Monday, July 6, 2020

The Female Persuasion: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer

I'm not really sure what this book is about.Initially, the impression was it would be a feminist journey of a shy, slightly withdrawn girl coming into her own while surrounded by inspirational women. It's kind of that, but then also not. The trajectory Greer -- our lead -- starts on really becomes where she ends up. The "major" event that might have sent her on a tangent really just helps her get to where you expect her to be all along. It's strange. She does learn how to speak up and speak out, but it's not cliche in that she's suddenly empowered. Also, I think she would have gotten to where she ended up regardless of what happened in the story.

The book revolves around six characters, three men and three women. The women have a much more dominant role in the book, but the men are present in one way or another. The females have a common thread of purpose, the males are a bit more listless,. Even the most successful man, Emmett, has a significant inability to listen. Cory, Greer's boyfriend, suffers a great family tragedy and withdraws from the world. His own grief becomes the central need he must attend to, leaving Greer out in the cold. The third guy, Darren simply serves as a catalyst to get Greer angry about how men get away with improper behavior. The guys get to tell a little of their stories, but only one is really "good." They're all flawed at varying degrees.

The women include Greer, her friend Zee, and Faith. Zee encourages Greer to think and act like an activist. Faith, much older than the other two, has already created a successful career around speaking out for women. She gives Greer her first job out of college, working for a foundation that puts on events and does special projects to aid those in need. The foundation is funded by Emmett's company. Emmett is in love with Faith. He's doing this to be close to her. Allowing the men to also exhibit the stereotypical gender roles often found in literature is a subtle piece to this book. It's not a full role reversal though. 

I didn't love this book, but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate how the author decided to flaw her characters. It's not a hyper-realized version of men and women, it's not a declaration of one being better than the other. It's the mediocre reality that we all mess up to varying degrees. Sometimes we overcome those mess ups, sometimes we hide them and hope they stay hidden, and sometimes we never acknowledge we did wrong. It's telling who people are by how they handle their flaws, regardless of whether they're a man or woman. I like that the author is willing to admit that sometimes your flaws tarnish all the good you're putting out into the world.

I picked up this book because The Interestings is a favorite of mine. This isn't as good. It's not bad though. Maybe you'd like it.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

I picked up this book as quickly as I could because of Station Eleven. I loved that book. This one was a good read, but not as clearly formed in my opinion as the author's previous. The flow in The Glass Hotel is a bit awkward. I liked that, but I feel it could make the book hard to read.

The narrative moves forward in time, but you're never really sure who the main character is. Flashbacks are minor, and fill in some gaps, but again, you're not always sure where to focus. My bet is that the main character is Vincent, a young woman who touches every other life in the story. Whether she's a sister, girlfriend, or bartender, she's there for at least a moment. It's hard though to say definitively sine the characters are like ping pong balls in a lottery machine. They're bouncing all over the place, but they bump into each other before the machine burps out the winning numbers. Vincent is the ball that bumps into all the others. She's an interesting woman, who seems to accept her position as it comes until finally becoming so disillusioned that she moves her life off land completely. 

The other thing in the book that touches all the characters is risk. It could also be the main character in all honesty. The risk manifests primarily in the form of an investment opportunity. You have to decide whether to take the risk or not, to benefit it or not. Even those standing close to those confronted with the risk are impacted. It has a heavy influence, and is a key driver of the trajectories for the characters in the book. Tied into this component is a commentary on human connections, and how much time we waste making the wrong ones. It's only after the risk is eliminated that many characters seem to find out who their friends really are, who they should love.

There are other complicated elements in this book. A quick touch on drugs, on ethics, on life lived on a secluded Canadian island. Like I said, its form feels loose because it's so packed. I would definitely recommend giving this author a try, but start with Station Eleven. This book is more experimental to me in its flow. I enjoyed the art of it, and the complexities, but it might not be for everyone.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Second book club book #10
A Highway 59 Mystery - Book 1

I can count on one hand the number of crime novels I've read in the last five years at least. It's two. I'm talking about the ones that take place in the real world, with nothing fantastical about them. I always like them, but haven't been drawn to them since the days when my dad and I swapped Nelson DeMille novels.

I was glad to read this book. It's especially relevant today as it covers themes like race, hate, life in the rural South, and family. It's an intricate and complex book that feels all too real. I'm thankful it's set in the now, that it takes a deep look into today's racism without ignoring the many layers that can go into hate. The author does a fantastic job of vilifying the villains without creating stereotypes. She allows for the complexities of an individual to really contribute to her characters, whether they're good, bad, or somewhere in between.

Darren Matthews is a Texas Ranger (cop) with a drinking problem. A family friend stands trial for a murder without a weapon. Darren was the last to see the victim alive. Normally, no evidence would mean no trial but this is Texas, and there's a white man dead, possibly by black hands. It doesn't help matters that Darren is also African American. His loyalties might not be to the law. The lack of clarity in this situation means Darren is on probation, but he's not sitting still. Trouble finds him when he's asked to casually investigate two deaths in a nearby town -- that of a black man and a white woman.

The town is small and full of secrets. The dead man was an outsider. The woman had only recently had a baby. To say this is a complicated situation is a severe understatement. Floating at the center of all this confusion is Geneva and her restaurant, which has filled the bellies of black travellers for years. A widow, who also lost her son, Geneva has secrets of her own. There's a lot for Darren to dig through, but he's immediately in the middle, and on a mission for the whole truth.

Nothing is as it seems in this book. Yes, there's the underlying hate of racism, but it's not always the color of one's skin that inspires bad feelings. There's also who's kin to whom that gets tricky, fast. In the end, nothing about this story is simple.

What the author does so very well in this book is create characters. Each person we meet has such a deep backstory, whether they tell it all or not. Everyone's a little bit imperfect, a little dishonest. There are good and bad guys too, but most reside in a very grey area. I appreciated that nod of realism, that choice to not create fictional characters that got it all right or over-exemplified a stereotype out in the world today.

This is a powerful read that will keep you on your toes. It reminds you of what daily life is like in an area of our own country that hasn't caught up to the idea of loving everyone as their equal. These people don't carry kindness for everyone in their hearts. It's a story we can't forget. This is a book that makes you really think about people, love, and human connection. It timed out so well. I would highly recommend. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

This is a good, fantastical adventure story. An epic journey of discovery. However, it begins a little muddled. You're not sure what's going to push the story forward fast enough to know what to pay attention to right away. It detracts from the 'aha' moments later. 

The author seems to love the genre so much, she over-inserts classic elements. You feel at times like you're in another book, if only for a few pages. This makes it hard to emphatically say whether I think this is a good book.

January Scaller is a girl that doesn't belong. She lives in a world she knows she doesn't quite fit into, but what choice does she have? Apparently, she has a lot. Weak spaces in the fabric of worlds create doors. If you can find them, you can move through them to somewhere new, somewhere that fits.

It's the beginning of the 20th Century when we first meet a young January. She's living as the ward of Mr. Locke, the head of an archaeological organization that obtains rare artifacts from around the world. January's father works for Locke retrieving these items. He's not really around for January, which makes it hard since she lost her mom as a baby. When her father disappears and is presumed dead, January begins to question everything. Once, January had discovered a door to a world smelling of salt and the sea. Maybe this is the solution to the mystery of her missing father, and what Locke is really up to.

At the same time all this happens, January comes into possession of a special book. It's a story of love, pain, and sadness. It's about misplacement and an almost endless search. It's her parents' story, and January decides she can find them again if only she can get to the right door. 

That's the heart of this book, what I feel is the main narrative line. A girl, coming into her own, heads out on a great search. But, that's hardly all that happens. It's practically impossible to summarize since so much leans into the general action. From multiple villains, magical abilities, daring escapes, death, love, and heartbreak, the story is stuffed with so much more than it needed. It takes too long for January to develop a sense of urgency, and she misses the obvious time and time again. The arc is awkward.

What I did like about the book is the magic it imbued to words. This is a book where words have true value and power. When believed in, they can literally change the world and bring people back to each other. It would have been easy for the author to use words as witchcraft, with characters speaking magic spells, but that's not what happens. It's more organic and feels more powerful.

Overall, this is a fun adventure to read over the summer. It will pick up momentum as it goes, so stick with it.