Monday, May 30, 2011

 

Family Stories

As I’ve said before, I’m not fond of fat books of the sprawling transgenerational sort, but my neighbour across the road recommended The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan, and since I generally like Indo-Canadian novels, I read it. Like my neighbour, I couldn’t put it down; but when I finally did, I was left with an unfinished feeling. The novel had been one thing, then another: pure fiction of the magic realist sort, with one character bleeding gold dust, another talking with Ganesh and horoscopic predictions coming true time after time; and then acknowledged realist fiction based on the author’s family’s stories—but with a fictional narrator suddenly speaking up between the story and the author’s acknowledgements. Many of the characters really delivered as they were carried through time; some, not so much: for example, Janaki, one of the main female characters, whose daughter becomes that aforementioned narrating voice, was lost between childhood and wifehood. She didn’t seem like the same person. And did the author mean for us not to understand, exactly, why the main male character treated his mother so very badly?

Then there’s Not Suitable for Family Viewing by Vicki Grant—a Canadian writer of whom I am fond. (Quid Pro Quo, et al.) This one has a female MC with romance, but has that familiar thread of mystery, quirky but solid relationships and slight tongue-in-cheek air. A truly satisfying read that I will leave lying about for a while in hopes that Wilful Daughter will pick it up.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

 

End of the Line

Nothing like a holiday weekend to finish a series. The Singing was satisfying enough, though I don’t know what Hem, aside from wielding the tuning fork of power, actually did. ... I guess he was the physical stand-in for the Nameless One. Oh, yeah, clever—Maerad, too, was nameless, as no one knew her secret, third Elidhu name.

How does it feel, to live in a fictional world of your own creation for seven years, and then to leave it?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

 

The Second Book of Pellinor

And the third, actually—and we’ll start with that.

When Hem and Maenad were parted in Book I, I had a hunch we were in for a Farmer Boy—you know, having to endure a story about a character we don’t really care about just because the author has an agenda. (I was a dutiful reader of FB as a child, every time I went through the series, and the only thing I picked up was that Almanzo ate a lot. But as an adult, and especially visiting the Wilder homestead, I understood what a huge economic difference there had been between Almanzo’s and Laura’s families, and what pains the author had taken to prove that, socially and aspirationally, at least—all that emphasis on education and correct behaviour—Laura’s family was equal to or even a little better than Almanzo’s.) So I was not surprised that Book III was all about Hem. While I was reading it I was carried along well enough by his motives and desires; but afterward, I judged the plot pretty much a machine to get him into the Iron Tower (well, more-or-less) to receive his part of the Treesong. It was a good ride, though. And the way Hem is forced to grow and mature is pretty organic—he’s ready to be Maerad’s equal now. I especially liked the portrayal of the living earth, not as female (for a change—hurrah!) but as male in a way that feels true; I’d have to talk it out with someone to figure out how. But it reminded me of a male friend who is a deep nature boy with the same odd twist of grace and implacability. The representation of the same as a huge stag at the end was resonant, too. Anyway, by the time the book was done Hem had become an important character.

And as for Book II, well, that was terrific. Totally Journey literature—character is raw and dependent at the beginning; and self-sufficient, tempered and ready for the task at the end. How the author handled sexual desire was interesting, but still a little remote and theoretical, I thought; this is the only part of her maturation journey that isn’t quite complete. But maybe it is, for a YA novel. And for fun, let’s compare Hem’s and Maerad’s romantic (for lack of a better word) experiences.
Hem: is driven to save Zelika, realizing in the process that he loves her (wants to marry her when he grows up); his search (read: pursuit) for her is rash, against his own better judgement, disapproved of by the adults in his life—very Romeo, in its way, except for the absence of the physical. Throughout, in the Bardic way, he is searching for her mind, and when he finds it, it isn’t hers, after all, but her brother’s. Read: he isn’t ready.
Maerad: is hunted by the Winterking, and then downright wooed; her will and spirit are up to the task of resisting him and protecting her growing sense of self and her ambition to succeed at her task, but her body (her desire is described all in physical though not sensual terms) nearly betrays her, and she is saved by the intervention of her spirit grandmother/the Wise Crone—who helps her to exchange her betraying body for a wolf’s (!). How you want to read that is up to you!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

 

Spring, O Spring!

One of the benefits of being unemployed (in an official capacity; I’m not saying I have nothing to do) is strolling out to the backyard with your morning coffee and counting up all the treasures: first leaves on the peonies, flowering periwinkle, what looks like domestic strawberry mysteriously appearing where you’ve never planted it, or, even, seen it before... but darn all that garlic mustard. Drastic measures must be taken.

Words That Start with B by Vikki VanSickle: Very nice story, interesting characters, clever use of title/chapter titles. Good read.
Out of Line: Growing Up Soviet by Tina Grimberg: speaking of titles, this was a strange choice, given that the expression used throughout the book was “out of step”. Otherwise, informative and well put together, and will furnish examples for a talk on memoir I somewhat rashly promised to give at the end of the month.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach: From 2003; compelling, both in content and delivery. Enjoyed it very much. Got a few ideas of my own out of it.

Now, darling friend who recommended Left Neglected by Lisa Genova: Such is my esteem for you that when I saw I was Number 73 in line for it at the library, I bought it for my Kobo instead. So please don’t take what I’m about to write personally; I try to be honest here, and snarky only when I must relieve my feelings. More to the point, maybe due to my work history, it’s so often more interesting to figure out why a book doesn’t work (for me) than why it does. So: it was well-conceived and all the oddities and trials of the condition were intriguing—and it read exactly like a teen problem novel. The choice to tell the story chronologically was a mistake. We go into it knowing the main character has an accident and becomes brain-damaged in a fascinating way; we are naturally impatient, therefore, with everything that happens beforehand. Since the author was using the time to build the character, that impatience meant I couldn’t engage with the character. It might have been better to use a third-person limited PoV, as well: this Type-A (as we are told many times), driven, competitive character isn’t particularly observant or thoughtful and so being in her head wasn’t a particularly rich experience.

Now, of course, I’m going to have to read Still Alice, just for comparison’s sake....

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