Saturday, November 29, 2014

Big Little Lies

I've had a friend in the hospital for the past five weeks and so I've been in the car a lot, traveling back and forth. I've listened to audio books in the past and sometimes I find them too distracting, or I find the road too distracting and I miss parts of the story (God forbid). But, seeing I was traveling the same road over and over, I decided it might work this time.

What a great pleasure it was to listen to Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies. I thoroughly enjoyed the Greek chorus of interviews, the mystery of who died and how, the Australian accents. But this story also had a surprising heft to it. I was prepared for light and fluffy and there is that--with glamorous, hilarious women who are sometimes catty, sometimes sweet--but there's also substance here. Moriarty takes on the oft-told tale of domestic violence with a lot of heart. She doesn't over-play the issue and she definitely doesn't shy away from looking at it from all angles.

I finished this book weeping, and with the feeling that these characters were real women with whom I would love to spend more time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Summer House with Swimming Pool

I loved Herman Koch's dark and shocking The Dinner so I eagerly snatched up his latest, Summer House with Swimming Pool. Narrated by an un-apologetically acerbic doctor, this book is as cringe-worthy as The Dinner. And I adored it. What can I say? I have a thing for unlikeable characters and Koch does them so well--so well, in fact, that I wonder how he gets away with it. His books are not for the weak of stomach, or anyone hoping for someone to root for. His characters say and do and think things that we, only in our worst moments, might brush up against. But that's the thing, I think--Koch dares to go to the places we, in polite society, will not. In this novel, he unblinkingly shows us what happens when a questionably morale doctor uses the tools of his trade to right a wrong committed against his family. This is not a feel-good tale. But it is darkly funny and deeply honest. And unnerving.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Art Forger

How did I miss The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro? I must have been in the fog of school but somehow I hadn't even heard of it. But my librarian recommended it, and we tend to have similar taste, so I picked it up late last week. I could not put it down. And I mean that almost literally. My husband and I were at a wedding this weekend, and I was tempted to get in a chapter or two while we waited for the ceremony to start. I didn't, but I did finish the book last night.

I'm a sucker for books about art, anyway. Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Goldfinch. And books about true-life events; The Art Forger centers around one painting stolen from the never-recovered stolen paintings from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum. And I love a mystery.

This book is one of those rare and treasured mixes of smart and page-turning. The characters are fully rendered and perfectly imperfect. The plot is page-turning and not over-blown. Claire, a recently graduated artist with a tarnished reputation, gets an offer she can't refuse--create a copy of a Degas painting and land her own show at a lucrative gallery. Without overstating its case, the novel looks at the origin of the value of art (is something valuable because of the aesthetics or because of who painted it?). And while this is a mystery, Shapiro avoids a lot of the often-hyperbolic techniques of damsel in distress and other less-than-convincing scenarios. Instead, this book is more about the moral crisis Claire faces, and what she's willing to do to save her soul.

This is well-crafted and interesting and truly a page-turner and it was an absolute treat to read!

Monday, August 18, 2014

I have really neglected this blog. The MFA program has kept me very busy, and I've been finishing up my novel. All of which has been exciting and wonderful and hasn't stopped me from reading, but has maybe slowed me down on the writing-about-reading end of things.

I just finished reading Lily King's Euphoria and it is really the best thing I've read in a long time. I'm a fast reader anyway, but I read this in a day. I nearly couldn't put it down! It reminded me of Ann Patchett's State of Wonder in that it had that exotic, tropical feel. It is a love story, an adventure, and a story about loss. I've been a fan of Lily's since her very first novel, and this seemed like a departure for her. But, oh, it's a good departure.

I've also recently read and loved Lois Lowry's The Giver. I don't know how I never read this in my youth, but I missed it. Now that I've been working a few hours here and there at my local library, I came across it and decided to give it a try. At the time, I hadn't heard the movie was coming out (I don't watch much TV). The book blew me away and now I can't wait to see the movie. This would be a great book to read with older kids. There's so much to talk about--morality, humanity, utopian societies...and yet, Lowry does it with a fairly gentle hand.

I personally loved Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. I thought it felt like a fairy tale for adults and I don't see why that's a bad thing. I liked protagonist Theo, and, even when he was doing the exact wrong thing, I couldn't stop watching him. It is perhaps a little longer than it needs to be, and Tartt perhaps drives home her point about the value of art a little more strongly that I think necessary, but overall I found this to be a sweeping, engaging, unforgettable read.

I worried about Colum McCann's Transatlantic because at first it seemed awfully slow. But then, like one of those folded-up notes we used to pass around in eighth grade, the novel reveals itself. This is one you'll want to stick with. It is so worth it.

For a presentation for a workshop, I read Iris Owens's After Claude. This is my kind of book. Searing, sarcastic, unapologetic, and, I thought, hysterically funny. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Or, if you're looking for someone to like and root for. But for all protagonist Harriett's huge flaws, there is something painful and earnest in her that made me want to hear her story. Plus, like I said, she's really, really funny.

The last one I'll mention for now is Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child. This book doesn't have one unlikable character in it and I still loved it. I loved the beauty of the landscape of this story, and the hope of the characters, and I found that their desire for a child was incredibly palpable without being heavy-handed. There is magic and mystery in this story, but it is grounded firmly in the reality of life in Alaska. This has become one of my favorite books.