Saturday, August 25, 2007

But Enough About Me: A Jersey Girl's Unlikely Adventures Among the Absurdly Famous by Jancee Dunn

If you are looking for a delightful memoir that isn't a dysfunctional family pity party, then this is the one for you. Jancee Dunn, one-time MTV VJ and Rolling Stone reporter, writes affectionately about growing up with two younger sisters in New Jersey in the 1960's and 70's. This memoir is tender and funny and jam-packed with fantastic period detail. While she does dish on her celebrity interviews, it is her writing about family and relationships that makes this a standout.

PS: This is the book that my baby was trying to pounce on in the photograph a little further below!

Tomorrow by Graham Swift

Waterland is one of my all-time favorite novels. And while I have enjoyed other novels by Swift (Ever After was another good one), none have quite measured up to Waterland.

I had high hopes for this one. It reminded me of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, which in retrospect I liked more than I initially thought (McEwan has a sneaky way of writing in a maddeningly evocative way). This, too, feels like a novella. One night in 1995, Paula Hook stays awake, her husband Mike sleeping beside her, braced for the following morning when they will be sharing a secret they have been keeping for years with their 16-year-old twins, Kate and Nick.

Paula begins the story about how she and Mike met, how they have loved one another deeply for 25 years (echoes of McEwan again, who wrote movingly about a loving marriage in Saturday--a novel whose love story some critics thought too idealized, but I found a welcome reprieve from most predictably affair-ridden contemporary fiction). The suspense builds, but I felt a bit let down until the last few pages. There is a nice little twist there that Paula'd been hinting at all along.

But I am sad to report that it just didn't have the resonance of a McEwan novel for me. It was a pleasant, if forgettable read.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Death in the Family by James Agee

What a book. I had heard that this was an amazing novel from many dear friends and were they ever right. The writing is impeccable, clean, perfect. Agee evokes the feeling of childhood so well that it just feels real. I was reminded of William Maxwell's They Came Like Swallows (which is also largely autobiographical and about the death of a parent) with its similar themes of childhood, memory, family and loss. And it approaches these themes with a sentimentality that is rarely replicated in contemporary fiction, a reminiscence free of treacle or melodrama. Agee is pitch perfect in every scene, evoking emotion in what is said and unsaid, in what is thought and remembered.

Posthumously published after Agee's death, there are pieces of writing that were folded in after the fact. It certainly hangs together just fine, but I couldn't help but wonder if Agee would have sequenced it differently, or added anything. Like Maxwell's book, this was luminous and heartbreaking. When I turned the last page, I felt a pang of regret that it was finished and that I could not read more about this family.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Update: I will be back in action very soon.

In the meantime, here's a lovely photo of me and my son Blix, who is already quite taken with books.