The Round House by Louise Erdrich

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The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Pleasant read. Which is weird to say about a book where a woman is raped and her teenage son tries to figure out who committed the crime and how to deal with it.

It was good, I read it, I enjoyed it. But now that I’m here writing about it I feel a little… less impressed. Things don’t line up as well, consequences for the characters are all over the place, the sense of what made the difference in their lives is kind of… poof. Not because I don’t remember but because it seemed a little outrageous.

But it’s good. The dialogue is strong. The sentences are strong. You’ll read it and like it as long as you’re not to invested in consequences or PTSD or a foundation for moral ambiguity.

It’s good for poolside or light reading. It’s great for teenagers or people who aren’t familiar with narratives dealing with Native Americans. It’s a good start, for sure. It’s a good insight into the laws Native Americans are dealing with regularly, particularly women. I just don’t know that through the eyes and “justice” of a 13-year-old-boy is the best way to go about it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book. Holy shit.

This book is everything I’ve ever wanted in a book. It’s gorgeously written, clear, precise, smart, feminist, intelligent, passionate and full of hope and despair and love.

It tells the story of a Nigerian immigrant come to America to live with her once-proud aunt so she can go to college. An outsider to black racial issues, she starts a blog about the racial tensions in the U.S. Back in Nigeria, there is a man she loves but doesn’t speak to, struggling with his own dreams.

It is a full and gorgeous book, absolutely easy to read – you won’t trip over sentences or meaning – but packed to the brim with insight and candor.

At heart, it’s a love story. So read this when you need a love story. Read this when you feel boxed in by the people you already know. Read it for a little hope without bullshit. Or when you need to make a big decision and are afraid to leap. Read it when you’re fresh out of college. It matters.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

You know… I liked this book. I enjoyed it as I read it. But now as I’m here typing, I don’t know what to tell you.

The basic plot is this: Ursula Todd was born and died. And then she was born again, and survived. This act is repeated throughout her life in the many ways she is killed, from falling out of a window to being victim to a bomb in WWII. Each time she comes back to life with anxiety around the situations she died in: sometimes they save her, sometimes they do not. They only linger as a sense of deja vu, never quite forming themselves into full memories.

Part of why it’s difficult to just talk about the book is that it’s “different” in many ways: the lead character is not a typical heroine, though the first pages open with her aiming a gun at Hitler. She’s not heroic, she has little control over her life or her experiences, she is more apt to think she is crazy than gifted. She is driven by love and anxiety and uncertainty.

I can’t tell you when or why or how you should read this. It’s meandering and strange and sometimes you think, Okay, did we really have to jump back? And yet somehow you get lost in the momentum and aimlessness of the book and come out on the other side glad you’ve read it.

So, I guess, here’s a book when you feel like meandering.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I preferred this book to Gone Girl. It felt less trickster-y. In general, I think I really like Gillian Flynn’s writing. It’s detailed and strong and her sentences are packed with emotion. I like that. I’m not usually into the thriller genre but she makes me turn pages and read closely, and although I wouldn’t call her characters particularly fleshed-out, they are still more real than a lot of fictional characters out there.

This book is dark. It’s dark if you’ve ever been a cutter, it’s dark if you have parental issues, it’s dark if you’re particularly affected by murder, specifically of children. But… it’s good. It will keep you turning.

If I had to criticize it, I’d say the one moment that really stood out as unrealistic is the lack of reflection from the narrator when she finally figures out exactly who did it, especially with the emotional connection she had to the person who is murdered and the person who committed the murders. (Vague, because, spoilers!)

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Also, it’s a little weird because of this recent case (don’t click unless you want to get spoiled/have already read the book… also, more dark) and it was on the top of my mind as I read.

Grab this book for a great escape when you don’t mind if things get a little dreary. Probably great if you like a little adrenaline before you fall asleep. (I mean… I watch Ghost Adventures before I pass out, so…)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I picked this up at my local bookstore on a whim before a recent trip back to Boulder, CO. I started it on the plane, put it aside, and kept reading when I had a chance. I think that’s part of what’s wonderful about this book – I felt compelled to read it but not consumed by it, at least not in the way that the main character of this book, Ruth, is compelled by Nao’s diary. The all-consuming, can’t-think-of-anything-else kind of read.

The other thing I liked about this book? It’s equal parts a mystery, a writer’s musings and a buddhist’s musings. The author herself is a Zen Buddhist priest, which somehow made me even more invested in the book.

If you’re in the mood for a mystery-meditation, this is it. A young adult-focused fiction about choosing death and the things that make people weak and strong and the importance of the current moment. It’s a wonderful pool-side read or before-bed read or a weekend read. It’s casual but not vapid. Try it.

Book Review: The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

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The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

So, I want to preface everything I’m about to say with: I liked this memoir. I don’t know that I loved it, I’m curious to what extent reading Wild immediately before affected my interpretation of it, and most of what I’m about to say is more like the teasing out of a discussion that I’m trying to have with myself about the book. They’re conclusions I haven’t come to, ideas I’m jumbling around in my head.

The language and power of the emotion, particularly in the beginning, is amazing. I was drawn in, compelled to continue. I finished the book in under a day. Just sat down and read it. It opens with giving birth to a stillborn child and it just tugs you from there. It follows her through her childhood, her relationship to swimming, her escaping her oppressive and abusive home to go on to college to fuck up college to trying college again, trying and failing in marriages, through her life as a writer and on and on. It goes from beautifully abstract to almost exploitative-specific to stream of consciousness — but in the way that it should, I think.

So here are the things I’m teasing with:

Why, with so much detail to other potentially “private” matters, with so much focus on basically carnal sex, drug experimentation, the physicality of losing a child… why does she mention only in essentially two words the sexual abuse from her father? It felt like I was teased the entire way through. Yes or no? It’s not as if her father’s abuse was illegitimate without being sexual. He was a brute, controlling, his anger filled their entire house. It’s not as if I even needed to see it, but I wanted to really see it acknowledged, a contemplation of what part of it affected her. When someone asks if her dad was abusive, how, she says “sexually” and  yet that seems only a part of the abuse, because we see it in its other forms. And then I also wonder if it was necessary, to explain the sexual abuse, or if the narrative is complete without it. I think the greatest frustration I had was that the book in many ways seems to say, look, how open I am, I am so honest so real so raw and then this one place she chooses to be less than, and to make it obvious that she is not being fully open.

Sometimes I felt like the parts of her writing life were name-dropping. The parts about her writing life were honestly my least favorite. They seemed the most forced and unpoetic, the most tailored to a specific representation of herself. But it’s hard to write about being a writer and I might be particularly sensitive to it.

There were some parts of the narrative that were literally true that felt more magical-realism. A boyfriend turned husband who would literally fall asleep, as a defense mechanism, when she would fight with him. Her father losing his memory after a specific incidence. It’s not that these things are impossible, but the way she dealt with them felt more like metaphor than reality and the metaphor on top of being unlikely felt overdone.

But this is not me saying I didn’t like it. I read the thing in a day. After reading Wild, I think part of me was searching for someone I recognized again — since I could relate in ways to Cheryl Strayed, who seemed to have pain in her past but there was a specific incidence that pushed her to her breaking point, where as most of Yuknavitch’s life seemed to be that breaking point, an acting out of pain. Maybe it’s that in many ways I have too little patience for people who are dealing with so much. At many places (in both Strayed and Yuknavitch’s memoirs) I wondered: who is it that is loving these people? I’m certainly not saying they don’t deserve to be loved. What I’m saying is, loving them seems to be a hell of a challenge (speaking of mostly Yuknavitch) because of the chaos they invite to their lives. I am a chaos-avoider. I can’t see people bringing pain to themselves for long before I bail. So I was curious what they are giving to these friends, what value they’re providing, to make the friendship a worthwhile thing? And then, with Yuknavitch, any kind of friendship-worthiness she seemed to edit out. Like she would show us her down dirty raw disgusting so terrible I am persona, but not the nice things, the giving she must have done to have such dedicated friends.

What I’m saying is, there was very little I recognized in Yuknavitch. It was still worth reading. And if you’re someone who has dealt with a lot of chaos in your life, it might be a soothing read, somewhere that you can recognize yourself. But it’s also a good read, period, because it’s well crafted and interesting and compelling. It’ll stick with me, but in my head instead of in my bones.

Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I’m a big fan of the Sugar columns at TheRumpus.net, spending free time going through the archives and falling into the lull of Strayed’s words and her heartwrenching advice. When I heard about this memoir I knew I needed to have it — but I’d also promised myself that, since I had more time, I wouldn’t give in to spending money. I’d get it through the library.

The first night I got it (after weeks of waiting) I devoured about 20% (I read it on my Kindle). And then it got to the trail, really got to it, and her hours of solitude felt heavy on me and I set it down. I picked it up, got through it little pieces at a time, and thought about how difficult it is to effectively write something with only one person in the scene and keep it engaging. And then, just in time, new people joined her and the scene lightened and I found myself interested again.

That being said, as I read it, I wondered if when I got to the end I would feel disappointed. I’d expected something that would knock me out, over and over, like the Sugar columns, and instead what I got was solid, steady, a woman who was smart and interesting and stubborn but not necessarily a book that I would never let leave my fingertips. I started appreciating her craft — the Strayed/Starved necklace, the black feather, how her feet disintegrated while the rest of her body coped — and when I put down the book I knew that I had enjoyed it but wasn’t quite sure what I would say. I wasn’t sure if it was a new favorite, something I would throw at other people and say here, read this, please, you must.

But when I woke up this morning it was still rattling around inside me, and I realized that while on the surface it didn’t make me weep or make me force Mark to listen to page-long excerpts, it had buried itself deeper and made itself a home. I’m lucky enough to have never been knocked as hard as Strayed, but I could feel something, like I’d been taught a lesson I didn’t know I was learning, something about forgiveness and redemption and the way we are capable of much more than we believe. Read it when you need a book that feels like a deep breath, like a sore body after a long day, something like gratitude and triumph.