Monday, September 21, 2020
James Alexander Thom: ONCE UPON A TIME IT WAS NOW, THE ART AND CRAFT OF WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION
Robert Dugoni, THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HILL
I read this compelling, engaging book in one day. Born with ocular albinism, resulting in him having red eyes, young Sam Hill is bullied and tormented as a child but, with the support of his two friends and his extraordinary parents, he grows up to be a generous, evolved ophthalmologist who travels the world helping others. This would be a 5-star read for me except that I felt the ending was just a tad too tidy and picture-perfect. Also, the line from the bully's cruelty to his monstrous parents (and Sam's "big heart" and his loving parents) is drawn a little too sharply for subtlety. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the read.
I was surprised that Dugoni is actually better known for his bestselling mystery novels. I read around that genre pretty widely; how the heck have I missed those? I'll be looking for them next because he is a wonderful storyteller. I recommend.
Richard Powers, THE OVERSTORY
This Pulitzer-prize winning novel is part epic and part fable, though it begins with what I'd characterize as a series of short stories about different families in which a tree has some significance. It's about trees, yes; but it's also about how humans have mistakenly come to see ourselves as the central figures in our narrative. Trees have lives and ways of communicating among each other that we are only beginning to understand ... because we're not looking and listening properly. So much has already been written about this book that I'm not going to try to explain it. But it's a bighearted, ambitious book, very well-written, and it shifted the way I look at the world. I'd recommend to anyone.
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Judith L. Pearson, THE WOLVES AT THE DOOR
Thursday, September 3, 2020
Patti Callahan, BECOMING MRS. LEWIS
As a child I had read Lewis's Narnia books; and as an adult, I had seen the movie *Shadowlands* and read a portion of C.S. Lewis's *A Grief Observed,* his meditations after the death of his wife Joy from cancer. So I knew the basic story of their love affair, which is heartbreaking and--in both those works--told with restraint, eloquence, and deep feeling. This book, BECOMING MRS. LEWIS, aims at following in the tradition of recent books about women who are married to famous men--e.g. The Aviator's Wife (Lindbergh), The Paris Wife (Hemingway) and Lady Clementine (Churchill)--but whose stories have been elided by history. I love that sort of feminist recovery project, but to succeed that sort of book needs to provide fresh and meaningful insight into the events or into the woman's subjectivity. It pains me to write a poor review, but although many other readers loved this book, it disappointed me, in nearly every way.Being written in first person, from Joy's perspective, the book sets up the expectation that we will be privy to Joy's intimate thoughts, but the events of her first marriage and divorce are presented in sometimes tedious detail and with shallow psychological insight (as when she asks her friend, "How did we both fall in love with and marry alcoholics? ... Was it something in our childhood?"). Further, at the top of each chapter is a couplet from one of (the real) Joy Davidson's sonnets that she wrote while falling in love with Lewis (whom she called Jack). These couplets are lovely, evocative tidbits that stand in contrast to the uneven prose and dialog within the chapters. Callahan has Joy speak in trite metaphors such as: "This river ... It's very much like life." And their love affair feels predicated on the craving for admiration and the sort of push/pull characteristic of immature romance; Joy says, "I imagined a few opening lines for the moment I saw Jack." She says to her son, "Look at the moon and know that I'll be looking at it too. We will be under the same stars and the same sky." I must admit, that passage felt to me a little too close to the song "Somewhere Out there" from the animated classic *An American Tail*. ("Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight/Someone's thinking of me and loving me tonight ... And even though I know how very far apart we are/It helps to think we might be wishin' on the same bright star...")
The book I think Callahan could have written more successfully is the one that begins to emerge in her epilogue--her discovery and research into Joy and Jack's love affair. That is, I'd have relished reading *why* she was so fascinated by their relationship and how it related to, or informed her own life. Perhaps it could be a twinned narrative, like *Julie and Julia*, for example, moving back and forth between the two stories. I think that could have been a compelling, intimate book.