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review 2017-11-23 19:37
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
Love Medicine - Louise Erdrich

This isn’t a terrible book, but I can’t claim to have enjoyed it. Love Medicine is a somewhat awkward merger between novel and short story collection, made up of 17 pieces about two families living on the Ojibwe/Chippewa reservation over the span of about 50 years, from the 1930s to the 1980s. I call it an awkward merger because the stories all feature the same group of characters, but there’s neither the overarching plot you want from a novel nor the neatly encapsulated plots you expect from short stories. Life happens, but it isn’t organized by much plot structure at all.

Still, my dissatisfaction stemmed less from plotting issues and more from the fact that I simply never became invested in these characters. The first chapter was promising enough, but the older generation’s love triangle provided little interest, and something about the characters’ motivations and viewpoints felt off. It certainly doesn’t help that 13 of the 17 stories are told in first person, by 6 different narrators, of both genders, various ages, and from three different generations, and they all sound alike. Which tends to destroy the illusion that we’re hearing from different people, and for that matter, that these are characters at all rather than multiple figments of the same author’s imagination. It’s always baffled me that first-time authors – those least equipped to write multiple narrators successfully – are the most likely to attempt this feat, but I think I’ve hit on the explanation, which is that almost no one, no matter how experienced, can do this well and debut authors are also the least equipped to recognize their limitations.

That said, awhile back I tried to read Erdrich’s most recent novel, LaRose, and bounced off of it, finding the plot diffuse and the characters uninteresting. So it seems most likely that I simply don’t connect with this author’s writing. Fortunately for me, after finishing this I started Anything Is Possible, which provides everything I wanted here – a constellation of linked short stories about beauty and pain in everyday life, with characters and situations that caught and held my attention – albeit featuring white Midwesterners rather than Native Americans.

An endnote about the endnote: removing “The Tomahawk Factory” from the main text because “it interrupted the flow” and then tacking it on to the end just seems to muddle the book’s ending. I read it second-to-last, which happily turns out to be its chronological placement, once I realized it was meant to be part of this book and not a preview for another one.

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review 2017-11-22 18:45
Podcast #78 is up!
Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 - Mike Wallace

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview historian Mike Wallace about the second volume of his monumental history of New York City (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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review 2017-11-18 15:09
Podcast #77 is up!
His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt - Joseph Lelyveld

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Joseph Lelyveld about his account of the last year and a half of Franklin Roosevelt's life and presidency. Enjoy!

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quote 2017-11-16 17:13
[Gertrude Stein] thinks Fitzgerald will be read when many of his well known contemporaries are forgotten.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City - Matthew Desmond

After hearing for the last few years that it took a WWII book program to bring The Great Gatsby into fashion, I think it's pretty awesome that Stein saw Fitzgerald's brilliance back in 1933. 

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review 2017-11-15 04:17
I Wore My Blackest Hair by Carlina Duan

 

I honestly don't really understand a lot of poetry and I was hoping this book would be different, because I really do like poetry and want to "get it" better, if that makes sense.

There was pain and beauty in some of the poems, but could not get the meaning behind most of them. Maybe I'm not meant to? Poetry is very personal to the writer. If I related more to Carlina's life, would I understand them better? The writing style was different from how I see a lot of poems, very interesting, but might have been one of the factors in making it hard for me to understand.

Despite not getting most of the poems, I still really enjoyed reading this book. I like that it challenged my brain and made me think.

**Disclaimer, I won an ebook copy through a Goodreads giveaway.**

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