The City & The City (Mieville)

As with even the most tentatively sci-fi of novels, the architecture of this one was a bit confusing for me. But for about 2/3 of the novel, I enjoyed the confusion, the questions it raised about cities – the way we live in them, what we see and don’t see, how we create borders, etc.. Mieville’s understated insights and minimalist prose combined with a hard-boiled detective story made for a compelling narrative. And then, it seems, he had to find a way to end it, and we went catapulting and careening this way and that, with exposition spilling everywhere. Then I just wanted to finish it.

Shelter in Place (Maksik)

There are books you read that prompt you to wonder, “How did the author know how I think?” There are others that you read that prompt you to wonder, “How did the author know about my life?” Rare is the book that does both. Shelter in Place is one such book. From his perfect title to his masterful use of language, Maksik creates a world that resonates with both my interior and exterior life. Though the plot takes place far from where I’ve ever lived (the NW United States), I felt like I was present in the story. Maksik’s narrator, with his careful use of verb tenses, made me think about gender, family, dreams and, in general life, in completely new ways.

I loved Maksik’s earlier novel, A Marker to Measure Drift. This, though, makes the top 10 list. This one was life-changing.

Lonesome Dove (McMurtry)

I had two images in my head as I read this book, one a brief clip of the mini-series that I saw once (Have you seen it? Is it worth it?) and another that came into my head as I was reading. Do you ever cast a book as you read it? I didn’t cast everyone, and I wasn’t even influenced by the faces I remembered from that brief clip. I won’t say the actor’s name, but if you’ve read the book, who would you have play Captain Call?

Maybe I’m a sucker for Westerns, but I loved, loved, loved the book and as one fellow reader predicted, there were many tears running down my face during certain scenes.

For me, this book explored the territory also marked by the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when a friendly Sheriff (as he’s being tied up at his own request by Butch and Sundance) tells them that their time is over. (Nope, can’t find it on YouTube.)

Augustus, who at an earlier point in my life would have been my favorite character, says it best. Or, rather, McMurtry says it from his perspective:

Soon the whites would come, of course, but what he was seeing was a moment between, not the plains as they had been, or as they would be, but a moment of true emptiness. . .

As the land goes, so go the people and the way they live and the way they die.

Don’t let the page count intimidate you. It was the quickest 900 or so pages I’ve ever read.



The Long Way Home (Penny)

I know my Louise Penny guides will be dismayed that I went out of order again, but this is the one I had and I was in the mood to begin one of her mysteries. I am still hooked on the series and its characters. I found Penny’s ability to write about art to be particularly evocative here. Maybe the science teacher on the boat was a little too convenient, and what seems to be the requisite violence at the end was a bit too choreographed. And I wish Penny wouldn’t shift her style quite so abruptly when the pieces start together for Gamache et al. For a good portion of the book, we are told everything, save for the story of Gamache’s book. Still, it is named. Then we start getting sentences like, “And then he figured it out.” It’s a false suspense, I think, to just (suddenly withhold information). I realize I’ve listed some negatives here, but they are far outweighed by the psychological mysteries, both with the characters I’ve seen develop over time (if out of order) and the details of this particular mystery. And it is not often that I stop a piece of fiction to search out some details to see if they are real places (they were) or Penny just made them up. I enjoyed that.

And yes, I’ll try to get them in the right order from now on!

Outline (Cusk)

The blurb on the front of my edition of the book, by Heidi Julavits (a writer I admire), sums up both the successes of this book and its pitfalls. For me, the latter outweighed the former, so I won’t be continuing with the trilogy. Julavits calls Cusk “one of the smartest writers alive.” Hyperbole aside, the writing here is certainly smart, much it in the form of intricate conversations that take place on airplanes, in cafes, etc.. Cusk negotiates these conversations with such nuance that I wanted to be in the conversations; I just didn’t want to particularly be reading them. As in Alison’s Nine Island, the protagonist is reconsidering relationships. In fact, she seems to be reconsidering taking an active part in her whole life. The narrator says

I had come to believe more and more in the virtues of passivity, and of living a life as unmarked by self-will as possible.

So if you’re in the mood for a kind of My Dinner with Andre in book form, this is for you.

Nine Island (Alison)

This was, well, different. Since Alison herself is a translator of Ovid, and the protagonist here translates Ovid, well. . .  I don’t know much Ovid, so I’m sure there are some references I missed. That said, the stories here – sometimes individual, sometimes connected, sometimes not so comprehensible – focus on sex. J, the protagonist, lives in a high rise in Miami that seems largely

J, the protagonist, lives in a high rise in Miami that seems largely populated by senior citizens. The building is deteriorating, so there is a great deal of contentiousness about who’s going to get the contract to replace the pool. Come to think of it, J’s cat is deteriorating too. And she can’t save the duck she passes on her regular walks. And, despite some encouraging, if long-distance, friends, she can’t seem to save herself either.

She has connections. Her mother. Some men – who don’t seem to be so good for her. And some people in the building. And it is these neighbors that bring us to the most thoughtfully heartbreaking end.

An odd little book, this. But interesting.

Jane Alison’s site

George (Gino)

When I see Banned Book Lists, I tend to take them as reading lists. Thus, George, a novel about a young boy trying to figure out how to tell her friend, her mother, her school, and herself that it is okay that though she was born as a boy, she is truly a girl and wants to be seen for who she is. Gino cleverly and appropriately uses pronouns to reveal how George has to live two lives. George talks about herself as “she”; others speak about her as “he.” I was also impressed by Gino’s attention to the reactions of those closest to her. Her teenage brother just sort of shrugs. Her friend takes time, educates herself, and the finds her way back to her as her biggest champion. Her mother urges her to take things “one step at a time.” Even the detail that George herself will only things up about being transgender once her brother teaches her (prior to him learning about her) how to clear a browser’s history.

I was also impressed that Gino chose to make George a 4th grader, prompting some initial reactions that she’s too young to make such claims about herself, something some readers might be thinking as well. I also think it’s logical to infer that Gino was writing for a 4th grade audience. Would I make it a read aloud? Or a class novel? My initial reaction is no, at least not at first. But if I needed to prompt a conversation? Maybe. I would definitely have a few copies available on my shelf.