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Search tags: literary-fiction
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review 2017-09-19 21:00
The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey

I love fairy tales, and this one is no exception. I also appreciate that the wild, snowy Alaskan landscape is as much a character as the 50-year-old husband and wife who are the protagonists. Inspired by a Russian fairy tale, Ivey has done a lovely job of balancing the magical world with the very real difficulties and savagery of life in the high north. The images Ivey chooses work perfectly and the characters are all well-drawn, even the somewhat unearthly presence of the 'snow child' herself.

 

Like the best of fairy tales, this one is equal parts light and dark, and the transformations are complicated and at times disturbing. Thank goodness for that.

 

My only issue with the book, and what stopped me from giving it five stars, is that it's a tad too long. Well, more than a tad. There is a good deal of detail that might have been removed in favor of pacing. Still, I recommend it for anyone who has a soft spot for magical tales. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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review 2017-09-16 19:02
Ruby: A Novel - Cynthia Bond

Well, that was quite a ride. Beautifully written -- Bond is a marvel at the sentence level -- and magical in more ways than one... and thank God for that, because the story itself is brutal. Small towns have never been portrayed more unflatteringly, nor has church life (if you can call it that).  I imagine the author might have taken some flack from some members of the Black community, as Alice Walker did with The Color Purple, and Walker's book is a stroll through the rose garden compared to this one. While I'm not sure it's for everyone, since the misogyny and violence is extreme, but it's an important book, less concerned with entertaining you than with forcing you to bear witness. Bond is one hell of a writer. 

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review 2017-09-15 03:19
THE DINNER by Herman Koch
The Dinner - Herman Koch,Sam Garrett

Paul and Claire meet his brother, Serge and his wife Babette, for dinner one evening to talk about their children.  Serge is running for Prime Minister and wants to do damage control.  The other three have other ideas.

 

The story is told in flashbacks of the relationships and events of Paul's life.  I liked Paul but I never warmed to most of the characters.  I have a lot of questions for them. 

 

This is probably a book I would never have picked up on my own had it not been for my book club.  There is a lot to discuss and think about in this book.  How do people make the choices they do?  Very thought provoking and timely.

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review 2017-09-10 22:39
The Women in the Castle - Jessica Shattuck

A terrific book told from the point of view of three German women and set throughout the Second World War through to 1991. Beautifully written, with fabulous imagery and a great sense of intimacy. I wasn't quite sure the world needed another book on this subject, especially not after reading Hans Fallada's astonishing ALL MEN DIE ALONE recently, but this feels surprisingly fresh. Powerlessness, conviction, fortitude, and guilt... all are explored with a clear-eyed (dare I say Germanic) sensibility. 

The end of the book dangles ever so slightly, which is understandable given that the peace-time aspect of the narrative can't possibly have the drama of the war-passages, and perhaps it is ever-so-slightly too neat, but overall the book is satisfying.

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review 2017-09-03 18:32
The Discreet Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Edith Grossman
The Discreet Hero: A Novel - Mario Vargas Llosa,Edith Grossman

This book put me in a bind: while I found the story and characters engaging, fun, even, there are aspects that offended me. As I read, I would wonder: "Is this attitude or behavior endorsed by the author, or just described by him in depicting this place and these personalities?" By the end, I decided that there are definite ideologies at work here, including the beliefs that when it comes to family, blood is all; that the younger generation is responsible for squandering the hard work of their parents'; and the conservative viewpoint that if one only works hard enough, one can be successful. Other troubling attitudes that are questioned by characters but nevertheless feel condoned by the narrative: blaming victims of rape or sexual coercion; treating women as objects; racism; masculine pride as more important than the lives of loved ones.

 

After I finished the book, I read several reviews as I tried to work out my opinion of it. These mention that Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature but that this may not be his best work; that he used to be a social progressive but became a conservative who ran for president of Peru; that some characters appear in other books of his; that some elements are based on real events and his own life.

 

The book is divided between two alternating and converging narratives with separate protagonists, both fitting the "discreet hero" label of the title. The stories take place in two different areas of Peru, one Lima, one provincial, and their plots appear to have no connection. When they link up, it's very satisfying, even though the connection is quite minor. Each plot has elements of a mystery-thriller that propel the story; I found it hard to put down. The characters are often charming and easy to root for (until they're not). In story one, a man who worked his way up from nothing and owns a transport company is anonymously threatened unless he pays for protection; he refuses. In story two, a man on the verge of retirement and a long-awaited trip with his wife and son finds his life upheaved when his wealthy boss decides to marry his servant to punish his errant sons; at the same time, the protagonist's teenaged son is being approached by a mysterious stranger who may or may not be real, the devil, an angel, or just the kid fucking with his parents (this last mystery is left ambiguous).

 

Other elements I enjoyed included the relationship between the second protagonist and his wife, his feelings about art's role in life, the police sergeant from the first story, and learning about Peruvian life across two settings.

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