Advertisements

Archive for the ‘adolescence’ Tag

Not Quite a Masterpiece   4 comments

17333223
After talking to a friend who had just completed a marathon, I saw a similarity to reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. At times I wondered if I would ever finish. Occasionally I was completely engrossed and enjoyed the scenery, so to speak. Ultimately, I kept returning to the question of completion, could I do it? The answer is yes. However, unlike my runner friend who was euphoric after crossing the finish line, I was simply relieved: just glad to be done.

I know Tartt has received numerous accolades (including the Pulitzer Prize) for her 771-page novel about Theo Decker and the rare painting that, at the request of a dying man in a museum explosion, he takes and has overshadowing his adolescence and young adulthood. Yet, I had an extremely hard time allowing for my suspension of disbelief to fully be in the driver’s seat.

Theo’s mother is killed in that explosion and Theo, who is 13 years old at the time, walks out of the museum practically unnoticed, certainly not unscathed emotionally, but unnoticed. Don’t bother trying to forget that he had an irreplaceable piece of art in his backpack. Through a series of temporary living situations – some better than others, drug abuse and unrealized potential, Theo doesn’t undergo too much transformation through the years. Tartt offers an interesting premise, with Theo narrating, but the story gets bogged down with too many inattentive adults and too many far-fetched situations.

Mostly, I was tired after putting the book down for good.

The Goldfinch
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown Co., 2013
771 pages

Advertisements

Storytelling At Its Finest   3 comments

Maya

Isabel Allende is a master storyteller. Her characters have depth; their lives are full of mystery, love and befuddlement. Her most recent novel, Maya’s Notebook, is no exception. Well, it is, because it’s exceptional – even for Allende.

Maya is a 19-year-old girl on the lam on a remote island off the coast of Chile, her grandmother’s homeland. Maya was raised in Berkeley by her grandparents, a couple remarkable in their differences and their passion for life. Maya’s father floats in and out in a minor role; her mother doesn’t even rate that distinction. Several stories are told through Maya’s journal. She recounts her magical childhood, her arrival in Chiloe’ and counters these almost idyllic recollections with the explanation of why she is in hiding. The book’s first sentence, while seemingly melodramatic, creates suspense: “… if I valued my life at all, I should not get in touch with anyone I knew until we could be sure my enemies were no longer looking for me.”

Maya writes of her past and present in chronological order until the two eventually intersect. She begins with how her grandparents met and moves into how, as an infant, she came to live with them. Allende builds tension through Maya’s descriptions of her avalanche of mistakes made as an adolescent. Grief and environment contributed to one bad decision after another. Yet, a sense of calm surfaces as Maya relates her life in Chiloe’ while learning to appreciate the world around her and her place in it.

Maya’s Notebook
Five Bookmarks
Harper Collins, 2013
387 pages

Wrestling With Sexuality   9 comments

Similar themes, character types and unusual situations find their way to John Irving novels. His latest, In One Person, is no exception. Despite these commonalities, it’s an original look at acceptance and the secrets families hide in plain view, particularly when it comes to sex. The most covert issue is the sexuality of young Billy Abbott, the protagonist/narrator. Billy struggles with this; it’s also something family members have insight into but refuse to reveal – hoping they’re wrong. Yet all around him are mixed messages, from Billy’s loveable cross-dressing grandfather to the cruel teenage wrestling superstar. Billy’s story spans more than 50 years, and it’s clear his family’s hopes were dashed. Billy isn’t gay, he’s bi-sexual, but that’s not what they’re hiding.

Among the characters populating Irving’s novel are angry mothers (several), wrestlers (many), and transgenders (numerous, although Billy’s generation used the term transsexuals). A residential boys school in rural Vermont  – another typical Irving element – is among the settings. Perhaps the strongest of the similarities is the power of friendship. Billy’s true friends are an eccentric bunch with shared worries. The complicated town librarian (my favorite character) probably knows Billy best.

The novel is like a one-sided conversation Billy has with the reader. Billy repeats some details, tells some things out of sequence and offers a few teasers. As in his other work, Irving’s irony and descriptive writing prevail.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is not just my favorite book by Irving, it’s one of my favorite books by anyone. In One Person is not on that pedestal, but it’s close.

In One Person
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2012
425 pages