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Friday, October 10, 2014

Post-vacation catch-up #36-41

Been away on a wonderful visit to the old country (at least the old country I wish I had). Much catching up to do, so have to be brief:

#36 Time to count Herman Melville's duo. I finished Bartleby the Scrivener a few books back, but finally read Benito Cerino so can count the book as an entry. Loved Bartleby and want to read it again already. Such a spell it casts! But stories of the sea generally leave me cold, and Benito was not an exception. Half a great book -- does that mean 5 stars for half or half of five stars?

#37 When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson. Another of her Jackson Brodie mysteries, although Brodie at times seem almost an incidental character. Lots of story lines, lots of different voices, all of them well defined. But maybe too many different characters to really grab my interest? Not sure, but I wasn't gripped, although I wanted to be.

#38 What Maisie Knew by Henry James. To be honest, I bought the book because it was a charming little secondhand paperback with a cover illustration by Edward Gorey. And it looked like a relatively short, relatively digestible James, more along the lines of Washington Square (love) than The Golden Bowl (huh?). It turned out to be longer than it looked, and required slow, careful reading to pull apart the thickets of James's many-claused sentences. It tells a fairly small story -- a period (of unclear length) in the life of a young girl (of unclear age) whose divorced parents use and abuse her as a weapon in their battle. She observes their intrigues and involvements with each other and subsequent stepparents and lovers with a keen eye that is above moral judgements, because she has not learned morality, at least conventional morality. A challenging book to get through, but satisfying.

#39 What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Put this and the prior book together and maybe what Maisie knew is what Alice forgot. Or vice versa. Another fun read from the bestselling author of The Husband's Secret. Read it on the plane going to Paris and if a book can keep you turning pages on a crowded, uncomfortable plane, it must be good. Moriarty is chick lit at its highest form, or maybe calling it chick lit is an insult. She's a skilled writer who creates fascinating, believable characters, and compelling, unusual situations. These are the kind of books that keep you up late turning pages and -- bonus -- you don't feel dirty afterwards. In this one, a 39-year-old woman hits her head falling off her bike in spin class and wakes up without any memory of the last ten years -- years in which she had three children, her marriage ended, and she went from being a gentle childlike naif to a uber-competent soccer mom. Now wouldn't you want to see how that story evolves?

#40 Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I liked Alice so much, I picked up Moriarty's current bestseller. If she were writing less grabby storylines, she would be considered literary fiction, or at least close. Her characters are believable, and her understanding of the motivations and urges of ordinary woman is precise and complex. In this one, three different women's stories are intertwined, and each is shadowed by lies from the past. I can't imagine another writer juggling story lines of abuse and rape without being cheesy, but she manages. She also deeply understands the less charming sides of women -- competitiveness, envy, jealousy -- without being cynical or bitchy. Couldn't put this one down either, and look forward to the next.

#41 Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. I'd never read any Murakami before -- been put off by talk of magical realism and meta-fictional narrative. But this book was fascinating. The entire story -- of a 36-year-old man whose life was changed by the rejection of his closest friends when he was in college -- felt like a spell, like a dream. In fact, there were many times when I thought the entire book was going to be a dream, and Colorless Tsukuru would turn out to be a spirit. There are many mysteries in the story -- why his friends rejected him, what happened to them, why another friend also vanished from his life, and what's in the little bag that the pianist holds. But only some of the questions are answered, yet the book did not leave me unsatisfied. There's a lot to it, despite its simple, direct language. It's a book I already plan to read again.

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