The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets starts auspiciously, with an apparently random kidnapping of a somewhat clueless mother and ex-wife of a game-show host by a reptile lover whose motives will become clear later in the book. The characters are a pleasantly eclectic bunch, including a spectacularly self-absorbed ex-husband and a rebellious daughter, not to mention the monster iguana the kidnapper has raised from infancy. Alas, midway through the book the zaniness of the situation starts to unravel and the reader is left silently encouraging the decidedly harebrained mom to make a decisive move, already, and get herself, and us, out of the claws of the kidnapper, pronto.
Tag Archives: Los Angeles
There’s plenty to like in The Barbarian Nurseries, starting with an interesting plot of an illegal, exploited Mexican housekeeper being left alone with the children of the family without notice. The true affection between her and the boys is also well captured, as is her uncertain relationship with the parents and the friends of the family, as she vacillates between being treated as family or as lowly hired help. The way the press exploits the incident, the mechanism of the legal system, the immigrant community’s response are also described with great success. And I just loved the wild imagination of the younger brother, who transforms the adventure into something the legal system can’t quite cope with.
But the book felt sloppy to me. The plot hinges on the parents unknowingly leaving the children with the housekeeper, but it seems highly improbable that they would not make more of an effort to ascertain that they are not alone. What high-tech manager would neglect to check his voicemail for days on end? And there’s more sloppiness throughout the story that makes the context feel wrong. Hedge funds don’t invest in technology startups. Families don’t explain they are away for a long trip on their home answering machine. Wronged housekeepers don’t drive away in peace. All that makes for a story that I could never quite believe, despite its strengths.
How did I manage to find a book whose hero proudly declares to have the name of Cleopatra‘s father (and her brother’s, and her son’s, I now know!) and invokes the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to places such as California, neatly pulling together themes from two books I read recently? And, to boot, this is a very intriguing book. It’s the story of Ptolemy Grey, who for the first third of the book is unfortunately and not altogether convincingly in the fog of senile dementia but finds a mysterious doctor who pumps him full of illegal drugs so he can regain a clear mind and set his affairs in order, despite a complicated and messy family situation. So the situation is absurdly contrived, the first part of the book is confusing and disappointing, but I liked the book overall, especially the themes of how (badly) we treat the old, how children can survive tough childhoods, to a point, and how kindness can change people and situations. Keep going beyond the first 100 pages!
Inherent Vice is a detective story set in the 60s in LA, and I can only imagine that people who can remember the 60s in LA will enjoy the many references to the music, cars, and drugs (lots of them, apparently). For the rest of us, the haze of smoke is not worth penetrating and the story hardly makes sense at all.
Two self-involved, vacuous women who happen to be sisters in law set out to mistreat their husband and lover, respectively and bumble about until they get what’s coming to them, more or less. They are so inane and self-centered that I started rooting for the husband after a couple of chapters, even if he starts out as a mean control freak. Then in the middle of the book he undergoes an abrupt conversion to semi-sainthood during a New Age sweat lodge ceremony (the only really funny part of the book) and at that point I really wanted him to get rid of his wife and his sister as well.
The author displays a solid knowledge of the intricacies of the Los Angeles real estate and expensive French couture, ad nauseam, although her French could once again stand a good native reviewer (as argued before.)
This One Is Mine is a good reminder that chick lit is not as effortless or effort-free as the good one makes it seem. I hope this first novel remains single.
The Lost Art of Walking is an odd book. The author sets out to describe all aspects of what he calls, a bit pedantically, pedestrianism, and he covers a lot of ground (ha ha) including walking references in music and literature, walking through various cities he knows (London, New York, and, funnily enough, Los Angeles) , and the unlikely exploits of competitive walkers of all types.
Some of the stories can be unpleasantly opaque to the non-initiated — it’s hard to follow his New York walk without an understanding of the various neighborhoods he traverses for instance — but never fearing to turn pages quickly when bored I found enough to entertain myself. Besides funny historical anecdotes (such as the Englishman who walked 15 minutes per hour for days on end, night included), what I liked best were his own stories, including working as a museum guard and imagining himself the owner of precious paintings in the minutes before the visitors poured in.
I know it’s supposed to be a satire. I know it’s supposed to be over the top. But Mother on Fire wanders not only over the top but sideways and over to the next valley, leaving the reader confused and often bored by the diatribe approach. About what? Ms. Loh is telling us about her quest to find a kindergarten for her daughter Hannah in Los Angeles, which happens to have a mediocre public school system, a system that inspires such fear and collective hysteria that she visits multiple private schools, each of which subjects her daughter to various tests, and ends up giving serious consideration to paying a $22,500 tuition (plus fees) to protect her precious daughter from the terrible stain of attending the “Mexican” (her word) neighborhood school. After her husband calmly computes that no, it won’t be possible to find $22,500 (they have a younger daughter as well), she finally visits the dreadful neighborhood school and finds an oasis of calm complete with a child-centered staff. Eventually her daughter gets accepted into the (public) magnet school she thought would be acceptable all along.
There are some funny portraits of crazy moms (yes, crazier than her! it’s possible); greedy private school administrators; and a harsh depiction of her pushy and stingy dad. Unfortunately the book is too long and too busy ranting about everything in sight to fully appreciate them.
And now my own rant: how can apparently sane and educated parents take leave of their senses so easily? How can one decide a school is unacceptable without ever visiting it? How can anyone believe that paying twice the (public) university tuition for a kindergartner could be required for success? Are we creating our own drama here? Get real. Go vote instead of reading this book.
Bright Shiny Morning is an official piece of fiction, unlike A Million Little Pieces by the same author that started out as a memoir and turned out to be fiction after all… and a great piece of fiction in my mind so why did it have to be misrepresented?
Bright Shiny Morning is not that great. It’s built around a number of characters, all in LA, some of which appear for only a short vignette and some endure, as well as a number of semi-random thoughts about LA that are pretty boring and forced in their randomness. James Frey has a knack for creating characters we care about and for putting them in improbable situations we somehow believe (like gang members hunting down a sweet Midwestern couple) but this is too much and too weird. Read A Million Little Pieces instead.