Sunday, August 5, 2018

Growing Up is Hard to Do: Putney (Zinovief) and Whistle in the Dark (Healey)

I've been making slow progress through a long one lately, so I should take advantage of a little catch-up time!

I've seen a good bit of buzz around this soon-to-be released novel, so I'll start here (disclaimer received an Advance Readers Copy from the publisher). It is a bit of a cop-out to begin by calling it a Lolita tale for the MeToo world, but it can also serve as a warning for those who may not like the content...not that I can imagine many people truly LIKING the content...

In 1970s England, the Greenslays live a bit of a bohemian lifestyle....people come, people go, children often fend for themselves amid the varying guests (who are often enjoying some form of drugs...all of which allows plenty of room for the novel's key stories). Ralph, age 25, is one of many arrivals, come to work with the famous father in the clan. As a nine year old girl runs by, Ralph has to shuffle a bit to cover up the obvious effect she has on him. He befriends Daphne and, in a parlance that postdates the youth scenes, grooms her...becoming a friend, telling her he loves him but must keep it quiet, gradual building a physical relationship that leads to sex (aka rape) when she's 13.

In the present (both frames and interrupts the memory scenes), Ralph is very sick and dying. In an unrelated arc inspired by a piece of art that reflect on what she still sees as an idyllic childhood (that was followed by some rough years of addiction and a bad marriage that did produce a lovely daughter), Daphne's best friend, Jane -- Daphne, Jane, and Ralph all share narration duties -- opens her eyes to the truth of the relationship and how it connects with man of Daphne's struggles. And, of course, there are secrets, confrontation, and more.

In college, I was involved in a group that often talked about experiencing (and embracing, even seeking out) discomfort. This book does this. And it reminds me that discomfort is not always a bad thing. This book was far from emotionally easy, but the writing is lovely and the characters well-drawn, fully-fleshed people. Mental health, drugs, sex (obviously far from ideal sex), and issues of class run though it. The power of denial, of Daphne's belief that it was true, love and the ways even things we can't consciously process can effect our future, are well-rendered.

It isn't a easy read, but it isn't meant to be.  4.5 stars. I can't quite say a true 5...though I can't voice why, but will still round up. Rad a dozen or so reviews, but really curious to see what any of my friends think...
Fifteen-year-old Lana is neither an easy child nor a happy one. When she takes a painting vacation (painting holiday sounds so much nicer, British English does offer some lovely turns of phrase!). she goes missing. Four days later, a farmer finds her in a field. Lana purports to remember nothing from the time he was gone. Her mom doesn't really believe it and becomes a bit obsessed with finding answers. Lana seems to enjoy the brief delay before she has to return to school. Her (a good bit) older sister is expecting her first baby which seems to get lost in he shuffle. And, honestly (b/c it say quite a lot), I finished it several weeks ago and have scant memories of Dad.

More than a mystery about a missing girl (although that does indeed run throughout), this is a look at being a family when one member is a troubled teen (so says this formerly troubled, read: depressed, teen). There were little moments that I enjoyed, but overall it fell a bit flat for me. I also felt pretty mixed on the ending...I appreciate some of Mom's final scenes. Others seem to enjoy it, so maybe it is me  2.5 stars...I gotta go with rounding down...

Regardless, thank you to the publisher for supplying the advance edition in exchange for an honest review). Even if it wasnt for me, I appreciate that I get to read a range of books that I might not on my own, especially those that don't fit into my typical genre. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Solid Summer Read: The Perfect Mother (Molloy)

I keep vowing to catch up, but alas....

So, here's a single review to keep you in the loop until I stop reading long enough to write :)

Since I had, admittedly enjoyed Big Little Lies (book...haven't seen the show), I was intrigued by this one and scooped it up from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.

The May Mothers met online while expecting and had a number of gatherings both before and after their spring babies arrived.  They decide that it is time for a baby-free frolic and gather for some fun at a bar. It is during this time that the unimaginable occurs and one baby vanishes from his crib. Both that story and the more general look at motherhood unfolds through the vantage point of a small subgroup of ladies who connect despite having quite different lives. And the reader peers in at different moments in the search for the missing child.

This is both a thriller and a look at motherhood today (for the record, I'm not a mom so can't fully gauge the authenticity  here). While the former is the headline plot (yes, I did just make that description up)...and I didn't see the ending coming was the latter that kept me reading. From negotiating the working mom role to dealing with a harder baby and experiencing more than a little emotional turmoil, the different stories of the revolving narrators (a device that risks being overdone but also allows a writer to venture down several paths without making one character take too twisty a road) made me enjoy picking up this one.

Call it a beach read or something of that sort...not a hard read by any means and not in the "literary fiction" arena... and take it as that.  3.5 to 4 stars.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

What We Carry: The Things (Property: Stories Between Two Novellas by Lionel Shriver) and Memories (The Lost Family by Jenna Blum)

When I opted to read a free advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review of Property, I felt a bit conflicted. To the extent the words make sense, I enjoyed We Need to Talk About Kevin. I haven't, however, been a fan of the two other pieces by Shriver that I've read, even putting aside the diss on my alma matter (prep school star "So I tossed it. I didn't apply to Yale or Harvard, but Haverford.") in The New Republic. And I'm not usually a huge fan of short stories. Yet, something drew me to this one and, unlike with the last two attempts, I'm glad I did.

As the title hints, this collection has two longer short stories and a series of shorter ones sandwiched in between. They all revolve, in one way or another, around property...from a gift spurned to a home shared to mail undelivered. It could have felt like a gimmick, but it didn't because each story was unique and took a different approach. I greatly enjoyed The Standing Chandelier, which could sound like a trope itself with a friendship between a man and a woman threatened when the man falls in love with a woman, but managed not to feel like a story I'd heard before. I think one of the shortest tales, about a mail man who simply -- though strategically enough to avoid being caught -- stops delivering some of the mail, was among my favorites (the ending was the best part!).

An enjoyable collection for people who enjoy words and pondering the many ponderings they can inspire. 4 stars. 

The last review I wrote was a book I went into with a heavy dose of skepticism. In contrast, this one fell into my traditional wheelhouse. I've read a good deal of Holocaust-related (or -adjacent) fiction and I fall for characters more than story-lines. But, while it started strong, i came away from this one fairly disappointed.

Peter is a chef. When we meet him, he's working in his own fancy restaurant and he's about to meet a woman he'll fall in love with almost instantaneously. But, Peter is very much a man haunted by his past. His restaurant is named after his first wife, who perished along with their young twin girls in the Holocaust. Peter survived, a fate filled with irony since his wife was not Jewish but merely "guilty by association."

Peter goes on, in time, build a new family. But there is a void that they all feel, a void possibly enhanced by Peter's silence.  Other plotlines are too spoilery, though a brief mention of some biological family....called cousins but at least once removed and who lived in the U.S. during the worthwhile.

I really enjoyed the early sections of the book, esp a notable scene from early in Peter's chef days (he was from a wealthy family and the career choice was not popular w his family...nor was the non-Jewish wife) and scenes of the family during the fearful build-up of Hitlervs power.  Sadly, the book really fell off track for me in the present day narrative, esp after a bit of a time jump. I dont need to love every character and I could see her motivations, but the protagonist of the latter section just didn't work for me. Nor did the somewhat predictable outcome for the youngest primary character.

3.5 stars. Interesting portrait of the ripples created by one person's trials on those around him. Just wish the narrative took a diff path...I liked that it focused on after vs the time Peter spent in the camps but maybe would have been better without the present day time jump.....

Based on a free advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review. Typed on my phone so apologies for typos.