Friday, November 20, 2009

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter--Carson McCullers

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 1940
Pages: 306
Rating: 5/5

In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.

This book is nothing short of brilliant. McCullers paints a vivid and heartbreaking portrait of loneliness and the human need for companionship. But the characters are in search of more than simply another person to pass the time with. They are desperate for someone to validate their *self*--their uniqueness, their own personal searches for justice, for beauty, for happiness.

The plot interweaves the stories of five major characters. Mick Kelly is a girl growing into a woman, a teenager in a family of six kids who run a boarding house. She has a gift for music but no money to explore her talent, and nobody to share it with. Jake Blount is an alcoholic drifter with Communist ideals, angry at the society America has become and at the complacency of the majority of it's citizens. Benedict Mady Copeland is a Negro doctor who is not content only to administer care to his people, but wants justice and empowerment for them as well. Biff Brannon runs a cafe in town where he can watch over his patrons and puzzle over ther behavior and his own feelings toward them. All four of them are drawn inexplicably to John Singer, a deaf mute who can read lips and therefore "hear" all that they have to say, but can speak only through sign language, which none of them understand. In him they find understanding and acceptance, but he remains the loneliest of them all--his only true friend being another deaf mute who has been sent to an asylum.

The setting is a small southern town in the midst of the depression. The novel deals with deep themes, including racism, the rise of labor unions, poverty, and sexuality. This is all interspersed delicately through the character's stories and manages to add to the major theme of the book, which is about the human need for understanding and acceptance. This book is often sad--at times terribly so. The writing is gorgeous--for example: " a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labor and of those who--one word--love." This is probably my favorite book of all time, and I think everyone should read it.

Challenges: Read it Again, What's in a Name
Book a Week # 53
Date Read: 11/20/09

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Moon--Stephanie Meyer

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Horror/Romance
Year Published: 2006
Pages: 563
Rating: 3/5

I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can't make your body move fast enough.

I have to say I'm beginning to have trouble suspending my disbelief while reading these books. It's not that I'm having trouble believing in vampires or even werewolves living amongst normal humans in Washington state. It's that I can't believe a high school senior who is supposedly an honor student could be so stupid. Or that an intelligent, sophisticated 100+ year old vampire could fall in love with an idiot like her. How she can continually miss things that are glaringly obvious to the reader seems pretty inconsistent with her character, even taking into consideration normal adolescent self-centered behavior and the fact that she has the self-esteem of an earthworm.

But other than that annoyance, I liked this book. Not as much as the first one, but enough to gulp it down in a day or two. The feud between the werewolves and vampires is engaging, especially with Bella caught in the middle of it. And once the story gets exciting and suspenseful it is hard to put it down. And I admit, I'm a sucker for the romantic Romeo-and-Juliet storyline behind Edward and Bella's melodramatic relationship. So I swallowed my disbelief and hardened myself against Bella's idiocy. Hopefully she won't be as dumb--or as much of a doormat--in the next book.

Challenge/s: A-Z
Book-a-week #: 52!!
Date Read: 11/11/09

Monday, November 9, 2009

House of Sand and Fog--Andre Dubus III

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 1999
Pages: 368
Rating: 4.5/5

The fat one, the radish Torez, he calls me camel because I am Persian and because I can bear this August sun longer than the Chinese and the Panamanians and even the little Vietnamese, Tran.

This book is very, very good, and very, very sad. An absolute tragedy, in fact. It centers around three main characters, all desperately fighting for their own self-preservation but in different ways. Kathy is a thirty-something recovering alcoholic/addict whose husband left her and who feels she has disappointed her family and longs for one of her own. Colonel Behrani is an immigrant from Iran whose family fled for their lives after an uprising, and who has fallen from wealth into the humiliation of menial labor and his family's disappointment. Deputy Burdon is trapped in a loveless marriage--at least on his end--and struggles with his own self-worth. When Kathy is evicted from her home, which was bequeathed to her by her father and is all she has left of her dignity, due to a mistake, Deputy Burdon falls for her and is determined to help her get it back. But Colonel Behrani buys it at an auction and plans to resell at a much higher price to restore his family's wealth, honor, and faith in him. The three of them are so caught up in their own desperate needs that they are unaware of the tragic path they tread.

The narration switches from the first-person accounts of Kathy and the Colonel to the occasional third-person account of Burdon. But it is the first-person narration that draws the reader in. Their voices are so real, so honest, so vulnerable, and we are able to clearly see both points of view. Though the ending was a little rushed and perhaps slightly lacking for closure, this book was one of my best reads of the year. Now I have to see the movie.

Book a week # 51
Challenges: TBR, What's in a Name
Date Read: 11/9/09

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 2005
Pages: 432
Rating: 4/5

The snow started to fall several hours before her labor began.

I really liked this book, which shows the detrimental effects secrets can have on families over time. When a doctor delivers his wife's twins during a snowstorm, he decides to send away the one who is born with Down's Syndrome, to spare his wife the pain of raising a child like that. He tells her the child died at birth, and sends it off with his nurse, who decides to keep and raise it. The book follows the lives of both families as the children grow into adulthood. The writing is excellent, and the story is lovely and sad.

Book a week #: 50
Date Read: 11/26/09
Challenge/s: TBR, What's in a Name