Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Beloved - 3M's Review

I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.

Very uncomfortable reading for me. Disturbing and (literally) haunting. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and written by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, Beloved tells the story of a family’s life before and after their escape from slavery. Sethe and her daughter Denver live in isolation at 124 in the countryside near Cincinnati. Also ‘present’ in the house is the ghost of Sethe’s other daughter, nicknamed Beloved, who died when she was two. Sethe fled to Ohio from Kentucky many years before after escaping from her owners at ‘Sweet Home.’ Also at Sweet Home was Paul D., who has now come to Ohio to look for Sethe. Soon after Paul D.’s arrival at 124, he drives the baby ghost out; however it’s not long before a strange young woman is found near the house and who calls herself Beloved.

I had a very difficult time following the story at first, and I’d probably understand it much better if I re-read it at some point. The storyline unravels as it goes along, and we see bit by bit the horrors that Sethe escaped from. Her actions are also called into question. Her mental state is dubious. But whose wouldn’t be after undergoing the ordeals she has gone through?

Other people went crazy, why couldn’t she?

I didn’t enjoy this book, but I don’t think readers are supposed to. The subject matter is difficult, and I don’t like hearing the horror stories of Beloved or Maus. At the same time, I realize they are necessary and I’ll continue to force myself to read them.

1987, 275 pp.
Rating: 4/5

3M's list of books read

2007 - The Road
2006 - March
2005 - Gilead (read in 2006)
2004 - The Known World
2003 - Middlesex
1999 - The Hours
1998 - Beloved
1995 - The Stone Diaries
1994 - The Shipping News
1983 - The Color Purple
1972 - Angle of Repose
1961 - To Kill a Mockingbird
1958 -
A Death in the Family
1953 -
The Old Man and the Sea (read in 2002)
1940 -
The Grapes of Wrath (read in 1985)
1928 - The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Only 66 to go! :-)

Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller, 1934

Beautiful prose and dialectally engaging so that you truly felt the happiness, heartache, excitement and dread of this farm family lead by the main character Cean. The book reminded me a lot of Conrad Richter's Awakenings trilogy - the pioneering family of the early to mid 19th century. What struck me about Cean is her reluctance to have children - despite the fact of giving birth to more than a dozen! Some of the plot twists develop rather abruptly but effectively nonetheless. Definitely of the strong pioneering women genre.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Laura's Review - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Diaz

This isn't really a review, it's just a brief post to say I started this book, but it flat out didn't appeal to me at all. I set it aside about a week ago, thinking I might come back to it. But I've decided against it; there's just too much other great literature begging for my attention.

This was my final read for the Book Awards Challenge. I don't feel guilty about not finishing it, because I've read loads of other book award winners above and beyond my challenge list. This one also counts towards the Pulitzer Project: again, I didn't read the whole thing but I can check it off my list: been there, done that.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rabbit is Rich

I'm officially giving up and putting Rabbit is Rich down and do not expect to be picking it up again anytime soon. Please note: I tried really, really hard to finish this. I just couldn't do it. So I'll consider this half a review and the only reason I'm posting is because that half of a book took a painful two weeks of my life.

Was the book bad? Actually, no. John Updike is a brilliant author and has won many deserved awards throughout his career. In a weird sort of way I feel like I should congratulate Mr. Updike for disturbing me to the point where I had to put his book down. Rabbit is Rich won the Pulitzer prize in 1982 and Rabbit at Rest won in 1991. His stories pop and he paints a vivid picture of the culture of that day. I was there again at the gas lines in the 1970's oil crisis and experienced that sudden and highly controversial shift in popularity to Japanese cars which got superior gas mileage. That is the reason Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom, owner of Springer Motors and now middle aged, is rich. He sells Toyota's.

Updike's characterizations are phenomenal. Every one of them including minor characters are multi-faceted real human beings. I felt I knew them all. That is what turned out to be my problem.

I hate Rabbit. I mean I really loathe that guy. Yes, I know characters don't have to be good people and sometimes villainous ones are more fun, but I could not get past the person he was. Every time I picked up this book I would read a few pages and negative emotions would overtake me like no other book has done in a long time.

Rabbit is a hollow person who pretends to be full. He is not happy, nor knows how to be. His smug satisfaction on being rich rings false because he married into the Toyota business and then profits from a bad economic turn.

He doesn't use the money to improve his life however and though he wants a house doesn't buy one. He wants to meet his illegitimate daughter but lacks the courage. He thinks he owns the world but has zero leadership skills. It would never occur to him to reach out and help others or his community.

Rabbit ogles every woman he sees, including his son's pregnant fiancee. The first chapter describes him having sex with his passed out drunk wife. Lovely.

Rabbit hates his son and squashes every dream the boy has. Ironically Nelson wants to work with his father in the car business but Rabbit does not want him there for anything. He interjects petty, mean comments into every conversation with Nelson and says terrible things about him behind his back. Though he himself did not attend college, Rabbit is outraged that Nelson doesn't want to finish and has no interest in him as a separate human being with desires and goals of his own. Rabbit is also quite a nag.

At first I thought the character of Rabbit Angstrom was going to be similar to George Babbitt but no way. Though Babbitt is also slightly corrupt and at times contemptible he is also loyal, optimistic, dare I say joyous, and audaciously goofy. Babbitt stands by his son and is secretly proud when he does something unconventional.

There is much more nastiness in Rabbit but even so, does that make it a bad book? No way! Updike nailed that character but it came too close to home for me. You see, I know a Rabbit, actually two. What can I say, I have my own issues. Maybe some of the situations or Rabbit's attitudes change in the course of the story but I just don't care to stick around and find out.
If this book is supposed to describe the men of that era then thank God it is over. I am happy to report that my own, now middle aged husband is nothing like Rabbit. Nothing.

One thing is for sure. If true art is supposed to challenge a person, then this is the one for me. When I pick up this book up maybe years from now, it will be interesting to see how I feel about it then.
Until then.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

1956: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor

Last year, before I joined this challenge, I finished Andersonville, the 1956 Pulitzer winner about the horrendous Civil War prison camp of the same name.

My review can be found here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

2000 - Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

I read a review of Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri on this website. The next day, I saw it on display at the library. I hope reading a review of it prompts you to pick it up, too. It is an incredible collection of short stories.

This collection is the author’s first published book. It’s amazing to me because each story is completely captivating, with well-developed, believable characters—so well-written and creative that it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000. I want to write—reading this makes it seem like a near-impossibility. How does Lahiri do it so well?

The book contains nine short stories. In each story, one or more characters feel isolated as they search for their place. In “A Temporary Matter,” a man and a woman search for their place in their relationship after the still-birth of their child. In “Interpreter of Maladies,” a tour guide operator in India searches for his relationship to the world when he leads an Indian-American family on a tour. In “Mrs. Sens’”, Mrs. Sen feels isolated from her large extended family, who are in India, and she searches for a place in suburban America; the American boy she watches each afternoon is more at peace with his isolation.

Sadly, most of these stories end on a sad note as the characters reflect on their situations; most end with a sense of loss. The emotions are strong. I felt I needed a break after each story to reflect on the emotions I felt. And yet, I couldn’t wait to be drawn in to the next intricately developed story of isolation.

These stories help me reflect on my own situation: I live 16,000 miles from everyone in my family, just as Mrs. Sens does. But I don’t face differences in culture (suburban Melbourne isn’t all that different from suburban Chicago). How am I coping, and how can I nurture my relationships to avoid isolation? (So far, I'm doing fine.) I hope my ending is a bit happier, and I suspect it will be. But who around me might be feeling isolated? These characters were so real, I felt like they were living next door.

I love a book that makes me think and feel.

First posted here. Come visit me on my blog!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Independence Day by Richard Ford, 1996

Independence Day is the sequel to The Sportswriter. The Lay of the Land, 2006, is the third book in the trilogy.

Frank Bascombe, is reminiscent of "Rabbit" Angstrom the main character in the Rabbit series (two are Pulitzer Fiction winners) by John Updike, and the overall writing styles, I found to be similar. Bascombe is a dreamy, drifter-like character both personally and professionally. His family life is in a shambles and although he has a "job," it seems only to provide further fodder for his attempt to figure out what he wants to do with his life. I may be subject to flaming here, but I find this character very emblematic of the loss of "manliness" in American men. This guy can't seem to make anything happen, and I'm not sure I have any sympathy for him since he has brains and money - perhaps too much so that enables his pathetic existence. He would make a good prime time network comedy leading male character.

2006 - March

Author Geraldine Brooks read Little Women the first time when she was ten. When her mother recommended it, she said to take it with a grain of salt: “Nobody in real life is such a goody-goody as that Marmee” (Afterword, page 354). With that concept was born Brooks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, March.

While March focuses a little bit on Marmee, the majority of this book is about Mr. March (called March), the father of the girls, who, in part one of Alcott’s novel, is away fighting in the Civil War. In this novel, we read his letters to Marmee—and then we read the truth of what is happening to him in the South. March writes “I promised her that I would write something every day…I never promised I would write the truth” (page 4).

In a fascinating contrast to the girls’ failures in Little Women, March’s failings are huge to him; he cannot solve them in a chapter or even by the end of the book. As Little Women delves into the little problems of teenage girls, March delves into the larger problems of an adult before and during the civil war: slavery, death, violence and war, betrayal, marital and extramarital relationships, and confusion about one’s role in the world and in a family. To me, it is an intriguing contrast to the goody-goody world of Little Women.

Geraldine Brooks has thoroughly researched both the civil war and the life of Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott, for many of the philosophies and characteristics of Mr. March. Since Alcott herself based Little Women on her own experience, basing Mr. March on Alcott’s father seemed very appropriate. I love a well-researched novel, especially historical fiction, and this certainly was well-researched.

I also loved the concept of fleshing out a character that otherwise wasn’t noticed. I know I never gave a thought to Mr. March when I first read Little Women. Only on rereading Little Women now, knowing that I’d read March next, did I realize how little attention is given to him.

Note: I’d recommend reading Little Women (at least part one) before approaching March. They complement each other nicely.

Originally posted here. Visit me on Rebecca Reads.

Rebecca's Progress

I’m excited to join this challenge. I don’t like deadlines, and this doesn’t have one.

Here are the books I’ve read in the past:
1999 - The Hours (Cunningham)
1995 - The Stone Diaries (Shields)
1994 - The Shipping News (Proulx)
1989 - Breathing Lessons (Tyler)
1988 - Beloved (Morrison)
1961 - To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee)
1951 - The Town (Richter)

Books I just finished (reviews to come)
2006 - March (Brooks)
2000 - Interpreter of Maladies (Lahiri)

Books I want to read next (in no particular time frame)
1921 - The Age of Innocence (Wharton)
1972 - Angle of Repose (Stegner)
1947 - All the King’s Men (Warren)
1953 - The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway)
1940 - The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck)
1932 - The Good Earth (Buck)
1918 - His Family (Poole)
1919 - The Magnificent Ambersons (Tarkington)

I should add that if I don’t like a book in the first 100 pages or so, I won’t finish it—there are too many books out there to spend time reading ones I don’t like. I hope that doesn’t apply to any of the Pulitzers of fiction!

Visit me on Rebecca Reads.