Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Five Books I've Read or Listened to Lately

Overcommitted, overextended, overtired. If I get it all done by the end of the week, I'll be happy. Dizzy slipped and fell down part of my staircase last week — did I mention that already? – and is okay but sore, and yelps if he rolls over the wrong way. It's horrible to see a dog in pain, although a low dose of baby aspirin has been helping (him, not me). Of course, you can't give baby aspirin to babies any more, so it's no longer called that, but . . . I digress.

All of the above is to explain why today's post is a reading list instead of something more substantive.

1. Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge. As usual I am late to this Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories, about a fierce Maine schoolteacher and the people in her life. We see the world from Olive's point of view, and Olive from the world's point of view; she is not comfortable with it, and we are not comfortable with her. It's so much easier for her to be kind to strangers than to the people she loves most, and she never understands her power over the people who love her. But she's strong and she's brave, and I wish I didn't see so much of my own self in her.

2. Christopher Rice, THE MOONLIT EARTH. Megan Reynolds' brother Cameron, a flight attendant, is one of two prime suspects in the bombing of a Hong Kong hotel. Megan can't believe it, but Cameron's recent behavior suggests he might be caught up in events beyond his control, and now he's disappeared. Megan follows the trail to Hong Kong and finds a tangle of international conspiracies and family secrets. Rice explores new territory here, putting his own unique spin on the international political thriller.

3. T.C. Boyle, THE WOMEN. Few modern authors take up as much space on my bookshelf as T.C. Boyle, and anything he writes is worth reading. That said, this study of Frank Lloyd Wright's complex personal life didn't entirely work for me. It's narrated by a fictional Japanese apprentice, Tadashi Sato, who tells us about events he could only have heard about at second or third hand, while never revealing much about himself. Wright himself remains an enigma; although Sato worships him and all these women destroy themselves for him, we never quite understand why. The most fully-realized, interesting character is Wright's second wife, Miriam, whose passion for Wright had less to do with him than with her own idea of herself. In spending so much time on Miriam, whose role in Wright's life might be seen as less significant than his first wife, Kitty; his last, Olgivanna; or his murdered "soul mate," Mamah, Boyle seems to suggest that Miriam, oblivious to everything but herself, might have been Wright's truest match.

4. Douglas E. Winter, RUN. What seems to be a routine guns-for-money deal turns out to be two overlapping conspiracies, with gunrunner Burdon Lane at the center of both. Published in 2000, this book feels dated now, set in a world before 9/11 and the Department of Homeland Security. The pace is relentless, the twists keep coming, and Winter gets so much right that it feels churlish to say I found the book ultimately unsatisfying. Lane must decide which side he's on, but I never fully understood what the sides were.

5. Matthew Dicks, UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO. Milo Slade's marriage is crumbling, at least in part because he's never been able to admit to his wife that he lives in servitude to half a dozen obsessive compulsions: opening jars of grape jelly, popping sheets of bubble wrap, bowling strikes, singing a karaoke version of "99 Luftballons," and more. He finds a video camera and several tapes in a park, and discovers that the tapes are the video diary of a woman torn apart by grief and guilt. She blames herself not only for the recent death of a friend, but also for the disappearance of her best friend from childhood, 20 years before. Milo's quest to find forgiveness for this stranger leads to his own redemption in this absolutely charming novel. I read an advance copy; it'll be out in August.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

LOVED!LOVED!LOVED! Olive Kitteridge! In my all-time top ten I recognized a lot of characters, not you though I have to think about that one.