Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Believers by Zoe Heller

A friend of mine mentioned this book in her facebook status. She recommended it with a warning for those sensitive to stories about dysfunctional families. Hmmm... sounds right up my alley.

What I liked about this book, is what I liked about the other Zoe Heller book I've read (Notes from a Scandal). She has a knack for creating complex characters. They're real people, not good or bad, just people, trying to do the best they can to get through the day. She lets her readers into her characters' heads and provides an understanding as to why they do and say the things they do.

This particular story is about a family in which the father has just suffered a stroke. The story isn't necessary about the father's stroke, but rather begins at that point. Then the reader learns about the mother and the two daughters and their adopted son. I suppose the best way to describe this book is that it's about a family and the different personalities that make up a family. It's about the difficult interactions between parents and siblings. Everyone is searching for meaning in their own way - through work or religion or politics or relationships or most likely some sort of combination of those elements.

The family was very politically minded, the father a well-known lawyer fighting for social justice. His wife stood proudly by his side, her identity tied closely to his. They raised their children to think and believe as they did. One daughter went to Cuba and then decided to devote herself to helping young girls in New York City and another married an important man in a union. But both begin to realize they aren't satisfied in their lives. Maybe because they were living the lives their parents told them to live, and not the lives they wanted.

As adults the children are beginning to question their beliefs and trying to figure out what is real and what works for them.

I enjoyed this book. I liked the daughters. I felt so close to them and wanted so much for them to find happiness. I thought the mother was a bit horrible, but I think she truly believed in the life she'd left, which I assume is where the title comes from. She believed and wanted her family to do the same. The family was very opposed to religion, but in a way, created their own religion in their home. But with their leader -- their father -- gone, the foundation of this "religion" begins to crumble. Their reality becomes an illusion as the truth emerges.

I do recommend this book. It's an interesting, well-written story.

Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters

Minette Walters is one of my favorite authors. I like her books that include strong, tough women. This book had a bit of that with the character of Jackson, but not as much as her other books.

This is the story of Charles, a solider who returns home with a disfigured face. He ends up linked to several violent crimes. Luckily for him, Jackson, a doctor, who is also part owner of the pub where he gets drunk and gets in a fight, takes pity on him. Without her assistance, Charles would have ended up in jail, with no way to defend himself.

I really liked the character of Jackson. But the story had so many coincidences that it became a little difficult to believe. Some of the conclusions they arrive at about the effects of abuse seemed a little far out. I don't want to give away what happened, but it was weird.

This book was okay, but not anywhere near Walters best work.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I really liked Nick Hornby's Long Way Down, so when I saw this on the new release shelf at the library, I picked it up. A story about a musician, a person obsessed with that musician, and that person's girlfriend. Being that I love music and know a bit about people being obsessed with music, I thought the story sounded interesting.

First there's Duncan, the fan who spends all his time obsessing over this musician, Tucker Crowe, and communicating with other obsessed fans on a message board. If you've ever visited an online forum for a band, you've seen these people. They analyze everything, each lyric and guitar chord. They know setlists and cities and dates and anything and everything that has to do with the musician. Duncan's girlfriend Annie has been with him for years. It's on a trip to America, while visiting Tucker Crowe-associated sites, that Annie begins to realize she's growing tired of Duncan and his obsession. She's beginning to think she wants more out of life. She's comfortable with Duncan, but she's longing for something more than simple comfort.

One day, while going through the mail, she opens a package for Duncan. It's a CD called Juliet, Naked. It's a stripped down version of Crowe's CD, Juliet. This version is simply demos and unfinished tracks. Much to Duncan's horror, she listens to the CD before he gets home.

After listening to the CD, Duncan posts a long review on his message board, claiming Juliet, Naked is the greatest thing he's ever heard. Annie, having listened to the CD before Duncan, posts a response saying that it's ridiculous and insulting to claim these unfinished tracks are better than the studio production. Clearly a lot of work went into the finished piece, and to claim the "naked" version is superior is to disregard all that work.

Much to Annie's surprise she receives a Private Message from someone agreeing with her response and claiming to be Tucker Crowe.

The story that follows is about Annie and Duncan splitting up and Annie's online flirtation with Tucker Crowe. Annie is trying to figure out what she wants in her life, as is Tucker Crowe.

I enjoyed this book. It's a funny story and the characters are likable and real. As with Hornby's other books, the story moves quickly.

I thought the ending was a little too sappy, but overall, I do recommend this book, especially to music fans.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I read this book because I was curious about the movie. It sounded interesting, but I don't know that I really ever understood what it was about. A married couple who wanted more out of life. They were going to be different - "revolutionary."

I just happened to see the book on a shelf at the library and decided to check it out.

I so wish I hadn't.

I didn't like this book at all. The couple were two extremely selfish, arrogant people. They were convinced they were better than everyone else. Completely and totally convinced. And yet, I never learned anything about them to convince me that they were smarter or more attractive or at all better than the people they seemed to despise.

The husband is so pleased that he manages to do nothing at work. In fact, he is described as selecting the job because it was one of those big companies that no one would notice if he did nothing. We all hate our jobs at some point, and office jobs can be especially soul sucking, but we figure out ways to compensate for that. You either look for work that does have meaning, or you try to create a meaningful life outside of work. He's quite content to just brood about how boring his life his. How he deserves to live in Europe because life is better there.

His wife is equally horrible, convinced of her husband's brilliance and her own, by association with him.

His wife does at least make an attempt to do something to change their lives. She decides they're going to move to Europe. She's listened to her husband all these years and is convinced that is the cure. She starts making plans to get a civil service job of some sort. I didn't really understand that part. It seemed to be very easy for her to apply and get this job, despite the fact that she'd not worked in years.

But her action is, in a way, calling her husband's bluff. What is he going to do in Europe? He's not an artist or a writer or an inventor. How is he going to uncover his true potential in Europe? This is when you realize that all he wanted to do was complain. He never though moving would be a possibility, and now that it is, he's panicking. Also, at this point, he's finally starting to get involved in his office job and isn't sure he wants to leave.

The husband is such a jerk. He's always thinking about himself and how he looks and what impression he's leaving on others. Some of the descriptions of conversations between him and his wife were so bothersome. They never spoke to each other like two people who knew each other and cared about each other. He was always playing a role. I got so frustrated with them, why didn't they just talk to each other and tell each other how they were feeling.

These two people didn't love each other, they didn't even like each other. They liked the impression other people had of them. He was handsome and she was pretty and they liked the way they looked together.

Their plans to move fall apart because of their carelessness. The situation looks to only be worsening and April again finds herself trying to make things better. I suppose the ending is sad, but I disliked the characters so much I didn't care all that much.

finished reading: June 15, 2010