Friday, August 26, 2016

Aberration of Starlight - Gilbert Sorentino

This was a difficult book to read, I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the reviews ahead of time.  It's the story of four people, a young boy, Billy; his mother Marie; her father John and a travelling salesman Tom Thebus.  They are visiting the Jersey shore for the summer, staying in a boarding house.  Their experience of the same events is told from each of their points of view, using different narrative styles--dialogue question and answer, internal reflection, letter writing.

It's a clever way of telling a story but  I didn't realize it was the *same* story until the third time it was told by a different person. I was confused with the timeframes and further distracted by the different writing styles.  The book makes an interesting commentary on how we each experience reality and how our individual pasts color those perceptions.

There was really no end to the story, though it did progress from the youngest person's view (Billy's) through to the oldest (his grandfather, John).  I'd recommend it as an example of different writing technique but it's not a pleasurable read.

Published: 1980  Read: August 2016  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 1-56478-439-8

Taft - Ann Patchett

I've gone back and forth on this author.  I've read several of her works (The Magician's Assistant, Bel Canto, Truth & Beauty).  This was written back in 1994 and is not one of her best.

A sister and brother come to New Orleans from Tennessee looking for work at a bar run by John Nickel, a former drummer whose girlfriend Mario has left him with their son in tow.  The girl, Faye Taft, barely 18, and brother, Carl, are trying to put their life together after their father died and their mother sinks into grief.  The story revolves around John's increasing involvement in their predicament while he deals with his own sadness of his son being away.

I didn't connect to any of the characters as the story jumped from one to another as John tells of their relationships with flashbacks to the children's life with their father and his to his early days with Marion and their son.

It was a sad, inevitable tail spin into near tragedy without much point.  Not recommended.

Published:  1994 Read:  August 2016   Genre: Fiction

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Music Lesson - Katharine Weber

Part mystery, part self-reflection, this is the tale of an art historian who is numbed to life after the loss of her daughter when she has a visit from a long-lost cousin from Ireland.  He's charming and intoxicating and she has fallen madly in love when he asks her to help his cause by stealing a famous Vermeer painting.  Patricia is agreeable as she too sympathizes with the Irish desire for independence. She's vulnerable and malleable and finds herself deeply involved in the theft.

Some quotes:
"Life seems sometimes like nothing more than a series of losses, from beginning to end.  That's a given.  How you respond to these losses, what you make of what's left, that's the part you have to make up as you go."
"Even if life has to be a seris of losses, I still choose life".
The story is not quite plausible but the downward spiral into dark places is uncomfortably reminiscent of those times we chose the wrong path.

Since its's a mystery there's a nice twist at the end, a satisfying wrap up.

Published: 1999 Read: August 2016  Genre: Fiction/mystery

p.s.  Once again, I found bookmarks and bits of ephemera in a book.  The first bit I noticed in this one was a news clipping with a brief summary of the book, maybe from The New York Times?  There was a handwritten note on the side of the clippng in pencil "Huntings Badger 25" and a second line underneath "1-16-2000".  Nice script, presumably a female's, tucked before the back cover.  About halfway through the book was a torn white piece of paper, ragged on one edge and glue residue on the narrow side, most likely from a discarded envelope.  Someday I need to write a story about the bookmarks found in books.


Altar Music - Christine Lore Weber

This is the story of several women's lives shaped by their faith and its conventions.  There is a mother who disregards the warnings of her priest and pays the consequence in her marriage.  Her daughter lives in the shadow of her disappointment and her granddaughter takes their resignation with their circumstances as a calling to be a nun.  I found the characters difficult to follow and their limited choices within their Catholic faith frightening.  It was a moving story of the individual's struggle to have a life within the boundaries of their society and the impact of their sacrifices on themselves and those around them.

Published: 2000  Read: August 2016  Genre: Fiction

The House at the End of Hope Street - Menna Van Praag

This is a sweet story of a shy, bookish college girl finding the confidence to be who she wants to be.  Alba has had a bad experience with her advisor resulting in her leaving school and arriving at the house at 11 Hope Street in Cambridge, not knowing what to do with her life.  The caretaker, Peggy, welcomes her to stay for 99 days to figure things out.  The house has been a sanctuary for women who have lost hope and need a place to find it again.  The walls of the house are filled with pictures of previous guests, famous authors, poets and suffragettes.  The house and the pictures communicate with Alba and a couple of other down on their luck women, Greer and Carmen, goading them into pursuing their dreams.

I enjoyed the literary references throughout the book and there's even a recap of the famous women included at the end of the paperback.

Some quotes:

"We all have to make choices,  Since we can't have two lives, only one.  But, most of those choices we make fresh every day, not just once.  So, if you regret something, if you want to change your mind, you usually can."
"Some people don't have what it takes to be happy.  It's not an easy thing, you know.  It takes great courage and determination, to keep locking for light in all the darkness of life."
An entertaining summer read.

Published: 2013  Read:  August 2016  Genre: Fantasy fiction

ISBN: 978-0-14-312494-8

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Amateur Emigrant - Robert Louis Stevenson

This is an old book written after the author had travelled from Scotland to America in the "economy" berths of the ship called the second cabin to observe and experience the journey among the working class people.

Robert Louis Stevenson was 28 years old on this journey and had yet to write his books (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Strange Case of  Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) or poems (A Child's Garden of Verses).  It is the first part of a trilogy on his travels to and through America.

The book offers a glimpse of what it was like to travel to America in the late 19th century and the everyday people that made the journey.  One passage caught my attention.  The author is reflecting on the workmen he met while aboard:

Culture is not measured by the greatness of the field which is covered by our knowledge, but by the nicety with which we can perceive relations in that field... whether great or small.  Workmen...did not perceive relations, but leaped to a so-called cause, and thought the problem settled.  Thus the cause of everything in England was the form of government, and the cure for all evils was, by consequence, a revolution.  
...the true reasoning of their souls ran thus--I have not got on; I ought to have got on; if there was a revolution I should get on.  How?  They had no idea.  Why? Because --because--well, look at America!
To be politically blind is no distinction; we are all so, if you come to that.  At bottom, as it seems to me, there is but one question in modern home politics, though it appears in many shapes, and that is the question of money; and but one political remedy, that the people should grow wiser and better. 
My workmen fellow-passengers were as impatient and dull of hearing on the second of these points as any member of Parliament...  They would not hear of improvement on their part, but wished the world made over again in a crack, so that they might remain improvident and idle and debauched, and yet enjoy the comfort and respect that should accompany the opposite virtues; and it was in this expectation...that many of them were now on their way to America. 

The book was not published until after Stevenson's death at 44 and was thought shocking by his family that he would travel in this fashion and that certain passages were too graphic.

For a genealogical twist, I looked up and recorded Stevenson and his parents in Ancestry so I could search for the record of his trip and I found it, though the recorder wrote his name as "Stephenson" on the manifest when he arrived in America.

Published: 1895 (this edition, 1998)  Read: July 2016  Genre: Memoir

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Leopard - Giuseppe di Lampedusa

This book was another RV park swap.  It had fantastic reviews on the back cover, claiming it to be a masterwork and when I researched it, I discovered it is considered one of the 10 best historical novels of all time.

It's the story of a Prince of Sicily in the 1860's when Italy evolved from several separate states to a united country.  I was ignorant of the political entities and geographic boundaries in Italy and was suprised to learn that while in the U.S., Lincoln was being elected and South Carolina seceded, Italy had not united into a single country.

The Prince, known as the Leopard for the family crest, is the patriarch who foresees that the forces of unification will change their way of life forever.  The history of the struggles and eventual triumph of the revolt unfolds through his eyes as he observes the impact on the future generations.

The book was published posthumously, the author having been a real, and one of the last, Princes of Sicily.  It was based on the life of his grandfather and created quite a stir at the time because of its holding up of the aristocracy's decadence and the expression of regret for the unification.  It's difficult to appreciate the impact it had at the time.

I found it to be a challenge to read and a fantastic lesson on the history of Italy in the 19th century.

Published:  1960 (in English, original Italian in 1958)  Read: July 2016  Genre: Historical fiction

The Black Veil - Rick Moody

I picked this up in an RV park on our travels to Alaska this summer, swapping it for one that I had already read.

The author tells his life story in a stream of conscious fashion with long rambling sentences with many, multiple phrases.  He weaves in the writing of Nathaniel Hawthorne's (The Scarlett Letter, Twice Told Tales) and others, drawing parallels to his family from Hawthorne's short story, The Minister's Black Veil."  It's a convoluted means of tracing family tendencies through generations in an attempt to explain his own life and writing.  It could be considered very pretentious or strikingly original.  Either way, I wouldn't read more of his writing.

Published: 2002  Read: June 2016  Genre: memoir, auto-biography