Book Reviews

I mostly review books here, but you may find some short stories along the way.

A Death in Kitchawank by T. Coraghessan Boyle

A Death in Kitchawank” follows the life of a housewife as her family grows up, and she and her husband continue to live in a resort community on a small inland lake.  One area that Boyle captures well is the insular nature of small lakes, and how the residents lives intersect.  For the most part, this is a bland story.  It’s as if we are viewing the characters through a gauze of nostalgia.  The points that stand out occur when a narrator of sorts imposes his own voice between the scenes.  Experimentation is great; however, in this case I’m not sure what it accomplishes.  It made me wonder if this was an excerpt from a larger story, and if that character/narrator was more important than Miriam, the character from whose point of view the story follows.

Review: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

In terms of creativity, this is one of the most creative books I’ve read. A lot of the negative reviews seems to lament that fact that this novel isn’t formulaic. What a strange complaint. China …more I’m not even sure where to begin this book. I thought it was sci-fi when I began, but it rides that line between sci-fi and fantasy. That is to say it doesn’t fit a category very well. I guess you’d call it steampunk, and this is the first novel I’ve read under that heading.

In terms of creativity, this is one of the most creative books I’ve read. A lot of the negative reviews seems to lament that fact that this novel isn’t formulaic. What a strange complaint. China Mieville has devised a world and cast of characters that is totally unique. Admittedly, it is a dark world where anything resembling hope is quashed and an Orwellian power structure rules the city-state. Again, this is another area of complaint, that it is too dark. It’s not too dark. If you want dark, read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. The city, New Crobuzon is gritty, filthy and full of vermin. The mood is pervasive and settles into the pores of every resident. However, the novel is not overly graphic it just evokes such harshness in its descriptions.

I will grant at times it is overly descriptive and long, however, that’s what skimming is for. There were small sections where nothing really happened, it was just describing a neighborhood of the city for two pages and didn’t add that much to the narrative. Does that detract from the novel, not really, I’d rather have too much and skim than a skeleton-like setting.

The other point that really impressed me are the risks the writer took. Mieville doesn’t take the easy way out. Betrayal and misfortune visit the characters repeatedly. Perhaps there can be no truly happy endings in New Crobuzon, but I feel like most writers would have tried to make that happen. The ending in Perdido Street Station is the one that works the best.

Mieville explores so many themes in this novel from, what is sentience to race relations? There’s a lot here and it’d definitely worth reading.

Review: Falling Man by Don Delillo

I’ll admit that I haven’t sought out novels or films regarding September 11th.  Perhaps, because the fallout of that day was everywhere.  It flashed on televisions, it stuck to the tailgates of trucks in magnetized ribbons of grief and patriotism, it was the pulse of George W. Bush’s presidency and a phrase he repeated for over seven years.
When I picked up Falling Man, it was for two reasons.  First, I hadn’t read anything yet by Don Delillo, and second, I’d heard great things about this book.  Great writer, great book, sometimes it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is.
In some ways, this is a very simple novel.  It revolves around two characters, Keith and Lianne, who were separated before the attacks, but then come together after Keith survives the first plane hitting the tower.  Dusty, disoriented, he comes back to their old apartment, even though he no longer lives there.  Their lives are forever changed, and the anger, grief, outrage, and disorientation manifest in small ways.  Keith bonds with another survivor.  Lianne lashes out at a neighbor.  They become lost inside themselves.  Those few lines don’t really do the novel justice.  Among the cast of characters are Keith and Lianne’s son, who scans the skies with his friends looking for another plane.  Lianne’s mother and her mother’s off and on partner, who can’t help but try to understand the terrorists.  Lastly, there is the Falling Man, a performance artist who hangs from a cable at random spots around the city, dressed in a suit as though he worked in the towers, head down, arms drawn in, one leg bent in a frozen plummet.
This novel is more like a meditation.  It is elegiac.  You feel the grief, the sorrow.  The details and sentences Delillo uses are wonderful.  Sparse at times, and then blossoming.  It captures the mood of the time, and allows us to experience something familiar to all Americans living through those days, but unique in the shape of that experience in Keith and Lianne’s life.

If you read one novel about September 11th, this is the one to read.

All That by David Foster Wallace

The students are still on vacation, in those brief moments it’s still possible to read in the library’s cafe with a view of snow melting up into fog,  prospective students and their parents on guided tours, and those of us left on campus meandering about as if we’re confused by the lack of people.
 This afternoon, I finally read “All That” by David Foster Wallace, published in Dec. 14, 2009 issue of the New Yorker.  After finishing Infinite Jest recently, it was good to read something else by Wallace.  In this short story, the narrator reflects on his childhood and the lie his parents told him.  It wasn’t malicious, but it ended up being an obsession for the small boy, and the memory of that time stayed with him into adulthood.  The story centers on perception, magic (as experienced by children), mental illness, religion, and memory.  What I respected in this story is the mood that is created.  It has a sort of ethereal feel, as if you are viewing the scenes through some kind of gauze.  Perhaps, it is just the dreamy quality of the narrator’s voice and his fondness of these memories.  Some of the topics are touched on briefly, and it leaves the reader knowing that there is more going on with the narrator that we are not being shown.  Does that matter?
Sometimes, details can kill a story.  Everything does not need to be wrapped up tightly with the reader knowing all that has happened or been alluded to.  People have come to expect that, but that’s just because most of our stories are delivered that way.  David Foster Wallace doesn’t tell us everything that happens with the narrator, or fill us in on the particulars of his life.  Instead, he allows us to inhabit a character for a few pages and shift our perspective, if only for a time.

Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I’m giving up.

At first, I didn’t care much for the narrator’s voice, but once I hit the sections with Lola and Beli, I really missed it. Those sections just seemed boring and unnecessary though, so I ended up skipping them. When I came back to the next chapter in Oscar’s life it was better, but I found myself not caring about him, and thinking he’s as annoying as the other characters believe him to be.
Perhaps this book didn’t catch on for me because I recently read the Savage Detectives…more I’m giving up.

At first, I didn’t care much for the narrator’s voice, but once I hit the sections with Lola and Beli, I really missed it. Those sections just seemed boring and unnecessary though, so I ended up skipping them. When I came back to the next chapter in Oscar’s life it was better, but I found myself not caring about him, and thinking he’s as annoying as the other characters believe him to be.
Perhaps this book didn’t catch on for me because I recently read the Savage Detectives which is sprawling and full of numerous narrators. Anyway, not sure what all the buzz about this book is, seems like one to miss.