Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

I keep thinking about this book. It's coming out in June and I want more people to read it so I can check and see if it's really as good as I think. Bechdel even started appearing in some dreams of mine. Very weird.

It's just so moving and powerful and packed full of intriguing questions and gaps. I want to do this with a book group.

Okay, I will move on. Really, I will.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I finally read it. I know it’s completely uncool that it took me so long. I have to say I really enjoyed it. Even as the plot and the day got increasingly more improbable, I was in it hook, line and sinker. And as an ex-Catholic and feminist, I found the questions and concepts it plumbs very satisfying. I just wonder if its popularity at all means anyone else is questioning the patriarchy that is promulgated in our religions, politics and culture. But it’s dumb of me to think a pulp novel can change anyone’s mind about anything. I think Jon Stewart said it best: “Religion. It's given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.”
Willful Creatures: Stories by Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender is sometimes needlessly obtuse and long-winded with her fables, but when she gets it right she really gets it right. Her best stories remind me of my good friend Sarah in Connecticut who has the most playful and artful way of talking sometimes—her sentences are sprinkled with nonsensical words, root vegetables, crazy brainfarts. My favorite story in this collection is about a wealthy woman who goes to a party intent on kissing three men: one with black hair, one with red hair, and a blond. It’s a little funny, a little strange, and all Bender. But I have to say I still like her novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own, better than her short story collections.
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

There is a reason that Picoult is a best-selling author: she’s really good. In this case, she takes a ripped-from-the-headlines type of plot-line and infuses it with warmth, dimension and surprising humanity. Anna’s older sister Kate has APL, an aggressive form of leukemia, and was conceived as a perfect genetic match so that she could “help” her sister when her immune system crashes. Anna loves her sister Kate and loves her parents, but at 13, after years of donating her blood, bone marrow and her chance at a normal life, and with the possibility of the donation of one of her kidneys, she decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation. Told from different perspectives, Picoult builds this story about a complex issue with true balance and depth. But I must warn you: don’t finish this book in a public place—I was sniveling and honking my nose like a big baby.
As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway

In what feels like a literary homage to the film “Donnie Darko,” this coming-of-age novel is sneaky, dark and just a little elusive. It’s got a great first line: “Anna Cayne had moved here in August, just before our sophomore year in high school, but by February she had, one by one, killed everyone in town.” Anna moves into town and starts writing obituaries for every single person. The narrator goes unnamed and is a self-described bland and ordinary teenager. But something in him is inexplicably drawn to the new girl in his small town, Anna (Anastasia), a blonde goth girl who’s book-smart, street-smart and an all-around enigma. Our narrator falls for Anna’s penchant for literary allusions, notes, letters, packages and mix cd’s that are puzzles in themselves, and her sheer delight for life’s mysteries. He and Anna create a secret code, much like Houdini and his wife did, and when Anna is done writing her last obituary, she disappears. I enjoyed this one for the little unresolved clues and puzzles and questions it leaves, but wanted more. One thing I can say: Galloway knows how to make an awesome mix-cd.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I haven’t read Ishiguro in quite a while (I read his first couple of novels), and while I had heard that his latest was about clones, I somehow didn’t expect to find a novel so reminiscent of Atwood’s speculative (let’s come out and say it: science fiction) work. Straight-forward in style, and narrated by Kathy H., a young woman with a penchant for picking apart past interactions and thoughts, it tracks the lives of three young people who meet in the swank English boarding school, Hailsham, in which they are raised. Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy are told that they are special by the “guardians” that look after the Hailsham students. They are told in insidious and subtle ways that they will become “donors” or “carers” someday, that they cannot have children, and that their greatest artworks will be taken away from them to a mysterious “Gallery.” (The art piece reminded me of Lois Duncan’s teen novel Down a Dark Hall, a spooky little book that I read over and over again in junior high.) While Kathy tells the story of her complicated friendship with Ruth and Tommy, and tries to piece together an understanding of who and what they are and will become, Ishiguro weaves a sense of growing foreboding and injustice. I don’t want to say too much about this book (although most probably already know what it is about), but I found this a well-told speculative work on what could be the near-future.