Category Archives: Fiction

There, There: Top three of 2018.

Tommy Orange’s There, There is in the top three books of 2018. You should go get it and read it and that’s about all you need to know.

If you must know more… the opening chapters – broad and context setting – are powerful, moving, persuasive and other synonyms for compelling. After these historical and broad chapters we move through a series of characters and their tangential relationship to a coming pow-wow in Oklahoma. Weaving through second and third person, these initially discrete chapters layer and build to the climax that is polyphonic and emotionally charged in the best possible ways. While each character receives relatively scant development because of the condensed chapter the reader encounters them, I was nevertheless utterly riveted by the climactic scenes and cared urgently and completely about the outcome.

So there you go. Go get it and read it.

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Filed under Fiction, Prize Winner

Strangers with the Same Dream: In which I learn a fancy word for History

Reading the description on the back of Strangers With the Same Dream, I was skeptical. I felt no immediate urge to read about Zionist settlers in the 1920s and the kibbutz movement. But a little part of me thought, hey, isn’t this what reading fiction is all about? Reading about topics and people and places you find no immediate interest or resonance with? Or might have existing assumptions about? So I let the small part of me take over, and I thought, I like Alison Pick, I’ll put myself in her capable hands and see where this goes.

So glad I did! The novel is beautiful, told with an inventive narration and thoughtful about how it positions the Zionist project through self-conscious reflection from its narrators on the relationship with the Palestines the group is displacing. The story is told in three parts, each narrated from the perspective of a different character recounting the same events. The shift in narration has the effect of inviting the reader to see how – even within the same community with shared politics and ambitions – the truth of the story, the beliefs about motivations and goals, are malleable and personal.  Wikipedia let me know there’s a name for this phenomenon – the “Rashomon effect,” which were I a trivia player or better at life, I’d already know about (and you probably do). In any case, tis’ when the same event is told differently by the people who were all there. Underscoring the point I suppose, that if history/fact is contradicted even by those who all shared the same experience, what little doubt is there that those of us encountering the event from a distance – whether geographic or historic – are only ever going to get a partial (both incomplete and biased) version.

I did find the introduction of a ghost in the first chapter, and the recurrence of this ‘character’ distracting and irritating. The ghost of the murdered/suicide character doesn’t offer much to the narrative, instead layering a heavy-handed Doom and Gloom vibe, as well as Aura of Mystery that I found myself all too happy to ignore. And it was easy to do so as the ghost would (seemingly randomly) appear and make some Ominous Statement and then disappear again and I was like who cares.

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Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction, Prize Winner

The Dying Detective: Swedish Mysteries for the Win

Not to be confused with the Conan Doyle mystery, Leif Persson’s The Dying Detective takes on a 25 year old murder case and the dying detective who will solve it. In the opening chapter our protagonist and detective-hero, Lars Martin Johansson, has a stroke. While in his hospital bed he is asked to solve the cold case of a murdered girl. Disregarding medical advice, he sets about investigating. Lots of phone calls, some strange encounters with socialist-medicine-helpers and an unrelenting (and perplexing) desire to eat herring ensue.

It is in keeping with the genre of Swedish mystery novels (is that a genre? whatever) in equal parts silly and totally absorbing. I had the book with me at the doctor’s office, and my doctor asked whether it would be entertaining enough to keep her captive after a long shift and while her children ran around, and I emphatically argued that it would be. It’s the sort of mindless, page-turning nonsense that you want on a long flight, or in a waiting room. I’ll admit I’m tired of reading about (young) women being murdered, but perhaps that’s a complaint to take up with society rather than the author.

So yeah, enjoy on your next flight or don’t, whatever suits.

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Filed under Fiction, Mystery

The Keep: Spooky

Just in time for Halloween you can grab Jennifer Egan’s excellent modern gothic “The Keep.” Set in a castle complete with ghosts and dungeons, the novel more than nods to its gothic genre. The psychological suspense of wandering the line between the real and imagined is the stuff of spooky nightmares without actually being all that scary.

Egan proves again to be masterful in the writing, hooking the reader from page one and off we go.

I freely admit this is a boring review. Deal with it.

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Filed under American literature, Mystery