Monday, May 25, 2020

Two in the To-Be-Published Queue: Paris Library and Benediction

  • The Paris Library

If you like literary fiction of a certain sort, then it's easy to get a sort of WWII fatigue.  It makes for a good setting...recent enough to be felt but far enough to be fictionalized, and certainly lots of fodder with the wrongs we can do to each other and the pain people can experience so clear, it almost feels fictionalized from the start (or maybe one simply wishes it was).

This book does manage, however, to hit on a unique sliver of history. It focuses on Paris from shortly before the war through Nazi occupation. That's a less common setting than most, but the unique element is a sharp focus on the efforts of library staff to keep the American Library in Paris open and supply books to all...even (especially) frowned upon distribution to French POWs and Jews.  We get a small glimpse of a soldier's story and that of French police, but it's a book about books and book lovers. Oh, and a small modern day thread tossed in.

It's a good little story. I enjoyed the lessons it has to teach...obviously fictionalized but well researched with roots in real people and real actions.  I couldn't not love Olide...a young woman trying to stretch her wings (much to her father's chagrin). Like many, I had less interest in the current day storyline...I saw some of the reason for it but feel like a coda would have handled those.

Well crafted setting. Decent characters...could have been a bit fleshier in some ways (the wrinkles were plot related...characters were round for the sake of plot, not simply for the sake of character)  but that's ok sometimes.  Sometimes you just need a good story to tuck into and this is that.

Notable but eventually dated element: I saw more than one parallel bw life amid a pandemic and life amid a very different "infestation."

Teetering between  3.5 ... that's my go-to rank for "good not great" and books that are more than mass market fodder (though some great books do indeed get deserved attention) but not quite "literature" in my eyes) ... and 4 stars.  Rounding up bc it did what I needed it to do and took me elsewhere for a bit. Not so immersive that I couldn't easily step out to go to sleep etc, but still looked forward to visiting Odile each night).

Thank you to Goodreads, the publisher, and the author. I won this in a giveaway but they never put any restraints on my reviews.

  • Benediction by Kent Haruf 

This wasn't my favorite Haruf, I'm quite certain of that. But any Haruf is loads better than 95 percent of the books out there...and that's guessing low. And it still gets 5 stars without hesitation

As always, you can touch the characters in Benediction. Feel Dad's slackening skin, Alice's rough pigtails (a tad slick from sweat). It's not about plot, it's about plopping back down in Holt, smelling the scent of Willa and Ailene's home (after a certain point, mother and daughter look like sisters...the home smells only every so slightly of potpourri), hearing Reverend Lyle clear his throat. It's quite familiar to those who've been to town before, but also new because only small bits connect this novel to Plainsong and Eventide (those share much more...I'd read those two in order bug this can come before, between, or after the others even if they are a trilogy of a sort)

Quiet. Simple. Perfectly imperfect. Utterly beautiful.