Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Visitation of the Spirits by Randall Kenan

A Visitation of the Spirits by Randall Kenan

Two young men try to fit themselves in a rural old fashioned culture, that, among other things, despise homosexuality.

I loved the prose style, especially the vivid dialogue and description of country life and country duties. Two stories, two men – Horace Cross, 16, an academic star, and recognizing his unwanted gay urges, and his cousin Rev. James Greene, more sketchily drawn, and who acts as an intermediary between the older generation, suffering, rigid and superstitious, and the younger. I groaned a little when I realized Horace’s story was going to be that Horace, in the grip of some schizophrenic breakdown, wandering nude around their home town, and having hallucinations/flashbacks that explained his life and current dilemma. But you know what – it worked! The Rev Greene’s story gets hung up on multiple families with multiple siblings and I started not to figure out who was who. But he cares.

It’s very readable and I read this in one sitting. (Ok, I was on a plane, but I had other options). World creation – this is what has been done. I don’t know how much hope there is at the end.

Love Invents Us by Amy Bloom

Love Invents Us by Amy Bloom

An overweight bookish teen upends the life of her high school teacher as well as the star basketball player.

The prose is dense, evocative, delightful. But I just didn’t buy that all these people would pine away from love for this kid – change their lives, destroy their lives. As love can do. But when you fall in love with a 17 year old kid, aren’t you falling in love with something other than an unformed tentative soul?  Aren't you sort of falling in love with yourself?  That was not depicted.   There’s very many moving parts in this novel that might not add up to a coherent statement about whether love invents us or not – love can certainly lead you into a ditch – that’s what I learned from this story. I guess it’s about Elizabeth, (the 17 year old) reviewing the motley loves in her life – perhaps only one lover didn’t want anything (anything sordid) from her. However, it was very readable and hard to put down.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee

The ramifications when a man is obsessed with blond boys.

Three structures uphold the frame of the poetic writing - the story of the abuse, the Korean mythology, and the underused metaphor of the plague city of Edinburgh. The latter two are sterling and compelling. But the abuse plot wasn't clearly defined for me, and degenerates into implausibility near the end. The sensitive narrator is abused as a child, becomes suicidal, recovers, is happy and then is tempted to abuse. The problem is that I didn't understand why the abuse (which was pretty vague) made him suicidal. The choir director shows them dirty pictures, they hike naked. Within the context of the novel, I needed better to understand the betrayal of the little boy, as well as the betrayal of morality. It turned the narrator a passive victim, not good for moving the story along.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Great Divorce by Valerie Martin

Under great pressure, people split in two. Which is their real self – the civilized half or the animal half?

Three stories, set in New Orleans, a wonderful setting as the paranormal can be incorporated without a moment’s hesitation. Reoccuring themes - Mothers and daughters, a black leopard. The vet with the perfect life and the philandering husband, the oppressed girl with the hectoring mother, the antebellum Creole woman a prisoner on the plantation. All three stories are very readable, although the crazy zoo attendant plot gets a bit ponderous. The vet stops herself from commiting murder – but the other two – well they are overwhelmed by their oppression, their civilized nature vanishing like smoke. A very thoughtful novel.