Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Readin' Machine -- Reviews of Irma Voth (Miriam Toews) and Lost in America (Colby Buzzell)

I confess...I'm plowing through the books while in recovery-and-rest mode.

Irma Voth is one of the books I might have picked up on my own but gladly accepted as an advanced copy from Harper.  I was not familiar with the author, although she does have another best-seller under her belt. 

This is the story of a 19 year-old girl who was raised in a Mennonite community in Mexico but whose father disavowed her when she married outside the community.  But, showing his controlling ways, he had her stay in a house he owned and work for the farm, while ignoring her and asking the rest of the family to do the same.  The marriage proves a disaster and her husband has all but disappeared.  Irma becomes involved in a movie being filmed in the community, again incurring wrath from her father, and eventually explores the world a bit further.  She remains close with a younger sister, although they do so in secret b/c their father will not permit them to speak.  I'm not going to go further since the plot isn't fully disclosed in advance.

The writing is in Irma's voice.  It is generally simple prose but Irma shows a spark of natural wit.  She is asked to translate for the movie producer and, without much comment to the reader about the decision, makes up her own lines instead.  She is pretty clear-eyed and generally an honest narrator, her only blindness being taking fault for the failed marriage when it is pretty clearly her husband that failed.  Irma's style makes the book go VERY fast....which I actually usually dislike b/c I like more time with my "new friends" (and b/c of cost issues).  But, despite some heavy topics, it is really a fun style.  The voice makes it different from the run-of-the-mill tale of a young adult rebelling against her strict world.

4 stars.  With a particular appreciation that it never criticizes the Mennonite world Irma comes from...her father's a jerk and the world is isolated, but the community is never painted in a bad light (which I think other stories can do.
I love that reading for Harper let's me explore outside my usual fiction rules.  I don't read a ton of memoirs but was very intrigued by Colby Buzzell's Lost in America: A Dead-End Journey.  The Iraq war vet who had recently lost his mother and had his first child (the former gets a lot more discussion in the text), sets out with the instruction to live a modern-day On The Road.  With a few interruptions, he travels in an old car, focusing on towns tourists tend to skip, back-roads, and less-than-savory motels.  He has a clear interest in the underbelly that, I mean more the very working-class,  simple folks that people often overlook (and who have been hit hard by the economy).  Usually, he mentions but doesn't encounter a heavy-duty criminal element.

This was a quick read.  And I enjoyed it at times.   I usually note I need to find characters interesting, but not necessarily likeable.  Maybe this just doesn't translate for memoirs because not being a fan of the author, who plows through too much liquor and is ignoring the fact that he has a wife and son, really impacts me in this case.  I'd normally feel reticent to say that...I'm guilt-prone and don't want to insult...but I don't think Buzzell would care.  I also think he tends to gloss over the fact that he ISN'T just one of the "trying to make ends meet" types he pals around with...he has a book deal, an existing writing career, and is able to fly away a couple times during the journey (with really no note about how incongruous this is to his "I'm one of them" style). 

It is an easy read and part of me did have fun with it, but I'm stuck at 3 stars for the taste it left behind.

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