Thursday, January 19, 2017

Last Night: stories by James Salter

Last Night is a collection of 10 meticulously-crafted stories of betrayal, secrets, and lies. Reminiscent of Raymond Carver and J.D. Salinger, Salter creates characters who are unhappy, hurtful, and wholly unlikeable. Yet they are also flawed in completely recognizable ways. Even when their actions are unfathomable, the thoughts and emotions that lead them to make bad choices are the same that motivate most people’s decisions: love (or the idea of it), fear, loneliness, and desperation.

Fear and loneliness are heartbreakingly revealed in the story “Such Fun” where three women have drinks, gossip, and complain about their (privileged) lives while ultimately revealing very little of their true selves or motivations. In the end, one of them ends up leaving the party early and telling her cab driver that she’s just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Salter doesn’t reveal why she keeps this from her friends and chooses to tell a stranger, instead the reader is left to form their own conclusion.

Each story is distilled down to only the most necessary information, giving the reader a feeling that they’ve walked in on the middle of a private conversation. The penultimate entry “Arlington” reveals the decline and fall of a young army officer’s promising career in just two short scenes. A tale that might have taken hundreds of pages for another author is expertly whittled down to just 7 pages.

For me, a truly great short story is like a painting where only a brief moment in time is captured but so much emotion can be revealed. Like the paintings of Edward Hopper, Last Night is melancholy, haunting, vaguely lonely, and stays with you long after you walk away. 


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Reflective fiction is a popular genre for many but was not one that I typically read from. I am glad I gave this book a chance as I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Jude and Noah are thirteen year old twins who have always been incredibly close to each other and can feel where the other is at. They know everything about each other and can trust each other with their secrets. It is nice being able to have someone there for you all the time and have that deep bond with another human being. Being total opposites didnt drive them apart but made them a better team.

Three years and one giant family tragedy later, everything has fallen apart for Jude and Noah. They are no longer each others best friend and hardly even speak to each other and do not know how to deal with their depression and pain. This is a story of growing up, coming to terms with difficult things that life throws your way, and relationships with those around you.

What I liked about this story is the alternating viewpoints of the twins. We hear Noah narrating at the beginning of the book when they are 13 and the story switches to Jude three years later. The reader can tell how Jude struggles with depression and a little mental illness during the story. She sees and speaks to her dead grandmother and believes there is another spirit trying to sabotage her art in school. Jude has also boycotted dating boys after a terrible sexual experience when she was younger. Seeing her grow and become more comfortable with herself as she opens up to the world.

If you enjoy realistic fiction where we see the main character eventually grow and change things for herself, you would enjoy this book. It does include romance and will make you laugh and cry throughout the story. It is difficult to read about their misfortunes and see them struggle at times but the book is beautifully written and worth reading.

I typically prefer more action to emotions but I very much enjoyed this book and plan to try more authors from the reflective category.


Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Mistletoe Murder

I'm not one for reading short stories, particularly Christmas ones. But I have enjoyed P.D. James over the years and so decided to check this title out.  Lo and behold I discovered that at least three of the stories are an homage to Agatha Christie, and two of the four stories star Adam Dalgliesh, James's own detective.
Story one is told by a best-selling crime writer fifty-two years after the murder occurred . Typical of Christie, it takes place in a large atmospheric house where all but one of the guests invited for Christmas are related but have not met before. The one remaining guest is a coin dealer who is there to value coins the family wants to sell.  After the locked door murder, it is up to the crime writer to determine who did it and how.
The second story involves a law clerk, pornography, and murder.  A surprising one for me, neither Agatha Christie like or one I would have attributed to James.  The clerk discovers a deceased colleagues' stash of porn, which leads him to becoming a voyeur of an affair in the apartment across the alley.  When the murder occurs he has more than one reason for not going to the police.
The next two stories involve Dalgliesh, first as a young Sargent detective and the other as a Chief Superintendent.  In my favorite, the "Boxall Inheritance," a Canon has inherited a great deal of money and wants the Superintendent to investigate whether the woman who left him the money had murdered his grandfather many years ago.  This story is a delight with many twists and turns.  The last story is again set in a huge old mansion where the owner has supposedly committed suicide.  Dalgliesh is stopped while driving by and becomes involved in solving the murder. P.D. James and Agatha Christie are the grande dames of the large manor house, family secrets, and locked door murders.
Both wrote about respectable people who resort to murder. Beware though, these are not cozies.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I will admit that I knew nothing about this book but the title when I picked it up. I assume that I will love any book about books and libraries, and I am rarely disappointed. That being said, The Invisible Library was an especially fun ride for me because the librarians were not just book lovers, but undercover book stealing spies!

Irene works for The Library, a repository that exists outside of time and space where Librarians work to collect and store all works of fiction written in the many alternate worlds of the multiverse. Irene and her new assistant, Kai, are sent to a world to retrieve an original manuscript written by the brothers Grimm. Unfortunately for them, this particular world has become infected by “chaos” making it that much more dangerous and unpredictable. Add in a rogue colleague, a nefarious fairy, giant mechanical insects, and a master villain intent on destroying the Library, and you’ve got an action packed adventure like none other. Fans of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series will enjoy the quick banter, peculiar worlds and entertaining plots, though The Invisible Library underlines its quirkiness with a sense of foreboding.

It’s hard to believe that this is Cogman’s first novel. The characters are well-rounded, the settings written with such detail that I felt like I was there, and the plot was engaging and suspenseful. What’s not surprising is that this book made a number of “Best of” lists for 2016.

-Portia Kapraun

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Imagine Me Gone

Adam Haslett's novel Imagine Me Gone is the story of a family dealing with mental illness. It is written with clarity and compassion and feels honest and true. Margaret marries John, even though he struggles with crippling depression for which he is hospitalized, and they build a life together and have three children. The oldest of these children, Michael, struggles with his own mental demons and is frenetic and obsessive. He is brilliant and musical and yet cannot keep a job or stay in school or maintain healthy relationships. John succumbs to his depression by committing suicide, and his family members each deal with that in their own ways. Most of the book is focused on how the family copes and cares for Michael. His siblings, Celia and Alec, have very different personalities and approaches to life and to dealing with Michael. Celia is very rational, and Alec wears his feelings on his sleeve. Michael forms the center around which Margaret, Celia, and Alec revolve. The love and caring they show for him is deep and real, but this is not a candy-coated story of love conquers everything. Because it doesn't. This is a sad book, but it is heartwarming, too, because you see the love and the ways in which these very complex characters express it and struggle with it. They try, and that is what matters.

Reviewed by Kelly Currie