Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Good writing and a wicked, twisted plot, set in Victorian England (my favorite). Two girls, set against each other by a vicious swindler only ever called "Gentleman" and a woman whose maternal instincts are ... shall we say, awry. Great historical details and plenty of evil and murk. My one gripe is the repetition: part 1 is told by Sue; part 2 is mostly the same events, told by Maud; part 3 is back to Sue. And I'm not sure that part 2 couldn't have been cut down to represent just Maud's childhood, until the Sue and Maud plots cross ... especially since I found the two girls' voices very similar. But a great, thrilling read.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chris Cleeve, INCENDIARY

Almost as harrowing as LITTLE BEE. He wrote this one first; I've never seen the movie; I'm not sure I could watch it. This novel probably has one of the most compelling first-person voices I've read--I almost wrote heard--it's that much of a "voice"--in a while. She loses her son and her husband in a bombing; and this narrative is an open letter to Osama bin Laden. Opening lines: "Dear Osama they want you dead or alive so the terror will stop. Well I wouldn't know about that I mean rock 'n' roll didn't stop when Elvis died on the khazi it just got worse. Next thing you know there was Sonny & Cher and Dexys Midnight Runners. I'll come to them later. My point is it's easier to start these things than to finish them. I suppose you thought of that did you?" One of the many elements that makes this novel almost poetic is the way the content and theme go hand-in-hand. If you've read LB, you can guess this book (INCENDIARY) is not going to have much in the way of closure. And that's part of the wretchedly sad point. There is no finish. And in this book, he suggests this from the shape and content of these first sentences to the structure of the whole narrative arc. Painful, but good.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Joyce Carol Oates, A WIDOW'S STORY

JCO's memoir of the four months following her husband's sudden death from pneumonia. Heartfelt, sensitive, at times sharp, and beautifully written. It took me a full week to read; it's too intense to be read quickly. Comparisons with Joan Didion's YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING are inevitable, although I found the books quite different in tone. The small bits JCO writes about the doctors and hospitals I found alarming and infuriating ... her husband died of an infection acquired at the hospital; the nurse Jasmine is horridly insensitive and inappropriate; her own doctor (Dr. M--, with the exception of Jasmine, JCO names no names) stupidly misdiagnoses her shingles the first time around. But mostly I was left with a feeling of astonishment--that everything she wrote about--the visits to and from friends, the Fed-Ex and UPS sympathy deliveries, the emails and letters, her life with the cats, her lectures, planting the garden, the "death tasks"--happened in four months. Also very interesting was how she finally read the partial manuscript that her husband left behind, in which he represents her (as the character "Vanessa") and she speaks of the artist's need to be able to write and let go.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


This reminded me of Jamie Zeppa's memoir of her two years in Bhutan. In this, the young American Grennan signs up for 3 months of volunteer work with children in Nepal (he claims it's a great line to use in bars) and gets sucked into loving these orphans, many of whom were trafficked away from their families. At the time when the Maoist rebels and the King's forces are at war, he tries to reunite the children with their parents, begin an orphanage, and start Next Generation Nepal. An engaging read.