Thursday, March 1, 2012

Madeline is Sleeping/Ms. Hempel Chronicles

A month or so ago, on a road trip to see my step-son graduate from boot camp at Ft. Leonardwood, I took along Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum's Ms. Hempel Chronicles. I was utterly mesmerized by this charming collection of short stories, centered around the title character as she begins her life of teaching, and loving, and newly exploring the world as an adult. (of course, the down side to that is that the rest of what I brought along with me to read on the trip paled mightily in comparison).

Finally, and with much anticipation, I picked up the acclaimed Madeline is Sleeping. Whenever a book like this gets as much praise as it has, I hesitate to criticize it because I feel like maybe it's a reflection on my pedantic tastes. (for example, as much as I wanted to, I didn't understand Tinkers, prize-winner or not).

Madeline is Sleeping is written in vignettes, and I have to admit I was a little put off by that. But then, I've recently read We the Animals and that was short little "chapters" and I liked that. So I began. Strange things happen, right away, and inexplicably. And then more strange things. Very strange people show up and then go. Let me say here that I am a fan of the non-traditional, of mixing the fantastical with reality (I have a short story that has been widely disliked because of a lion in a woman's stomach). But, maybe it was the combination of the non-traditional structure and the fantastical elements that kept this story from being a true hit with me. In the end, I finished it feeling like there were some stunningly beautiful words and scenes and character renditions but for me it lacked the pull of a complete story.

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