It’s too bad that beach weather is past us, because How To Party With An Infant may, barely, pass muster as a beach read. It tries to be a satire of rich mothers of San Francisco, obsessed with getting their darlings into the right (very expensive and organic) preschool and taking the right barre class, but only succeeded in making me wonder how the heroine, instead of comfortably sponging off her parents, cannot just get a job and stop whining about not owning a Hermes belt. I think we can all live without Hermes belts. Or organic preschools with 40K annual tuitions.
Tag Archives: San Francisco
Perhaps Wendy Lesser has a point. There are lots of books that are, well, mediocre. Exhibit A: After Her, which strains to recreate the frisson of a (real) serial killer’s spree, although to be fair it paints a sweet picture of a loving detective-father’s relationship with his daughters. The plucky heroine could not save it for me. I recommend Labor Day instead (the book).
The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature portrays four writers, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith, in crazy post-Gold Rush San Francisco, and how they created a movement quite separate from the literary tradition of the East Coast. The best part of the book for me was the description of the city and its wild boom time madness.
The Days of Anna Madrigal puts a capstone on the legendary Tales of the City series, neatly (almost obsessively) tying out all the loose ends. Perhaps it’s inevitable that it should take us to Burning Man, with its free-flowing madness, while Anna goes back, one last time, to the town where she grew up as the son (yes, she was a boy then) of the brothel’s owner. While some will lament the end of the series I think it was time to end it, for the characters are getting old and tired and their complicated entanglements a tad wearisome. Still, there are some lovely observations throughout the book about, say, how older people can act like teenagers, and a touching back story of how Anna became Anna.
If you’ve never read Tales of the City, start with the first one! This one is just too high in the series.
The eponymous hero of Chance is a psychiatrist in a heap of trouble: divorcing, with a wayward teenage daughter, in hock to the IRS, selling furniture he pretends is genuine, and, more troubling, pursuing a relationship with a patient. From the mess emerges a battle with a crooked cop, an improbable alliance with an unlikely furniture restorer, scenic scenes all around the San Francisco Bay area, all in a haze of heavy drinking and little sleep (could it be that Bay Area heroes are fueled by alcohol and no sleep?)
I thoroughly enjoyed the dark story, dark characters, and dark non-ending. Try it!
In Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, the heroine-detective solves the murder of a friend while ingesting large quantities of drugs and alcohol and ruminating about past cases, more or less personal, as is her usual style. Various only-in-San-Francisco characters provide an entertaining background to the mostly dark plot. It’s hard to believe that she can function as a human being, let alone as a detective, with so many chemicals in her body — but the story is nicely twisted.
Tiger Babies Strike Back: How I Was Raised by a Tiger Mom but Could Not Be Turned to the Dark Side is a collection of essays by a Chinese-American writer and mother that starts as a shrill attack on her mother’s Tiger Mother style of parenting and a stern defense of her own, consciously relaxed approach. The best part of the book are the autobiographical asides, whether it’s her mixed feelings about moving away from San Francisco, her love for her maternal grandmother, or her parents’ belated acceptance of her Caucasian husband. The rest felt too vituperative and rather pointless to me: who really thought that Tiger Mothers were to be emulated, anyway?
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a mystery with a strong sub theme of Silicon Valley’s technical prowesses together with old-school secret societies. It’s quite fun to read, although I must profess a complete lack of interest in secret societies, and the one featured here is barely believable as it involved a belief in immortality (strike one) and harsh contradictions in its choices of technology.
The puzzling part for me, which prevented my embracing the story, is the place of Google, the company, as the almighty savior of all things technical (and all things, period), so much so that the book reads like an obnoxious ad in parts. And if you are going to go that route, why not get the details of the Googleplex right, down to the organization of the cafeteria?
Hipster San Francisco is on display in The Dead Do Not Improve, where even police officers are cool surfer dudes and most of the other characters work for Internet startups or are MFA graduates (or both). The twists and turns are duly unexpected, but perhaps a little forced, and the overall effect is surprisingly boring at times, perhaps to signify the essential ennui of said hipsters. Along a very funny scene at the silly, “only in San Francisco” Cafe Gratitude, perhaps the whole point of the book is to make San Francisco residents a little more smug about their city, and to bring nostalgia to past visitors?
By Blood starts with a wonderful premise: a mysteriously disgraced professor rents a small office to write a masterpiece but instead discovers that he can hear perfectly the consultations of the psychotherapist next door and gets taken into the story of a particular patient, to the point that he feels compelled to investigate how she was adopted, and eventually becomes complicit in her search for her birth mother. The compulsive eavesdropping is rendered flawlessly. Unfortunately, the historical context of the adoption (during World War II) is told ploddingly and the details are a little too outlandish to believe.