Spare. Rich. Elegant. Quiet. Lovely. Never mind that some of those adjectives seem to contradict each other. So many books want to show you a slice of life; this one succeeds. Haruf may not have written a revolutionary novel, but it is a deeply good and satisfying one.This is one of those books that has themes — isolation, community, decency — without being about the themes. Instead, it is about the characters who, with perhaps one exception, seem lifted from everyday life. When you try to tell the story, they seem archetypical, maybe even trite: the pregnant teenager cast out by her mother, the kind-hearted teacher, the crotchety but kind old men. But it is Haruf's talent that they do not read that way. Instead of having that artificiality...instead of seeming fabricated solely for the purposes of build up through denouement...it felt like they had existed before the story ever started and had lives that went on long after the final page was done.Very little happens in Plainsong. Very little gets resolved in Plainsong. But the word that keeps coming to mind is resonant. It's a word that I think is horribly overused when talking about books but, in this case, seems appropriate to me. Perhaps the simplest way to express my feelings is that, upon finishing, I immediately ordered Eventide.
This peculiar trio of tales—by turns tragedy and comedy—is about old age, and misogyny, and loneliness, and mothers and daughters, and young men. They are the Baba Yaga stories, not so much retold as decomposed into their elements and then reformed into new, modern stories.It's easy to read the first two of the tales just on the surface, to see the first as a story of a daughter struggling with a mother who has Alzheimer's, to see the second as the story of three old women on a spa vacation, trying to coming to terms with their regrets and their pasts. If you've read any Slavic stories about Baba Yaga, you see the coincidences of the old women and spot the references to the familiar elements of those tales: the mortar and pestle, the single leg, the male adversaries, the giant breasts, love contained in an egg. And, yet, unless you are paying rather close attention, it doesn’t sink in fully until you read the third piece.That one is couched as a primer on myth and analysis of the first two stories by one anagrammatic Dr. Aba Bagay, who practically bores you with detail about folklore. But, even before she finally (with an amused tone) tells you that she's an unreliable narrator whose analysis might be reading too much or too little, you've realized it for yourself. You've started to see connections that Dr. Bagay (quite deliberately, I believe) never mentions.You realize that the characters, like Baba Yaga, aren't just themselves, they are also players in archetypical dramas about women as a whole…that Kukla, Beba and Pupa, despite being octogenarians, are also easily read as Maiden, Mother and Crone, standing simultaneously as figures of old women and of all women. You see that they, also like Baba Yaga, can suffer from the world and inflict suffering in return. From a different viewpoint, ordinary occurrences in their lives become more, summoning wealth or destruction from seeming thin air. They are, in a sense, witches.The two stories become dramas about society's fear and revulsion toward old women. They become stories of both motherhood and mothers destroying their offspring, just as Baba Yaga eats children. They become stories of subservience to men, Baba Yaga unable to resist a handsome man who is forceful in telling her what to do. They also become stories of retribution against the same, Baba Yaga killing men who do not show her respect. In short, they become stories about sexism and ageism and feminism.It's simply written as befits a folk tale. It's about old age but, like the best of those tales, it's never maudlin or sentimental about it, preferring to approach from Bette Davis' viewpoint, "Old age is no place for sissies." It's about patriarchy—"let us not forget that all of these ugly, sexist notions…involving 'grandmas' were thought up by 'grandpas'. Who, naturally, reserved the more heroic parts for themselves."—but, also like the best of those tales, never lets us forget the other edge of that sword: Baba Yaga's hut was built from the skulls and bones of the men she slew so casually. It's a book that becomes better as you finish it.It won the Tiptree Award in 2010 and, while I can see that some might feel that this was a misjudgment, it makes sense to me.
Way too much As You Know, Bob in this one for me to enjoy it as much as I could have. Perhaps this was due to the fact that it was an audio book and I could just skip my eyes down over those sections. Mindless fun, but eminently forgettable.
Somehow, I got an entirely wrong impression of this book from the blurb. I was thinking it would be some kind of thriller with elements of the supernatural. Perhaps not quite Butcher's Harry Dresden but definitely in the vein of Wilson's Repairman Jack. Instead it's just a plain ol' suspense thriller. That's okay...I like those, too.Basically, we have a fairly gritty police procedural, full of the dark moods and cynical outlooks common to noir. I think that Ellis' background as a comic book writer gave him that little extra punch when it came to writing the short, vivid scene. The characters are well-realized and colorful, if not incredibly deep in this first volume (it's easy to see this as the start of a series). The plot moves along nicely and, while you can figure out some of the stuff in advance, there's no sense that the author has given away everything at the start. The scenery is quite evocative of Manhattan, both old and new. Fate assists the protagonist detective a bit too much via luck and coincidence, so the reader needs to turn off the 'Oh, come on!' response a tiny bit. I didn't think the ending had quite the impact that the rest of the book had but it was certainly adequate (and I'm not trying to damn with faint praise).This has that feeling of something that might pick up a bit of a cult following. That wouldn't be bad...it was fun.
This is a shared world anthology of short stories that was on the Early Reviewer list. I checked it mainly because I had enjoyed Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger series a bit. The premise of this series was an employment agency that found the exact right person for a job...a job that was usually something out of science fiction or horror.In general, the book didn't work for me. Benjamin Kane Ethridge's science fiction story, "The Slaughter Man", opened the book and was okay. Nothing special, but it set the stage for what was to come.Brett J. Talley's horror story, "The Sacrifice", was a take on the virgin sacrifice concept. It was the best idea in the book. The writing was okay but I never really got invested in the characters enough that I will remember this story long-term.Joseph Nassise wrote "One Job Too Many", a fairly straightforward and predictable time travel paradox story.Anne C. Perry's "We Employ" skirted the borders between fantasy and science fiction and just left me cold. It was under-explained and the plot line made no real sense at the end.Maberry's "Strip Search" was the best-written of the bunch. It flowed smoothly and quickly and I enjoyed it. However, there was a sense that it was one of those short stories meant to flesh out a series of novels.As a whole, it especially didn't work that the authors couldn't really agree on what Limbus, Inc. was. It was like they sent each other an email that said "employment agency" and left it at that.All-in-all, readable but not recommended, even for fans of the genre.
Richard Wagamese is one of those authors I've wanted to get around to sampling for a while, an Ojibway First Nation writer who has won a number awards for his fiction about Native Americans and Native American themes. When Him Standing appeared on the Early Reviewer list, it seemed like the opportunity. It's a story about a talented young wood carver who is asked to carve a spirit mask and, in doing so, is lured into Native American myth.Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the result, but I can't decide if the difficulty lies with Wagamese — that he's simply not entirely to my taste — or whether making a different selection from his works would be more rewarding. I could feel the presence of a good story, but the actual execution was very shallow.Orca's Rapid Reads program is "for a diverse audience, including ESL students, reluctant readers, adults who struggle with literacy and anyone who wants an[sic] high-interest quick read." I think Wagamese's tale suffered at the hands of that format. This was a story that begged to draw the reader slowly into the world of Ojibway mythos, gently letting him or her explore and taste the non-Western mindset. Instead, the story read almost as a synopsis of a real story, leaving you wanting to go find and read that book.The subject is interesting enough to me that I will try another story by Wagamese one day, one of his longer works that gives him more scope to explore his themes. This one I'll leave for ESL students.
I suspect that this will be a book that you either enjoy quite a bit or find rather boring; the middle ground doesn't seem particularly likely. Édith is astonished that her immigrant housekeeper, Fadila, is illiterate — or analphabetic, the difference being important to some in the book — and decides to try teaching her to read. And tries. And tries. And tries. And then the book, rather suddenly, ends.So, if it's plot that you're after, it's rather meager and I think this book will not suit you very well. You might want to pass this one by.The meat in this story is to be found by realizing that the plot is simply a vehicle to let us meet Fadila. The advice to Édith about teaching is that it works best when you really know and understand your student. And, so, she acts as our proxy, allowing us to peer over her shoulder, as it were, catching glimpses of a life that is quite different from that of an ordinary Parisian...or, really, any Western...woman. It's a life that has been hard, even devastating, at times. It is one where pleasures and triumphs arrive from things so simple that they could seem mundane to us. Yet, it's a life where dignity and worth have been found, and intrinsically rather than through circumstance. I enjoyed that view and, so, I'm in the first category: enjoying the book that presented it, despite the rather sudden ending.
This book was a rather good idea that somehow failed to gel completely for me. The idea is fairly simple: seven members of a family reach points in their lives where they are seriously troubled. Each of them, unbeknownst to the others, developers a singular super power that helps them (maybe) move onward. It's told in the form of seven chapters, each so distinct as to be, effectively, a short story.What worked for me was the way in which Amsterdam treated the events. This isn't written as a fantasy or science fiction novel. The powers are treated much more matter-of-factly; no one becomes a super hero saving the world from destruction. Instead, they try to mend their lives as Amsterdam explored — to an extent — how just one little ability to alter the reality of our lives can make a difference.What didn't work for me was the lack of continuity and closure in lives of the characters. The episodic nature of the book doesn't allow you to remain with any individual to the end of their story and the final resolution had a distinctly deus ex machina whiff to it.This is a very quick read and I think it would be much better if it weren't. It is a rather odd blend of compelling and disappointing at the same time, where I liked it but could have liked it much more. As such, I'd tentatively recommend it, suggesting readers decide on how much the blurbs and spoiler reviews call to them and then deciding if they want to invest 260-some pages of time.
This continues to remain my second-least-favorite of the seven Tragedies I've read so far. This preference isn't based upon the quality of the play qua play; it boils down to the fact that I simply don't enjoy Mr. Prince Hamlet, Jr. Despite some arguments to the contrary, he still comes across to me as a bipolar obsessive with impulse control problems, a distinct lack of responsibility, a poor attitude toward girlfriends and who, if we read only what is written, appears to make monumental judgments about his mother on little or no evidence. In other words, I don't like him. Of course, I don't particularly like fellows such as Mr. Macbeth either, but it's a different lack of esteem: a dislike for the bad guy (which is a sneaking regard) rather than a disdain for the self-absorbed.I find the characters of Polonius, Ophelia and Gertrude much more intriguing in this play and I do enjoy it for them. So, while I love the language of this play, and the supporting cast, and acknowledge the structure and plot, I still don't enjoy it as much as a romp through Birnham Wood or, better yet, Lear's Britain.