Saturday, March 27, 2010

New World Monkeys by Nancy Mauro

A young couple’s marriage as well as their minds (and maybe their morality) start to disintegrate when they spend the summer in the country outside of New York City.

The writing is striking, using an extensive palette of words. The arc of the story peters out in the middle of the book, and I started not to give a shit but kept reading, maybe just to read the thought provoking paragraphs. Once the summer starts, both husband and wife take separate paths to transgression – the wife touring with a creepy Peeping Tom, the husband devising a shocking idea to sell jeans. Together they excavate a skelton in the garden. They’re obsessed with it, and I wasn’t sure why. I think I grew distinterested because the story migrated from the heart and lower to strictly the head. Distancing. For example, a climatic scene is when the friendly lecher actually rips the panties from an unwilling teenager. This doesn't resonate the way you would expect - the reader is sort of put in the position of cheering him on. The ending does not fit – the husband and wife drifting down the river? Not really motivated. This comes after the realization that they’ve both been wasting their time. Perhaps it’s really about the feminization of the American male? That might be where the energy of the book lies.

The Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman

A secret society gathers certain items that were stolen from a geographer’s ancient library, meanwhile a journalist in a country paper get increasingly serious hints that something’s not quite right with a professor’s death.

The alternation of the exotic and the mundane sets up a compelling rhythm, but then the exotic parts keeps ending in the exact some way – some rube in an far off locale gets bumped off. At first I couldn’t put it down, then the repetition degenerated the story. By the end I was completely thrown off the carnival ride, waiting for it to be over. All the characters sound the same (cheesy banter), except for the exotic parts, but still I kept reading. So something was keeping me going. The story never tied together, however. The damsel in distress wasn’t in that much distress –in the end, she turns into Nosferatu. The story ends with the crack assassin getting outpunched by the nerdy hero. (?)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sweetwater by Roxana Robinson

As the world burns, a woman is unable to help her man.

Skillfully put together. The scenes start small, seemingly inconsequential, then the stakes grow higher, the scenes more harrowing. The novel is about Isobel Green and her two marriages, ok make that three marriages. Three stories intertwine to make up the novel– the destruction of the planet, the sudden realization that Isobel should not have gotten married a second time if she wasn’t going to do it for love, and the interspersed scenes from Isobel’s tragic first marriage. She’s paralyzed then and paralyzed now because there is nothing she can do to fix her first husband’s depression. But she never manages to accept that. The three stories echo each other. There’s a beautiful image at the end, but the scene before the end gets histrionic, a little unbelieveable.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Mother earth shrugs off most of humanity (with a hand from a mad scientist) – are we worth saving completely?

The book was packed with ideas and theories. We’re killing the earth, and therefore killing ourselves. It might not be good idea for corporations to modify DNA for profit. To refuse to conform might mean you might have to go underground. This book is two things at once – a political tract and a novel. Unfortunately, the novel part , or at least the plotting, breaks down at the end. Are we supposed to believe that 6 billion people on earth get wiped out by a virus and the 20 people remaining (who all know each other) coincidentally keep bumping into each other? The description of the God’s Gardener’s (the environmental church’s) way of life was absorbing and I liked the way a new vocabulary weaves its way naturally into the story (and maybe into real life discourse as well). I also liked that the book was structured around the religious hymns of the God’s Gardeners. Near the end, the scenes get a little too sketchy like a paint by number where paint's running out. Not as resonant as it could be.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

A young woman decides for herself that society’s rules about who she can marry aren't going to work for her

On this second go round, I decided I didn’t really like the novel all that much, (although I admired how concise it was – not a wasted word). I liked all the different characters – fully developed with the most economical strokes. The third person narrator too aggressively charming – with bared teeth. Lucy Honeychurch is kind of an indecisive dope. I wonder if marrying a railroad clerk was ever much of an obstacle. The putative obstacle, that of a suitor unsuitable because of class distinctions, has no meaning today, and I suspect was a 6 inch obstacle in Forster’s time. Only the silliest characters think it an issue. And so, a result, the stakes were low for me.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

A woman goes through two husbands before she finally finds one who lets her be herself.

Two stories going on at the same time – the first is of Janie, who is oppressed under the thumb of two dour husbands then one day wakes up with Tea Cake, younger,full of fun, who loves Janie for herself. The other story is that of the people, or chorus, who are always in the background, working and telling jokes or insulting each other.  In general being lively and entertaining. The story doesn’t build like a classic plot would build – it’s more about Janie being ready to find her happiness, finding it, having it be better than expected, and then having it taken away. But she is still happy because she has the memory of Tea Cake. The flood scene is the big scene, and felt a little plopped in, although incredibly memorable ,as the book needed to be wrapped up, rather than the characters were racing towards this deadly flood. The prose is vivid, compelling and original. I wasn’t crazy about the dialect- it slowed down the pace as I had to read it outloud.