Archive for November, 2010

Adam & Eve

Friday, November 26th, 2010


By Sena Jeter Naslund

The Short Take:

I read and loved Ahab’s Wife quite some time ago and so pounced on this book when I saw it. Though very different, it is maybe even more rewarding. I put the qualifier in there because this one is more magical reality (a la Gabriel Marcia Marquez or Alice Hoffman — and, yes, I know how different they are). Plus, it has a fair amount of religious thinking. I really liked it a lot. But that combo isn’t for everyone,

Why?

I might have handed it all out there with my not-so-Short Take. At first I was a touch confused about Adam’s Eden — where was it and what was it; and how it all related to the experiences of Lucy, the grieving widow of an astrophysicist. Not to worry: The author did an excellent job of magically pulling it all together.

The conflict in this novel comes not only from the confused feelings of the protagonists (the afore mentioned Adam and Lucy) but also from the actions of religious fundamentalists including Jews, Muslims, and Christians driven by fear and repression.

While much of the book is very dreamy and thoughtful, you will also find the thrill of danger and pursuit.

Lovely writing, danger, science, faith, rebirth, even some paleolithic cave art — this was a perfect combination for me.

A Little Plot:

Lucy’s husband discovers that there is life elsewhere in the universe — then dies violently before he can share the news. Adam, an American soldier, is brutalized and left for dead in the Middle East, but wakes up in what appears to be Eden.

Lucy winds up in that same miraculous place when her mission to transport ancient documents with an alternative reading of Genesis goes down in flames.

While the two of them heal… and change, fundamentalists work together to find and destroy both the evidence of extraterrestrial life and those ancient documents.

I couldn’t find a website for the author, but if you can click here for some additional information courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

Thursday, November 18th, 2010


By David Sedaris

The Short Take:

This is a sweet and fun book of tales starring very anthropomorphic animals, such as a pot bellied pig that is a museum director. It’s an enjoyable read, though not as touching or caustic as Sedaris’ usual tales from life.

Why?

For some reason I have a sneaky suspicion that someone wanted a David Sedaris book out in time for holiday gifting. And, goodness knows, this would be a gift that virtually anyone would enjoy. But it is a touch on the slight side when compared to his often satiric, often moving, and always enjoyable collections of observations from life, like Me Talk Pretty One Day or When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Some version of several of  the tales included in this book were first broadcast on This American Life on NPR. And, the human qualities of the different animals are not consistent from story to story: The dogs in The Faithful Setter act just like dogs except for talking to each other. Other animals are completely humanized.

But these are mere quibbles. David Sedaris is a brilliant and insightful humorist in the vain of Mark Twain. And, it’s rather nice of him not to again use his family and friends for material in order to produce another highly readable book.

A Little Plot:

No plot here. Just a winning collection of stories highlighting human foibles but starring animals. They don’t have the succinct moral endings found in Aesop’s Fables, but you get the point and have fun getting there.

To visit his website and learn more about Sedaris and his books, click here.

The Identity Man

Thursday, November 11th, 2010


By Andrew Klavan

The Short Take:

Klavan is a modern day Dashiell Hammett. This powerful crime thriller is exceptionally hard-boiled and exceptionally well written. It also makes some strong statements about modern culture.

Why?

This book is almost entirely populated by bad people. The opening chapters featured a burglary turned very violent and a cool assassination in an unidentified city facing flooding and anarchy (think New Orleans and Katrina). Yet Klavan actually makes you care about habitual thief John Shannon, who can only soothe a “crawly, itching” feeling by committing another crime.

Like Dashiell, Klavan presents a sleazy, morally corrupt world, but updated for the 21st century. Honor hides behind barred doors while feral young men rule the streets; cops are not to be trusted — just like politicians. It all sounds distressingly dark but Klavan’s writing is so perfectly textured for this genre that you willingly dive into his world.

Despite all that crime and toughness, I actually cried at the end. But I’m not going to say why.

A Little Plot:

Shannon pairs with a psycho for a burglary that turns into something worse. On the run with no options, Shannon responds to an enigmatic text message. Without his consent, his entire identity is changed and he awakes in a devastated and largely lawless city. It looks like a new chance at a good life. Guess again.

You know his path must cross that of police lieutenant, Brick Ramsey — the brutal enforcer for a government administration absolutely riddled with corruption; in a town that’s dying from violence and destruction. To find out why or how this happens, you’re going to have to go elsewhere.

Oh, there is a love angle, too. Imagine that.

If you want to know more about Andrew Klavan, you can visit his website by clicking here. Frankly it mainly focuses on his politics and religion so you might want to leave that to your imigination.

Great House

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010


By Nicole Krauss

The Short Take:

This is a brilliant book, but it isn’t easily digested. Krauss is an incredibly gifted writer, and this elegant novel is proof to her prodigious talent. The longing and loss expressed through her four interwoven stories are embodied by a desk of many drawers that looms over lives, creating obsessions and fears in those who encounter it. It’s not a hard read, but you’ve got to care about existential questions to fully enjoy it.

Why?

I have to admit I left this book wanting more — more plot, more resolutions. But life isn’t exactly like that, is it? And neither is Krauss’ third novel. However, the way her characters express their feelings (largely through unspoken monologues) gives great depth to this study of relationships and how we close ourselves into separate rooms of one Great House.

Finding ways to somehow come to terms with the past plays a major role throughout. Yet, the importance — and unreliability — of memory is just as pervasive.

It’s a lovely read, but very existential in tone. If that’s your thing, you would be hard pressed to find a better book. If not… maybe you should give it a try anyway. Because Great House is a very special book.

A Little Plot:

Four different stories twine through this book:

A writer offers to keep the furniture of a poet headed for great danger in Chile, including a huge desk with many drawers. Over the years, the desk becomes unexpectedly important to her writing.

A man marries a writer who much earlier owned the same desk.  He grapples with the secrets of her life both while she lives and after she dies.

Another man tries to figure out how to reach his younger son after decades of estrangement before it is to late.

Two siblings live lives of isolation and despair, under the protective tyranny of a father who searches the world for objects and objects the Jews lost during the Holocaust, as well as the desk his once father had.

But it’s not about the plot. It’s about the human condition. And Krauss  does it beautifully.

To visit Nicole Krauss’ website click here.

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