Archive for the ‘fiction’ Tag
Somebody get Nathan Hill an editor! The author of The Nix is creative, daring and has a good – no excellent – story to tell. The problem is that it’s about 250 pages too long, including an 11-page sentence. Really?!
Moving back an fourth between a tumultuous Chicago in 1968 just before the Democratic national convention and a calmer 2011, the novel ‘s focus is on the relationship between Samuel Andresen-Anderson and his estranged mother, Faye. It’s been decades since he last saw her. When Samuel was a child, Faye abandoned him and her husband.
Samuel teaches literature at a Chicago university. His heart isn’t in his work; his students are neither inspired, nor inspiring. After hours, on his faculty computer, he plays an immersive video game. He is also 10 years behind on a book that he’s been contracted to write. Samuel is a likeable guy and it’s painful to consider him a loser. But.
Hill is at his best in his descriptions of Samuel’s childhood, before his mother left. It’s vivid, engaging and explains so much about this character. Equally engrossing are the sections about Faye’s youth in a rural town in Iowa.
Less appealing are some of the other characters and situations, if only because the depth of their portrayal is extraneous. Take the sentence that is a chapter unto itself. It chronicles the symptom-by-symptom, reaction-by-reaction experience of a compulsive gamer as his body shuts down.
Ultimately, all the reader, like Samuel, wants is to understand why Faye left.
Almost Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
This is a good time of year for a heartwarming story, even a predictable one. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman fits the bill.
Ove is a Saab man. He’s not employed by the Swedish automaker, he’s loyal to it. It’s his gauge of measuring a person’s character (in Ove’s world it usually applies to men). Ove is all about character. He raises his eyebrows at those who drive BMWs or Audis; he tolerates Volvos.
Set in his ways like a train on a track, Ove only cares about his route. Except, anyone sharing his path must abide by the same rules he does. He doesn’t necessarily set the directives only that he follows them to an extreme.
At times funny and sad, Ove’s story is initially about his decision that it’s time for his life to end. Of course, this is no laughing matter, but humor surfaces as life intervenes in his efforts to take action. Distractions get in the way. He must contend with neighbors, a stray cat, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his wife Sonja.
Set in Sweden, Backman alternates chapters to reveal Ove’s past and its impact on the present. It’s easy to visualize Ove as a grumpy old man, although he’s only 59; it’s also not difficult to see, or at least initially suspect, there’s more than meets the eye. It’s most evident in his love for Sonja. What happens comes as a surprise to Ove and the reader.
A Man Called Ove
Three and three-quarters Bookmarks
Atria Books, 2014
Epic Russian novels have long appealed to me for many reasons: the history, the descriptions of stark landscapes and lively urban settings, the storytelling, and the names. Ah, the names.
Author Amor Towles ties all these elements together in A Gentleman in Moscow.
Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, known as Sasha among a few and as the Count among many, is sentenced to house arrest at Moscow’s grand Metropol Hotel in 1922. This is an engrossing tale about a man who grew up with every comfort and advantage during tsarist Russia. Although his lifestyle changes, it unexpectedly expands.
At the beginning of his confinement, the mother country is in the early stages of political and economic changes that continue for decades. The Count is undeterred by his reversal of fortunes. Towles presents a contented man, knowledgeable, kind, charismatic, happy with routines, yet imaginative. As the Count’s story moves through the years he faces challenges greater than the restrictions of his movements, but always with a good attitude.
Towles injects humor and history with a hotel guestbook of intriguing characters. Interestingly, each chapter begins with the letter A, like the count’s (and author’s) first name.
Here is a novel of the never-wanting-it-to-end variety. The Count’s humanity, his relationships/friendships, and the rich memories of his childhood overshadow his loss of freedom. At times it’s easy to forget that he is a captive in a majestic hotel. He can’t actually check out any time he wants, but why would he want to leave?
A Gentleman in Moscow
I hate to admit it, but I’m not as shocked as I once was by the barrage of images in the media revealing the plight of refugees from war-torn countries. The accounts of horror, squalor and multitudes are now commonplace. Thankfully, Nadia Hashimi’s fictional When the Moon is Low has shaken me from complacency in a way the reality no longer does.
This beautifully written novel follows Fereiba from her birth in Kabul to motherhood as she flees from Afghanistan with three children in tow.
Much of the narrative is first person voice as Fereiba recounts her life which begins when her mother dies giving birth. Her father remarries, but Fereiba is a motherless daughter in a country with little regard for women. She’s initially denied the opportunity to attend school, but eventually pursues an education and ultimately becomes a teacher. An arranged marriage provides her with the love, support and friendship she never experiences growing up.
With the rise of the Taliban, Fereiba fears for her family’s lives. What follows is an arduous journey, the kindness of strangers and the heartbreaking separation that occurs when she is forced to choose between waiting for her missing adolescent son, Saleem, and seeking care for sickly infant Aziz.
Midway through, Fereiba’s voice gives way to Saleem’s perspective as he tries to find his family. The goal is England where Fereiba’s sister lives. Saleem’s experiences are harrowing, but his determination is heroic in his efforts to reunite with his mother, sister and brother.
When the Moon is Low
William Morrow, 2015
One house, 13 siblings, ghosts and the city of Detroit provide the foundation for The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. Thank goodness she provides a family tree to keep track of Francis and Viola Turner’s offspring. It helps that much of the present-day story focuses on Cha Cha, the eldest of the Turner children, and Lelah, the youngest. They’re separated by 23 years; their issues are familiar but not quite cliches.
Flournoy also takes the reader back to 1944 when Francis leaves Viola and young son in his rural Arkansas hometown to seek a better life in Detroit. Francis plans to send for his family once he’s settled. He stays away for more than a year, leaving Viola to consider other options.
This backdrop is interspersed with how the family has coped through the years. Francis is dead, Cha Cha has grandchildren of his own; even Lelah is a grandmother. Few have intact marriages or relationships, yet the family is close-knit. The house, the one in which all 13 Turners grew up, is empty and fallen into disrepair. Viola is no longer well enough to live on her own; she lives with Cha Cha and his wife in the suburbs.
The house, vividly described with Pepto Bismo pink bedroom walls, narrow stairs and large porch reflects the rise and fall of Detroit. Once alive with the large family’s comings and goings, its monetary worth is practically non-existent. The brothers and sisters, though, are mixed in their assessment of its sentimental value.
The Turner House
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
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.
Little, Brown Co., 2013