Today Darlene considers Friends Like Us, an example of chick lit with depth, against Gone Girl, a black-comedic mystery.
Today Darlene considers Friends Like Us, an example of chick lit with depth, against Gone Girl, a black-comedic mystery.
Lord Crick has died. While convulsing. And turning yellow. And providing his family with a gruesome corpse. Although young Lord Crick had some health issues (i.e. the pox) and a rather nasty disposition, it really was a ghastly and horrific death. His sister Lady Lydia decides that there must be a further investigation. The gossip against her husband Captain Flynn, who is her brother’s heir, is becoming scandalous. On the advice of her cousin Francis, she travels to London to meet with Dr. Thomas Silkstone, an American physician who is working, studying and teaching with British anatomist Dr. Carruthers. Silkstone, who is quite taken with Lady Lydia, agrees reluctantly to exhume and examine the corpse and answer questions at the inquest.
When he is at the estate, he finds not just a house in mourning, but a household full of secrets. Silkstone uses his primitive forensic and toxicology skills to study the remains, but he finds more questions than answers, and his list of suspects in the household grows. The tension swells, and the plot twists, but will Silkstone (with some help from Carruthers,) find the answers with his scientific methods before there is another body found on the estate? Harris writes a layered tale of forensic mystery using engaging characters who struggle with the conventions of their time. Silkstone is wonderful as the outsider looking into their society. Can’t wait to read the next one in the series!
With The Beginner’s Goodbye, Anne Tyler once again captures the heart and soul of someone going through a trying time. This time, it’s Aaron…who lives an unremarkable life with an unremarkable woman…Dorothy. But, after Dorothy’s sudden death, Aaron’s period of adjustment offers more than just grief and depression. He simply cannot let Dorothy go. This is a touching, sweet book that is filled with heart and emotion. I found myself laughing at Aaron more than once…whether this was intentional humor on Tyler’s part… just the sad-sack, vulnerable ways of Aaron manifesting themselves as comic moments I do not know. I would like to think that Tyler wanted us to laugh at him a little…so he and her reader’s would try and take life a little less seriously. Tyler, who is known for her engaging and emotive character studies, really captures the soul of this wayward man. I would be hard pressed to say it is Tyler’s best work but it is one of her most engaging.
On the flip side, you have Helen Dewitt’s Lightning Rods. Comparing the Dewitt book with the Tyler book is like comparing avocados and apples. NOT MUCH SIMILARITY. Dewitt’s book is a statement book about state of sexual harassment and general sexual tensions in the workplace. I would call it a satire, but it not told in usual “satire” form…with a wink and a nudge. This story is told with seriousness and devoid of any humor, which makes it all the more tough to read and even stomach. Now, I do not consider myself any type of a prude and I do understand what the author is trying to say here (I guess) but this commentary on the state of workplaces, sex and male-female relationships just did not sit right with me. In trying to be witty and edgy, Dewitt just becomes crude and inane.
The clear winner here is THE BEGINNER’S GOODBYE by ANNE TYLER.
Both novels are organized around one main protagonist. Arcadia is tightly bound to Bit Stone, the first child born in Arcadia. Arcadia is seen only through Bit’s point of view. The Orchardist centers its narrative around the orchard keeper William Talmadge but moves among other viewpoints, most notably that of Della Michaelson, a teen-aged foundling who settles on Talmadge’s property, and her niece Angelene, Talmadge’s foster daughter.
The Orchardist follows Talmadge from childhood, when his restless mother drags him and his sister to a patch of land in Washington state and begins to cultivate the land. Talmadge grows up to become the orchardist, never leaving his land which he has made into a productive fruit farm. His life and his love is the orchard until two pregnant teen-aged sisters, runaways from an abusive brothel-keeper, find shelter with him.
The characters in The Orchardist are larger than life. Talmadge seems almost a force of nature, especially as described in the novel’s opening: “His face was as pitted as the moon…(h)is ears were elephantine…the flesh granular like the rind of some fruit.” (Is this passage overwritten? Yes, especially in the clipped, portentous tone.) The other main characters are similarly huge. Talmadge’s Nez Pearce friend, Clee and his neighbor Caroline, who helps him with the sisters, are all wisdom and kindness; Della is monumentally damaged by her abusive childhood, and her abuser, Michaelson, is monumentally evil. Other characters, like Jane, Della’s sister, figure importantly into the story, but are barely sketched in.
Yet despite this imbalance and stiffness there remains something compelling in the story of the American west, a romance that never wears thin. So in the intensity and bigness of this book, first-time novelist Amanda Copin has contributed something to our communal story.
At first glance Lauren Groff’s Arcadia seems overwritten too. But you come to see that the tone reflects the overheated and naive world view of the Arcadians themselves. “May they rot in their bourgeois capitalist hell” says Bit’s mother, Hannah. Bit imagines the world outside of Arcadia: “Humans out there are grotesque: Scrooges and Jellybys and filthy orphans… a blight called television like tiny Plato’s caves in every room.” Groff turns out to be a skillful writer, letting us see the overview of Arcadia’s life span as a community at the same time as she brings all of the characters and details to life. The pleasure of reading Arcadia is in Bit’s close observations of himself and his world, given words lacking to the child by the Bit-omniscient narrator. The narrator’s interpretation of Bit’s consciousness is convincing.
The plot of Arcadia follows the birth and death of the commune. At first everyone, including Bit’s parents Hannah and Abe, embrace the communal ideal under Handy, the charismatic leader of Arcadia. Gradually, over the course of Bit’s growing up, things unravel, drugs suck up a lot of energy, and rebellious newbies make a mess. We leave Bit at the commune in his teens and, in the last sections of the novel we pick up and follow him as an adult as he adjusts to life outside and reconciles with the remnant of the commune that he carries with him. The very last section takes place in the near future when a flu-like epidemic has taken over the United States. Perhaps this goes on too long, and the meaning of the epidemic and how it fits into the novel remain unclear to me.
Despite this last puzzle, and for greater mastery of language, detail, and character the winner of round one is
A riveting and ominous tale of loss, love and heartbreak set in both 1919 and the early 1960s. The 1919 story involves a past love who most likely perished in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and a woman, Vivian, who cannot get over her loss. Vivian is “the kept woman” to David, a married man who might or might not leave his wife for her. The earthquake ends whatever future they might have, but Vivian is determined to find him and she is still hoping for a passionate, heartfelt reunion all the way until 1919, when she finds out the truth.
Tying in with that is the tale of Claire, a 1960s housewife who sees her love for her husband and the life she has made for herself slipping away. It’s not that she’s powerless to do anything about it…it’s just that she is unsure whether she wants to stop her sedate, mundane life from slipping out of control. Her story is set during the inauguration of President Kennedy in early 1961; she looks to Jackie Kennedy as an icon for beauty, stability and class. As President Kennedy and Jackie’s story sets out, her own story begins to crumble…including her husband walking in on her affair with another married man and then her pregnancy by either her lover or her husband.
At first, I could not see how these two stories would intersect but as the stories progressed, Hood sets up patterns of misery and disillusionment in each woman that is so compelling that really doesn’t matter. And then with the connection between 1961 and 1919 is revealed, it is believable and natural. I’ve read most every novel (she also writes some nonfiction) Hood has written and to the best of my memory, this is the first time she has set a novel in two different time periods (usually, her novels involve one main character (usually female) with her own set of issues and concerns). Well, for a first time out, the concept works, bringing to life both women, both of their worlds and both of their fully fleshed out emotional struggles. The vibrancy and passion in the writing helps us to both visualize and sympathize with both ladies’ tales of pain. A lesser writer would have had trouble creating sympathetic characters out of two adulteresses, but Hood’s careful attention to the character’s inner turmoils allow us to not only sympathize with the two ladies, but possibly even relate to them.
March Madness has hit Niles Public Library, only it’s not basketball we’re excited about, but books. Reader’s Advisory staff at the library has selected, seeded, bracketed, and pitted books against each other in a reading contest that will elevate one book out of a field of 12 as the tournament champion.
It all started when library staffers together compiled a list of the best reads among books published last year. We do this every year, and usually post the results on this blog and in the fiction section of the library. This year, inspired by the online Morning News Tournament of Books (http://www.themorningnews.org/tob/how-it-works.php), we decided to hold a contest to uncover the best of the best. Twelve of us volunteered to judge. We paired the top 12 books into brackets and assigned one judge to determine the winner of each bracket. Each bracket’s winner continues to further judgment. Losers are eliminated, but have a chance to be revived as a Zombie.
A strong Chicago-based mystery from Chicago-based writer Walker, who has a knack for capturing both the essence of the city and the suspense that fills its streets. In this novel, Walker, a former Catholic priest, uses his seminary background as the backdrop for this latest, involving a priest who gets caught up in an international quagmire. One day, out of the blue, Father Paul Clark’s friend is killed right in front of him. Barely escaping with own life, Clark soon finds out that his friend was involved in some less than savory dealings with the wrong types of people. Enter a woman who says she is from the government who has a plan to help Clark. Can she be trusted? Clark spends much of the novel trying to answer that question, a search which leads him all the way to South America. In the midst of all of this, a young man enters him life and shakes his beliefs to the core.
As mysteries go, this is quite strong. The character of Paul Clark is a believable, convincing protagonist. All throughout the book, no matter what Clark is going through, we feel his pain and can sympathize with his difficult situations. As a priest, he might appear as unrelatable, but Walker gives Clark such compassion and conscience and even some faith crises that we can understand what Clark is experiencing. And Walker also makes good use out of Chicago. Through the pages, I was able to visualize the gritty and dank streets of Chicago where Clark was desperately trying to run for his life.
This is the second mystery I have read by Walker (Saving Paulo was the other one) and though I liked both, I found myself drawn more this Clark and his set of nerve-wrenching circumstances.
Told from the point-of-view of both a stepmother and a teenage girl, this novel really delves deep into what makes a family tick. The stepmother, Andi, is a woman desperate for a child of her own. She marries a man with two children…a pre-teen girl who causes little if any trouble and a full-blown teenager who is more than makes up for her sister’s lack of trouble. Andi’s struggles with her new marriage, her husband and her step-kids seem realistic and not fake in anyway. Emily, the teenager, comes to life on the page…angst and depression and self-hate all included. Green lets us watch this family’s troubles play out…never forcing us to feel something that seems unnatural or unrealistic.
This is a heartwarming book about the troubles of one family and how they preserve and overcome. This is the first Jane Green book that I read all the way through and I would definitely read her again. She’s not totally “chick lit” (or at least this one wasn’t). There was a depth to this novel that most Kinsellas and other Chick Lit connoisseurs lack. I liked the characters and the development of them throughout the story. There were times when certain parts went on too long, but over-all, this is a good, solid story about family and the troubles they bear.