Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom

A patron described her love of an Amy Bloom story to me a few months back. While describing it, you could tell that the story had really meant something to her, that the language had sung. After that I decided to work though my silly aversion to short story collections and give Bloom a try. Now I'm a convert.

Bloom has a visceral style all her own. The title story is about a mother and her son who are spending time together before he gets a sex change operation to physically become a man. The mother recounts how her daughter always knew that she was given the wrong body. Her love of her son, her acceptance and support are heartbreaking. Another story that struck a chord with me was "Stars At Elbow and Foot" which is about a woman who had a stillborn child. It was difficult to read, because it brought me back to the moments after my son was born, when he was being intubated and we waited for his first cry. Bloom captures wonderfully the anger and heartbreak.

More Bloom for me soon!
Flower Children by Maxine Swann

Four children grow up wild and largely unsupervised in a 1960's hippie household. Their parents smoke pot, have skinny-dipping parties with their friends, and over-share about their lives (sex with lovers, bowel movements, etc.). Narrated alternately from the plural "we" and the first-person, the children grow older with each chapter, sharing their experiences of the world. My friend Linda said that what she liked about the book was that there was no judgment in the writing. The author did not set out to say "look how crazy these hippies are" (although I couldn't help but think that on occasion), she simply set out to describe and present.

Swann is an accomplished writer, to be sure, but like her debut novel, this one also felt lacking. It reminded me of Susan Minot's Monkeys, which I remember liking much better. I was predisposed to like this one as it had gotten such raves from Eliza Minot (and I loved her book The Brambles). Another case of high expectations and hype foiling my reading experience.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Richard Russo is becoming one of my favorite authors. He brings to his writing the kind of compassion and understanding for humanity that I have found in George Eliot, which can be a balm in the thick of the overly cynical, clever books that keep getting churned out to no end.

His latest is the perfect book for a reader who enjoys character. It's all about character development, and little else, honestly.

Lou Charles "Lucy" Lynch has lived his whole life in Thomaston, New York. All of his memories and his identity are tied up in that town. At 60, Lou, a man who lives and breathes in reminiscence, revisits his memories of the father he adored and who adored him, Big Lou, and his mother, a woman who tempers her husband's boundless optimism with a realist's edge. And then there's Bobby Marconi, the wild boy that Lucy looked up to, whose friendship he sought at every turn. And Sarah, the woman Lucy married. These three form a classic love triangle.

What "happens" in the book is much less important than the revelations that these characters make about themselves and each other. While it is a little long in the tooth, I never wavered as a reader. Russo creates characters that you want to know, that you don't mind spending a little extra time with. This is a writer that I will follow anywhere.