Monthly Archives: May 2008

Easter Everywhere by Darcey Steinke

Maybe you will enjoy Easter Everywhere if you are familiar with the author’s novels. Otherwise, her memoir is depressing and sadly familiar: grinding poverty, unfocused parents, neglected children, bad choices all around. But there’s no real voice, I thought. Instead read The Glass Castle or if you really want miserable Bastard out of South Carolina.

And go hug your kids.

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The Age of Shiva by Manil Puri

The Age of Shiva is a soap opera set in India. There’s the duplicitous sister, the lecherous husband, the long-suffering wife, the devious younger sister playing their expected roles against exotic (for us) backgrounds of arranged marriages, flower-strewn festivals, and civil unrest. The first half of the book is captivating enough and Puri does a fine job of capturing the inner voice of the young heroin, but he loses me completely when she starts yearning for her son — or, more prosaically, fails to escape her subservient condition when she gets the chance to do it following her husband’s death.

If you like exoticisim, try A Golden Age instead.

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Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem

Ever wondered why awful genetic diseases haven’t been wiped out by evolution? Because they don’t impair reproduction, at least for individuals who carry the gene (or at least only one copy of the gene.) Survival of the Sickest gives many examples of this principle in an easy-to-read package. Nothing spectacular, but interesting.

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The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller

A young woman and her husband move to the house next to that of an older woman who’s still married to but no longer living with her philandering husband, the senator. A friendship develops between the women even if the younger one never understands the older one’s tolerance and love for her husband after all he put her through (and frankly we can’t understand it either; surely great sex cannot be enough!) The Senator’s Wife gives us an engaging story but one we can’t quite believe. Disappointing.

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Erased by Marilee Strong

Erased‘s subtitle, Missing Wives, Murdered Women makes is clear: this book is not a fun, heart-warming exercise. Starting from the infamous Scott Peterson’s murder case of recent California memory, Strong explores other cases of husbands or boyfriends who murdered their partner when she ceased to be of interest to them and who took exquisite pains to hide the body, often gruesomely. This is not the pleasantly tinglingĀ CSI hour: in most cases the police fumbles and wastes precious days (weeks? months?) before making a thorough investigation of the husband or boyfriend, jeopardizing the investigation and sometimes the conviction.

It could be the cheesiest book in the world (who wants to hear any more about Scott Peterson?) but the author keeps it factual and mostly dispassionate. I hope police departments heed her story — not to mention women whose partners start acting just a little too evasive…

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A death in the Family by James Agee

A Death in the FAmily is an unfinished novel but don’t let that prevent you from reading it: there is a strong story even if some of the narrative fragments don’t quite fit together. The book follows a family whose father dies in a car crash in the early 20th century and is told mostly from the perspective of the young son, who is captured perfectly in what matters to him (such as his new, spiffy cap) and what doesn’t quite make sense (why can’t he play outside on the day his father dies). There’s a great tenderness in that family, reminiscent of The Blue Boy, with many instances of adults taking great pains to be kind to the children, such as the family friend who makes sure the children can see their father’s coffin being carried away. Adults are also kind to each other: the book opens with the father being called to his father’s bedside in the middle of the night, and the mother insists on cooking him breakfast even though it’s clear he could do without while he makes the bedĀ so she can be warm when she is done.

It’s not a perfect family: there are drunks, religious fanatics, and marriage problems. But the book will make you appreciate the formidable strengths of extended families.

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Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

What do you get when you put together a spelling ace, kleptomaniac mother, a father disappointed by his daughter’s lack of intellectual gifts, and an apparently perfect son? Both a dysfunctional family and Bee Season. Golberg’s funny and sad story about spelling bees recalls other contests where parents forget themselves and invade their children’s lives (club soccer, anyone?) but goes much deeper to explore how parents deal with not liking some of their children, even as they love them.

There are hints of Little Miss Sunshine(but with more suffering), complete with a wonderful supporting character, the teenage son who turns Hare Krishna but with the much darker mood of a family whose parents can’t quite accept their children (or each other) as they are. A wonderful read even if the ending peters out unsatisfactorily.

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