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review 2017-07-22 00:13
I'm grinning like mad
And One Last Thing ... - Molly Harper

Start to finish, this was a huge entertainment. From the vengeful start to the amusingly ridiculous encounters with Monroe, plus the whole cast of secondary characters, all colorful in their own way, all of it was made to get laughs and smiles out of me.

 

I'd forgotten about this author, and the way she mixes humor into the embarrassing. It feels like reading a fictional "This looser is you, and that's OK, you can laugh at yourself and proceed being awesome".

 

Spirit-lifting Free Friday Read.

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review 2017-07-14 08:49
Treatise and character study
Anna Karenina - Larissa Volokhonsky,Richard Pevear,Leo Tolstoy

The foremost impression I'm left with, since I have the last part very present, is this literary symmetry: Anna takes about sixty pages to come in, by train, and leaves the book sixty pages from the end, also by train (yes, I know, some dark humor).

Next, also with the end very present, this sense that in the end, Levin and Ana essential difference is that when doubt harasses them, Levin goes back to what feels natural to him and trudges on, and Anna gives into despair.

For all that it's name comes from the woman, larger than life in the outside, and deeply uncertain on the inside, it was Levin the vehicle for most of the author treatise on... well, everything: agrarian reform, women's education, religion, politics, war, ideologies... At first I was interested. Passing the middle point, I just wanted the author to get on with it. I've gone over this many times: I have little patience for authors trying to educate or reform me through fiction.

While the Levin/Kitty side of the novel carries the most heart-warming bits, it's also choke-full of opinions, so whenever we got to it, instead of feeling like I was resting from Anna's turbulence, I started to feel dread at the amount of pages Tolstoy was about to bore me with his "insight". I totally get why the movies gloss so much over this side of the equation.

And it is some type of equation, or coin. I wonder if the author was trying to make Anna into a personification of reason, given the stab he takes at it in relation with faith in the end, with Levin as this second, him being unable to properly express himself, but finding peace with his own being at the end; Anna all poise, yet false, forever uncertain inside, speech coming out pleasant while thoughts looped and spun in place without answer. Also, passion vs. love. And romantic feeling against filial.

As for characters (beyond the two protagonist, because, you know, so mired into the theme), they were all so damned well fleshed out:

Vronsky with his honorable selfishness: I know it sounds like a contradiction, but the guy truly does not realize the damage he does, and in his own way, he follows a code of conduct strictly. It's horrifying.

Karenin... *sigh* Anna calls him a robot. At first, it looks like she's just over-reacting to her new feelings, ascribing the worst to her obstacle. It turns out she is over-reacting, but she's also somewhat right. The guy is a wonder of self-discipline, in his life and even where his feelings and though process is concerned. The way he twist and rearranges facts and ideas to suit himself is a thing to read. While writing this, I also wonder if his influence wasn't arresting much of Anna's internal disorder, if she didn't loose what little was keeping her peace when she left him, or if it was the other way around: a wild mare kept in tight reign, that suddenly tasted freedom and galloped non-stop into the abyss, with Vronsky spurring her.

Kitty with her innocence; Vronsky breaks her heart, but after some false steps, she comes on the other side just as sweet, and wiser.

Dolly and her big heart. Stiva forever on the rope by the miracle of his social nature. Sanctimonious Lidia. Betsy, so liberal but in the end unwilling to forsake societies constraints. Sergey and his empty rhetoric. Nikolay and his nihilism. Varenka.

I guess there was much more in all those many pages than proselytism. You can disregard this whole paragraph, I'm claiming that Levin ruined me, but really? Last night I went to sleep, and kept wondering: how much of these explorations impulse change? Much of what is disused in dialogues here feels like sides talking to hear themselves, not to seek understanding, and I was left thinking about social change, and whether writing heralds it, or just meanders over what society has already started to accept or war upon. I noticed many of the topics expounded on came and passed, discarded by history, yet things that are barely touched upon, like womens rights and education became an issue not long after that endures. What I'm trying to say, and I'm treading on deeply personal and weird territory here, is that I started to doubt how much social commentary in literature looks forward, and how much it's just a soap box for the author.

So, *wheoo!*, that's a looong commentary on a loooong book, and I'm still unsure what I'll rate it. No, I do know. It's really good, and as a character study is great, but I don't think it perfect because, for me, if you are going to fill a novel with ideology, it has to age well, and it has to engage even on those bits. So 4 stars.

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review 2017-07-05 23:04
Five for one
Las Armas Secretas - Julio Cortázar

I understand now why this one is classified as European lit all the time. I haven't researched it, but I'm pretty sure this one was written after Cortázar left Argentina, because the five stories in this volume are all set in Paris.

I was not that dazzled by this too much at first but then, my bar with Cortázar is "Bestiario", and that's a hard one to upstage in the wow (weird, awesome, uncomfortable, puzzling) factor.

Cartas de Mamá, leaving aside the historical parallelism that some scholar or other wants to saddle on it, was an excellent exercise on revealing the past through the present. Many authors could learn a thing or two about how to do back-story. Of course, back-story is the whole issue here: sins and regrets that turn into silences, and that end that is half fantasy, half delayed acknowledgement. And the great opening line:

 

"Muy bien hubiera podido llamarse libertad condicional."

 

Los Buenos Servicios was a very scathing look at how moneyed people use "the help", many times frivolously, and often callously, and how hollow the "throw money at it" approach is, which is more jarring  (and ridiculous) from the poised view of Francinet. She had more class than any of the cast.

Las Babas del Diablo is a POV nightmare. As it tends to happen when I read magical-realism, I enter a weird state where I'm paying close attention, but at the same time relax my mind and just go with it. Like suspension of disbelief, but I just suspend logic and sometimes even grammar. I find it pays off with many complex or weird plots, or speculative fiction too. Triggers galore in this one, and one VERY uncomfortable suspicion.

"El Perseguidor", now here is the jewel of the book, and the point where I started to love this collection. It was absolutely engrossing. I understand why it has been known to be edited as "El Perseguidor y otras historias". This one got to me, emotionally-wise, and I'm not even quite sure why. I guess it's that desperate search.

"Las Armas Secretas" you know how it's going to go almost from go. Or maybe it's that I've read enough Cortázar to understand the clues he leaves. Or, maybe more, this sense of having read one of his before, about a big house in San Isidro, that has similar elements, but I can't remember to which collection it belonged to contrast.

You know, the more I write, the higher I want to star this. I realize it made my brain jog, and my thoughts come back to it whenever I wasn't reading.

Not his best, but for "El Perseguidor" alone, so worth owning it. I predict re-reads.

 

And there it goes my 4th of July extra. I devoured it, lol

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review 2017-06-09 07:05
Fun applying a bit of the Bellisario's Maxim
The Pelican Brief - John Grisham

There are a lot of movies based on Grisham books. I decided to check some out when I found about them. Never watched this movie but kept hearing about it, so I had it my tbr pile ready for the game square.

The idea is that in a country filled with lawyers to the gills (it's a factor that's gone over a lot through the pages), a shot in a million had a lot of chances of happening: some busy-body would stumble into the right theory. The bad luck comes in when the brief is picked up as a way to needle back in a quarrel between agencies. No one takes it seriously, but a lot of noise is made. And it just happens to be right. A lot of pettiness that results in a murder fest.

 

The good guys win. Or at least they get to the end of the book alive. Let's not think about the trial. I don't much like their chances of lasting up to it in a real life scenario. After all, the small fishes pay, the rest keep swimming. We know how long those types of cases takes, and how often the big weights actually go to jail: One patsy every age.

(spoiler show)


It's an entertaining thriller (and depressing if you have your brain-cells firing too much). I'm still likely to read The Firm at some point (the movie that first got me interested in these books)

 

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review 2017-05-17 00:23
Incoming Rant
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

You know, I'd read in some posh literary review that Jake and Brett were two of Hemingway's most lovable characters, but I really can't see how that could be. I get he was painting an era, but I had the same difficulties I had with Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby": I was bored by the characters misery (first world high class problems, people, that's what you have!); and I was enraged by the chaos and destruction they sowed all around themselves with their callow carelessness. Stupid egotistical brats.

And that's the other thing: they ARE reacting like brats. "Our parent's culture and ideology crumbled down and betrayed us! Let's rage and get drunk, and screw everyone around!" Except, you know, they are in their middle thirties. I don't say you have to have your shit together by that time or any other, God knows you never really do, and life has a marvelous way of sucker punch you when you think you have it balanced, but the over the top woe-is-me shit you are supposed to learn to manage after the hormones of puberty stabilize.

Every generation has challenges, and I reckon those that were born around the turn of the 20th century had a suck-fest of a raw deal, but what I saw inside this book was not just depression and insecurity over lost direction and of self, but a total lack of care for other people. I saw the phrase "moral bankruptcy" around, and I think that's and exact description, but it was treated as an excuse for how these particular characters act, because apparently it was a pervasive thing all around. News-flash: if everyone is a terrible person, and you act like everyone, you are still a terrible person.

 

So no, I have no love for these characters. Now, do I have any use for this book? *sigh* Thorny issue. If it was an accurate representation of the generation, I have to loose any surprise at seeing them fall right back into war; they all felt suicidal to me, and self-centered enough to blow up the world along with themselves.

 

So here's what I think: maybe it's useful, but I did not like it.

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