I like to walk around the big chain bookstore, with its carefully crafted display tables and candles and blankets, and not buy books (or anything). Instead I have my library app open and as I see a book that looks interesting I order it up. A few weeks or months later the book arrives at the library and I feel this smug satisfaction of *free books* and the delight of having forgotten I’d ordered it in the first place, so it’s like a double present. Continue reading
Category Archives: American literature
I’m on the record adoring Dave Eggers. As well as being routinely disappointed by his fiction (see Heroes, Your Fathers, The Circle, & Hologram). So it turns out I just really love his non-fiction, or quasi-fiction. I wrote a graduate paper on What is the What (which I just horrified myself by reading. I was tempted to post parts of it here because it is so earnest and sincere, but there is a limit to my exhibitionist tendencies – I see your shocked faces and I’m moving on). And my first encounter with Eggers was in his much discussed memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Zeitoun was also great. Really the point of this first paragraph is to prove I’ve read a lot of his books. High five, me. Continue reading
Gabriel Tallent might be a sadist. For the pain inflicted on the characters in My Absolute Darling and the attendant pain for the reader. Geeze but it is an intense read. Our protagonist, Turtle, is physically and sexually abused by her father: a survivalist/prepper who has isolated the two of them in the coastal forest of California.
For all the pain the novel describes, it does so with exquisite beauty. Like this reader felt uncomfortable for how frequently I stopped to admire the writing in scenes that are violent and disturbing.
I’d say the book is as much a character study as anything. Turtle is one of the most evocative and fully realized characters I’ve read in ages. It took me some time to adjust to the pain and disturbance of her inner world, but the third person limited narration was pitch perfect. It allowed for the reader to experience with Turtle the subtle and significant moments of character change, all while holding a necessary distance that (for me anyway) made the reading possible.
It’s also a book obsessed with setting. There aren’t many books that manage to make setting exciting. Sure lots of books make setting vivid, or integral to the plot, or thematically appropriate, but here the setting contributes to the violence: in its oceanic power, in its isolation, in the threat of (coming) fecundity.
Every so often I had to remind myself that Tallent imagined this story (I hope). Sat somewhere and thought okay, now Turtle is driving the truck and [this] happens. I had to remind myself because there are so many scenes that combine surprise and inevitability (what is the word for something that is both a surprise and inevitable?), so many moments of creative juxtaposition.
It was also a novel that reminded me how painful reading can be (especially compared to watching a film). In many of the scenes I wanted to close my eyes, but of course the only way to get through the scene was to read it and so to experience it. Sometimes I’d skip ahead, or skim, but felt I was cheating Turtle and so would go back and read properly, if with intense discomfort.
So while it’s an extraordinarily well written novel, I’d be remiss if I didn’t underscore (again) how difficult it was to read. And how it’s okay if you’d rather watch the news. Because that’s less distressing. Oh wait.
I still don’t like short stories. And Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible is a short story collection. It helped that characters appeared in multiple stories, and that Lucy Barton shows up in lots of them. Helped because my memory is terrible and I don’t like getting to know a set of characters only to have them change 25 pages later.
All of the stories are brilliantly written with believable and raw characters. And an overarching tone of menace and melancholy (put that on your book jacket).
That’s all I have to say because it’s three days later and I’ve forgotten all of the stories in their particulars. It’s not the fault of Strout, but of the genre. I dislike Black Mirror for the same reason. Probably people who are better equipped for the world would just love the collection and be able to tell you specific moments as justification. But not me. So you’ll have to take my overarching feeling as proof. Flimsy though that may be.
(Also – what’s the name for the thing you use to steer a ship? Like does it have a particular name? I looked at once for 15 minutes and couldn’t place the name for it, getting increasingly worried that I am losing my mind.)