Books I Love

Heroes of the Frontier October 06 2016, 0 Comments

"The novel is a slapdash, picaresque adventure and spiritual coming-of-age tale — “On the Road” crossed with “Henderson the Rain King” with some nods to “National Lampoon’s Vacation” along the way. It’s not as moving as “Hologram” and hardly as bravura a performance as the author’s stunning debut, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” but Mr. Eggers has so mastered the art of old-fashioned, straight-ahead storytelling here that the reader quickly becomes immersed in Josie’s funny-sad tale. (...)
Mr. Eggers’s cleareyed portraits of these children remind us of the indelible portrait he created in “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” of his 8-year-old brother, Toph, whom he brought up after their parents died within weeks of each other. Of Toph, he wrote: “He is my 24-hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile” — “to not have Toph would be to not have a life.”
That bone-deep knowledge of a child’s relationship with a parent informs Mr. Eggers’s portraits of Paul and Ana, and their love for and dependence upon Josie — by far the strongest and most deeply affecting parts of this absorbing if haphazard novel."
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Absorbing, yet haphazard novel. That is exactly it. It took me a while (more than 200 pages) to really get into this one. The meandering plot and daydreaming prose didn't seem to go anywhere but Eggers' characters dug deep into my heart and I finished the novel with a profound and very satisfying feeling of cumulative emotional power that still resonates within me to this day.

The more I reflect on this book, the more there is to think about. Underneath its seemingly simple plot (a mother of two goes off on a road trip to Alaska to escape from her life), runs a powerful undercurrent of American existentialism, very similar to the one you can feel in films like "About Schmidt" or "American Beauty".

The themes of restlessness, independence, social and geographical mobility, consumerism, freedom, family, domesticity, self-actualization, choices and children are all addressed sideways, all evoked with subtlety and a quiet, muted persistence. Eggers is a very eloquent and elegant writer.

I really love books that are tough nuts to crack. I actually love having to stop and ask myself "What is going on here? What is the author actually trying to say?" Richard Ford does this. Jim Harrison does this. Mark Slouka does this. Zadie Smith does this. Their themes run deep beneath the surface and yet they are right there for the eye to see if you are willing to do the work.

Haphazard: characterized by lack of order or planning, by irregularity, or by randomness; determined by or dependent on chance; aimless. Much of life is haphazard and this novel explores the meeting of this existentialist truth with the dizzying immensity of the American continent. There is beauty and terror in the possibilities offered by the vastness of the land, in this "frontier" that can still be pursued for one's personal sake. Dissatisfaction meets the open road, hunger for meaning meets the great Alaskan wilderness.

And finally, this novel is at heart a gripping portrait of what it means to raise children. How we really end up being taught by them and how, if we are willing to let them run free, they will reveal their true colors and innate character to us without our help or intrusion.

They are the true heroes of the frontier.


Good Morning, Midnight October 06 2016, 0 Comments

“Good Morning, Midnight is a remarkable and gifted debut novel. Lily Brooks-Dalton is an uncanny chronicler of desolate spaces, whether it's the cold expanse of the universe or the deepest recesses of the human heart."
—Colson Whitehead

If you loved The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.

If you loved Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

If you loved Solaris by Stanislaw Lem.

If you loved All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

You will probably find much to love in this slow burn of a book.

I thought this novel was a literary avatar of Night Shyamalan's cinematic universe.

The book shares Shyamalan's hypnotizing slowness, stylistic spareness and psychological depth. The writing was broody in both senses of the word: meditative and oppressive. Its ultimate elegance lay in that dichotomy.

It took me a while to fully appreciate the story but once I was able to put the pieces together and take a step back, a beautiful and lonely tableau took shape in the vastness of space. The descriptions of the universe and our place in it are truly heartbreaking.

The title "A Heart of Darkness" would also seem fitting to describe the separate voyages of two individuals into the poetry and blackness of the universe. Two journeys as physically grueling as they are psychologically transformative.

A novel that is unhurried, deliberate and incredibly graceful.


Fates and Furies May 16 2016, 0 Comments

"Even from her impossibly high starting point, Lauren Groff just keeps getting better and better. Her debut novel, “The Monsters of Templeton” (2008); her stirring story collection, “Delicate Edible Birds” (2010); and my favorite book of 2012, “Arcadia ” — all demonstrated her exquisite style and tough, heartbreaking compassion. But her new novel, “Fates and Furies,” is a clear-the-ground triumph. Spanning decades, oceans and the whole economic scale from indigence to opulence, this novel holds within its grasp the story of one extraordinary marriage. Not yet 40, Groff nonetheless captures the complicated ways love blesses, transforms and, yes, deceives us over many years. (...) Swelling with a contrapuntal symphony of passions, “Fates and Furies” is that daring novel that seems to reach too high — and then somehow, miraculously, exceeds its own ambitions."
Ron Charles in the Washington Post

Hallelujah.

It's hard to pin down exactly what Lauren Groff managed to do here but one can only sit back and think hard on what just happened to you once you finish reading this truly stunning novel. Similarly to my experiences with "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay", "American Pastoral", "The Corrections", "The Interestings", "Station Eleven" and "The Woman Upstairs", I had goose bumps after reading the first pages of "Fates and Furies" and wanted to live in that creation forever.

The depth and levels of understanding at work in our lives, the subterranean currents running beneath our feet, the invisible lines of randomness and chance crisscrossing in our midst, the past informing the present, the inner life feeding the one we present to others, the ocean that sometimes lies between the two, the elemental, character-defining events of our youth perpetually tinting our actions. This book contains multitudes.

The themes are big and bold, yet rooted in the finite and delicate details of the everyday. The intimate is brought to life with such precision and uniqueness. With cruelty and tenderness. With cunning and smartness. The construction is daring and ambitious and wild. It will leave you breathless and grateful. Be ready for Part 2 and its astonishing "Furies"...

Mathilde, oh Mathilde, I will never forget you.

And what can one say about the writing? Prose that sings and soars and melts like butter on your tongue. Visceral and poetic and visually evocative. An absolute dream.

What a f***ing trip. (Please excuse my language)