Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This book is off putting when you initially see it - once because of the sheer size of it.  It is close to 750 pages in the hardback  (720 to be exact) and the cover is of a young man with an expression that is seemingly a combination of pleasure and pain. This is a book about friendship but not amongst women - it seems that everyone writes a book about friendship between the female gender doesn't it? - but about the friendship between a group of four friends that meet in college and whose relationships span the period of about 30 years in the novel. There's the actor Willem, the artist JB, the architect Malcolm and the attorney, Jude (who we learn is addicted to cutting himself). The center of the story is Jude. The pages that follow shows how each of these men rise and fall and lose their centers and bearings, sometimes painfully.

TRIGGER WARNINGS are a must for this book. Jude's story, which is the center of this novel, is so painful and contains so many triggers that the Civil War looks like child's play. The fact that Yanagihara named this character after the patron saint of lost causes is some poetic justice. She handles it masterfully and yet, the scars that Jude has as an adult - which range from self hatred to the yearning for love and yet the abject mistrust of anyone and everyone. He struggles and struggles and struggles to try to recover. I liked how she really tried to force me to try to enter into the world of someone whose mind was not like my own. And yet, I love also how she is able to capture the warmth and acceptance of true friendship and the different forms of love that exist. I lived this book while reading it and dreamt of it when I wasn't. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

You may recognize the author's name - Krakauer is perhaps most famous for the book Into the Wild about a young man that goes to Alaska (and which was made into a movie).  I enjoyed that book and when I heard on a podcast that I listen to that Krakuer had written a new book, I decided to get it and read it.  In this book, which is non fiction - he focuses on the University of Montana, the local police department and at the local prosecutor's office and analyzes their job performances through the eyes of five young women who were sexually assaulted. During this same period, the Department of Justice investigated how those same parties handled 80 rape cases and that investigation yielded dismaying results. In one instance, a detective re assured a male suspect during an interrogation that she didn't believe he committed a rape (despite evidence to the contrary) because they got a lot of false accusations. Similarly, the Chief of Police (!!!) sent an article to a victim citing two studies that say that the majority of rape allegations made against acquaintances, boyfriends, friends are found to be false. Krakauer also looks at how the University itself dealt with sexual assault, particularly when it seemed that the prized football players were alleged to be the perpetrators.

I thought that this book had a lot of potential, but it was potential that it didn't quite live up to. Part of it was do to my expectations going in: I expected the book to be more of a neutral, investigative report about what was happening in a small, college town dealing with one of the toughest types of criminal cases: sexual assault between people who know each other.  However, it was completely one sided.  Krakauer didn't appear to have talked to the investigating police officers (that could have provided a ton of information quite frankly) , nor does he appear to have talked to the alleged victim and perpetrator in the case that forms the crux of the book (the QB was accused of raping a friend, and it tore apart the college and local community and went to trial!). The book relies heavily on transcripts of court proceedings and police interviews and news coverage.  It doesn't appear that Krakauer actually went to the University of Montana and immersed himself in, or tried to learn about, the student culture at that particular college. Even some of the victims were one dimensional, as if their assault defined them (which I would hope wasn't the message Krakauer wanted to send - these women are MUCH more than that). I wanted to learn about them as people - where they came from, what they were doing, what they were interested in.

Campus rape and acquaintance rape are very complex issues and I didn't feel that Krakauer did that complexity justice.  He didn't even delve deeply into the relationship of alcohol and these sorts of scenarios.  I just was very disappointed.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Passage by Justin Cronin

OK, I know that everyone is like "PUH-lease, more vampires? Are you serious? Totally overhyped." I swear this isn't vampires that were spawned from 50 Shades of Gray Fanfic and aren't sparkly in the sun.  Or are 500 year old stalker pedophile types. This novel is the first in a trilogy written by a literature professor at Rice University and I swear I couldn't sleep at night because of it. This is a dystopian, science fiction thriller at heart and is set a few years in the near future. The war on terror is mounting and is on American territory, with attacks at shopping malls and schools in addition to the typical military targets. As a result, a secret government project is spawned (no pun intended) in which 12 death row inmates are infected with a virus that was procured from Bolivian bats in the hopes of creating a new super-soldier. It isn't a far cry to realizing that things start to go wrong and then a virus, Walking Dead style, has spread throughout the North American continent and there are vampires all over the place. The book also fast forwards approximately 100 years after the Vampire Apocalypse and then focuses on a small community of 60 people that have somehow managed to survive uninfected.

Cronin is a talented and creative author that somehow manages to immerse us into the daily lives not only of the people that are involved in the creation of the vampires but in the lives of the survivors 100 years later. He creates a vibrant world with realistic and reasonably interesting characters that I, at least, connected with on an emotional level - I definitely had one or two characters that I have become tremendously attached to. He also has a sense of humor - Jenna Bush is passingly mentioned as the governor of Texas and soldiers watch Bela Luogisi's Dracula for fun. There are some minor flaws - cliffhangers strategically placed and cliches that are used - but they are minor in comparison to the WONDERFUL plot development, character development and joy that was the creation and reading of this novel.  I am eagerly reading the second book in the trilogy now and am looking forward to the release of the final installment this month. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

BellZhar by Meg Wolizter

Meg Wolitzer is known for her adult novels - many of which I've read and enjoyed - so I wanted to try this novel, a Young Adult novel. It also is a play on words and references The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which I LOVED reading and is one of the books that I often read over and over and over again. The majority of this novel takes place at a boarding school in Vermont where emotionally fragile and highly intelligent teens go. The narrator, Jam Gallahue, is a student that "was sent [there] because of a boy" - it's a boy named Reeve that we see throughout the novel, often with Jam. One of the classes that Jam is registered for is a highly selective English class called "Special Topics in English" (there are only 6 students total in the class). Each student receives a beautiful, old, red leather journal that they are told they must write in as part of the class. While writing in the journals, the students start having extraordinary experiences.  The novel follows the students through these experiences and along their journey in becoming their new "normal."

Even though this book isn't like Wolitzer's adult novels, I still enjoyed it. It was a very quick read and only took me a day or two. I admit that I stayed up past my bedtime to read the book - which should tell you how engaging it and the characters are. I did like the characters too - they were relatable and all of them had triggering events that were not beyond the realm of possibility in the real world. Don't be tricked by the title though - if you're looking for a ton of Sylvia Plath or to get any insight into HER short life, you're looking in the wrong place. The class studies Plath but that is the extent of her appearances really - there is also some brief discussion of a small portion of her work. This is a novel about friendship, hope, struggle and eventually, recovery.  Wolitzer seems to be very strong in this sort of theme. There is profound self discovery and the journals are the source of that self discovery.  I highly encourage buying/reading this book!

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...