Posts Tagged: General fiction
For distinguished fiction by an American author:
Also nominated as finalists in this category were: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” by Nathan Englander (Alfred A. Knopf), a diverse yet consistently masterful collection of stories that explore Jewish identity and questions of modern life in ways that can both delight and unsettle the reader; and “The Snow Child,” by Eowyn Ivey (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown), and enchanting novel about an older homesteading couple who long for a child amid the harsh wilderness of Alaska and a feral girl who emerges from the woods to bring them hope.
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.
This book begins with Japanese “picture brides” on a boat to early 20th Century America to meet their husbands. These brides are young girls (some 12 or so) who have been shipped off by their parents with the intention of having them get married, have families and basically have better lives than they would in Japan. The end of the book covers the heart-wrenching years of the Japanese Internment Camps during the post-Pearl Harbor era in the Western USA.
I absolutely loved the story, the lyricalness, the lushness and the tone of this novel. Otsuka has a gift of being able to express series of complex emotions with just a few words. Her writing style seems natural, fluid, yet filled with power. She does a fantastic job of creating a scene with as few words as possible. Less, if definitely more here. After-all, the novel is around 120 pages.
Saying all of that, I still found myself wanting a little more. NOT more of the words…more of the individual characters and their own stories. This novel is told in the first person plural voice (or point of view). Meaning: WE did this, WE did that. With such powerful stories to tell, I wish Otsuka would have picked one or two women to focus on instead of the global “we.” This does not mean I did not like the book. I loved it. I just would have loved it even more had there been a little more individual detail.
But, I understand why she choose the plural voice to write it. The subject matter here is highly emotional…and by keeping it in the plural, both Otsuka and the reader are able to keep a fair and appropriate distance. Either way, a must read for all…
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 best.
Set during both WWII and in the mid-1980s, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an exceptional novel about a time in history American we are too willing to forget…the internment of Japanese Americans during the war. Set in Seattle, Hotel focuses around main character Henry, who is a young 12-year-old Chinese American boy in 1942, where much of the book takes place. During these historical chapters, he meets Keiko, a Japanese girl who is a second generation American. They both start out apprehensive of each other (Henry’s father loathes the Japanese) but eventually grow to care deeply for each other. When Keiko and her family, along with all of the other Japanese families, are rounded up and moved to camps set up by the American government, Henry is not only unhappy but confused…confused since Keiko is more American than he is. Keiko does not even speak Japanese. This contrasts with Henry’s background…where his parents speak only Chinese and they force him to speak only “his English.”
I really liked this novel. It has one of the best, most moving stories I’ve read. Ever. Now, mind you, I am not saying this is the best book I have ever read. Why? What is the difference between “best story” and “best book?” Simple: the way it was written. As I was reading Hotel, I found myself thinking about another book I had read that was also set in the Pacific Northwest about Japanese Americans: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Even though Snow takes place AFTER WWII and Hotel focuses on events that happen DURING the war, I continued to make comparisons between the two while I was reading Hotel. Comparisons to the story and the location and the romantic elements…NOT comparisons to the writing. Guterson’s novel from 1994 is filled with lyrical prose that I remember submerging myself into and not wanting to escape from…vivid from page one to the end, brilliantly bringing to life an entire setting through the pages. The love story in Snow between the main characters is enhanced by the poetic words given to describe both them and their surroundings. Jamie Ford’s writing in Hotel is good…very good. It’s just not excellent. It’s the story in Hotel that you want to savor, not the prose. Had Ford brought to Hotel the expressive, inspired language Guterson used, Hotel might just have been a true literary masterpiece. But, having a minor masterpiece is still pretty good! It’s a great, page-turning read and a story that will stay with you long after the final page.
In a previous post, I spoke of all of the books I read on my iPad while on vacation. Here short reviews of the titles that I read:
Brett, Simon — The Body on the Beach – The first of Brett’s Fethering mysteries, this is a fun cozy mystery set in a smallish coastal town in the South of England. The two main characters become amateur sleuths as they investigate a body that one of them found on the beach.
Crombie, Deborah — Where Memories Lie – An intense mystery featuring Crombie’s English police team of Kincaid and James. This one involves a diamond brooch that was stolen by the Nazis and belongs to a woman who needs to get to the bottom of why people associated with the brooch are turning up dead.
Fielding, Joy — Missing Pieces – A page-turning thriller that also has its fair share of family drama. Married with teen kids, Kate is a therapist whose former flame has just reentered her life and sister is in love with a serial killer. As Kate’s home life continues to unravel, her sister makes some decisions that jeopardize all of their lives.
Keyes, Marian — Sushi for Beginners – Lisa finally gets the promotion she’s been waiting for…but it’s Dublin, Ireland…not NYC, where all the movers and shakers are. On the other hand, Ashling LOVES Dublin and her new job working for Lisa. As always with chick lit, there are several different men who add complication to the plot. LOTS of fun…as usual from Keyes.
Rendell, Ruth — Murder Being Once Done – Rendell’s Chief Inspector Wexford is at it once again…this time in London, where he’s recuperating after a heart attack. But Wexford doesn’t know the meaning of the word REST, especially when he stumbles into a case of multiple murders.
Wickham, Madeleine — The Gatecrasher – Wickham (who also writes under her pen name Sophie Kinsella) once again scores with a weightier, meatier tale than she writes as Kinsella. This time, she features a main character who crashes funerals, hoping the new widower will be wealthy. Vivid characters outshine Wickham’s plot…but still lots of fun!
Winspear, Jacqueline — A Lesson in Secrets – Winspear’s 8th outing with her continuing sleuth Maisie Dobbs, who’s a spunky young PI in England between WWI and WWII. This time, Maisie is undercover in a college when the principal is murdered. Dobbs then reveals her true identity as a detective and begins to solve the crime.