Saturday, August 21, 2010

Imperfect Birds - Anne Lamott

Set in Marin County, Imperfect Birds, is the story of a mother blinded to her high school honor-roll daughters spiral into drug addiction. Last year, I read the memoir Beautiful Boy, written by a father about his son's drug addicition - and his powerlessness to help. This is the female fictionalized version of that story- only, perhaps, with a little more enabling. Elizabeth is left the single mother of Rosie, after the death of her husband. She remarries, and her new husband and Rosie seem to have a somewhat amicable relationship - though throughout her troubles, he remains distant and critical of Elizabeth, often seeming to want her to choose between her daughter and her husband, rather than truly parenting in a partnership. Elizabeth, whether because of guilt, or perhaps her own relationship with her parents, seems to think it more important that her daughter like her and want to be her friend, rather than respecting her. As Rosie blantantly lies to her face about the drugs Elizabeth finds in her jean pockets, or the alcohol Elizabeth smells on her breath - the depths of denial and a parents desire to believe only the best about their child becomes increasingly difficult to read. At the same time, it is difficult to read this book and wonder what a parent really should do - and how much control one can have over a teenager, or how much "good parenting" can really prevent a kid's desire to experiment or have fun. All of this led to an incredibly frustrating and depressing read - similar to Beautiful Boy, just in the seeming helplessness of it all.

Cherry - Mary Karr

Cherry is the follow-on memoir to Mary Karr's The Liar's Club, and covers her late adolescence through early adulthood. Once again, I found myself wondering - who is this person, and why is her life so compelling that it's worth not just one memoir, but several? The answer for me is that her life isn't that compelling - or, rather, it's full of heartache and turmoil, but it's not particularly engaging. This is her sexual coming-of-age story - and there's not doubt it's a rocky one. She has a suicidal mother at home who is inacapable of providing her any guidance, and she has a naturally curious personality - which leads her into all sorts of trouble involving drugs and boys. Without the guidance she needs, so many of her experiences leave her layered in confusion upon confusion. Like The Liar's Club, Karr tells her often difficult story with honesty, and a bit of humor. But, for me, there is something dry about her writing that feels almost detached and impersonal which prevents me from really connecting - but perhaps that is the only way one can tell such a difficult story.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Three Bags Full - Leonie Swann

I enjoy receiving book recommendations, and often I'm so eager to get them that I forget the source. There is a guy that works at my local independent bookstore who is very eager to offer suggestions everytime I go in there. He is part of the reason I can't go in very often, and why I rarely leave there with less than five new books. But, in tine, I have come to realize that I do not share the same taste in books as this guy. He picks good writers, and good stories, but something about all the books I've read that he's recommended - they just don't keep my attention, and I find my mind wandering for pages, until I realize I have to go back and re-read everything because I have no idea what's going on. This book was no different - I should have realized it from the basic description - A murder mystery (so far so good) - about a shepherd who is killed out in his fields. He's found by his sheep - and they set out to solve the mystery. Personified animals are not really my thing to begin with, but wooly ones imitating Sherlock Holmes is even worse. Overall, I think the book is supposed to be humorous, with the sheep poking fun at the humans in their village through their unique observations. But, I think it mostly passed me by. I need to avoid the guy who recommended this one on future visits to the bookstore.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Can't Get There from Here - Todd Strasser

When it comes to books about heart-wrenching subjects such as drug abuse, poverty, homelessness, and mental illness, I'm always worry that in the quest to be shocking, that it may be too easy for readers to discount the realities presented by the stories. Strasser's Young Adult novel, Can't Get There from Here tells the story of a gang of young street kids doing what they can to survive in New York City. They each have their own story of families that couldn't take care of them, didn't want them, or otherwise mistreated them. Their home lives are so terrible, that digging through garbage cans for food and risking sexual and physical assault looking for a place to sleep, is safer than going back to their parents. This short book is filled with so much tragic sadness, it's hard to believe that there are children out there actually living these lives. And that's my only problem with this book - that when one bad thing after another happens, it becomes too easy to say, "well, it's just fiction." But, to the extent this novel opens the eyes of young adults and shows them that there are people their own age living out there on the streets, and more importantly, that there are organizations that hopefully can actually help, I think it's definitely a good thing.

All Together Dead - Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse Series #7)

Following the untimely and gruesome death of the King of Arkansas, Sookie travels to the vampire summit in Lake Michigan to protect the Queen of Louisiana against an unfair murder charge. Sookie reunites with and relishes in the company of her fellow telepath, Barry, as she divides her romantic loyalties between Quinn and Eric. With only a couple books left in the series before I actually catch up with Harris, I'm finding myself eager to read them as fast as I can, but a little sad to see it come to an end (for now, I assume she's still writing...). I know that Harris has written a couple other series, but haven't decided yet whether I was able to get past her terrible dialogue poor storytelling because she has created such wonderful characters, or because I came to know the characters first through the television's probably worth checking out just to answer that question.

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It - Maile Meloy

Each year, the New York Times publishes its lists of the Best Books of the Year - which always includes five fiction selections and five non-fiction selections. If I haven't already (which I usually haven't), I try to read through the fiction picks, and if the non-fiction ones are on topics I find remotely interesting, I'll read those too. This collection of short stories made the list for 2009, along with Lethem's Chronic City, Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs, Walls's Half-Broke Horses, and Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women (the only selection I could not get through). I have a fascination with short stories - on the one hand, I find them frustrating because I often wish they were turned into full length novels so I could learn more about the characters, on the other hand, I find an author's ability to say so much in such a short space incredibly inspiring. Most of the time, however, given the short space, I find that authors try too hard to be shocking, or to imitate the O.Henry twist, or to do something other than simply tell me a story. Meloy has avoided all these pitfalls, and created an entire book filled with characters I wanted to know more about. I particularly enjoyed a story about a young man in Montana who develops a crush over dinner at a diner with a commuting teacher, and another involving a married man's conflict over whether to leave his wife for his children's former swim instructor. Many of the stories are about love and loss, typical themes in stories that I enjoy, but Meloy manages to create realistic dialogue, actions and reactions. Definitely a collection that kept me reading "just one more."