Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Of All the Pretty Horses and Men

The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In case you couldn't tell from the title of my post, this book reminded me of what you might get if you crossed All the Pretty Horses with Of Mice and Men. I'm not much for westerns as a rule, but this one was well-written and had a great character as the narrator. Eli Sisters, one of the famous Sisters brothers (hit men of the gold rush era) is somehow both complex and a little simple, and sympathetic yet not wholly so. As a man I like him a little and dislike him a little, but as a character I think he's supremely well drawn, and makes this book a very engaging read.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

An Object of Pure Enjoyment

An Object of BeautyAn Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was am completely charmed by this book.

Full disclosure: I wasn't expecting much of Steve Martin. I haven't read Shopgirl, and I think I was secretly expecting something lowbrow and full of the outlandish masquerading as the comic, like The Jerk in novel form. But from the moment I opened to the first page, I was pleasantly surprised:
I am tired, so very tired of thinking about Lacey Yeager, yet I worry that unless I write her story down, and see it bound and tidy on my bookshelf, I will be unable to ever write about anything else.
That first sentence (okay, aside from the unnecessarily split infinitive) is practically pitch perfect. It sets forth the conceit of the book, a faux roman à clef, and gives you a glimpse of the relationship between the subject and the narrator: she is someone who has left an indelible imprint on his life, and writing this story is his attempt to move on.
I will tell you her story from my own recollections . . . [but if] you occasionally wonder how I know about some of the events I describe in this book, I don't. I have found that -- just as in real life -- imagination sometimes has to stand in for experience.
I love how this sentence forgives the narrator for knowing too much. A curious strength of this book is the distance of the narrator from the story. For much of it he is not directly involved, and so the narrative is more third-person than first-person, despite the directed-at-the-reader exposition I've quoted above. The wonderful thing about this is that it imitates, or perhaps even symbolizes, his relationship with Lacey: she is obviously important to him (he's writing her story, for God's sake), but he is also aware that he is not terribly important to her, so too many first-person sentences would exaggerate his significance to her story.

I also love this book for what it's not. It's not pretentious, despite the gorgeous color reproductions of artwork that are scattered throughout, and some almost tongue-in-cheek use of art-world argot. It isn't overly plotted, either; the story unfolds in a natural, lifelike way, by which I mean that it's not always exciting or dramatic, but there is almost always something worth observing. It doesn't try too hard to be profound, and despite raising a few questions of ethics I'm not sure there's any big moral to take away, just food for thought. (Or maybe not so much "food" as hors d'oeuvres: small, perfect bites that fill you up without your realizing it.)

And I love, love the quiet, uncertain-but-hopeful note on which it ends. The last paragraph, like the opening sentence, is absolutely pitch perfect.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gone over Gone Girl

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had a brief argument with myself over whether to give this four or five stars. In the end, I decided there was no need to be stingy, and I don't really have any complaints about the book, so why not five?

It's hard to summarize this book without spoilers, and this (like Room) is to me a book whose power lies in the slow unfolding of a story, the gradual realization on the part of the reader that things may not be what they at first seemed. That power diminishes if you already know the plot. Though this isn't a mystery in the usual sense of the word, it does have the tension of a crime thriller, and the same effect of making you desperate to find out What Actually Happened. The impressive thing (to me) is that the clues to What Actually Happened aren't things uncovered by police or detective work, they're more like possible slips by the narrator: I found myself analyzing the word choices constantly and going back and forth on whether I thought the husband was guilty of involvement in his wife's disappearance. In short, I really enjoyed this book, and I thought all the twists were well-executed, clever, and yet believable.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Graduate Should Never Have Graduated to Print

The GraduateThe Graduate by Charles Webb
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am sure I can write a review in the style of this book. I read most of it on a subway and then on a bus. I stopped and stared at the words on the pages sometimes. Then I would talk to myself.

"Self, are you enjoying this book?"

"Why? Are you trying to seduce me?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about. I just want you to unzip my dress because I can't reach the zipper. But really, are you enjoying this book?"

"Not really. I mean it's interesting in the way that truly awful things are always interesting. But it must be better than I think because it's so famous. But no, I guess I'm not really enjoying it."

"What are you going to do about that?"


"What do you mean nothing?"

"I mean nothing. I'm just going to sit here and keep reading."

"How can you do nothing? Why would you read a book you're not enjoying? What's wrong with you?"

"I just can, that's all."

"Well I don't see how you can. You need to do something. You should have a plan. A definite plan. I'm going to worry about you until you have a definite plan."

"If I come up with a definite plan to do something other than nothing, will you marry me?"

"Well I used to think you raped my mother and five minutes ago I never wanted to see you again. So I guess my answer is maybe."

"Great, let's go get our blood tests in the morning."

"Maybe. But I might have decided to marry someone else by then."

I almost gave it two stars because it was interesting in a very awkward way. But then I realized how much the above dialogue summed up the book for me. I had to take away the second star.

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