Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Who is the Blind Assassin?

I liked this so much that when I got to the end, I started right up again on page one. I needed to figure out the puzzle. Even though during the second go round, the story grew a little creaky and some squashed bunnies and doves were visible. This novel works on many levels. A love story, a puzzle, a history of Canada between the wars, an study of old age, a science fiction novel, and a really funny satire of many different types of public communication – PTA notes, obituaries, political speeches, the social pages. It’s a story about storytelling and it never grew boring for me as I found the sentences and the words themselves endlessly inventive.

It a story about Iris and her sister Laura, two poor little rich girls and their involvement with two rather thinly sketched out men – one a revolutionary, one an industrialist. The puzzle part is that we have to piece the story together from little chunks, a few pages of narrative. Many many characters – for the most part, fully realized. At heart Atwood is a poet, as the engine of the story is sentimental claptrap. But the story is driven by the narrator’s great yearning - for her lover, for her sister. I am going to read it again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Quickening by Michelle Hoover

Two women struggle against the unremitting brutality of running a farm during the Depression

Well. Glad I'm not a farmer. Very glad. My heart sank as I read the first couple paragraphs – it almost sounded like a parody, but I was quickly sucked into the well constructed plot. There is conflict on every page. The narration alternates between Enidina and Mary, reluctant neighbors on the harsh prairie. They each have deep desires that come to naught. Two very different characters – one utterly stoic, the other forced to be stoic. The many varied characters and the conflicts are monumental when set against the flat endless landscape. For me it was hard to read - unrelenting pessimism about human effort. No joy and absolutely no humor. Also, the prose was a bit too muscular for my taste.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Sky Below by Stacey D'Erasmo

A man struggles to heal himself from the trauma caused by his parents’ divorce

This novel starts off great- monumental, mythic, a tragic broken family story. Ambitious. It seems to be about a child’s introduction to our cold world of reality. Gabriel, our narrator, is a low energy huckster, another passive narrator. As he ages, his story becomes whimsical, meandering, random. There are lots of good literary tricks here – no ponderous introductions for new characters, only a vivid little smear. Gabriel is something of an artist. He makes art boxes with emotionally significant objects inside. There’s a great scene where we see the passage of time by his description of a box he could build. The problem was, for me, the book deflates in importance as the story goes on. Gabriel covets a house, he ghostwrites, he gets a mysterious cancer. I liked the end in Mexico, things become important again. The end was BIG. One of the elements  of the novel is a story from Ovid, about a family turning into birds. I’m not sure if that resonates as much as it could. The prose is rather plain. Overall, disappointing as I expected after the great beginning that it would be so good.