Thursday, September 30, 2010

more book reviews

oh hello, it's me again.

i weighed myself today. scales are NOT my friend right now. but i'm not going to dwell on the negative. instead, here are some grown-up book reviews for you peeps who are tired of the YA focus of the last batch.

"lucy" by laurence gonzales, reads like a more human-centred michael crichton novel. it's about an primatologist who discovers an abandoned girl in the congo named lucy, who turns out to be a human-bonobo hybrid. attempts to integrate lucy are successful before her true genetics comes to light and then she becomes a pawn in a political/religious war - people want to destroy her because she's an abomination and people want to save her because for all intents and purposes, she's mostly human. the novel moves along at a pretty quick clip but ultimately it's unsatisfying - more of a pot-boiler piece of airport fiction than something that really gets into the meat of what it means to be human, etc. it was an entertaining enough read but i didn't love it - good for the cottage, and good for something you could pick up and put down again. there wasn't anything to the writing style that would elevate it above other similar science-thriller type works.

aimee bender's "the particular sadness of lemon cake" is about a young girl who wakes up and realizes one day that she can taste her mother's emotions in her cooking. now, when i say that, i know where your mind goes. you're thinking "like water for chocolate" or "eat drink man woman" or "chocolat" - some kind of magic realist fantasy of love lost, regained, family relationships, etc.

well...this book kind of subverts all those expectations. there's definitely a magic realist element to it and at its core, the book is about family relationships, but bender's treatment of the material is fresh, unsettling, and mysterious. the entire book is suffused with sadness and repression - the repression of a self-absorbed housewife mother, the repression of a taciturn father, a genius brother who becomes more and more remote with each passing year, and the central figure's attempts to repress her ability to taste feelings by seeking refuge in the most generic, mass-produced industrial food available. the writing has that slightly detached quality that's a hallmark of literary-type books.

but i'm not being completely honest here. i'm dancing around a certain issue because to this day, i still find it one of the weirdest things i've ever experienced in a novel. the ending is SOMETHING ELSE. i was shell-shocked by the end. completely gobsmacked by what happens to the point where i had to unburden myself to the dotytron who was completely ignorant of the rest of the plot but could still muster an appropriately "wtf?!?" reaction to my recounting of the closing scenes. the book goes someplace very, very weird and very, very sad, and that's all i can say without giving away the whole thing. i'd be interested to know if any of my readers pick it up, what they think of the way the book closes.

"the imperfectionists" by canadian born, london based author tom rachman, has generated a lot of buzz this past summer as one of the "must-read" books of the summer. it was also recently optioned by brad pitt's production company to be made into a film, which added to the hype that saw this volume of interrelated short stories on many a reputable "best of summer" reading list. the stories follow the various characters (copy editors, executive editors, foreign correspondents) working for an english-language newspaper based in rome, that shares the same dire circumstances as print newspapers everywhere. some of the stories are sad, some are funny, all are little character studies about the motivations and foibles and personal lives of the staff. it was a good, entertaining read, but nothing that lingers with you long after - i really enjoyed it though.

"loving frank" is nancy horan's account of the affair between frank lloyd wright and mamah borthwick - one that saw borthwick abandon her husband and two young children and mired the architect in scandal and all but destroyed his commissions in the united states for a time. this was the most recent selection from my academic book club. the book is really well researched - horan's background is in journalism - and it makes the interior lives of the characters really come to life. frank lloyd wright comes off as a bit of a preening, egotistical a** and borthwick's early feminist struggles are interesting. she starts off in the suffrage movement but her choice to pursue a life of self-fulfillment and love with wright, at the cost of her marriage and her relationship with her children, is really interesting and sparked a lot of discussion amongst the book club ladies.

there was a lot of censure of borthwick's selfishness - at her ability to cause pain to her children by essentially abandoning them for 3 years to flit around europe with wright. i sided with her choice and was in the minority - ultimately, i thought it was more damaging for her to stay locked in this half-life of dutiful wife and depressed mother than for her to self-actualize in some way and emancipate herself from the restrictive mores of american society at the time. this was a thoroughly engaging read - and the situation of the story in real-life events makes it all the more fascinating. i'd recommend it.

"mr. peanut" by adam ross, begins with the line, “when david pepin first dreamed of killing his wife, he didn’t kill her himself. ee dreamed convenient acts of god.” (funny note: when typing that out - i accidentally typed "acts of cod" instead of "acts of god" - i think i might have made a major improvement to the work - someone hire me to be an editor!) this book is the story of 3 marriages, david pepin's marriage, and the marriages of the 2 cops who are brought in to investigate the suspicious death of pepin's wife. it's a bit of a mish-mash of a novel - the three narratives never really come together and there's a strange structural plot device that is hinted at with the author and pepin's fixation with mobius strips and m.c. esher, but ultimately the circuitous looping of the meta-narrative undermines ross' true gift - at detailing the long, hard struggle of marriage - of what happens when 2 people commit to throwing in their lot together for life: the gradual sloughing off of intensity, the endurance, the million little ways that the comfort of the familiar wears away your gratitude - how people start to take things for granted and how your partner can become invisible to you as a person. that's where the true meat of the story are - but i feel the author sacrifices this in favour of this weird murder-mystery thing and spends way too much time dividing the readers attention between all 3 marriages - leaving all but one of them unresolved. i'd still recommend it - it's a good read, but not without its' faults.

we were so good tonight! came home, hung out. went to see our friend bobes play with corin raymond at their weekly at the cameron house. i was making the dotytron crack up with my (semi-false) outrage at having to put money in the musician's tip jar - made all the more galling by the fact that i had already paid for a beer for my partner AND we weren't really in it to see the band, but to meet up with bobes. of course i ponied up in the end, i was only half-joking - i actually don't mind raymond's music - it's kind of like appalachian folk - but the stories are rooted in a canadian prairie context. then we went with bobes to ghandi's rotis for some good indian roti business. based on this article that revealed that the sag paneer roti has almost 1500 calories and over 70 grams of fat, i exercised a modicum of restraint and only ate half of my roti.

when i say "modicum of restrain" i mean a very miniscule modicum - a modicum modicum. during the day my work had a going away party for a colleague and i WENT TO TOWN. two giant pieces of slab cake and so many bite sized treats. i felt awful afterwards, which is the only reason i could exercise that modicum modicum of restraint at ghandi's.

we dropped bobes off so that he could set up for his second set and then were home by 10:15pm. a very civilized evening. we got to get out, hear some music, eat some food, see a friend, and still be home by bedtime. there's hope for us yet!

tomorrow we're having dinner with the dotytron's family for poppa d's birthday at joy bistro. i've been poring over the menu in anticipation - full review to come.

fin.

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