Monthly Archives: January 2010

Books of the Month – January 2010

I loved two books this month:

And I much liked two:

  • Lit, a hopeful memoir of surviving dysfunction
  • What the Dog Saw, a compilation of columns on widely different topics that stress the fascinating diversity of people
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The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Do we need The Book of Night Women, in which the slaves speak like this, “All them leave me was me mouth. And me become a good-behaving nigger.”, while the owners use standard English syntax? Do we need another story full of brutal killings, rapes, and marvelously complex torture scenes told in exquisite details? Do we need another story in which slaves use voodoo-like magic or are terrified by the power of those who do? And do we really need another story in which the author, like the rapist-overseer, actually believes that the raped slave will turn around and love the overseer when he starts treating her kindly?

I think not.

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Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks

Faces of the Gone is the story of a murder investigation of four drug dealers, as conducted by the fearless investigative reporter of the local newspaper. He uncovers a mysterious drug organization run like a business, complete with a secret-shopper program (I loved that touch!). The case of characters is wildly diverse and entertaining and includes corrupt officials, hard-working exotic dancers, a flaming-gay fellow reporter, and assorted Newark, NJ thugs and informants he has cultivated over the years. Very satisfying!

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What I Thought I Knew by Alice Cohen

What I Thought I Knew is the tough memoir of a woman who finds out she is pregnant while undergoing her CAT scan (her doctor having somehow missed her five-month pregnancy!) and proceeds to first seek to abort the baby she is told has a birth defect, then decides to change her mind — and the diagnostic on the baby evolves. Many physicians appear in the story, some competent and some not, and some possessing appalling bedside manners.

However, the drama with the mother and child is only a part of the story. The larger drama is that of the health system in the US. Although the mother had health insurance, she  did not have a very good, which created all kinds of complications on top of the already-tortured medical facts. And perhaps we could think of a better system than one in which parents may sue a doctor who misses a five-month pregnancy, but only if the baby has a birth defect. Sad.

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The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin

The Confessions of Edward Day is written as the memoir of an actor, who starts the story by drowning, from which he is saved by a fellow actor who will spend the rest of the book getting paid back. The various characters have so much ego and self-importance that I occasionally stopped caring about any of them, and the central story of the book, Edward’s separation from his true love, seems highly unlikely. But the description of the New York theater scene in the 70s is lively and interesting.

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Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

Sometimes it’s a good thing to pick a book by an author’s whose previous books one hated. In this case, I had unkind (but heartfelt) comments about Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter, but I liked Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, which is a collection of stories. The stories are rather gloomy, with protagonists that don’t quite know how to live their lives, and of course stories tend to end abruptly, but if you can get over the pessimism it’s not a bad read.

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Follow Me by Joanna Scott

Follow Me follows a teenage single mother who abandons her newborn baby on her parents’ kitchen table for a new life, as told by her granddaughter. The trouble is that the main character is simply not very interesting; she lives a banal life despite being always on the run, and she seems unable to develop truly satisfying relationships. At the same time, her ability to  make friends and to be warmly welcome as a newcomer in small towns seems rather suspect considering that the early fifties were not particularly kind to single mothers — and she did have a second child out of wedlock, one she did not abandon.

After a couple hundred pages of pabulum, the reader is filled with hope when the author reveals another story possibility in the form of the story of the granddaughter’s father,  a middle-school science teacher whose desertion was mysteriously and mistakenly caused by the grandmother. Alas, hopes are dashed as the narrative turns into a stream of consciousness rambling that’s as  boring and irrelevant as you can imagine a geek’s memoir can be. (I apologize to all the well-loved geeks in my life. You guys are fascinating compared to that guy, trust me.)

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