Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: The Double Bind

Chris Bohjalian sure doesn't get stuck in one subject matter and stay there. The Buffalo Soldier was totally different than Skeletons at the Feast, and The Double Bind is just completely different from those two. I like that about him.

The Double Bind was completely mesmerizing. I loved the concept. The main character, Laurel, is a survivor of a terrible crime who has recovered well enough to have a successful job at a homeless shelter. She is asked to track down some information on a homeless man who recently died, and she quickly becomes obsessed with finding this man's life story. He is, she believes, the son of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, of The Great Gatsby fame.

This is where I fell in love with the book. I've always loved The Great Gatsby, and the thought of weaving a contemporary novel in with this classic work of fiction as if it were true—well, Bohjalian's brilliant. I got to see and hear about the whole Gatsby drama again (and realized it's been much too long since I read the book) in a surprising, enthralling way. I halfway believed it was all real.

And then Bohjalian switched things up, and I was kind of irritated with and even betrayed by him when I finished the book. Just kind of. I laid in bed way too early this morning and ran through the book in my head. I felt a need to go back and read certain passages for clarity. What all did I miss? I am not always a careful reader, and I think one should be very careful when reading Bohjalian.

And I think one should read Bohjalian. He is just about as good as it gets in contemporary literature, even with twists and switches that leave me unable to sleep. I am putting all his books on my TBR list, this minute.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review: New Stories from the South, 2010

I've been reading this annual collection of the year's best short stories of the South for over a decade now. The 2010 collection was put together by editor is writer Amy Hempel, who appears, by her biography, to be solidly northern. I wonder why this anthology is put together by someone from the north? I find that interesting. I've never actually noticed the editor's origins in the past decade or so, but now I might have to go back and look.

But I digress. These stories were, for the most part, hopeless and depressing. Like some places in the south, and everywhere. The characters were meth addicts, rednecks, and lost people, like some people in the south, and everywhere. Even Wendell Berry's and Dorothy Allison's stories were swallowed up in this rather cold collection. There was a lot of fishing going on. The stories all went together very well, but I can't remember really enjoying any of them.

So. Maybe next year's collection will be more to my liking. The end.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

I should have known that any book recommended to me by two people that I consider my soul-mates should be amazing. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress was recommended to me by Kristina and Kris, who don't know each other but should. I'd love to link to Kristina's review of the book, but the bookseller that she used to work for took down all of her amazing book reviews. Both Ks are Canadian, which has pretty much nothing to do with the book, but Kris grew up Mennonite, which has a lot to do with Rhoda Janzen's memoir.

Oh my goodness. I laughed sooo hard while reading this book. I was actually guffawing. I really can't say it better than Elizabeth Gilbert does on the back cover of the book: "It is rare that I literally laugh out loud while I'm reading, but Rhoda Janzen's voice—singular, deadpan, sharp-witted, and honest—slayed me, with audible results."

Rhoda Janzen was raised in a Mennonite community but strayed far, far from her roots when she went to college. The book begins the year she turns 43, when a series of unfortunate events pushes Janzen back to the arms of her parents: she has a hysterectomy, her husband leaves her for a man he meets on gay.com, and she is badly injured in a car accident. She goes home to recover and in doing so, uncovers a whole barrel of truths about love, family, faith, and community.

The book isn't really so much about the Mennonite faith. Jantzen's tidbits on growing up Mennonite are hilarious, such as her list of the "top five Shame-Based Foods for Mennonite youth lunches." The memoir is really about coming to terms with your family with all its quirks, finding safety, and reconciling who you once were with who you are now.

Janzen is hilarious, but she is also a poet. Her writing is beautiful and terribly witty. In some ways she reminds me of Celia Rivenbark, author of Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank (clidk for my review) and other gems. But Janzen has more serious moments than Rivenbark. She is truly reflective and lyrical in her writing, which makes her dry humor even better.

I love this book and highly recommend it. I predict it will make my Top 10 list this year.

Other Reviews
Caroline Bookbinder
Mrs. O'Dell Reads
100 Memoirs
Vulpes Libris
At Home with Books

Linked up on Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: Born Under a Lucky Moon

The cover of this book alone made me want to read it, even though I know sensibly that book covers are often deceptive. But in the case of the apparently close-to-real life Born Under a Lucky Moon by Dana Precious, the cover matches the book.

I laughed a lot during this book. Precious reminds me a lot of Haven Kimmel, who also makes me laugh. The novel alternates between Jeannie Thompson and her longtime boyfriend Aidan, and Jeannie trying to explain to Aidan how warped (in her eyes) her family is by warning/regaling him with tales of her growing up years. Jeannie's colorful family stories include a surprise double wedding; a streaking Grandma; a philandering priest; and a town where no one can possibly hide anything for long.

The tales of her family take up most of the book, but we also see Jeannie in her fast-paced, current life as a Hollywood movie exec as she tries to deal with her chaotic, stressful work environment and maintain a relationship with Aidan, which, in her mind, includes keeping him away from her family. Eventually the two worlds do collide, and the book is well worth reading to find out what happens.

Well written, entertaining but insightful, this book really needs to be made into a movie. Highly recommended.

Other Reviews of Born Under a Lucky Moon
Chick Lit Reviews: "On almost every page I found something I could relate to and more often than not, giggle about."
Teresa's Reading Corner: Interview with Dana Precious
Simply Stacie: "Dana Precious writes with heart and humor, often hitting on a funny note when you least expect it."
Booksie's Blog: "Lock the door and turn off the phone. Once you start reading about the Thompson family, you won't be doing anything else until you find out how this story ends."
Colloquium: "Add first-time novelist Dana Precious to the short but impressive list of female authors currently writing intelligent and compelling fiction specifically geared toward female readers."

Linked up on Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books