Monday, August 10, 2009

Disquiet by Julia Leigh

I selected this book because I like the title and the cover is beautiful. Probably not the best of reasons, but so be it.

A woman and her two children show up at her mother's home in France. Around this same time, the woman's brother and his wife and their dead baby show up. Gradually, through bits of dialogue and her interactions with others, the reader discovers the circumstances that led to her return home, as well as hints about her future plans.

I liked the book. It's a very short novel, a novella, I guess. A quick read about a family in France. I liked the style in which this was written. There are not any words wasted explaining the setting or background. The events are described, and it's up to the reader to figure out the back story. Once the full story is pieced together, the reader realizes in just a few words, there is a lot happening, or rather, a lot has happened that is currently affecting these characters.

I liked the atmosphere created in the book. It felt dark and moody: a French chateau; family secrets; mischievous children; sad, disappointed family members.

Overall, an interesting read. I enjoyed it, a nice way to spend an evening. Planning to read more by this author.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

A friend, who knows me fairly well though she hasn't known me for very long, recommended I read this book. The fact that she felt it would resonate with me exemplifies how well she knows me.

This is the story of Helen and her relationship with her mother, and way that relationship has effected Helen in other aspects of her life.

The title comes from her father telling her that her mother is there, they just can't see all of her. Like the moon? asks Helen, we know it's there, but sometimes it's hidden.

The novel begins with Helen killing her mother and continues with her trying to figure out what to do next and remembering the events in her life that led her to her mother's death.

Her mother suffers from some form of mental illness though there is no indication that she was ever diagnosed or treated. Whatever her mother's problem, whether real or imagined, the result is that she's controlling and cruel. She does all she can to convince her daughter that no one could ever love her except for her. She expects her husband and child's world to revolve around her. She's weak outside of the home, but in complete control while inside.

The damage she inflicts on Helen is deep and lingering. Helen grows up, goes away to college, has a husband and children, all in her attempt to be normal, to have a life that didn't revolve around her mother. But eventually she loses all of that. She doesn't finish college, her marriage ends, and she returns to live in a home near her parents, supported by her father's money. Just as her mother wanted, she becomes her whole world.

This book is very well-written, hard to put down. Helen embarks on one shocking event after another, having no clue as to what she should do next. It paints what I would imagine to be, a very real picture of what goes through someone's mind when something so startling happens. Helen didn't perform a cold, calculated murder. Her actions were impulsive and she doesn't know what to do to remedy what's she's done. The characters are baffled by the events, not sure how one is supposed to behave following a murder.

I've only glanced at other reviews of this book, and noticed a lot of negative comments. I think that's because the book concerns a very harsh subject, a situation that is foreign to most people. I don't mean murder, we've all read plenty of murder stories, but rather the idea of a mentally disturbed mother. For some people, a relationship such as the one between Helen and her mother is too absurd to imagine. Oh, to be one of those people...

Despite being so engrossed in the story, there were times when I needed to set the book down and take a break because of the intensity of the story. There were moments that hit very close to home. Everyone says they have a "crazy" mother, but as I got older I realized that people have different definitions of crazy. Not everyone's mother belittles then and tries to destroy their self-confidence, not everyone's mother says mean hateful things to their children, or makes us stories to try to cause problems in their other relationships, or writes anonymous letters calling them whores. When I got older, I was surprised to learn that some people had mothers who actually provided emotional support and encouragement. At the age of 33, that still seems like a novel concept to me: a kind, caring mother.

Most of all though, I sympathized with Helen's attempts to get away. Hers failed. I find myself in that position, trying to escape and feeling like the world can come tumbling down with a crazy phone call, or -- because I had to quit answering my phone -- a crazy email. I find myself angry and wondering why I'm not allowed to live my own life, why I've had to spend so much of my life compensating for my mother's mental instability. Unlike Helen though, I have made the decision to never have a family out of fear of replicating the only example I had. Even though I know this story is fiction, Helen's failed attempt at having a family seems to validate my own beliefs.

My only issue with the book though was the ending. There was so much buildup and so much happening, then the book just ends. I felt like the story wasn't finished, that if anything, the real action had just started. I wanted to know what happened next, but the book was over.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Life of Pi

My book club selected this book to read. I'd had it sitting by my bed for the past two years and several times I attempted to read it, but got distracted by something I considered more interesting.

I enjoyed the book. I didn't love it. A lot of people that I know absolutely love the book. I found it interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning when Pi is experimenting with different religions and is participating in three different ones, much to his modern, secular-minded father's horror.

But then Pi's family decides to move to Canada. Pi's father owned a zoo, and he's sold most of the animals to other zoos in America, so they're on a boat filled with animals when the boat sinks. Pi and a tiger named Richard Parker survive. This is when the real story begins. The book details Pi's attempts to survive on this boat in the middle of the ocean with a tiger as his only companion.

In the beginning he fears the tiger, but eventually they come to depend on each other and he regards the tiger as his friend.

This book is steeped in symbolism and probably requires multiple readings, or as the case with me, a thorough discussion involving multiple viewpoints.

To me though, this was a story about the power of one's imagination, and the way a person learns to survive in extreme circumstances. When the world becomes too unbearable to survive, Pi creates a new world in which he can exist until his situation changes.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips

Before this book was even released, I read all sorts of glowing reviews about it. Beautiful writing, observational wit, a man and his iPod, a man who connects to his music, etc.

I like music, I was lured in by the reviews. I checked it out from the library as soon as it was released.

Let me just begin my review by saying I think this is a terrible book. And here is why I think this is a terrible book:

A man going through a mid-life crisis, who is disappointed with everything about his life, becomes obsessive about music. He falls for a young singer at a bar and begins to stalk her. There is nothing beautiful or romantic about this. He starts sending her emails and following her around, taking photos, he travels to Europe to see her. Creepy. And the worst part, the part that makes it clear that this book is being written by a man wanting to live out his own fantasies through his characters -- is that rather than be concerned by this stalking, the singer is flattered and yearning to meet her stalker.

This is the kind of story that supports the idea that women like being stalked, that we're flattered by obsessive creeps and invite the idea of being assaulted.

If this was the story of a woman stalking a male musician the woman would be considered crazy and delusional and fit for an institution.

When women write stories like this, about following around men they adore and then have their attention returned, the writing is dismissed as "chick lit." But when a man writes this kind of drivel, he's considered "one of the greatest writers of our time." I think not. I'm going to label this as "dick lit." This is nothing more than a man writing about his fantasies of hooking up with a young woman -- in this particular case, a talented, famous young woman. And just to make this nice and neat, after it becomes certain the young girl wants him, he decides to return to his wife and continue living a nice, normal life. Convenient. Gag. Wish I'd not wasted my time reading this book.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Marley and Me

I watched the movie before I read the book, so I knew what was going to happen. But still, there I was on the airplane, sitting next to a stranger, crying uncontrollably, trying to wipe the tears away with the stupid, weak little airplane napkin they give you along with your drink.

If you've ever loved and lost a dog, then I suspect you can relate to this story.

I really liked this book.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield

For my book club, we read Sittenfield's book Prep. I hated it, absolutely hated it. The main character was so weak, so desperate to please and be wanted. The explicit sex in the book was so awkward, which I suspect was appropriate considering the subject matter -- confused teenagers fucking.

But I was curious about Sittenfield's fictionalized take of Laura Bush.

Surely we all had moments where we wondered what Laura Bush thought about her husband and his policies. Was she angry, sad, encouraging, proud? Impossible to know behind the frozen expression on her face. The robot wife.

Some chose to believe that she must not approve. She's a woman who claims to love books and libraries. How can she stand by a man who so strongly disapproves of education and instead represents the antithesis of advancement through education?

No one understands the makings of a marriage except the two people involved. As viewers on the outside, we've no right to judge. But that doesn't mean we aren't at least curious.

After reading part of this though, I started feeling very angry for Laura Bush. Sittenfield has used some details about her life but added the same explicit sex that bothered me so much about Prep. Why would a person project those ideas onto the president's wife? Her intent could only be malicious. I doubt there was any sort of information to support what she wrote. The fact that she even thought this grossed me out.

I didn't finish reading the book. I tried reading the book, and then I listened to it on CD for a while during my daily commute, but one day I just quit because I realized I was bored.

Wouldn't recommend this book to anyone.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Water's Lovely by Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell is one of my favorite writers and I'll read just about anything she writes.

This wasn't a favorite though. Family secrets and lies and unhappy relationships. The story was interesting enough, but it took me a long time to get through this book. I finally picked up a copy of the audiobook to listen to on a long drive over the holidays. I found the ending to be shocking and not necessary. The ending had nothing to do with the story, but was horrible and sad.

Breaking Dawn

This is the fourth book in the Twilight series. I was so anxious for it to come out. I pre-ordered it at Borders and I stood in line with all the teenagers to get my copy at midnight the day it was released.

I was getting on a plane to Paris the next day. I didn't like taking such a large book with me, but I was glad to have the reading material. (Especially since I ended up sitting next to someone who didn't speak English, and the video system didn't work. That's right, ten hours in a plane with no TV - and it's nearly impossible for me to sleep on planes, especially at the beginning of the trip.)

I hated this book so much. And I felt so trapped with it. I couldn't discard the book because I had nothing else to read and nothing to watch and no one to talk to.

The book was absurd, filled with coincidences and convenient twists. Everything that had been said in the past books suddenly no longer held true. Becoming a vampire is a terrible process -- but oh wait, now it's suddenly simple and easy! Vampires can't have children. Well, this time they can! Just this once. Children are difficult and require a lot of work -- except for this one. She's special, grows at a rapid rate and is talking and walking in weeks. Brilliant! If the vampires in charge get angry, they'll show up and kill the people that angered them -- unless you talk a whole lot, then they'll just say okay and go back home.

As much as I defended the first three books and said they aren't harmful to teenage girls, I feel the exact opposite about this book. Never, never tell a teenage girl that having unprotected sex and an unplanned pregnancy will turn out all wonderful and happy. The author could have used this opportunity to make a statement, at least show the new parents struggling to figure out how to raise a child for which they were not prepared.

And the bit with Jacob. I almost forgot about that because it was so disgusting I've tried to block it out of my mind. Jacob is a pedophile. Nice. No, not nice, gross. So all you Team Jacob-ers, be ready, your guy is disgusting.

I hated this book. I'm angry that I wasted quality reading time trapped with this book. I wish I had never read it, then I could have gone on enjoying this series. But this book ruined it. I always tell people to avoid this book. But of course, it's the last book in a series, so they're going to read it, and in most cases, they will later with they hadn't.