“Breakfast of Champions” a novel by Kurt Vonnegut
I think this is the first novel I’ve read by him unless I read “Slaughterhouse-Five” in high school. Wasn’t that one all the reading lists? This was my latest book club pick. The first night picked it up I read about thirty pages. When I got back to a few days later I couldn’t pick up the thread of the story so I flipped back a few pages. Still couldn’t. A few more. Nope. I had to start over. I found myself trying too hard to figure it out. It felt like one of those pictures that you’re supposed to relax and look through somehow and this amazing 3-D image will be revealed. Well. I can never ever see them. Ever. But with this book I kind of relaxed my focus and just settled in for the ride and that worked. At our book club the consensus was fairly unanimous. Quirky. Weird. Hard to follow. But once we started talking, a new perspective and appreciation emerged. I’ll never be a die-hard fan but I like reading books that pull me out of my comfort zone. It’s good for me the writer, me the reader and me the person.
“Iodine” a novel by Haven Kimmel
Dark, disturbing, gothic, rich with archetypes and psychology. This was not an easy read. There are so many layers to Trace Covington’s personality. What was real and what imagined became a very fine, blurry line. The novel explores a young woman’s brutal and bizarre childhood as it is revealed in bits and pieces of dreams and journal entries. She is a brilliant student, which helps hide the fact that she is seriously disturbed emotionally and possibly mentally. When she falls in love with her literature professor their love story seems to help sew the fragments of herself together until his secrets emerge, causing her to confront her own. I wasn’t always clear about what was imagined and what truly happened but I also wasn’t bothered that I didn’t always know either. The voice, as well as the story itself is incredibly hypnotizing.
“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” a novel by David Wroblewski
I have to admit that this book didn’t make it onto my to-be read list even after all the hype over the summer, and even after Oprah picked it as her latest selection. Part of it was petty jealousy that a first time author who spent ten years writing this book was graced by the Oprah Midas touch. Another part was that a book about dogs didn’t exactly appeal to me. I like dogs. I like cats. But I don’t feel that magical connection to them like some people. Then my book club selected it to read so I succumbed and bought it. I had a hard time getting into it. Maybe I was distracted but I didn’t feel a pull to pick up and continue reading it. Finally two people from my book club said they had read it over the summer and they couldn’t put it down. So I started over and they were right. He tells a great story. One of the things I admire most is his sense of place: the woods, the barn, the seasons. The chapters from the point of view of the dog were not gimmicky as I feared. And Edgar is such a unique character: a mute boy with this special connection to dogs. I found the information of breeding dogs actually quite interesting. The book is over five hundred pages and part of me feels that he shoe-horned everything he might ever want to possibly write about someday into this one book. Then. Then I get to the end. Now I won’t spoil it but I will say that I had to read it twice to make sure what I thought happened is what actually happened. And I think it is. And I was disappointed. And a little annoyed. After all that. Really? That’s how it had to end? I’m really curious to hear what he has to say about the ending. Maybe it will help me see it a new light. Maybe not.
“The Penderwicks on Gardam street” a YA novel by Jeanne Birdsall
I read this for our mother/daughter book club, which meets tonight. My daughter is in the living room trying to finish it before we leave; she got caught up in another book this month. It was a quick, cleansing read. Exactly the kind of book I would’ve been drawn to as a kid: a family of four daughters each with their own interest and talent whether it’s animals, writing or science. The only problem I had was that I figured out very, very early on how it was going to play out and I was right.
“The Year of Fog” a novel by Michelle Richmond
This was a mesmerizing story. A story I couldn’t put down. It’s the story of a six year-old who goes missing on a foggy beach in San Francisco. It’s the story of the search for her, of the guilt that Abby Mason, the girl’s father’s fiancée feels every single minute of every dingle day that passes and the girl is not found.
I love the way Richmond weaves this incredible story with information and history of memory and photography.
Memory is not unlike a photograph with multiple exposures. One event is layered on top of another, so that it is impossible to distinguish between the details of the two. The older we get, the more multiple-exposure memories we have. Temporal relationships become elastic. As the years progress and we experience more and more, the mini-narratives that make up our lives are distorted, corrupted, so that every one of us is left with a false history, a self-created fiction about the lives we have led.
I admire the pace of this well- plotted novel that seems to emanate from the characters and not a plot driven outline the author had in mind all along. I learned that it’s not only important to have a burning question that leads the reader to turn each and every page such as will the little girl be found but it’s just as important to have questions beneath questions: what happens if she is found? What happens if she isn’t?
“A Better Angel” short stories by Chris Adrian
This may be my surprise favorite book of the year. I found it on the new books shelf of our local library. Hadn’t heard anything about it but liked the cover: a collaged angel illustration. The stories are stunning. Once I got to the third (chilling) story I realized I had heard of him. The story, “Stab” was in the “Best American Mystery Stories”. The stories blend some amazing writing with medical mysteries as well as spiritual ones. Echoes of 9-11 reverberate throughout the collection in odd and uniquely compelling ways. The author is a pediatrician as well as a divinity student (not to mention a successful writer). The main thing I am taking away from this collection is to really just delve into what you find fascinating about the world you live in and slice it open to share it in your writing. The things that fascinate Adrian appear in the stories over and over: children, illness, 9-11, regret, death, mourning. I’ll have to go out and buy a copy since this is going on my permanent bookshelf. (Oh and two of the stories got honorable mentions in 2007 BASS edited by Stephen King.)
“Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him” a novel by Danielle Ganek
First of all- great title. It is actually the title of a painting that becomes the center of a bidding war after the fifty-something, “emerging” artist is run over by a cab on the night of his opening. Mia, the gallerina finds herself at the center of all the hubbub surrounding his death and sudden fame as an artist. This was a fun romp through a world unknown to me- the New York and International art scene- as Mia sheds one artistic identify and finds her true one as well as her true love.