Vacation reading

So we were on vacation last week, and rainy weather plus a sick kid meant I had plenty of time on my hands for reading. Glorious reading! I got through three books, each very different and each very rewarding…

Galore by Michael Crummey is the best book I’ve read in a looooooong time. This amazing novel is the definition — the PLATONIC IDEAL — of rollicking yarns and prose poetry. It is EXACTLY the type of book I most love. It has all my favorite elements. Big sweeping epic third person omniscient narration. Vivid setting & history (Newfoundland) that is an important part of the plot. Multiple generations, multiple perspectives. Myth & folklore. Doctors & priests. A bit of magical realism. Strong female characters. Biblical imagery. Luscious language. Bittersweet humor. And it is strikingly original. And totally engrossing.

Galore reminded me quite a bit of Midnight’s Children. Michael Crummey just might be Canada’s answer to Salman Rushdie. This book was nothing short of awesome. I hope it wins a zillion awards.

I chose Ursula Hegi’s Sacred Time from the library at random, having never heard of the book or the author. It was quite a change after the wild romp that was Galore, and I’m not sure I would have checked it out if I had known more about it. In a nutshell: Sacred Time belongs to the “Ripple Effects Of A Child’s Death” genre. If that’s not your cup of tea you might want to skip this one.

That said… this book is very well executed. Yes it is about the death of a child, and the reverberations of that death through the family and through the years, but it completely avoids the three Ms of melodrama, maudlinity (maudlin-ness?) and manipulation. The characters are complex, three-dimensional and (for the most part) likable. The book is set mostly in the Bronx, with the three sections of the book taking place in three decades, the 1950s, 1970s, and 2000s. There is lots of period detail and cultural references which gave the book some fun moments, despite the grim subject matter.

Zombie, Ohio. Yes, it is a zombie story. If you are into zombies I highly recommend this one. I’m not a huge fan of zombies — for one thing, there are too many internal inconsistencies, like do they digest their food and if not, how can they keep eating all those brains — but I do like post-apocalyptic fiction and therefore I read the occasional zombie story.

This one is unusual in that it is told from the zombie’s perspective, and furthermore the zombie, in life, was a philosophy professor at a small liberal arts college, tee hee. Like all zombie stories, it is really gross, but it is also funny. E.g. the scene where the newly-minted zombie has to figure out how to actually open a skull so that he can get at the brain, giggle giggle.


BTT: grocery stores & symphony orchestras

I know, it’s not even Thursday, but when I came across this question I felt like I just had to answer it: If you could write a book, what would it be about, and why?

Well. This is kind of weird, but I have always wanted to write a cozy murder mystery set either in a grocery store or a symphony orchestra. Either one, I think, would be hilariously fun to write. The reason this is weird is because I don’t read a whole lot of cozy mysteries. I’m not that interested in finding out whodunit. But I do like the ones that give you a little window into another culture, kind of like some episodes of CSI. And oh my goodness you could have so much fun with a grocery store! Or a symphony orchestra! You could have rivalry, say, between the produce and deli departments, or the cashiers & baggers. And the new store manager would be the prime suspect. Or you could portray the differences between the first and second violin sections, who unite against the oboes who think they’re boss because the orchestra tunes to them, you know? And the prime suspect would be the guy who failed the audition… or the new assistant conductor… or perhaps the crazy harp player…

Like every other bookworm in the world (I assume) I have tried to write. A lot. I love to create characters & settings, and I love to craft sentences. But I am always stumped by plot. I create these characters and I have no idea what to do with them. I have a feeling that writing a mystery would kinda solve that problem, because with a mystery you would have to start with the plot. You would have to know where it’s going — who did it — before you start.

Hmmm, I think I know how I’ll be spending the rest of this day…

Chris Pavone: The Expats (progress report)

Welllllllll it’s been over two weeks since I last posted a “weekly” review. Couldn’t be helped. Huge, unavoidable work crunch. But now all that is over and I’m starting to catch up on my reading. I have about three different books in progress right now, including The Expats by Chris Pavone. I put this on hold at the library months ago. Usually a good sign when 150 other people want to read it too, right?

I’m only on page 55, but so far I am not impressed. I guess this comes with the spy-story territory, but I absolutely can’t stand it when the protagonist knows stuff that isn’t shared with the reader. To me it seems like the worst kind of manipulation, a cheap trick for creating suspense. For example:

Also, she didn’t want to admit to Dexter the things she’d done, the types of acts she’d been — still was — capable of. If she couldn’t tell him the whole truth, she was loath to tell any of it. That seemed worse. And since the worst of it was that morning in New York, which was also the reason for the end of it all, her story wouldn’t be complete — it wouldn’t make sense — without explaining that event. And her story wouldn’t be defensible with it.

What morning in New York?? What event?? I don’t want to be forced to keep reading just to find out this background info. Suspense should unfold naturally. We should find out what’s going on along with the protagonist. Authors, if you’re going to use third person limited, it’s only fair to keep the reader in the loop, so to speak.

Also the flashbacks (or flashforwards?) are not well executed. The sequences are too short, and the different eras are too close together (only 2 years apart) so that it is very hard to keep track of where you are.

That said, the idea of a spy story that also involves marriage & family is intriguing. The setting is colorful (Luxembourg) and I am mildly interested in discovering how it all turns out. For now I will keep reading…