Archive for the ‘Henry Holt and Co.’ Tag

Expectations and Perceptions   Leave a comment

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In Trust Exercise Susan Choi raises the question of perspective; everyone has their own version of a situation. Here it isn’t immediately clear whose is who’s.

David and Sarah are students at an elite performing arts high school; they have a summer romance between their freshman and sophomore years. They, their peers and Mr. Kingsley, the theatre instructor, do little to acknowledge the relationship once school resumes in the fall.

The novel’s three sections are all entitled “Trust Exercise.” This is clever since it not only relates to the classroom experiences designed by Mr. Kingsley to teach the students to depend on each other; it also admonishes the reader to have faith in the narrative.

The first section focuses on David and Sarah’s relationship with supporting roles provided by their classmates, teacher, parents and exchange students from England.

The second “Trust Exercise” re-introduces Karen, a character previously, albeit briefly, mentioned. The switch takes some adjustment since the storyline is now more hers than Sarah or David’s. It’s as if the roles have been switched from supporting player to star. Additionally, a switch from the omniscient narrator to Karen’s voice regularly occurs.

Asides to the reader create a theatrical ambiance, as if to remind of the ties to the performing arts. Drama, in all its forms –onstage and beyond the proscenium arch – is ever present. 

Choi has crafted believable characters in credible settings with the challenge of considering different points of view regarding relationships, commitment and loyalty.

Trust Exercise

Four bookmarks

Henry Holt and Co., 2019

257 pages

Who Walks Who?   3 comments

Dog NationI confess, my dog has me tied around his leash – literally and metaphorically. I love my dog; my kids love my dog; the jury’s still out on my husband, though.

I’ve had three dogs in my adult life. All hold special places in my heart, but with Jackson, my German Short Haired Pointer mix from the humane society, I feel something different. I think I know more now, and I should. Afterall, I’ve spent more time, more money, more efforts to train him and more affection on him than I like to admit. As Michael Schaffer points out in his book, One Nation Under Dog, I am not alone.

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Schaffer examines the emotions and economics of dog ownership in the U.S. The two factors are closely aligned but it’s clear Schaffer puts emotions in the driver’s seat, why else would we dog owners be part of a $43 billion industry that continues to grow, and in some ways, has evolved as somewhat bizarre?

In a conversational tone, Schaffer recounts the many ways humans and their pets (primarily dogs and cats to a lesser extent) cohabit. He shares his personal experience as a dog owner, provides anecdotes from other owners, and interviews professionals: vets, trainers, dog walkers, breeders. He addresses everything from food to pet accessories. His research also includes legal concerns, dog parties, and dealing with the loss of a pet. The details eventually begin to bog down. Fortunately, Schaffer’s point of view includes a sense of humor and irony.

One Nation Under Dog
Adventures in the New World of Prozac-Popping Puppies, Dog Park Politics, and Organic Pet Food
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Henry Holt and Co., 2009
288 pages, including notes

Hell In Helsinki   Leave a comment

healer

I learned about The Healer from a link sent by a friend featuring book doppelgangers. Antti Tuomainen’s novel was identified as the literary twin to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. That’s all I needed to know – or so I thought. Unfortunately, it’s more a fraternal connection than identical.

Yes, it’s set in Scandinavia but from there the similarities are tenuous at best. The Healer is compact but can’t quite settle on a specific genre. It’s crime fiction, without the thrill of trying to determine whodunit before it’s spelled out. It’s an apocalyptic tale, without an explanation of what actually took place – except for references to global warming. It’s a love story, told only from Tapani the narrator’s perspective, which is unreliable.

Tapani recounts his frantic search for his missing wife, Johanna, a journalist working on a story about a series of murders. The couple has never gone more than a few hours without communicating with one another. Her editor is disinterested, the police are over-worked, and friends are not forthcoming. Tapani is on his own left to retrace his wife’s steps. Along the way he is befriended by a helpful yet mysterious cab driver. And, Tapani uncovers a few secrets from Johanna’s past, which make him question how well he truly knows her.

Tuomaninen’s description of Helsinki is stark; it’s a city of constant rain, poverty and crowds. None of which, like Tapani’s search for Johanna, is very engaging. Nonetheless, I found myself thinking about the ending long after finishing this terse novel.

The Healer
Three Bookmarks
Henry Holt and Co., 2010
211 pages

Not How A Book Should Be   3 comments

How Should

Any number of factors figure into how I, or anyone for that matter, respond to a book. Experience, age, education, even mood, come quickly to mind. I was struck by these considerations as I read Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? because the novel makes me feel that whatever I bring to this particular reading experience is a negative: my experience, my age, and yes, my mood.

Sheila is the narrator, a young writer in Toronto struggling to finish a long-overdue play; she is easily distracted by life, specifically people in her life. She is so caught up with what others think and do that she lacks focus. Sheila stretched my patience as a reader. She has a wonderful friend in Margaux, an unhealthy but lively sex relationship with a man named Israel, and an undiguised inability to recognize or accept what is good and positive in her life. She is not quite a loser, but teeters awfully close to becoming one.

Perhaps the issue lies in Heti’s attempt to fictionalize her autobiography, for she is clearly the narrator and there is little reason not to believe that the other characters comprise her circle of friends. Frankly, Sheila is not that interesting. That honor goes to Margaux who comes across as honest, talented and a good friend, but it’s hard to explain what she sees in Sheila. Israel is depicted as a depraved man who uses Sheila to fulfill his debased sexual fantasies. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to see he’s attracted to her.

How Should A Person Be?
Two-and-a-half Bookmarks
Henry Holt and Co., 2012
306 pages

Awkward and Awesome   Leave a comment

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World is the cumbersome and complex title of Sabina Berman’s debut novel. Yet, it turns out to be just about perfect. The me refers to the first word narrator Karen Nieto learns. She is 10 years old when her mother dies and her aunt moves into the family home in Mazatlan. It’s her aunt who teaches her to speak, loves her and later defers to her in business matters. Her aunt also identifies Karen as an autistic savant.

The family operates a tuna fishery, which has a profound impact on Karen’s education and sensitivities. If this is beginning to sound vaguely similar to Temple Grandlin’s story, it should. It’s about overcoming perceptions and obstacles. It’s about the ability to be so focused, to the exclusion of everything else including social norms, that success can’t help but surface. Karen evolves from a gangly girl with matted hair to a gangly woman with a buzzcut; along the way she develops a humane fishery.

The story spans 32 years including Karen’s schooling, business developments and interactions with others. After being tested, and self-identifying as “Different Abilities,” Karen learns “… in 90% of standard measures of intelligence (she is) somewhere between imbecile and idiot, but in 10% (she is) on top of the world.”

The most poignant moments are those between Karen and her aunt. Although Karen goes on to do great things, the most moving and inspirational are the leaps she makes in this relationship.

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World
Four Bookmarks
Henry Holt and Co., 2012
242 pages