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Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett. I'm not a big fan of Ann's work, I can't put my finger on the reason, but there you have it. So I thought I would just take a quick look at this novel. Surprisingly, it held my attention. It's a family saga about a truly dysfunctional group, start to finish. And it's depressing. I know that's not a very flattering thing to say about a book, but sometimes we just need to go there and remember how common the dysfunctional family really is. The scenes are mundane. The parties, the interactions, the friends, the kids growing up, and the elders growing old. All mixed up in this semi-tragedy of daily life. And yet, I read it all, and for some reason, enjoyed it.
How the Light Gets In, Louise Penny. Louise
has hordes of fans and has written 12 mystery novels now, I think.
Mostly about a little artist enclave called Three Pines, in eastern
Canada. They are a quirky bunch, to say the least, and they are all well
rendered. Inspector Gamache from the Quebec Surety investigates.
(Interesting that in such a small village there are so many murders.
Reminds me of Cabot Cove.) The crimes are always complicated and need
much hand wringing, good meals, many cups of coffee and good sleeps in
Three Pines. This particular one involved quintuplets, which I thought
very odd indeed, and a plot by some politicians to blow up a big bridge,
plus some very intriguing technical stuff. I'm not a true fan of Penny's
work, there is something about it that I find a little off putting, but
I probably stand alone in that criticism. I think the plots could be
simplified because we are more interested in the Three Pine folks than
we are with the murders. But if you like cozies with an edge, this is
the writer for you.
Canada, by Richard Ford. This is a very strange book, a first-person narrative of what happened to the narrator when he was 15 years old. I usually don't like stories told by kids but this one kept my attention. It begins in Great Falls, Montana, and eventually moves to the Canadian outback above Montana. Scary times for the young boy, whose parents abandon him. I won't mention just how that happens because I don't want to spoil the story, but the whole storyline is so quirky and unwholesome that I wondered just how Richard thought of it to begin with. Talk about dysfunctional people, there isn't one person in this whole story that I could categorize as "nice" or "conventional" or "worthwhile to know." Canada doesn't fare much better. This is not a travel book, smiling to myself as I write this.
Spring 2017, An essay A Literary Journey
Fall 2016: As I write this update, my daughter Karen and I are smack in the middle of Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. We are reading it as a book club might (a very serious book club.) We assign pages, maybe 35 at a time, and we take our books to a restaurant or Starbucks for a nice long discussion. This book needs serious sorting out. We are reading real physical books and writing in the margins, bending page corners, and using post it notes to remember "good places" and sometimes going word-by-word to figure things out. I've re-read whole chapters that are so dense that they need some translation.
It's the novel of Ahab, the ship captain's obsession and revenge, and above all, it's a novel of perception. I can't remember another narrator who sees as much as Ishmael does. It's very wordy, in a Shakespearian way at times, and overwhelming. The narrative devices Ishmael uses vary from poetry to play scripts, and everything in between. I can't decide whether Ishmael, the sailor is as astute as is Ishmael the narrator, who must be writing this memoir some years after the fact.
I'm not looking forward to the actual meet up of the white whale with the Pequod harpooneers. I've warned Karen that I might have to skip that part. But there is so much to say beforehand about the whaling industry and whalers. It's a miracle that we still have whales. The narrator Ishmael spends a lot of time with the smallest observations about the whiteness of things (ominous), and his ship mates, each one gets a bio, so we will understand how they all fit into this story. And all matter of sea going things that us land lubbers never even give thought to. And Karen and I are finding so many similarities to our present day lives that it's amusing and uncanny. Moby Dick is very much worth reading, is considered a classic American novel, and now I understand why.
I'm also trying to read the latest Mitch Rapp thriller, called The Survivor. I was charmed by this character when Vince Flynn was still alive. (Flynn was about 42 when he died of pancreatic cancer, a year or so ago.) Now someone has taken over where he left off, but it's definitely not the same writing, or plot or even intent. I'm not sure I can finish the book. Just looked at some Amazon reviews. I'm not alone. Too bad. Not everybody can write a thriller, even though a lot of writers think it's a piece of cake.
As I grow older, I have less time or interest in reading bad writing, trite plots, and long stories that seem not to know when to end. So more and more books get sampled and discarded. I don't care at all that so many books are going unfinished. But I do savor the ones that I love so much I don't want to see end. Bring those on!
I did read Euphoria, by Lily King. It was the Kirkus Prize winner in 2014. About a group of anthropologists doing field work in Papua, New Guinea in the 1930s. I do remember an anthro class from my undergrad years. The professor did his field work there in the 1970s, so this one had significance for me. The story goes into some detail about how they go about their work, what is important to know, and those pesky ethical issues. It's fiction, but it very well could have been somebody's life. It felt real, and was mildly interesting. I still feel sorry for those poor subjects of their intrusive studies. I'm also getting rather irritated by the come-ons emblazoned onto the book jackets these days. This one says: "taut, witty, fiercely intelligent", give me a break.
And I'm just finishing The Good German, by Joseph Kanon. As you will recall, he's one of my favorite writers. I'm nearly finished with him, unless he writes something else very soon. He writes about the post WWII era. He has an exceptionally good sense of place. This one is set in Berlin just weeks after the end of the war. The Potsdam conference happens, that's how soon after. But the story is about Berlin itself, the rubble, the German people just barely alive, rounding up the Nazis, the black market, all of the chaos. I still have to figure out who will turn out to be the good German.
Apparently it has been turned into a movie starring George Clooney. I missed it somehow. I guess it wasn't very good. It has the bones of a thriller but the book is not a page turner. It's too depressing, and slow moving. Tough reading. Kanon is a good historian. But like his others, there is definitely a sense of dread and hopelessness throughout.
Here's an old postcard I found hanging around. I've been meaning to share it with you. I actually know people like this. I'm sure you do too.
Night, night. Ttyl, Dianne
Oh, you wanna find out what the Phantom was reading last year? Really? Click here then.
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