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Archive for the ‘Riverhead Books’ Tag

Revelations of a Priest’s Daughter   Leave a comment

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There is something both intriguing and off-putting about the title of Patricia Lockwood’s memoir, Priestdaddy. Greg, her father was, indeed, a priest in the Catholic Church. This was possible, she writes because her father “snuck past” the rule prohibiting priests from marrying. The real loophole is that a married minister of another denomination can, apparently, seek dispensation from Rome to be ordained as a priest. Pope Benedict XVI approved the request. Father Greg didn’t have to annul his marriage, nor abandon his children. Although, in many ways, as evident in the family stories Lockwood shares, he did.

The author’s tone is humorous and irony is evident throughout. Yet, there is too much cleverness. Her dad’s faith is never depicted as having much depth. Perhaps it is her effort to reveal him as an ordinary, not a holy, man. Even in that regard, he is far from conventional. After all, he lounges around in his boxers and has an extensive (and expensive) guitar collection. In fact he purchases a rare guitar soon after telling his daughter there aren’t funds for her college education.

Despite the title, Lockwood doesn’t focus her attention entirely on her dad. Her mother, her sisters, nieces, nephews and her husband also have prominent places in the narrative. So does a seminarian, who isn’t married and likely does not have kids.

Lockwood is, in fact, a published, award-winning poet. The images and emotions she conveys are vivid, but her often self-mocking tone and airing family laundry quickly wear thin.

Priestdaddy
Three Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2017
333 pages

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Posted October 21, 2018 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

Tagged with , , , , ,

Refugees, love and peace   Leave a comment

Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is part parable and entirely too timely.

Hamid’s story follows Nadia and Saeed who meet in an unnamed war-torn country. She is distanced from her family because of her strong desire for personal independence. He lives with his devoutly religious parents. The two fall in love as the world around them crumbles.

Through a series of doors, which conjure images of Alice in Wonderland or Platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter’s world, the couple escape from one refugee situation to another. The settings include the Greek island of Mykonos, London and Marin, California. They are different and in many ways similar to one another. Of course, the common factor is the large number seeking refuge from countries all over the world.

Although, the narrative is important because the question of immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers is something facing most Western countries, it is also heavy-handed. There is no doubt this is a serious issue with no easy steps toward resolution. Ultimately, the story is less about Saeed and Nadia. They’re simply the vehicle making the journey but the matter of what to do with the influx serves as the passenger.

Hamid’s writing is stark, yet evocative. There is a sense of fear and relief from one passage to the next. There’s a feeling of hope, initially for Saeed and Nadia, but eventually for something larger. Yet, something in the telling of the story falls short. Perhaps, because it’s somewhat fantastical, but mainly because the characters never truly come to life.

Exit West
3 Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2019
231 pages

Disconnecting the Dots   Leave a comment

 

A Separation

The narrator in Katie Kitamura’s novel, A Separation, is never named. Nonetheless, we learn other, more intimate details about her.

The title has multiple implications beginning with the fact that the narrator is separated from her husband, Christopher, and has been for six months. The couple has not announced the split; in fact, the pair has promised vowed to continue waiting before going public with the news.

Kitamura is terse in her descriptions. Yet her characters are well-developed, even the ones we never actually meet. Christopher, for example, has gone missing in Greece. Still, he is seen through the narrator’s eyes and experience.

In London, his mother Isabella, who is unaware of any change in Christopher’s marital status, contacts the narrator since messages to her son have gone unheeded. In just a few sentences, Kitamura deftly portrays the uncomfortable relationship the women share. Isabella is incredulous that her daughter-in-law has no idea of Christopher’s exact whereabouts. Both know he is in Greece and the resort hotel he checked into, but nothing beyond that.

What ensues is the narrator’s trip to Greece in search of the man from whom she is no longer in love. He’s not been seen at the hotel for several days, although all of his belongings are still there.  She’s curious,  but her heart isn’t in it. Her voice is stoic, matter-of-fact, with occasional flashes of anger or disappointment as she discovers new secrets and is placed in the awkward position of being presumed a devoted wife.

A Separation
(Barely) Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2017
229 pages

Love and Vengeance   Leave a comment

My favorite passage by Lauren Groff is where she signed my copy of Fates and Furies at the request of my son Tim’s girlfriend. Groff wrote: “Robin – Mariana is the most beautiful and wonderful, isn’t she!” The answer is yes. It is such a stark contrast to the tenor of the novel; I’m led to believe that Groff doesn’t have it out for everyone, which is a comforting thought.

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The novel is divided into two categories: fates and furies. The first section begins with newlyweds, Lotto and Mathilde, consummating their marriage on the beach, but he is the focus here. It’s all about him: childhood, banishment from his family to boarding school, college days and efforts to succeed as an actor are portrayed in detail; but not too much as to squelch the imagination. Little is revealed about Mathilde – until furies, which is aptly named.

In an effort to avoid the need for spoiler alerts, suffice it to say there are elements of Gone Girl meets Claire Underwood.

Groff’s writing is clever, humorous and rich in detail. The references to various plays and Greek tragedies, however, are distracting metaphors.

Full of unlikable characters, the book, nonetheless, was appealing. Lotto’s a selfish man who exudes charm. Real charm, not something he turns on and off at will. Mathilde is mysterious and bitchy. They are flawed thanks to the characteristics Groff imbues in them. Neither is someone I want to meet, but I was more than content to know them through the distance of fiction.

Fates and Furies
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2015
391 pages

Rail Sights   4 comments


There’s a lot of hype surrounding Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and I’m not quite sure why. Words like thrilling and unpredictable are used to describe it. I thought it was just OK; I finished it, but its grip was weak. Perhaps if I had cared more about the characters I’d have been more invested in the outcome.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Rachel, Megan and Anna. Rachel’s is the primary version conveyed. This title character’s life is dismal. She’s recently divorced and is an alcoholic. It’s no surprise these elements lead to a series of bad choices. It’s from Rachel’s vantage point on the daily commuter train that she imagines an idyllic life for the couple she names Jess and Jason. Then she sees something, or thinks she does.

Interspersed with Rachel’s account, thrown into question because of her drinking and poor emotional state, is Megan’s. She’s a tougher personality and cheats on her husband, Scott. When she goes missing, he’s the prime suspect.

Anna is married to Tom, who just happens to be Rachel’s ex. Although Anna is now living the life Rachel once had, she’s disdainful of Rachel. Anna and Tom live a few doors down from Megan and Scott.

The voices of the three women are distinct only by the experiences they share. Megan is definitely the most mysterious. Rachel’s self-pity and lack of self-control, while vividly described, make her unreliable and pathetic. In this regard, Hawkins’s writing is successful.

The Girl on the Train
Three Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2015
323 pages

 

More Than A Day on the Beach   Leave a comment

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The Vacationers by Emma Straub is as bright as a day on the beach and also as gritty. Full of poignant, laugh-out-loud descriptions, Straub masterfully portrays a family in crisis.

Jim and Franny Post, with their teenage-daughter, thirty-something son, his girlfriend, and Franny’s best friend Charles and his partner are slated to spend two weeks together in a large rented house on Mallorca. Each chapter represents one day of the vacation and every day includes various perspectives provided by the connected tourists. These are separate views more than distinct voices. Each character hopes to project, or better yet protect, a certain image, because everyone has a secret – some known to a few, others hidden.

The Posts, married 35 years, are financially well-off, privileged. Their daughter, Sylvia, is set to start at Brown in the fall, and the trip was planned as a family celebration. However, in the interim from when the trip was conceived and actually occurs, Jim has had an affair and lost his job. Some know this; others don’t.

As the emotional baggage is shuffled around, the Posts direct their own disappointments to Carmen, the girlfriend. She’s perhaps the most honest among the group, but she is also subjected to the family’s rude behavior. Only Sylvia demonstrates fleeting moments of kindness and understanding.

Yet, the novel isn’t about being mean to others. It’s focused on what people do to live with themselves, even when they’re basking in the sun and have been out too long without sunscreen.

The Vacationers
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2014
292 pages

Parenting Gone Awry   Leave a comment

Imperfect Birds

Anne Lamott’s Imperfect Birds is either a wake-up call or a near-miss experience for parents and their kids. Either way, it’s a disheartening look at teenagers, parenting, and community. The first paragraph sets the tone: “… a teenager died nearly every year after a party and kids routinely went from high school to psych wards, halfway houses, or jail.” The first thing I’d do is move, no matter how idyllic the little town, where the story’s set, with its appealing proximity to San Francisco.

Lamott writes with purpose, honesty and humor. Yet her characters are not likeable. Rosie is an entitled high school senior, facing real and difficult situations where peer pressure, availability of drugs, and opportunities for sex are abundant. Elizabeth and James, Rosie’s mother and stepfather, know these dangers exist, but are reluctant to parent. Why should they? Rosie’s a good student and involved at church. Plus, as a consummate liar she successfully overrides her parents’ arbitrary concerns.

It doesn’t help that Elizabeth is a recovering alcoholic – except it should. She shouldn’t be such an easy mark. James doesn’t fare much better, although he tries. Elizabeth’s fault is her desire to be Rosie’s friend first and parent second. The book does lend itself to a discussion about parenting.

If Lamott’s goal is to show how blind loving parents can be, she’s successful. When Elizabeth and James finally see the light, it’s not through their personal epiphanies, rather from Rosie forgetting to keep the wool over her own eyes.

Imperfect Birds
Three Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2010
317 pages