Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Belongs to You

Alienation. I added Garth Greenwell’s debut novel titled, What Belongs to You, to my reading queue after it was longlisted for the National Book Award. Within two hundred finely written pages, Greenwell offers a complex psychological novel that he presents using exquisite prose. The narrator is a young American gay man living in Bulgaria teaching English. He visits a public restroom and pays for sex with Mitko, a young Bulgarian man of limited means. Greenwell draws readers into patterns of desire, shame, obsession, loneliness and most of all alienation. However Greenwell does it, love and disgust can be in the same paragraph and a reader can remain interested and involved in this complicated relationship. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase What Belongs to You from amazon.com.

Modern Lovers

Brooklyn. Relationships can become complicated as they change over time. With a light touch and much psychological insight, Emma Straub explores this subject in her novel titled, Modern Lovers. Four Oberlin students, Lydia, Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe formed a band they called “Kitty’s Mustache.” Lydia made one of their songs famous before she died of an overdose in her late twenties. The novel, set mostly in contemporary Brooklyn, shows the other band members dealing with all the expected concerns: midlife crisis, children coming of age, real estate and longing for fulfillment. Aging hipsters and Brooklyn could have fallen into rapid stereotype, but Straub makes the characters complex and interesting, while keeping the story light and engaging. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Modern Lovers from amazon.com.

Chance Developments

Photographs. In a departure from his prolific serial fiction, Alexander McCall Smith presents five short stories in a collection titled, Chance Developments. Each story uses a vintage photograph as inspiration and starting point. As in his longer fiction, Smith in this book celebrates love and calls attention to characters who are fundamentally good. My preference remains with his longer prose, but I found each of these stories interesting and enjoyable. Longer fiction and the serial form allow him to do greater character development than he achieves in these short pieces. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Chance Developments from amazon.com.

Hotels of North America

Reviews. Readers who look to fiction to distill contemporary life and offer insight for reflection are those most likely to enjoy reading the fine prose and creativity of Rick Moody’s novel titled, Hotels of North America. Moody uses the structure of online hotel reviews by protagonist and motivational speaker, Reginald Edward Morse. Morse has become melancholy and through Moody’s finely crafted sentences, we enjoy the presentation of a life of loneliness, regret, humor and a dose of irony. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Hotels of North America from amazon.com.

Church of Marvels

Enchantments. Leslie Parry lays out four plot lines in her debut historical novel titled, Church of Marvels. By the end of the book, all the lines come together nicely. Along the way, Parry describes New York City life in the 1890s, from Coney Island to the Lower East Side. The enchantments of circus life offset the descriptions of a dark and gritty environment. Parry’s writing is also enchanting as she structures the novel toward resolution. Readers who are looking for a new author to explore are those who might enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Church of Marvels from amazon.com.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Transit

Change. The second novel in a trilogy by Rachel Cusk is titled, Transit, a good name for a book that takes us from the first toward the third. Cusk’s unusual prose style and structure for fiction may unsettle some readers. After a few pages, I was reminded of what I liked so much in Outline, the first novel. Cusk offers readers access to the conversations, everyday experiences and stories of a protagonist’s life during a time of change. Thanks to Cusk’s great writing skill, each sentence can bring pleasure to readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction. Along the way, some musings in those sentences can become philosophical and offer great insight into how we deal with the significant changes in our lives. I enjoyed this finely written novel and look forward to reading the finale. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Transit from amazon.com.

Precious and Grace

Forgiveness. I know that whenever I feel low, I can turn to a novel by Alexander McCall Smith and get my spirits revived, especially from his series featuring Mma Ramotse and Mma Makutsi of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana. The seventeenth novel in that series is titled, Precious and Grace, and the theme in this offering is forgiveness. Fans of the series can brew a pot of tea, bush or otherwise, and sit for a while with endearing characters who reveal the best about human nature. Few readers will close one of these novels without having smiled on one page or another. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Precious and Grace from amazon.com.