Wednesday, May 2, 2012

If You Live in a Small House - Sandra Park

Every two years, Stanford and the William Saroyan Foundation award the Saroyan Prize to a newly-published work of fiction that commemorates the life, work, and intentions of William Saroyan.  To screen the entries, Stanford asks for volunteer readers.  I've volunteered for the last three awards, and this is one of the books I was assigned for this year.  Sandra Park's novel takes place in Hawaii, and tells the story of Korean immigrants growing up on the island.  As the title suggests, it is about multi-generations of family living under the same roof - and the book centers around the idea of space - why do we need it and how do we get it - from our families, from our pasts, and from ourselves.  Taking place on a small island, such as Hawaii, I felt that it all took place within the confines of this small confined space, and at times did give me a feeling of claustrophobia as I read.  I enjoyed the novel - I tend to like books set in Hawaii - and I hadn't read much in the past about Korean-Americans on the islands.  I did find the writing style a bit disjointed - it skipped around from character to charater and presented the story in a vignette style that I found frustrating at times.  But, it was a good read for just getting a sense of a time and a place.

The Art of Fielding - Chad Harback

I seem to enjoy books that take place at small town colleges.  Richard Russo's Straight Man and Jane Smiley's Moo come to mind.  The Art of Fielding follows Henry Skirmshander, a shortstop phenomenon to Wisconsin's Wetish College.  As Henry learns to navigate college life and the pressures of college athletics, his roommate begins an illicit affiar with the univeristy President.  And, the President's daughter, running from a failed marriage, begins her own dalliance with the team's captain.  Amidst a lot of baseball talk, is a coming-of-age story about a boy who lacks confidence, who is then built up to believe he can do no wrong, who then makes an unforeseen error that potentially changes the trajectory of not only his life, but of all those around him.  At times, this book was a bit too melodramatic for my tastes, but overall it was an enjoyable story with some interesting and real characters.