Varya is thirteen.The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin, G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2018
I was ready to write this one off until the last couple of pages still got me. Which makes me grumpy, because a book shouldn’t score on just a couple of pages.
In The Immortalists four siblings learn their death date. All four lives are followed, as is the impact of this knowledge on them. Around the second sibling it starts to feel a bit cookie-cutter: character aggressively denies this reality, gets destructive, wants to outrun it and [spoiler] doesn’t manage to; one way or the other. But were they running towards what they feared while thinking they were doing everything to escape it? Chloe Benjamin doesn’t give you any hint in that direction, nor room to interpret the characters’ actions like that.
Any thoughts about fate, goals in life, final destination you have to come up with on your own because the novel only provides character sketches of the people suffering.
As said before: except for the last pages, they delivered an emotional sucker punch. Could have done so a tad sooner, to turn this into a recommendation.
Introduction to Sketch was held in Prebble Hall, a building Professor McIntosch called “Ballister’s dirtiest secret” during our first class.
The turn around on this novel is incredibly impressive. It took me three – four chapters to change my mind about abandoning it, it’s incredibly ugly and depressive and scary and I think I’m even angry after(/about?) finishing it. It’s also one of those books you just want to press upon everyone just to see if they had the same experience, if it can touch different people in the same way.
Its ugli- and darkness might be its winning element, it creating a story that dumps you outside of daily life and makes you wonder how you can ever participate again. It isn’t ugly like a Gillian Flynn-creation, no murder here. It’s the way in which women are even less shown in fiction: dark and bitter and scared and a myriad of bad decisions while being bottomless wells of imagination and creativity.
This book isn’t to be summarised; it would fall incredibly short while at the same time preparing you for something it isn’t. To me, it was confrontational about daring to create and to create all – not just the cute stuff. About family and friendship and identity in an USA that made never have felt more filthy.
It’s a blast, it’s a terror. Read it so we can discuss.
The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker, Random House 2016
Old medicine has a way of being remembered, of haunting the land where it was laid.
I like the work of this author – all two books I’ve read by her. Not just because she writes about Canada and a Canada I know little about (of indigenous people), but there is something lush about her writing style. Organic, flowing. And yes, using those clichés makes me feel a little bit iffy.
Empire of Wild uses indigenous stories and mythology again, again in a contemporary (bit less apocalyptic) setting. A lost man is found again, but doesn’t recognise his wife nor their life together. Something wolf-like skulks around. White people threaten the land.
You could call it magic-realistic, but somehow it feels too down to earth for it. These people are so used to living the way they do with the stories they know, that adding whispering winds or lounging ghosts would make things silly instead of magical.
Honestly, I’m just curious to what Cherie Dimaline does next. We’ve had post-apocalyptic and contemporary. Something from the (distant) past?
Empire of Wild, Cherie Dimaline, Random House Canada 2019
Toby Fleishman awoke one morning inside the city he’d lived in all his adult life and which was suddenly somehow now crawling with women who wanted him.
Good gravy, there is a lot going on here. One of those stories that pulls the rug under your feet and even while it happens, you are a bit disbelieving of the fact. I don’t even know if I liked this.
I am still thinking about it, though. About the people involved, and how important it is to have the right angle on any subject.
Which Fleishman is in trouble? Toby Fleishman is the main character – at least for a very long time. He’s divorcing his wife Rachel, and the narrator follows him in every part of his life (neatly compartmentalised): at work, as a father, as a(n almost) single man. It’s that last part that could well get on your nerves quite fast: Toby describes in detail how he feels like a kid in the candy store; the candy here being women of every shape, size and age.
But is this a story about a man’s middle life crisis, or a lament for the softer kind of man that chose children over endless riches and career promotions, and who managed to end up with a woman that did the complete opposite?
You can’t say too much about Fleishman is in Trouble without showing too much of the story, nor do I exactly know how to put its appeal into words. Maybe it’s disaster-tourism: maybe the unpleasant surprise of bad judgement.
Fleishman is in Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Penguin Random House 2019
Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not.
Marisha Pessl loves her similes. Every subject and person gets a description added, no wonder that the book is so thick. After a while it gets noticeable, and – in my case – a bit annoying.
The first strike was having a male main character. I read female authors because they usually write female characters, and that thusly I don’t have to worry about a man mishandling/manhandling a woman and her life. Now I still have to read about the grumpy and socially disgraced male detective (oh wait, he’s a journalist).
Scott has a bucketload of issues, with casual sexism possibly the most annoying one. His side characters have the potential to be interesting, but never really get to be on the stage as a person. Strike two.
The story in itself is pretty amusing, though. There’s a reclusive director with a cult-like following, a thin line between realistic horror and magical, all in a lush noir-light background. If there aren’t any movie/TV-plans yet, I can see them happening. Plenty of the similes can be dropped, the main plot is easily streamlined and there will be less time to navel-gaze for Scott. Everybody wins.
Night Film, Marisha Pessl, Random House 2013
They were saying that all appointments were canceled, indefinitely, that it was the end of everything, but why would they assume that?
Last time I read this author I wasn’t quite sure how to recommend the book, and this time it isn’t much different. There’s an appeal to his writing, but the story? Not just a collection of too human people (you start with the honeymoon phase and you end up wanting to throttle them), but mostly not much happens? So why would I still, pretty surely, recommend this novel?
Maybe because it offers an uncensored view of “normal” Americans outside one of the well known states. Small town in Massachusetts in the aftermath of 9/11, but soon moving their attention back to their small town politics and each other. Not even the rich outsider can change that (permanently).
I like family sagas, following the same people through time and (family) issues. Usually I try to pick less familiar surroundings than western society, but these people are so alienating in their paranoid and petty thoughts, that things turn out pretty exotic after all.
The Locals, Jonathan Dee, Random House 2017
On the day of the new president’s inauguration, when we worried that he might be murdered as he walked hand in hand with his exceptional wife among the cheering crowds, and when so many of us were close to economic ruin in the aftermath of the mortgage bubble, and when Isis was still an Egyptian mother-goddess, an uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country arrived in New York City with his three motherless sons to take possession of the palace of his exile, behaving as if nothing was wrong with the country or the world or his own story.
The first #readathon book, my second Rushdie. I picked this book because a review made it sound like satire about the present American president. You could say that a character shows up with definite resemblance to the man, but he’s a side character of a side character. And with the actions of this president … there’s a thin line between satire and reality here.
So what is The Golden House about? The family Golden, rich immigrants come to New York City. They’re leprechaun gold, new money, and it mesmerises main character René, a (script) writer. Mesmerised turns into obsessed and entangled, which makes an exciting story, but makes several victims.
In the end you might agree with this being satire about the present American president, maybe not so much solely him, but also the world he came from and the inhabitants of that world who are sure that everything can be bought. The very rich society of Manhattan is almost as alien as creatures from a science fiction story, these just have more influence on our media and politicians.
The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Random House 2017
He’d never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview.
First of all, I’d like to mention that this is a book from Oprah’s Book Club. Mostly because the ebook file I had, would mention it in the most random ways.
Anyway, I discovered that my Ottawa library had another online service, which finally got me this one. Express, so I had to finish it in seven days. I finished it in two.
Behold the Dreamers is about the American dreamers, the immigrants who enter the country (kind of) legally and overstay their welcome in hope of a better life for themselves and their family. Jende and Neni are from Cameroon, escaping their town because of disapproval of their relationship and with dreams of more. For such a long time things go well (there is a job, education, money shared left and right) that the reader can almost get comfortable; maybe this family is the one that will slip through.
The story plays out during the start of the financial crisis. With Jende being the chauffeur of a high up Wall Street man, it’s clearly shown that suffering can always reach another level. The book is so full of (naive) hope that it gets tougher and tougher to swallow that the dream may just stay that: a dream.
Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue, Random House 2016
My part in this story began the winter before winters started getting warmer, on a full-moon night so bright you could see your own shadow on an unlit rooftop.
This isn’t an easy one to review. It came with the disappointment that you expected something completely different, and therefore need some time to adjust to what you’re getting, instead of entering the story completely from page one.
And The Devourers needs your attention. It’s a collection of histories and experiences, but unedited, not cleaned up and filtered for the reader. If you want these stories, dig through the dirt through them.
The Devourers are werewolves, shapeshifters, skin walkers, whatever which people or culture call them. They move through history and one of them invites a human to join him – through his stories. There’s no romance or heroic mythology, these are the stories our ancestors might have told each other at the fire, as a warning for the darkness.
Looking back after a week, I’d say I do think I’d recommend this. If you’re open for a different version of fantasy and mythology, with a lot of meat, blood and grit.
The Devourers, Indra Das, Penguin Random House 2015
I have been acquainted with the smell of death.
Like a Creative Writing exercise someone gave up on after a few hundred pages. Or fanfiction, but where’s the line between those two anyway?
Anyway. House of Names is about the characters in Agamennon’s story. His wife Clytemnestra, his daughters Electra and Iphigenia and son Orestes. The sacrifice of one of them leads to mayhem and disaster, and everyone but Iphigenia get to give their point of view on the aftermath of it.
And they do so, and it feels like the build up to regular fiction build on mythological and/or historical figures. But then it’s done. Turns out it’s a slice of life, a collection of character sheets, instead of the creation of a story.
Maybe I should have known seeing that it only had little over 100 pages (in my e-reader). You can pass this one in your search for historical fiction with familiar names.
House of Names, Colm Tóibín, Penguin Random House 2017