Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Chance: A Novel
The characters in this novel read like the characters in a Carl Hiaasen novel--larger than life, almost surreal, yet somehow believable. Dr. Chance is a psychotherapist who rarely meets with actual patients, making his living mostly by giving his opinions to trial lawyers on the mental state of clients. Somehow, his life becomes intertwined with a woman who supposes to have borderline personality disorder and is entangled with her violent ex-husband, who happens to be a homicide detective--as dirty a cop as they come. And then there's Big D, the shady antique furniture shop owner's assistant who speaks somewhat fondly of his military tours overseas and leans toward violent tendencies. Somehow, they all end up entangled in a violent, confusing wake set in the foggy city of San Francisco, while Dr. Chance tries to sort out what is real and what is the product of a disturbed mind.
This was not a simple read. In fact, I was super tired when I was reading it and that didn't work because I really needed to focus, so it took me awhile. But I enjoyed it. I had to re-read parts of it because it's not the type of gritty novel that you just breeze through at the beach, but the complexities and layers make it a worthwhile read.

The Wives of Los Alamos: A Novel
I think this is a novel people are either going to love or hate. I loved it. To begin with, it has a unique prose: first person plural. The wives speak collectively as a group… everything is "we." I loved this style. Second of all, if you're looking for an accurate entirely put together history of Los Alamos and the building of the atom bomb, it won't be in this book. This isn't the story the book is seeking to tell, and I don't know why one would imagine so (yet, from some of the Amazon reviews, it seemed people did). What the writer was going for, at least in my perspective, was the idea that if you were the wife of a man sent to Los Alamos, you HAD to rely on the collective we. You didn't know what your husband was doing. Your parents couldn't visit you. You couldn't even tell them where you were. If you had college age or older children, they couldn't visit you, either. If your children graduated high school while you were at Los Alamos and they left, they were NOT allowed to return. Imagine those guidelines. Now imagine trying to do that alone. I would imagine that save for very few women, none of them could. So it became the collective we, the few who were in this together, doing what they could to get through their time at Los Alamos. When I first began reading, I kept waiting for separate voices to break off, as specific characters were mentioned, but in the end, I think it would've done this novel disservice. The wives were a collective force and their story needed to be told collectively.

Kindred (Bluestreak)
I've never read anything by Octavia Butler and that is apparently a great overlook on my part. I found out about this book through an article that talked about the adult books that pair up with great childhood books. This book was paired up with The Devil's Arithmetic, which I just finished teaching. Like Hannah in The Devil's Arithmetic, Dana in Kindred goes back in time to a time period in which her ancestors suffered greatly: the antebellum South. Like Dana, Hannah is sent back for a reason, though their reasons are different. Unlike Hannah, Dana can slip in between the past and the present, making her position even more precarious. Although this is an adult novel, it was written at a level that could easily be read by teenagers, and I would definitely recommend it. This was a beautiful book. As Dana--and sometimes her white husband Kevin--go back in time to the early 1800s, both learn how easy it is to assume the roles that one must accept to survive in the slave-driven South. Dana is beaten, whipped, almost raped, but her love for Kevin and her want to know and understand why she is being sent back to the past keeps her going, beyond the mental and physical scars she's accruing. This was not an easy book to read, but I didn't want it to end.

The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics)
I love Shirley Jackson but realized that I've only read her short stories ("The Lottery" and "The Possibility of Evil" being my favorites), so I decided to read this one--knowing that it would probably terrify me. And no, I've never seen the movie and won't. I don't do scary movies. At its surface, Hill House is not that scary, but after putting it down and really thinking it over, it's pretty terrifying. Dr. Montague, a psychiatrist, puts together a team to stay in the haunted Hill House. He chooses Eleanor, who at the age of twelve witnessed stones raining down on her house for three days, stopping only when she was removed from the house. Theodora who seems to have some telekinesis power. And Luke, who stands to inherit Hill House. The story is mostly narrated by Eleanor, who seems to be haunted inwardly by her own fears and her own lies that she tells to the others at Hill House, but outwardly the house is haunted by banging on the walls, messages in chalks, and clothes soaked in blood (or is it red paint?). At no time does a ghost ever appear, but somehow, the story is all the more scary for that. I was left at the end wondering, as Jackson does so well, what was real and what was false in the story. Was Eleanor a reliable narrator? Was Hill House haunted? This is one I can't get out of my head.

Before My Eyes
This book… wow. It was not a happy read, but it was a good read. Told from three different perspectives: Max, the son of a senator running for re-election who is ousted by his friends and spends the summer working at the Snack Shack at the beach, along with Barkley, a brooding boy who was expelled from community college and spends his days not showering and playing video games, and finally, Claire, who takes care of her six-year-old sister Izzy while her mother is recuperating from a massive stroke. No kid in this story has a good home life, least of all Barkley, who is--I am sure not unintentionally--somewhat similar to Adam Lanza. Over the course of a Labor Day weekend, Barkley, Claire and Max's lives all collide, in a violent, brutal manner that slowly built through the course of the book. This was one of those books where dual narrators really, really works. I left it feeling troubled, but I enjoyed the story.

This is by the same author as Before My Eyes. 17 year old Skylar's boyfriend, Jimmy, and her best friend Sean are in jail, following a physical altercation with two boys from El Salvador. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this is not the first time the two boys have done something like this, led by Jimmy, called "beaner bashing." This time, though, it just got out of hand--or so the boys tell themselves. Told from several different perspectives: sometimes Skylar, Sean, Jimmy, Skylar's best friend, their parents, the principal, the boys' Hispanic baseball coach, this story really reached down deep. Skylar finds herself questioning what is real, what gives a person value and what side of right to stand on.

What are you reading?


Barb Ruess said...

Haunting at Hill House gets creepier the more I think about it. It is the perfect example of the power of an unreliable narrator.

I just finished The Wind Is Not A River... love. And am starting My Notorious Life.

Theresa Mahoney said...

Good Gravy Lady! You have been on a roll this week. I didn't pick up any novels at the library this week, but opted to walk out with a billion craft books. I need to start preparing for summer boredom buster activities for the kids. Even though this bs snow is still hammering us, summer will eventually get here and I need to be prepared to keep the kids occupied!

InTheFastLane said...

Wow! And I was impressed that I read two books this week!

Reconstructing Amelia - Liked it more than I thought I would, although the plot was a little unbelievable. And I was left feeling that as much as parents sometimes feel left out of the secret lives of teenagers, that is for a reason. And they need their space. But at the same time, some secrets are just too much and too dangerous.

This Dark Road to Mercy - Told from three points of view, it is a sort of mystery, crime story, but ultimately the story of two little girls who have gotten the raw end of life and their father who hasn't been in their life and hasn't made the best choices either, but really does want to do right by these girls.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I just finished The Idea of Him which sucked and now I am going to start Return to Sullivan's Island by Dorothea Benton Frank.

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Brooke said...

I need to check out the Hiaasen-esque book. love his style.