Sunday, April 11, 2010

This is My Daughter by Roxana Robinson

Can you really build a new family from the broken chunks of two old ones? Or is d├ętente the best you’re going to get?

An undercurrent of unease in this novel about a second marriage. The new couple is far more suited to each other than the former spouses, however, the marriage is complicated/threatened by loyalties to existing children. Is a stepparent expected to “love” the stepchild? Are you a bad person if you don’t? Do you harm the stepchild if you don’t? The novel is put together with a lot of craft, so that the tension builds, though many scenes are ponderous and could easily be shortened. Also, the motivations leading to the conclusion are a little tenuous, but necessary if the plot is to land on the happy ending. However, I really liked the way the characters were three dimensional – everyone is a mixture of saint and villain. Finally, it’s an overview of a certain kind of WASP lifestyle – servants and summer houses. That on its own was interesting.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

Some people (that is, everybody) shouldn’t have kids

The constant wisecracking by every single character grated. The culminations of the three plots clumsily unveiled, out of the blue in a big boom alarmingly close to the end. However, at least this novel was about BIG themes; global warming, motherhood, working women, racism, 9/11. And I couldn’t put it down. It’s about Tassie Keltjin , a 20 year old girl who distractingly and more important distancingly talks/thinks like a 47 year old cynic. But in the final chapters, when Tassie crawls into a coffin to be with a dead body, I thought, ok now we’re getting somewhere. In general though, the emotional reactions are unearned because we really don’t care about the characters. The first plot is the story of an unhappy couple who adopt a biracial child. They also have a melodramatic secret. The second plot and this is so sketchy as to be incomprehensible, concerns Tassie’s relationship with a would be suicide bomber (I think). The final plot, which for me worked the best (in so far as any of these insufficiently plotted plots can be said to work) is the story of Tassie’s younger brother, who enlists in the Army. I liked the last part of the book best where she goes back to the farm and has an imaginative breakdown. Overall, though the writing was good, consistently interesting, and to tell you the truth, outraged about America, this was a big disappointment.