As evidenced by the three stickers of award-endorsing-approval on the cover, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, is well regarded by people who control stickers on books. Also by all of the young adults on the internet. And then all the readers on Goodreads. Why do they like it? It’s a romance, a bildungsroman, a redemption for the weirdo (and don’t all readers of YA identify as weirdos, themselves?), an affirmation of family, an exploration of identity in all its shapes. Continue reading
Tag Archives: friendship
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Why you might choose cake over this novel. If you were me.
Book two of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, The Story of a New Name is as captivating as the first. Following Elena and Lila as they enter their twenties this second installment continues to explore the contours of their friendship, Elena’s growing sense of self and the impact of politics, class and gender on choice.
Book one ends with Lila’s marriage to Steffan and the assumption by Elena of Lila’ triumph in ‘achieving’ this life milestone first. As book two unfolds we see Elena questioning this assumption and coming to realize that once the thrill of excitement has dissipated, Lila has made the wrong decision. More jealousy and comparison ensues. Trips to the beach. Scandal. Writing and studying.
The scenes of Elena recognizes her intellectual limitations (or at least fixating on them) were most resonant for me. Considering the distance between being a ‘hard worker’ and ‘gifted,’ Elena realizes she won’t be a professor, she will instead have to be a teacher.
Book two ends again on a cliff hanger. 3/4 in I decided I didn’t care enough to read book three. I’ve just put it on the list at the library. So… cliff-hanger or not I’m seemingly invested enough in what happens to the friendship to read on. You detect reluctance? It’s there. Just not sure why. Anyone else finding this with this series? You both can’t stop reading and are also pretty ambivalent about the story while you’re reading it?
If you were lost (on a mountain) what book would you want to have with you? Pragmatic answers about edible plants or wilderness survival have no place here. You certainly wouldn’t want to pack Lori Lansens’ The Mountain Story. Maybe it’s just me (it’s probably just me), but I could have easily done without this one. Lori Lansens is something of a Can Lit showstopper – her novels The Girls, Rush Home Road and The Wife’s Tale have been best-sellers (and not the Canadian kind of best seller where you get featured on the CBC, but fancy New York Times best-sellers). So what is it these readers are gravitating towards?
Sure The Mountain Story has an engaging plot. From page one our protagonist, Wolf Truly, has set out to kill himself (cue conflict) by jumping off a cliff (for real) on the mountain he has climbed and hiked through his teen years. Enter the merry band of misfit women – three generations in three women – who, through a series of unfortunate events (for real), find themselves and Wolf, lost and trapped on the mountain. Plot is built on conflict (or so the books on writing tell me) and this one is full of yawn-inducing man-versus-nature conflict: finding water, finding food, coyotes, broken arms, broken bridges, snakes. Interweaving these necessary hiccups on the road to salvation (and we know they get saved, the story is told retroactively) are pieces of Wolf’s story from before the mountain: why he wants to kill himself, the deal with his father (isn’t there always a deal with the father?), the love interest, the deal with his mother (there’s definitely always a deal with the mother). I had a hard time deciding which parts of the story I found more tedious – the mountain or the backstory, but I’ll go with the mountain because there it felt most like I was working my way through a story arc written in an elementary school writing class.
I suppose these pieces of an adventure story could be interesting if there were characters that offered anything like complexity or curiosity. As it is Wolf (despite his name) is neither. The three women – so forgettable I’ve forgotten their names – are likewise Women Who Get Lost on the Mountain rather than characters with depth. Of course there’s a love story – what more romantic setting might you imagine than being stranded on a mountain as you attempt to kill yourself? And of course there’s familial tension – how could you not bicker with your mother while stranded on a mountain? And sacrifice. And heroism. And yawnyawnyawn.