Monday, January 30, 2006
I give up.
Before I begin to discuss this book, allow me to first explain how it arrived on my bookshelf. My uncle is an English professor who always recommends books for me to read. Usually, I love them. Occasionally, I don’t (see Possession). But usually, I agree that they are great.
Enter The Stones of Summer.
After the book was released, my uncle wasted no time in exhorting me to buy the book. He told me the whole back story, that this book was written years ago and then blah blah blah and anyway, he was so convincing that I went out and bought it immediately. In hardback.
I AM STUCK WITH THIS EFFER IN HARDBACK.
So I started reading this behemoth months ago. Months. And I may be busy with my job and all but months? And all this time I can’t get past page 200. AND THERE ARE STILL 400 PAGES LEFT.
I can’t do it.
I should have read more reviews of the book. I would have known to ignore my uncle on this one. I would have seen the comparisons to Faulkner (who doesn’t bother me THAT much) and to Joyce (who does). I wouldn’t have purchased the book IN HARDBACK.
I keep hearing: stick with it. By the time you finish it, it’s really good. Just stick with it. Read about 5 pages a day.
FIVE PAGES A DAY?
No. Absolutely not. A book I read for pleasure should not be so god-awful boring that I have to force myself to read a few pages a day. Besides, I already read the last two pages so I know how it ends. AND I DON’T CARE. I HATE EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER IN THE BOOK AND WHAT’S MORE, I HATE THE AUTHOR. HATE HATE HATE ALKJDF;ALJF;ALJDFLAJF
Yeah, so. I’m not going to finish this one. And if anyone wants to buy a hardback copy of The Stones of Summer, just let me know. It’s discounted.
In a nutshell: If you’re in to S&M, bondage, that sort of thing, give this a try. It’s pretty painful. I guess if you rank James Joyce as one of your favorites, you too might like this book. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Bibliolatry Scale: abandoned
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Man, was I surprised by this book. I didn’t even want to read it, really; I had purchased it awhile ago after reading a good review of it. But after reading The Hours (which was ooookay), I wasn’t enthusiastic about reading another Cunningham novel. I think that The Hours had been so hyped, and, after I had finished it, I felt that it was good as far as bestsellers go, but it wasn’t anything to rave over. So his other book has sat on a shelf, waiting for me to finally remember it was there and read it.
Fortunately, for A Home at the End of the World (or, rather, fortunately for me), I am reading a 600-page book that is so friggin slow I can hardly stand it. Just wait for THAT review. I think I’m on 200. I’ve been reading it forever now. I need a prize to finish this one, like a carrot on a stick to lead a rabbit. Or something. Ooh maybe I will buy myself something if I finish the book. But what, but what??? I know! Makeup! Or maybe earrings and a necklace!**** Ahem.
****Crap. Before I could even finish this review I got sidetracked on eBay and bought myself about 100 bucks worth of jewelry. I obviously didn’t finish the book. But I got some great deals!! Really!! One ring, two necklaces, and three pairs of earrings!! You can’t beat that! Right? Uhhh…post-purchase guilt is setting in. Now how am I going to finish that stupid book. I hate not finishing a book, so that’s not really an option.
Well, anyway, I thought that if I didn’t read something else in the meantime, I’d go insane. Enter Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World. I started this book Sunday evening and could not put it down until I finished it Tuesday night. I was hooked before reaching the tenth page, something that (for me) portends a really great book.
The novel centers on Jonathan and Bobby, two best friends. The story of their friendship, which changes as much as it remains the same, is divided into three sections: their teens, twenties, and thirties. At times each narrates a chapter; other central characters also narrate chapters, such as Clare, the woman who loves both men, and Alice, Jonathan’s mother, but Jonathan and Bobby are really the central figures here.
Cunningham seems interested in a theme that was also integral to The Hours—how does one spend his time? And, more importantly, how does one cope with (and accept) the monotony that is imbedded in life itself? Is it better to have a passionate but fragmented and episodic existence, or a peaceful, but ordinary, routine? And what happens when the fragmented and episodic soon becomes routine? Alice chose routine but feels incomplete due to a lack of passion and excitement. Jonathan has excitement and passion but feels incomplete without a partner and a family. At the end of the novel (and I’m giving anything away here), while the characters’ lots have improved, the reader knows that they will always feel a lack in some way. We can never have everything. While this is depressing, it is also quite reassuring in a way. I think.
Cunningham’s prose is better than I remembered it being in The Hours. His sentences are poetic, but not annoyingly long or difficult as has become the trend with some contemporary writers. It doesn’t take you long to read quite a bit of this book, and you don’t feel quality has been compromised for speed.
After finishing the novel, I remembered that a film version of this novel was due out soon, and I checked its imdb page to see which stars were playing which characters. I was shocked to see that the movie came out in 2004! Where was I? The book has been sitting on my shelf for at least that long, and I think I would have noted the movie’s passing. What’s more is that Colin Farrell is in it as Bobby, and Bobby was my favorite character and I’m not sure I want him to be played by Colin. I mean, it’s thin and hot Colin, not bloated and sweaty Colin but still.
I’ll be disappointed if this movie wasn’t done correctly, and it seems likely that Hollywood botched it. First, this was the director (Michael Mayer)’s first movie. Second, Hollywood ruins most novels I like. I suppose it’s inevitable. But so much of the novel takes place in the characters’ minds, as they ponder their lives and the choices they’ve made. I don’t mean this to say that the book is boring, for it isn’t. But I don’t feel a movie can truly illustrate the monotony of everyday-ness that Cunningham illustrates in this book. In the book, this is achieved not through tedious repetition of the same episodes; Cunningham achieves this, rather, through the characters’ reflections. No character is immune to the everyday-ness, even those who have opted for instability and excitement. Even instability becomes stable over time. Anything can become routine. Hopefully that was conveyed as well in the movie as it was in the book, because it was these ideas which made the book important to me, as I can’t really relate to the non-traditional family thing.
In a nutshell: If you loved The Hours, this is better. If you didn’t like The Hours, doesn’t matter—try this one anyway. And if you’ve never read or even heard of The Hours—even better: go right past it and read A Home at the End of the World. It’s beautiful. Bobby is a beautiful character. The others are cool too. And even you are not immune to the everyday.
Bibliolatry Scale: 5.5 out of 6 stars.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
I subscribe to numerous magazines which publish book reviews, and Aimee Bender’s latest collection of short stories, Willful Creatures, has been positively reviewed in all of them. In fact, these reviews were so glowing that I made an exception and bought the hardback even though I had never read anything by this author before.
As a few of reviewers have already noted, Bender’s prose is her strong point. Her unique style and ability to open a story with a bang prompted me to read this collection as quickly as I did. The plots of these stories were so unique that I was compelled to finish them as soon as I had read the first paragraph. The stories are divided into three parts, each part containing five stories. Because the stories are so interesting (and short), I read the entire collection in one day. I found myself enjoying Bender’s quirky style, which is simple, unadorned, and, at times, bizarre. Unfortunately, I was ultimately disappointed.
Writing this review now, a couple days after finishing them, I find myself struggling to remember what each story is about. I must skim through them again, as simply reading the title is not enough to jog my memory. Each story began interestingly enough, but then tottered off toward the end, losing the power it had the potential to deliver.
Based on the reviews I had read, I expected each story to end with some profundity, some nugget of truth that would perhaps illuminate some aspect of my life. This doesn’t happen, although the potential is certainly there, as these short summaries will attest:
- In “Death Watch,” ten men who find out they will all die in two weeks; some cry, some rage, one smiles, one accepts. Some men soon learn they were misdiagnosed and will not die.
- In “Ironhead,” a couple of pumpkinheads (people who literally have big ol’pumpkins for heads) have a child who has an iron, instead of a pumpkin, for a head.
- In “Job’s Jobs,” God tells a man that he must stop doing his job. Soon he is told he must stop his hobbies. Eventually God forbids the man even to do anything.
Each of these ideas seems original enough that it will end in an equally original manner. You would think that a story featuring a baby with an iron for a head would probably end with something deep. However, it seems that Bender’s inability to fully develop a story is this collection's weak point. I was disappointed by the endings to all of these stories.
Let me put it this way: it’s the Fourth of July. You have been waiting to enjoy this day with a special firecracker. You light it eagerly: it sparkles, and you shiver with anticipation, waiting for the flame to travel the length of the wick. As it nears its completion, it crackles so distinctively that you know the final bang will be simply amazing. You wait…here it comes…you put your fingers to your ears, it will be sooo loud and great, you just know it!...and then…nothing. It’s a dud. The firecracker fooled you. That’s kinda how I felt here.
But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Willful Creatures. It certainly isn't her fault that the reviewers somewhat misled me into believing I was getting a big bang instead of a sputter. But the crackle along the way was interesting in itself.
In a nutshell: Because Bender’s style is so original and witty, Willful Creatures is a great way to spend an afternoon. Her stories are entertaining and are quickly read. They won’t illuminate any profound truths, but you’ll be amused while reading them.
Bibliolatry Scale: 4 out of 6