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.