opened like a window” (Soroche).
6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean Dominique Bauby
Swoon. This reads like a dream. You want to swallow the words whole and let spit congeal each one to the gums of your mouth. Bauby wrote this over the course of the year, blinking out each letter to a woman who wrote the words down exactly how he wanted them. He had what’s called “locked-in syndrome” from a stroke he suffered.
It’s the kind of book you pass on because it’s unbelievable what is possible with the human mind, and the butterflies, the butterflies – they still flutter and wined.
Quotes: “Far from such din, when blessed silence returns, I can listen to the butterflies that flutter inside my head. To hear them, one must be calm and pay close attention, for their wingbeats are barely audible. Loud breathing is enough to drown them out” (97).
7. Postcards from a Dead Girl – Kirk Faber
If you want a quick and easy read that starts nowhere and goes nowhere, read this.
8. A Good American – Alex George
Two words: who. cares.
9. Everything Beautiful Began After – Siman Van Booy
Four words: What. is. the. point. You can’t rest everything on beautiful writing, Mr. Van Booy. And you can’t rest everything on beautiful writing that has been said before, one thousand different ways. You can’t have a character fly all over the world, several times over, because you don’t know what to do with him. I hate when I can tell what the writer of a book is thinking. It’s like Van Booy woke up and said, “I’m going to write a love story today, that looks different, but really it’s wrapped in the same old roll.
I have read several blogs praising his short stories, and this book, but it’s just not good. WHY DO YOU PEOPLE LIKE THIS BOOK? The main tale is one of love, but there’s no love between them, maybe lust, maybe, I’m not even sure that’s done well enough. There’s a pregnancy and a bit of bad sex (Bad Sex Award, bad). At one point, I think the sun became a part of the sex: girl, guy, ray – threeway. Bleh, couldn’t stand this book, I think he sold it on name alone.