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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Forgotten Waltz

The Forgotten Waltz
Anne Enright
Norton, 2011

Gina is 32 years old and married to a sweet if slightly clueless husband. No doubt she is bored with her life when she meets the older and also married Sean at a party, or maybe she is just caught unaware in the immediate attraction she feels for him. Through a series of events she carefully orchestrates, she and Sean have an affair that eventually causes both their marriages to fail, even though by the end of the novel, Sean is just separated from his wife and hasn’t fully committed himself either way. Evie is Sean’s preadolescent daughter who figures prominently in the story – both because of the strange relationship she and her father have as well as her basic oddness that distances herself from others, especially Gina.

The setting is contemporary Ireland. Gina tells the story of her affair during a rare snowstorm during which she is stuck at home, which is now the former house of her mother. Because of the dire economic situation, the house hasn’t sold, but during most of the affair, the money flowed freely and may have caused some of Sean’s reluctance to leave his wife since he could have lost much of his net worth. Now that things have spiraled downward, however, he seems more willing to talk about their future, which, of course, must include Evie. This quiet, contemplative book moves back and forth through time quite a bit, much like a person’s thoughts as they reminisce about the past. The writing is memorable; it has a lyrical and melancholy style that is absolutely beautiful..

I wish I could have warmed up more to this novel. I had trouble identifying with Gina or caring very much about the circumstances of her affair. I admired the writing style and found myself rereading several sentences just to enjoy them a second time, but this did not redeem the novel for me. The child was portrayed so strangely that I kept expecting her to do something sinister to sabotage the lovers, but nothing ever really happened. As usual, all the reviewers absolutely loved this novel, but I was mostly lukewarm about it.


Other novels by this author:
What Are You Like (2000)
The Gathering (2006)

Other titles you may enjoy:

A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler (2011)
A tale set in reverse chronicles the failing marriage of New Orleans residents Michael and Kelly Hayes, who, on the day their divorce becomes final, revisit their shared history to evaluate the insecurities and inabilities that have driven them apart.

The Sea by John Banville (2005)
Following the death of his wife, Max Morden retreats to the seaside town of his childhood summers, where his own life becomes inextricably entwined with the members of the vacationing Grace family.
The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon (2011)

The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon (2011)
Having not seen each other for more than 40 years, Miranda and Adam unexpectedly reunite in Rome--where they once spent a summer deeply in love--and agree to spend the Italian afternoons taking walks together, experiencing the city, bringing each other up to date--and reviewing the betrayal that drove them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Cat’s Table

Michael Ondaatje
Knopf, 2011


In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the "cat's table"--as far from the Captain's Table as can be--with a ragtag group of "insignificant" adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: one man talks with them about jazz and women, another opens the door to the world of literature. The narrator's elusive, beautiful cousin Emily becomes his confidante, allowing him to see himself "with a distant eye" for the first time, and to feel the first stirring of desire. Another Cat's Table denizen, the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, is perhaps more than what she seems. And very late every night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and his fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of the ship and the boy's adult years, it tells a spellbinding story--by turns poignant and electrifying--about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.

All I can say is: BORING!

Okay, I lied. I can say more than that, but nothing good. I enjoyed the first bit, where the three boys are aboard the boat and their adventures. Things started getting boring about the time that the book moved back and forth in time and the narrator became more reflective about his past and his friends and his wife and well, you get the idea. There is a lot of description, which really slowed the action down --when there was action, which became less and less as the book went on. And on.

As usual, all the book reviews LOVE a book that I can’t even finish. There must be something wrong with me.


Other novels by this author:
The English Patient (1992)
Anal’s Ghost (2000)

Other titles you might enjoy:

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002)
Possessing encyclopedia-like intelligence, unusual zookeeper's son Pi Patel sets sail for America, but when the ship sinks, he escapes on a life boat and is lost at sea with a dwindling number of animals until only he and a hungry Bengal tiger remain.

Rites of Passage by William Golding (1980)
Edmund Talbot recounts his voyage from England to the Antipodes, and the humiliating confrontation between the stern Captain Anderson and the nervous parson, James Colley, which leads to the latter's death.

The Reivers by William Faulkner (1962)
Boon Hogganbeck persuades Lucius Priest, 11, to borrow his grandfather's car in 1905, and after they arrive at a bordello, the black Ned McCaslin trades the car for a horse.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot
Liane Moriarty
Amy Einhorn Books, 2011

When Alice falls off her exercise bike during a spinning class, her return to consciousness is missing one thing: the last ten years of her life. She tells the paramedics she is 29 and pregnant and is astonished when her husband is rude to her on the phone. Imagine her shock when her sister, who is acting oddly, (why does everyone keep looking at her strangely?) tells Alice that she and Nick are separated and fighting for custody of their three children. THREE children, she thinks? How on earth did she even raise one baby, let alone three? And what happened to the relationship she shared with Elizabeth, who used to be her closest friend and ally? But the thing she just can’t get over is the problem with her marriage. Nick is the best thing that ever happened to her; she is madly in love with him and can’t even bear the thought of not being married. She doesn’t know what happened (does it involve this Gina that everyone keeps asking her about?) but she knows if she just can talk to him, everything will be fine.

As Alice relearns her 39-year-old self, she discovers that she has mastered several new skills in the past ten years: purchase and apply expensive make-up; remodel and lavishly decorate the old house she and Nick bought ten years ago; lead a large volunteer corps; exercise religiously; and that she has a new boyfriend. She also has become very thin, apparently by not eating anything of substance. She has to be introduced to her children, who quickly take advantage of her lack of knowledge and experience by telling her that they normally stay up all hours watching television and eating junk food. Nick, meanwhile, is not quite as receptive to her old charms as she thought, but he’s warming a little to the idea of a new Alice. Meanwhile, at some point in the past she somehow started to organized a giant event that everyone keeps pestering her about – the world’s biggest lemon meringue pie – and she has no idea what to do and isn't sure she really cares all that much anyway.

While at first glance you may think this novel is light and frivolous, it is anything but. Alice has turned into quite a hardened and bitter woman at age 39 – and a person that the 29-year-old Alice really doesn’t care for much. Neither does anyone else, apparently. In fact, the reader will quite like the “new” Alice and hope that she never regains her memory if it means her and Nick won’t get back together. And yet, she has lost so much of her past that she really misses, like the birth of her three children and all that was involved in their growing up. And what happened with this Gina, who must have once been her best friend. How could she not even remember her?

I was entranced with this book. I couldn’t stop reading it. I had to know what happened to Alice and Nick in the past to destroy their marriage, whether they would get back together, what happened with Gina, her relationship with the three children, and Elizabeth (I can’t forget Elizabeth!). Written with humor and sensitivity, this novel succeeds on every level and is thoroughly satisfying.


Other novels by this author:
Three Wishes (2004)
The Last Anniversary (2005)

Other titles you may enjoy:
Remember Me by Sophie Kinsella (2008)
Awakening in the hospital after a car crash believing that she is a single, twenty-five-year-old sales associate, Lexi discovers that she has lost three years in her life and she is married to a handsome millionaire, but her perfect new life soon begins to go awry.

Waking Up in Dixie by Haywood Smith (2010)
Trapped in a loveless marriage thirty years after escaping her unpromising small hometown, Elizabeth is shocked when her greedy husband is profoundly transformed by a stroke that compels him to correct his ways by blackmailing their community's bad guys.

Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler (2009)
Preparing to retire early from an unfulfilling teaching job, Liam Pennywell struggles to recall missing memories of the night before he awoke in the hospital with a head injury, an effort that leads to unexpected discoveries.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones
Jesmyn Ward
Bloomsbury, 2011

The Batiste family lives in a rural area in Mississippi. The children, four boys and a girl, live with their father. The main character, a fourteen year-old girl named Esch (Esch?) is pregnant. Their mother died soon after the birth of the youngest child, Junior, now eight. The three older children look after each other and Junior, but all are neglected, usually hungry, and alone except for a few friends who usually end up having sex with Esch. As Hurricane Katrina approaches the coast, the father is preparing the house by boarding the windows and fixing the truck in hopes of making money during the clean-up, while Skeet tries to help his dog’s puppies survive their new harsh world, much like the Batiste children are. Meanwhile, Esch worries how to tell the baby’s father and her own that she is pregnant.

I had problems with this novel, one of which is Medea mythology story that Esch reads and identifies with. I just didn’t get it. It felt to me like the author wanted to create a deeper character in Esch – one who had higher aspirations in life that she was probably going to have, being as how she’s pregnant at age 14. I also had some distaste for the dog in the story – which Esch also seemed to identify with in some ways since she had her puppies to care for, much like Esch would have a baby to care for. So I felt like I was being hit over the head with symbolism and “meaning,” but in reality, this book was just depressing. And sad. I think the part that saved it from a 1 or 2 cupcake rating is the love that the siblings felt and eventually showed one another.

Sometimes I think that some authors are just a little too “literary for” my tastes.


Other novels by this author:
Where the Line Bleeds (2008)

Other titles you may enjoy:

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2006)
Reaching her sixteenth year in the harsh Ozarks while caring for her poverty-stricken family, Ree Dolly learns that they will lose their house unless her bail-skipping father can be found and made to appear at an upcoming court date.

Fay by Larry Brown (2000)
This is the saga of 17-year-old Fay Jones, who leaves her family's squalid home with three dollars to hitchhike to Biloxi, Mississippi. Along the way she is befriended by a variety of people whose lives she affects in unpredictable ways, finally becoming the catalyst in a chain reaction of desire and violence.

Sap Rising by Christine Lincoln (2001)
Set against the backdrop of the rural American South, this story captures the lives of a group of struggling young African Americans whose dreams are tempered by their difficult circumstances.