Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Long Man - Amy Greene

This book was a joy to read.  It's the story of about 4 days in the 1930's in the Appalachians just before a town is wiped out by the lake building up behind a dam built by the Tennessee Valley Authority.  A young mother refuses the TVA's offer to leave her farm, where her parents grew up and she and her daughter live with her husband.  He's ready to move on and they are at odds over leaving, when their daughter, only 5, disappears during a rainstorm.

The characters are warm and complex, brave and stubborn.  The descriptions of the mountains and the small town, their fields and homes and trees and meadows take you to those places, make you smell the green and feel the breeze.

The title refers to the Indian name for the Tennessee River, called Long Man because its head was in the mountains and its legs stretched out into the valley.  It's about loss and leaving and in the end redemption.

Published: 2014  Read: June 2014  Genre: Fiction

The Names - A Memoir - N. Scott Momaday

This was a beautiful story of family and a culture.  The book is recognized as the beginning of Native American writing, bringing their way of life and viewpoint on it to the greater public.  I was struck by the information he had on many generations of his family, back to the early 1800's.  The realtionship with the wide open land of his home and the rituals of their daily lives.  

Published:  1976  Read: June 2014  Genre: Memoir, Auto-biography

Kinder than Solitude - Yiyun Li

Have you ever read something and thought how beautiful the words were put together?  This story has many such phrases.  I marked over 20 passages yet when I finished I hadn't liked the characters.  They were resigned to a blank life because of the poisoning, accidental or deliberate, of a friend in their youth.  Their dreariness was wearing. The writing was wonderful but the story was lacking.

I found some notes I made of phrases that I thought were beautiful and wanted to record them:

"...her unforgiving sharpness, what a waste that edge had rusted..."

[referring to girlfriend and mother] "...one was too transient in his life and the other too permanent."

"...together they [a group of women] seemed to negate one anothers' individual existence by their predictability."

"This freedom to act and the freedom to judge, undermining each other, amount to little more than a well-stocked source of anxiety."

"The crowdedness of family life and the faithfulness of solitude - both brave decisions or both decisions of cowardice...make little dent, in the end, on the profound and perplexing loneliness in which every human heart dwells."

"...wondered if her chief merit was her willingness to serve as a human receptacle for details".

Published:  2014  Read: June 2014  Genre: Fiction

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Carthage - Joyce Carol Oates

At some time in the distant past I read a book by this prolific author and decided I didn't like her writing.
This was on the "Best Picks" list at the library so I decided to give her a try.

Carthage is a small town in upstate New York where Cressida (I know, weird name, I'm still not sure how to pronounce it) is the younger of two daughters of a successful business man and past town mayor.  She's different; difficult, doesn't meet your eye when talking, bright, sarcastic and brittle.  Her older sister Juliet is sweet and pretty and engaged to a poor, but handsome football hero, Brett.  He decides to join the army after 9/11 and comes back from Iraq with a damaged and scarred face and traumatic memories.  When the engagement is called off and Cressida goes missing, Brett is accused of her murder.

The story tells how the tragedy of one person can ripple in the lives of others.  Brett's inability to cope with civilian life, Juliet's heartbreak over losing her fiance and her sister, the parents altered relationship when their daughter is not found. There's parallels to Shakespeare's King Lear.
(spoiler alert)
The twist, about two-thirds through the book, is that Cressida didn't die.  She was found by a kind hearted blustering woman who thinks she been abused and spirits her off to Florida.  Years pass before Cressida is prodded by circumstances to return to her hometown and the broken lives she caused.

I think the ending reminded me why I didn't like whatever early book I'd read by Oates.  I felt the story was left dangling, issues not answered and left to the reader's imagination.  Reviewers have said it portrays the burden of guilt and loss and the impact of making judgments.  That it does well and like real life, those emotions are never fully resolved.

Published:  2014  Read: June 2014  Genre: Fiction

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Scent of Pine - Lara Vapnyar

Sometimes I pick up books on the new release shelf at the library.   This one was short and a new author and a glowing book jacket write-up...and a disappointment.

It's the story of a 30 something Mom and wife disenchanted with her marriage who mets a similiarly estranged man at a conference and they go off to his cabin in the woods for a couple days.  The author's Russian-born so the story revolves around the Mom sharing the story of her stint as a camp counselor in the Siberian woods.  Yawn.  There's a twist at the end which isn't worth wading through the story and there's no resolution to the relationships.

Sometimes I just pick a stinker.

Published:  2014   Read: May 2014  Genre: Fiction