Sunday, July 4, 2010

Coming up in the next few weeks

Short reviews coming soon on The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, Brooklyn Was Mine a collections of essays from Brooklyn based writers, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, Until I Find You by John Irving and a synopsis of all four books in the Twilight series.

Right now my reading list is a little long, but I am hoping to get through a good portion of it over the summer.

Here is a short list:
The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Stieg Larrson trilogy
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel by Aimee Bender
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick

Holy smokes. There are few books that require so much attention from me that I am fighting responsibility in order to finish it. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick is just that kind of book. Full disclosure: I started reading this book in April while on vacation, got about 10 pages in and thought it just wasn’t for me. My husband is loosely connected to the author through a friend of ours and has exchanged emails with him on some art and publishing related subjects. I felt a small obligation to give it another shot because of this and picked it up again three days ago. Honest, I really haven’t been able to put it down. In retrospect, I was mostly being a douchey reader around the first attempt. I am not afraid to admit douchiness with reading every now and then.

Back story aside, the chaste title gives no indication to the extraordinarily suspenseful content in Goolrick’s masterfully told tale of three lonely, sexually devious, almost hateful, people in a desolate Wisconsin winter landscape. A gothic tale filled with sexual trysts and wicked twists, A Reliable Wife is ultimately grounded in a story about the insatiable desire to be loved and forgiven.

It opens: “It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet.” Ralph Truitt, a turn-of-the-century railroad magnate, desperate to regain the adoration of his scorned son, Antonio, stands alone on a stark train station platform of the town bearing his birthright. The train carrying his most hopeful possession, a promise that a woman would give the proper appearance, a home his son deserved, is late. Ralph had placed an ad for “a reliable wife” and the woman chosen to fill this position, Catherine Land, answered the ad saying she was a “simple, honest woman.” But her words are just as fake as the photo she sent him, a photo of a woman she is not. Catherine Land is not simple. Catherine Land is not honest. Catherine Land has plans for Ralph Truitt’s ultimate demise--all for money and love.

What makes this book so wonderfully evocative and intoxicating is Goolrick’s precision of language and master prose. His work is like that of an artful spider crafting the perfect web. Each line of sticky silk becomes an unavoidable and essential part of a flawlessly crafted masterpiece and readers are but the prey he feasts upon.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen

While few and far between, there are days when I wake up and just know something is going to happen that will change my life forever – good or bad. I don’t think that is how Jacob Jankowski, the protagonist in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, felt. But the sudden death of his parents on one fateful day does in fact change his life forever. Set at two stages of life: “ninety. Or ninety three. One or the other”, and his early twenties during the Depression, Jacob tells the story of abandoning his Ivy League studies at Cornell as a veterinary student following the death of his parents.

In his blinding grief, Jacob stumbles along a set of train tracks in search of something and inadvertently jumps a set of train cars he soon discovers is part of a travelling circus – "The Benzini Brothers Most Spectatular Show on Earth". Nearly cast off the train by one of the surly crew, by sheer luck, or stupidity I have yet to discern, Jacob quickly immerses himself into the circus as the de facto veterinarian to an unruly set of lions (one toothless), tigers, monkeys, horses, and an elephant—mostly all of which have picked up by a sadistic circus boss bent on scavenging animals and performers from the misfortunes of other b-rated and now non-existent circus acts. Of course, the ring leader of the circus has a beautiful wife and liberty horse leader, Marlena, who shares Jacob’s love for animals. Can you see where this is going?

I am a huge fan of carnival and circus freaks and geeks type stories—Geek Love by Katherine Dunn being my all time favorite—thus Ms. Gruen’s keen insight into the exclusive society of circus performers intrigues me. Not to mention that I absolutely love it when a female author takes on that of a male from the first person perspective. She does this quite well.

Survival of the fittest is a prominent theme in this book, in addition to romance, aging, memory and the tragedy of life. While I devour it each direction on my subway commute from Brooklyn to Midtown and back again, Ms. Gruen’s ability to grab me with perfected circus lingo and drama makes me wish my stop was a few more out.