Thursday, June 26, 2008

SKINNY DIP by Carl Hiaasen

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen isn't a whodunit or even a mystery, because we know in the first few pages that Chaz Perrone has thrown his wife Joey overboard from a cruise ship. Joey, however, a former collegiate swimmer, survives the plunge by hanging on to a bale of marijuana. Then Mick Stranahan, a former cop, rescues her and brings her back to his island paradise, and they fall in love. I'm not kidding. So you'll have to suspend reality here, but who cares? The story is an enjoyable romp, and Mick and Joey surreptitiously torment scumbag Chaz as a means of revenge while hiding the fact that Joey is still alive. The big questions are what was Chaz's motive, since Joey's fortune is unobtainable (did I mention that she's rich and beautiful?) and why did Joey marry him in the first place. The book is full of colorful characters, especially Tool, a big hairy oaf that changes allegiances during the course of the ensuing mayhem. Along with the fun, the author drills home his message of the need to protect the Everglades from corrupt politicians and big business, who will go to any lengths to hide their sins of pollution.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Having found the ending to Atonement totally exasperating, I was pleasantly surprised to have the opposite response to Ian McEwan's Amsterdam. Molly Lane has just died after a slow, sad deterioration. Two of her former lovers, Vernon, a newspaper editor, and Clive, a composer, make a pact to ensure that the other doesn't suffer such an ignominious decline. We then get a closer look into the personalities of these two men. At first it seems that Clive is a better friend—more thoughtful and unselfish—even as he contemplates that he may be England's first musical genius. He has been commissioned to write a symphony for the new millennium and is under the gun to finish it. Vernon, on the other hand, is fighting to increase circulation of his newspaper in order to save his job. He seems more materialistic, willing to tarnish a despised politician's reputation in order to sell newspapers. However, the tables turn when Clive witnesses a man assaulting a woman but can't be bothered while he's on the brink of coming up with the perfect riff that will make his symphony a masterpiece. The two men become equally despicable, each concluding that the other has lost his marbles. The book raises the issue of human euthanasia and how to determine if it's warranted. The metaphors are just stunning, including one sentence where McEwan likens clothes hanging in a closet to commuters sitting side-by-side on the train. The writing, coupled with the intriguing, nuanced characters, just blew me away.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

OF LOVE AND SHADOWS by Isabel Allende

In Isabel Allende's Of Love and Shadows, the "shadows" are the dark horrors of a military dictatorship in South America. This is another book that seems to have lost something in the translation. The language feels foreign, along with the culture and setting of the book. The planned marriage, the strong connection to one's roots, despite the ghastly events that take place there, and the almost whimsical love story were difficult for me to relate to. The descriptions of the regime's brutality seemed detached and did not have much emotional impact. Perhaps the objectivity was intentional in order to convey the seeming complacence of people living in oppression, despite the terror.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow is a departure from his usual courtroom drama, but Turow's calling card is really moral dilemmas. This WWII story definitely has a dilemma, though not necessarily moral. The book is told in first person by both David, a lawyer-soldier, and his son Stewart, an unemployed journalist. Sometimes I had to read a few sentences before it was apparent who was narrating. Stewart finds out after his dad's death that David was court-martialed, and Stewart embarks on a mission of discovery of who his dad really was. During the war, David was ordered to capture Major Robert Martin, a rogue soldier suspected of being a Russian spy. However, he became friends with Martin and even assisted in one of his missions, getting his first taste of combat. David then fell in love with Gita, a member of Martin's band of bandits. Martin evaded capture time and again, partly with Gita's help, as she double-crossed David to save Martin, and partly due to David's inner conflict about his assignment. The Burden of Proof is still my favorite Scott Turow novel.