Category Archives: Bestseller

An American Marriage: Terrific.

Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage is great. It follows Celestial and Roy and the dissolution of their marriage after Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. They’ve been married for a year at the point, and the book explores what the obligations are for each individual in marriage/committed relationships when the circumstances of the initial arrangement change. To what do we owe one another in perpetuity? When do we get to change our minds? What must we sacrifice for the institution, or for the other person, and when do we get to privilege our own happiness? What rights do we have (to be selfish) (to expect steadfast commitment)?

Celestial and Roy’s marriage is constrasted with that of their respective parents. Each set of parents offering up a different vision of the same questions of commitment. I was moved by the scene of Roy’s father (name escapes me) burying his mother and wondered at that kind of grief.

As much as it is a book about the institution of marriage, it is also about manhood. If both (marriage and manhood) are imagined in our current moment to be under threat, or flailing, or failing, this book harkens back to a vision of each that is, if not idealized, than at least coherent. Roy puts forward visions and versions of what it means to be a man, as if to test the hypothesis or to have them rejected. In so doing the reader can also examine whether there is any value to be had in a constellations of qualities we might call ‘manhood,’ or whether this institution, too, has served its function and can be dispensed with like so many fast divorces.

It’s also a book about race and the state. Much of Celestial’s concern about how to respond to Roy’s experience of incarceration is to know that he is a black man in America and that his experience of the criminal justice system is visited upon him and his family in ways that are at once extrordinary in their injustice and perfectly ordinary in their frequency. Celestial must weigh whether she has particular obligations, in addition to those of being a wife, because she is the wife of a black man falsely accused and imprisoned.

Taken together the book explores resonant questions and does so with beautiful, captivating writing. It’s well worth a read before the end of the summer.

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Filed under American literature, Bestseller

The Female Persuasion: You can be a feminist and still hate this book. I hope.

Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion is a hot book of this summer. It’s getting all kinds of press, and hits on all the right issues to get people reading: Trump, feminism, Trump, millennials, Trump, feminism. And it does a few things that make it worth talking about, but it is generally bloated and boring and an unapologetic ode to white, middle class feminism (#notthatthere’sanythingwrongwiththat).

Our protagonist, Greer, is an up and coming millennial in search of her “outdoor voice” (I cannot even begin with the over used ‘metaphor’ in this book of the outdoor voice. There are chapters titled ‘outdoor voice’ in case you missed the point that This Is A Woman Claiming Her Right to Speak and Be Heard). She meets famous second wave feminist Faith Frank and believes Faith – her mentor! her vision of power! her inspiration! – can provide her life with direction and meaning. Faith, on the other hand, is busy making compromises and doing what needs doing in order to advance equality for women. She’s a stalwart of the old guard, and also an embodiment of the limitations of idealistic politics. Which come on. Let’s be clear with one another: compromises will be made. Need to be made.

Then there’s Cory and his relationship with Greer, and his mother, and his brother. And the sort of man we want feminist men to be. And the queer best friend who takes her time finding herself, but ultimately does because she’s true to her values and has an inner core of resilience we can only hope to emulate after years of therapy. And the mega rich philanthropist who tries to redeem himself by throwing money at the problem of inequality (without *cough* actually giving up any of his privilege).

There’s enough there that it should be good. I mean it’s all Zeitgeist all the time. And yet. And yet. It’s just so… boring. I found Greer insufferable. I mean I GET IT. You need to learn to speak up for your own ideas. You need to find your way. Bleh bleh bleh. I don’t know. It’s probably me and the circles I travel in, but no one is spitting their drink across the table when I let slip that I’m a feminist. And the millennials I know (fine fine, I’m a millennial, though C. would point out that I’m not a *real* millennial because I was born in ’84 and so am on the cusp and besides I have a proper middle class job and can barely use my smartphone and I loathe collaboration) are mad and should be that they can’t find permanent jobs, or buy houses, or pay for childcare (oh wait, none of these issues come up for Greer – her issues are all about whether her fancy pants job provides *enough* life satisfaction).

Uhh.. that wasn’t my point. Coming round to it now. The book also takes aim – through the guise of ‘cutting edge blogs’ – at the feminists who aren’t progressive or radical enough, aren’t keeping up with the times. There’s a sort of half-hearted apology for not keeping pace with changes within feminism, and then a return to the resolution of plodding forward on the same path. I’m not hip enough to feminist currents. What I do know is this: I’m a feminist and I did not like this book. But more importantly, I think, I’m a reader and I did not like this book. It’s politics didn’t bother me, what bothered me was the cement-drying-paced plot, the absence of real character development, and the reliance on Hip to the Moment politics for making a splash.

So if you’re assembling your summer reading list, let me urge you to pass on this one. Or not. Your novels, your choice.

 

 

 

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Filed under Bestseller, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction

The Fifth Season: Rules for Reading Fantasy

There should be a rule when reading fantasy that you’re not allowed to quit reading before 50 pages. I feel like 50 pages in the minimum needed for world building and scene setting. “World building” meaning (for me at least) the figuring out of how the fantastical world is organized in terms of geography, time, politics, social order, customs, etc. Without the 50 page rule I’d probably have quit The Fifth Season and that would have been SAD because it was such a great read. But those first 50 were disorienting as there’s no quick way to be like “here is how this world works” without being obnoxious and pedantic so this reader just had to accept that the logic of the place was going to unfold and eventually I’d know enough of the things to be clear about what was what. Continue reading

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Filed under Bestseller, Fiction, Governor Generals

Failed Attempts at Can Lit; or, Books I Started But Didn’t Finish in the Last Two Weeks

I started, and gave substantial effort (enough that I feel okay reviewing them), to two Can lit novels in the last couple of weeks. Both are books that I ought to have really liked but didn’t. I’ll take the blame. It’s summer. There are patios. And BBQs. (And work, family and responsibilities. Whatever.) Continue reading

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Filed under Bestseller, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Worst Books