Here's a list of the books I finished this month. This time I've decided to include detailed and ultimately not-helpful summaries/my personal reactions to each work.
Byatt, A. S. Babel Tower. New York: Random House, 1996. This turned out to be the third book of a trilogy. Oops. I don't know if I'll read the other two. I probably will at some point because I've loved A. S. Byatt since I had to read Possession for British Novel however long ago (SP03, I think). She's brilliant. Sometimes I get a little bored with her obsessive use of the character examining their sense of self and issues of identity and blah blah blah. You're not Virginia Woolf, so stop trying. But you're close enough, Ms. Byatt. She writes about words--what her narrator said was so difficult to do in Possession is exactly what she accomplishes here: she writes about the writing process. And it's interesting. I realize I haven't said a thing about what this book is about. I'm not going to bother. It's over 600 pages and the plot is multi-layered and brilliant and I don't know anyone who reads Byatt.
Clapp, Patricia. Jane-Emily. 1969. New York: Harper, 2007. I thought I would do a little spooky reading for October and this is supposedly a classic of the genre. Unfortunately, the genre is juvenile fiction, which I've hated from a young age. So, let's see......stilted dialogue? Check? People falling in love for no apparent reason? Check. Older woman with an icy exterior who is actually a kind and loving soul? Check. Implausible and anti-climatic resolution of deranged (and not in a fun way) supernatural crisis? Check. I actually had to read that scene twice because I was so surprised that nearly nothing was happening. Bleh. What a stupid waste of my time.
Drew, Robert. Ned Kelly. [Orig. Our Sunshine.] 1991. New York: Penguin, 2003. This is work of fiction that was based more on the folklore about the Australian criminal than on historical sources (mostly because there are apparently more inconsistencies in the historical accounts than there in the myths that people have created around the figure), which is strangely appropriate. The man had somehow become mythologized while he was still alive. Most of the story is told through flashbacks. The title was changed to build up name recognition for the movie of the same title. I can't say that it worked out too well. Has anyone seen that? Do you recommend it?
Evan, Justin. A Good and Happy Child. New York: Harper, 2007. So our main character/narrator can't bring himself to touch his newborn son. At all. He goes into therapy. When he mentions that he's been in therapy before, his therapist has him write about that experience. So we find out that as a lonely, socially awkward eleven year-old who misses his dead father, he made an imaginary friend who is apparently a demon. I'm always confused and weirded out by kids that old who see the appeal of an imaginary friend who turns out to be a minion of Hell. Granted, poor dumb Regan McNeil was supposed to be twelve when she befriend Captain Howdy. Anyway, trouble ensues. His mom thinks he's crazy and he gets therapy and drugs. His father's friends think that demons really exist and he gets an exorcism or two (I finished it just this past weekend. You'd think I'd be able to remember.). There are plot twists. The ending made me think of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. You know how you read the last line and you turn the page and nothing's there? It was like that. I think I liked this well enough. I read it in a day because I was riveted and then the ending left me feeling a little flat, but also horrified. Weird. Anyone who's interested can borrow my copy. And you can keep for a really long time if you like.
Shanghvi, Siddharth Dhanvant. The Last Song of Dusk. New York: Random House, 2006. Sometimes the prose is really beautiful and sometimes it's just really......gay. Yes, adjectives are our friends and helpers, but only if we use them properly. I think I like this book. I have a little bit of a hard time with magical realism. Give me time. This book was incredibly sad. The narrator keeps alluding to sadness and you know it's coming and you can see how it's going to happen and then it comes and you're not ready. Gah. There were also some graphically sad stories. It felt disjointed in some places. Maybe it was supposed to be that way. Again, magical realism messes me up.
Thomas, Scarlett. PopCo. Orlando: HarperCollins, 2004. I read another book of Thomas's earlier this year. I'm starting to see a theme: unconventional and brilliant young woman with a troubled family background finds out some kind of secret. Some form of science, philosophy, literature, math, homeopathy, and flashbacks are utilized to help her sort out her moral dilemmas and solve the mystery at hand. She encounters a talk, dark, and handsomely troubled man who falls in love with her even though she's supposed to be too quirky to have good relationships. So in this story we have a young woman who dresses badly and believes in homeopathy and makes her living coming up with ideas for spy kits for a toy company. She goes to a retreat, finds out some things about the code for a hidden treasure that her grandfather already knew about (which, by the way has absolutely nothing to do with the plot except reveal to us how smart and creative our author is in spending so much time on codebreaking things), hooks up with a vegan who waits on her hand and foot when she gets a bad cold because he's somehow in love with her after (if I remember right) just three sexual encounters. Maybe this is magical realism, too. Anyway, corporations are evil, you should think about where your food comes from, whether or not your child actually needs that toy, and you actually need that medicine and yes, yes, you can change the system from the inside if you get to join some kind of supersecret Project Mayhem-esque organization, like our off-beat heroine. I hope I didn't spoil the ending for anyone with that last part. These are basically just fun books to read when the weather's bad or you're sick and needing a good story, although the parts about guerrilla advertising were both interesting and disturbing. Um, yea? I don't know that I'll read any more of her books. Yes, I do. I will.