Camino Island is a standard Grisham procedural, complete with the requisite labyrinthine international money transfers we’ve come to expect from him. But the focus is on rare books, book dealers, and a very pleasant bookseller and his wife, who deals in antiques. It’s fun and undemanding, and remarkably non violent, expect for one hapless thief.
Tag Archives: writers
Commonwealth is the story of a complicated family that makes it way into a novel and eventually a movie, creating uncomfortable moments for the various family members who feel variously betrayed, forced to revisit awkward moments of the past, and exposed in ways they had never imagined they would be. The book within a book idea is clever, but the strength of the story is the imaginative, deeply felt family saga with complicated characters and relationships.
If you were disappointed by State of Wonder, as I was, give this one a try: it’s a keeper.
In Death by Water, an aging novelist struggles with an abandoned novel, undertakes a difficult collaboration with a theater group that wants to dramatize his work, and lets himself be coddled by his wife, sister, and everyone around him it seems. And this self-involved aging man makes for a slow and, to me, pretty boring story.
Delicious! did not make for delicious reading for me. I had liked the author’s memoir and adventures as a food critic but this sentimental and predictable story of a young journalist at a foodie magazine who finds a secret cache of letters to James Beard did not hit the spot.
Trying to analyze my distaste, I can think of two aspects beyond the predictability of the story. One is the Pygmalion theme. Again! Can’t a young woman grow and learn without an older male mentor to tell her to buy new clothes? The other is the awkward mix of the story and the research, here on WWII. The transitions from one to the other are as grating as the sudden bursting into songs in musicals.
Still, there are some lovely characters, in particular the Pygmalion figure, with his over-the-top elaborate discourse. Not enough to make me recommend the book, alas.
That Part Was True is the story of an epistolary friendship between an American mystery writer and a British woman recovering from a very bad mother and anxiety attack, surprisingly centered around cooking. Wait, don’t give up yet! The letters flow very well, even the emails, and don’t have an iota of phoniness, and although it’s best to care about food, a bit, to read the book, this is not a foodie-only story. If anything does not feel quite right in the novel, it’s the way that the men talk, and talk, about their feelings and emotions. Granted the hero is a writer but still, it’s a bit much. His tangled involvements with unsuitable women are much more believable (and fun to read about!)
Let me start with the aspect of Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites that I did not like: the sporadic recipes, tucked rather randomly at the end of some chapters, with loose ties to the main story. They don’t seem to add to the story, and their banality is puzzling (do we really need a recipe for soft-boiled eggs, even if it does tie in, superbly, with her father’s appalling abuse of her mother?) But it we leave aside the recipes the story of her violent (attorney!) father, her mother, who raised three daughters alone with gusto, very little money, and a good dose of depression, and how she put herself through college with very little help from anyone is inspiring and entertaining as she moves to Europe, the East Coast, the West Coast, and back many times.
I was disappointed by Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms, which turned out to be nothing more than a series of stories about authors who chose to publish under another name than the one they received at birth. Each story is reasonably interesting, although many are well-known, at least for those of us who are curious about writers, so we read once again about the Brontes sisters, George Sand, or Mark Twain, but we don’t discover many new characters. And the details seem rather quaintly chosen. We learn that Patricia Highsmith has pet snails for instance. Not my cup of tea, but who cares? And there seems to be a great need to inform us of the age at which the writers’ parents died, for some reason…
I would have liked to see some more general thoughts about why and how pseudonyms are chosen and how they are used , rather than the disconnected stories.
Mr. Fox is a devilishly clever book that wraps a novel into another, or rather multiple novels into the story of its author and his muse, and it left me absolutely cold. Admiring the craft, perhaps, but at best indifferent to all the protagonists, at worst actively annoyed of the complicated packaging that ultimately reveals trite and unbelievable tales.
Home Safe is the story of a sixty-year old writer who loses her husband and her writing inspiration and focuses instead on making her daughter’s life miserable. She starts with innocuous annoyances, like buying her clothes she can’t wear, but graduates to prying into her boyfriends and her life, all under the cover of being a caring mom. She even gets her out of bed one night because, gasp, she went to bed still wearing her clothes (the daughter is a successful career woman, who, I’m sure, can decide wheat to wear to bed.)
There are many formulaic passages, starting with the opening when the budding writer starts her career at age nine (!) reflecting on her life at that age. There’s the description of the improbable house her husband built for her (thousands of miles away and without telling her) that reads like a bad real estate ad. There’s inane dialog with her long-suffering friends that include some gems as ” That house sounds literally incredible. I now it was important for you to go alone.” What friend would ever say that? There’s the inevitable tragic death in the Twin Towers on September 11th.
If all that doesn’t make you want to avoid the book, I’m not sure what will.
Research is a good thing. It tells you to write Mountain View, not Mountainview. It shows you that, walking on College Avenue from the Berkeley campus, your hero cannot buy and eat an ice cream cone — there are no ice cream shops until Rockridge, a mile away. Your hero is unlikely to hail a cab on that same avenue. No crowds outside Chez Panisse at the end of the evening. And no sales tax on the restaurant tabs in France.
Missing the details means the reader’s attention wanders away from the underwhelmingly engrossing Julian and Mia. And guilt grows, since Julian is a writer and finds it particularly difficult to have his MFA compadres harshly criticize his stories, even as they get published in the good East Coast literary magazines. I feel bad. But Matrimony needs a better researcher. I hear there are lots of students on that benighted West Coast campus that will gladly eat ice cream, or at Chez Panisse…