Below are works I’ve read over the past couple of months of which I’d intended to blab at length, but now must make do with one, two or a few lines. My passion for reading continues unabated (“First we read, then we write…” Emerson), but to explain my brevity, please refer to the post above.
Drink the Tea (2010) by Thomas Kaufman: An impressive debut set in Washington D.C. with a contemporary private detective suitably raggedy and underemployed, and a plot suitably confusing and convoluted, to earn the label ‘noir.’
The Quickening Maze (2010) by Adam Foulds: A wispy, haunting, post-modern historical novel (yes, I will get away with this kind of pretentious clap-trap clause when a review is this short – after all, I’ve seen ’em on blurbs…) about lovelorn, impoverished poets wafting in and out a mental institution in Epping Forest. (I used to live in Epping once… so did Rod Stewart). Short-listed for the Man Booker, but too ephemeral to win it. I finished it because it was thin.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008) by Steig Larsson: Well, I had to, didn’t I? Is this Swedish journalist protagonist really so attractive that every female character sleeps with him without any apparent motivation even though he has no sense of humor and never calls? He never calls his daughter either and he feels bad about that, but not bad enough to bother him more than once in 590 pages. I believe some of the sexist accusations against the plot bandied about in some reviews are simply another instance of readers failing to differentiate between an author and his / her material. A ripping yarn that loses steam as soon as the main mystery is solved around four chapters from the end. Yes, I’ll read the next one. Well, you do, don’t you?
Tinkers (2009) by Paul Harding: The 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winner is as precise and intricate as a Swiss watch, and as time-obsessed. Attention must be paid though, the mechanism interlinking the cogs and wheels of the three narratives are so subtle that one is liable to get lost in time (was that Harding’s intent?) Are we sure this wasn’t written by Marilynne Robinson? Note this sample exquisite sentence about being in the midst of death while in life: “So, there is my son, already fading….”
Funny Little Monkey (2005) by Andew Auseon: A smart coming-of-age novel aimed at the young teenage market but appropriate for all. Arty Moore is freakishy short, his brother Kurt is freakishly hulking, and high school and adolescence is proving freakishly awkward to navigate. Auseon is a young writer to watch.
Finny by Justin Kramon (2010): A smart coming-of-age novel not appropriate for all. I assumed after reading the first few chapters that it was aimed at the young teen market (and I do not say this in any way to be derogatory – it felt fresh and “catcher-in-the rye-ish”), but some later sexual references may make some parents reconsider. Finny is a super-confident debut by a local Maryland writer, a rose-colored tale that loses its happy tint by the end, not through the sadness of a particular event, but by the realization that comes with maturity that many marriages are not the result of romantic passion but of trial and error and a decision to make the best of it. The tonal shift from first page to last – from glossy to matt – reflects the scouring young dreams undergo through the hard mill of real life.
A Visit to the Good Squad (2010): If you like books about bands this one may be for you. I’d also recommend some paper and a pen to jot down the characters’ names and their relationships to one another because the narrative is not linear. This would save you from thinking at the beginning of each chapter,”who is this again?” I’m sure some reviews might term it a ‘tour-de-force’ and others as ‘experimental.’ I found it intellectually but not emotionally engaging with a couple of outstanding exceptions: a chapter portraying the lusty, self-loathing of the press for celebrity (quite brilliant), and the portrait of a dysfunctional family via a teenage girl’s powerpoint presentation. The book’s intersecting story-lines circle around an aging musician and his former band members and lovers. The fascination with bands and groupies: I don’t get it, never have. Loving music, that I get. Old geezers with very young girls: don’t get it, never have. Therefore reading about it, even if so well done, doesn’t hook my interest. After all, we do all get old….
Misadventure by Millard Kaufman (2010): The second and last novel from Oscar-winning screenwriter, World War II hero, and all round gentleman, Millard Kaufman (I had the privilege of talking to him on the telephone), was published posthumously earlier this year. Filled with the cutting dialogue and snappy scene bait-and-switching one would expect, this noir nevertheless is soured with a series taste misstep about an underage girl. This tainted my affection for our hero and I’m not a gal whose easily offended. Watch Bad Day at Black Rock and read Bowl of Cherries instead.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009): Water’s Booker Prize-nominated gothic novel owes an enormous debt to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, while standing as a considerable achievement on its own merits. Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid, lives a life of quiet respectability in a small English town. During one post-war summer, he becomes enarmoured with the local gentry, the Ayres family of nearby Hundreds Hall, after being called to administer to a sick servant. His relationship with the family becomes ever more complex as inexplicable events begin to unfold. With every new release, Waters proves herself to be an absolute mistress of the historical literary novel – her works are deep and authentic, yet unobtrusively carry the weight of their considerable research and complex narrative structures. The Little Stranger is a perfect read for a rainy Sunday afternoon, provided one is not home alone.