I seem to have picked up a diverse batch of books in this last trip to the library. Some good, some bad, but nothing special enough to deserve a whole review. So here are a few brief thoughts about this stack…
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
This Pulitzer Prize winning book was the best of the bunch, by far. Following the life of Quoyle, a rather simple man with a depressing life, the story travels from New York State to Newfoundland as the father of two discovers how to live a good life in a simple way. The marriage between quality of life and quality of mind is a theme explored throughout the book, as many of the characters find a delicate balance within their social circles and personal foibles. The only thing that really annoyed me about the writing was the short, choppy sentence structure in the first third of the book. However, as Quoyle as a person becomes more confident, the writing starts to change as well. This meta-writing had me fascinated by the end, and I think Annie Proulx did an excellent job of both telling and shaping the story with her words.
Not with Silver by Simi Bedford
I have a confession. I didn’t actually finish this book. I couldn’t stand to! It was that awful. It’s really very rare for me to abandon a book halfway through, but the writing style, plot lines, and characters of Bedford’s book left me both bored and frustrated. A generational tale, following the same family for multiple generations, can be a very effective hook (see just about any book by Amy Tan), but unless you make the timeline transitions very clear, it’s just disruptive! I never knew how much time had passed since the last chapter, and since characters often changed their names (willingly and unwillingly), I couldn’t follow the story. Something about a kidnapped prince from an African tribe, sold into slavery, but then escapes back to Africa, only to have his wife (or maybe it was his son’s wife) kidnapped again, and then back to America to rescue her, etc.etc.etc. I’m sure the author had good intentions, and I feel guilty that I didn’t give it a better try, but no luck on this one.
Remember Me by Trezza Azzopardi
If I’ve ever talked to you about book covers, I’m sure I’ve give you my “But the designer should read the book first!” speech. My favorite example of a cover gone wrong is the book Molokai. It’s about a leper colony in Hawaii, and the local cliff plays an integral part in the story. Well, the cover designer for that book read the flap copy, saw that a cliff was important, and put a generic picture of a cliff on the cover. Unfortunately it was a cliff in Italy, not Hawaii, and totally spoiled the text. Remember Me has the opposite problem. The designer actually read the whole book, and then decided to visually represent the entire text in the cover image. Main character with curly red hair? Check. World War II England clothes and buildings? Check. Girl is obsessed with a wooden foot that she carries around? Check. Both the hair and the foot play an integral part of the story, so much so that they are part of the twist ending. And to put them on the cover totally gave away the twist! It’s a good story, if a bit scattered (although it is narrated by a crazy lady, so there you go). I would recommend it, but I’m more interested in the same author’s previous book, The Hiding Place, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2000. Maybe I’ll find that one next.
The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman
A little hotel in Knightsbridge becomes an important part in the lives of 3 women, who then find their lives inextricably linked. Sounds like an interesting premise, except that there was too much intertwining! I can believe that a hotel would be the same for 3 different characters, OR I can believe that (separately from the hotel connection) their children decide to marry and there’s an awkward love triangle, but to believe that both are true concurrently stretches my imagination. There are simply too many people and too many hotels (even in Knightsbridge!) for this to be true. This book was a decent chick-lit read, good for the plane or the beach. But the attempts at deep spirituality (there is a third angel watching over all of us!) was too sappy for my tastes.
Property Of by Alice Hoffman
This book was a bit of a surprise, especially since it’s the same author as the previous book, but it’s really nothing like it! Definitely post-modern, it’s a drug-addled, street gang paen to the unavoidable and unrequited love. The main character (we never find out her name) searches out and falls for the leader of the Orphans, the local street gang. She becomes his main lady, but not his “property” — those are the other girls in the gang, each attached to a gang member. They stay together through multiple street wars and drug raids, until he eventually gets caught and imprisoned. She waits for him (like a good little girlfriend), but when he gets out and starts dealing with an even scarier drug lord, she finally breaks the spell of her fascination with him and his lifestyle and she leaves. The first half of the book was really captivating, but by the end I was frustrated because the main character never explained her reasoning. But I guess that’s kind of the point of modernist lit, that you don’t have to explain.