Tag Archives: fiction

Straightjacket, Meredith Towbin @mtprose (2013)

10 Mar

Straightjacket_ByMeredithTowbin_453x680A book is shaped as much by its reader as its author.  There are books that I read while younger and loved, but picked up later and could not stand.  There are also books that I struggled with and put down, only to revisit years later and completely fall in love.  I wish Straightjacket had been released when I was in high school, because I know I would have obsessed over it.

Meredith Towbin is a prolific blogger who I’ve been reading for a while (can’t remember how I came across her blog, but probably through Rainbowmaker Emily Levenson).  A few months back she announced on her blog that her book was picked up and would be published.  Then publication day finally arrived.  I didn’t have much in the way of expectations, because it seems like everyone with a blog has a book nowadays.  The price was low and I was looking for an easy read, though, so I decided to give her YA novel a try.

Straightjacket follows the tortured romance of star-crossed lovers Anna and Caleb.  Caleb is, or claims to be, an angel.  Anna is plagued by crippling panic attacks.  They meet in an inpatient mental health facility and tumble into love, and decide to check themselves out and run away together.  Each Anna and Caleb have parent issues and demons and all kinds of struggles, but they are determined to be together.

The characters are fairly one-dimensional, and the book is driven by the plotline of Anna and Caleb’s love and struggle. As a grown up old lady, I’m more interested in character, but I know that as a teenager, the lack of complicated characters wouldn’t have bothered me a tick.  I would have connected deeply with the struggle, and passion and parent conflicts of each of the characters.

Towbin is spot on with the YA genre. This is a perfect book for brooding teenagers.  I’m too old to fully connect with it now, but can appreciate how much it would have impacted me, had I read it when I was younger and moodier.  Nice work, nice work.

The Antagonist, Lynn Coady (2013)

12 Feb

The Antagonist is a brand new book by Lynn Coady, and it really feels new.  I feel this absurd boundary between the printed word and the electronic word (even though I tend to read most printed words on electronic devices nowadays), and it nonsensically throws me for a loop when social media plays a big role in a book.

The Antagonist follows big, burly but well-intentioned Rank, who has, to his surprise, discovered that Adam– a former friend from college–wrote a book about him.  A not very flattering book.  Rank takes a stand and, through a series of unresponded e-mails, sets the story straight.

antagonist-lynn-coady-205x300 Much of the plot is driven by the question of what exactly did Adam say? You know it has angered Rank and it’s something bad, but it’s not entirely apparent at the outset.  A big chunk of the book also deals with the wonder of rediscovering old friends through social media.  For those in their early 20s who don’t remember life without Facebook, this wonder is lost.  But for those a generation or two older, the excitement of reconnection is highly relatable.  If this book were written by an unskilled writer, it would be all wrapped up in three pages, but Coady does a good job of structuring the story so that the reader is neither lost nor bored.

The Antagonist certainly isn’t a thriller, but it does keep you wondering.  It’s not heavy reading, and would make an excellent poolside novel for those of us who aren’t too interested in trashy romances.

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri (2008)

26 Jan

UnaccustomedEarth Unaccustomed Earth is such a lovely little book. It’s a collection of 8 short stories, each of them a glimpse into someone’s life. Lahiri stays within her comfort zone– most of the stories concern an adult child of Bengali parents, living in (or with connections to) Massachusetts, who is involved in a relationship with a non-Bengali. The stories are heavy with the themes of culture, family, guilt, trust, and independence, but balance those broader themes with an incredibly personal focus on the stories.

Although Lahiri’s characters have very specific characteristics, their decisions and struggles have many universal qualities. There was one story in particular that rang incredibly true to me. Without getting into the details (the story hit home on an incredibly personal and painful issue), reading that story provided me with kinship, feeling like there was someone else who has really been there and really knows how I felt.

This was my first Lahiri book, but I did see the movie based on her novel The Namesake. I’m typically not much of a crier with movies. OH BOY DID I CRY. Did I EVER cry. That movie will make turnips cry. They aren’t tears of sadness, it’s not an incredibly sad story. The struggles were just so personal and intricate and there was not one clear answer on how to sort through them and make everything better. And I cried and I cried and I cried.

Unaccustomed Earth is a perfect book for curling up in the cold winter, drinking tea, and feeling a little sad. Pick this one up for sure, just don’t take it to the beach with you. I’m really glad that my book club picked this book for January. It’s a book I ordinarily would not have chosen on my own, and I really loved it.

The Round House, Louise Erdrich (2012)

11 Oct

I think of myself as liking happy, upbeat books, but reviewing my reading list from this year alone, it’s clear that man do I love a heartwrenching drama.  My favorite books are full of suffering (The Grapes of Wrath, Room, Cutting for Stone, What Was She Thinking/Notes on a Scandal).  My favorite TV shows are stressful and sorrowful (American Horror Story, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Big Love).  Drama, drama, drama, drama, drama.

I caught Louise Erdrich’s interview in promotion of her new book, The Round House, on All Things Considered as I drove home from the Pennsylvania Conference for Women.  I knew immediately that although her new novel is tragic, I would love it.  It did not disappoint. Erdrich has such a hand for prose.  As I read her words, the page quickly fades and the story unfolds visually.

The Round House is a coming of age story, slightly reminiscent of Stephen King’s novella The Body.  Joe is thirteen years old, spending his summer riding bikes with his friends, sneaking cigarettes, and generally getting into harmless mischief.  One Sunday, his mother goes out for a drive, and is uncharacteristically late.  As Joe and his dad pile into the car to go look for her, her car screeches up.  Her face is bruised and battered.  She sits in the seat, blank, unmoving.  She has been brutally raped.

Hopes for legitimate justice evaporate quickly.  Joe’s family is members of the Ojibwe tribe, living on reservation lands.  His mother does not know if the attack occurred on Native, Federal, or fee lands, they do not know who the attacker is, or of which nation he is a citizen.  Joe’s innocence of the world melts away, and he struggles to keep his tattered family together, he struggles to come to terms with the terrible violation of his mother.

In my judgment, this novel could easily be the best novel of 2012.