Thursday, January 31, 2008

AFTER THIS by Alice McDermott

After reading the final few pages of After This by Alice McDermott, I decided that this book is about celebrating life, although the family that the book follows for a generation is anything but joyous. The story is told in third person by an omniscient narrator, and, for baby boomers, it will strike a number of chords of nostalgia. At the beginning, the focus is on Mary, who becomes the matriarch, and then later on her husband and each of their four children, particularly the girls, Annie and Clare. Each character is then sort of written off with a sentence or two describing his or her future. In a way, this unusual technique was satisfying, in that it gave closure to that person's life. The tragedy that strikes this family is told in an almost detached voice, but the ramifications are insightful, particularly with regard as to how they are treated thereafter by relatives and acquaintances, as sort of shabby royalty. I was also intrigued by the notion that history repeats itself, as exemplified by the Mary/Pauline and later the Annie/Grace relationships. A lonely woman befriends a better-adjusted woman and later becomes dependent on her in some way. My favorite part is where Annie and Grace visit a professor's house, and Annie sees the life of the professor and her husband as ideal and unachievable. She's disappointed to find that Edith Wharton was not the spinster without passion that she had thought her life would resemble. Why are her expectations so low? This is a thought-provoking read and was runner-up for the 2007 Pulitzer.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

THE ART OF MENDING by Elizabeth Berg

Laura, the narrator of Elizabeth Berg's The Art of Mending, is a professional quiltmaker. I'm sure this is a metaphor for something, but I don't know what. Nevertheless, I loved this book. Among the many bits of wisdom, I especially liked the description of mending as being indicative of the worth of the object being mended and resulting in a scar to prove its value. I did get that this applies to the mending of relationships as well. This is a short, easy read about family secrets, and Berg tells the story in a way that keeps the reader in suspense. Steve, Caroline, and Laura are middle-aged siblings. At their annual fall get-together, Caroline shocks the other two with a story about how their mother mistreated her. This tale does not jive with Steve's and Laura's childhood memories, leaving them disturbed and skeptical about the truth of Caroline's accusations. Just as in real life, everyone in the book is flawed in some way. This is one of those books where you wince when the characters make mistakes and cheer when they make you proud of them.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


It's been years since I read Interview With the Vampire, and I thought it was sort of a snoozer. The Vampire Lestat is a much better-paced story, and I found Lestat to be a flawed but likeable character. He's a bit of a rebel, constantly doing things he's been specifically advised not to do and suffering the inevitable but entertaining, at least from the reader's perspective, consequences. Anne Rice has developed an imaginary world of vampires that's very vivid without being horrific. As with most series, I think there's merit in not waiting too long between volumes, to preserve some continuity. My memory of the first book is basically nil, and, although it didn't hamper my enjoyment of the second, I was a little disappointed that I couldn't compare Lestat's and Louis's versions of what happened while they were together. Still, the vast majority of Lestat's story is pre-Louis. I yawned through a few parts that could have been whittled down, but now I'm looking forward to reading the third "Vampire Chronicle," The Queen of the Damned.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

GONE, BABY, GONE by Dennis Lehane

I love a thriller with a moral delimma, and Gone, Baby, Gone fits the bill. This is my third Dennis Lehane novel, although he wrote this one earlier than the other two. Like Mystic River, a central theme of the plot is crimes against children. There seems to be a pattern among his books that I've read, since even in Shutter Island a mother drowned her children. In this case the story is about the abduction of a child from a criminally neglectful mother. Throughout this page-turner, I wasn't certain whether to root for the detectives trying to solve the case or not, because it was obvious that death might be a better fate for the child than a reunion with her mother. I have to say that the ending was not a huge surprise, although there were several red herrings along the way that kept me guessing.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I was a trifle disappointed in Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially since Oprah gushed about what a great love story it was. I thought it was more a story of obsession than a love story. Plus, I have a basic aversion to reading a translation. The flow of the language is lost, and I find myself occasionally wondering if a particularly odd phrase was translated too literally. The title sounds so morbid, but the story really has nothing to do with cholera. In fact, there's a lot of humor, although it might be funnier in Spanish. My favorite part was where Florentino was writing love letters for other couples and discovered that, in one case, he was repesenting both the man and the woman and carrying on a correspondence with himself. The ending was kind of chirpy, but I guess that's appropriate since one of the main characters dies at the beginning trying to retrieve a parrot. I know, bad pun. A better love story is Possession by A. S. Byatt.