Monday, October 13, 2008

"That does put a damper on our relationship." *

Ladies and gentleman (er, Joke): I give you the unreadable, the unfinishable, and the merely dull.

Nightingales of Troy - Alice Fulton. I picked up this wonderfully-titled, charmingly-covered book of related short stories on a whim. I read the flapcopy and predicted it would be one of those sleeper books. You know, the one all the indie bookstores are handselling like crazy. And I may well be right. I found her writing evocative, and the first story was enveloping. But, first, I think I always try too hard to remember stuff when I read “interrelated” short stories instead of just going with the flow, and this book did not make that easy. Secondly, the next story, about the degenerate priest? Totally derailed me so that I no longer cared. The book valiantly tried to pull me back in with the story about the girl meeting her fiancee’s parents, but at that point, in my current mindset, I was lost. Maybe not forever, but for now. (Caveat: Gina is reading this and I believe greatly enjoying it. Feel free to tell me I am way wrong, dear.)

Gods in Alabama –Joshilyn Jackson. Having read The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and liking it a lot, I started Jackson’s first novel. I found it very slow going. The plot was modeled on a story game two characters play in the book, so that was a cool bit of meta-ness, but mostly, I found it predictable. Since I know Jackson grows more proficient, I will definitely try her other novels. This one had its moments, but overall was a disappointment. Also? I found the protagonist incredibly self-righteous. Yawn.

I had three minutes to browse the library’s New Books section where I found a paperback about a scholar who is delving into her family’s history, revolving around the Salem witch trials. Kinda like The Lace Reader which was very good. I tend to enjoy those academic mysteries (like Possession and Lady of the Snakes), so great, right? Except that, when I told Gina about it and she looked it up on Amazon, it came up on a Christian website, from a small imprint of a major publisher which specializes in Christian fiction. Um, no thanks, I will pass. Having read enough Grace Livingston Hill in junior high to satisfy my penchant for both romance and Christian values ruining perfectly good novels, I returned it unread, and a little disappointed.

An Incomplete Revenge - Jacqueline Winspear. Not really fair to slot this in the unthinkable or the unreadable. I read it, like all Maisie Dobbs books, in manageable increments because too much of Maisie in one sitting can be stultifying. It was as enjoyable at the time as the others in the series, but just as forgettable. I find it more interesting to track the happenings in the characters’ lives (Billy and his family are emigrating to Scotland, and Penelope’s (that’s not right. What IS her name?) sons get kicked out of boarding school!) than I do following the ersatz mysteries. But I do believe Winspear intends just that, so that’s fine. In fact, while trying to track down the best friend’s name, I found this comment, which, review-wise, nails Revenge and all the other Maisie books precisely on their heads: An Incomplete Revenge is an old-fashioned book reminiscent of very early Agatha Christie--there are lots of coincidences, a complicated plot with a gather-them-altogether ending, and rather stereotypical characters. And in spite of all that, the novel does have, like Christie's, a certain narrative power.

Still Life with Husband - Lauren Fox. I received this as a review copy and would happily email the editor that I am FINALLY reviewing it if I hadn’t lost all my email addies in the Big Crash. It’s a decent book – the writer is skilled (although should you be able to tell that it’s largely autobiographical? I am not sure if that is a flaw or not…), and the characters are developed enough (mostly into big fat boring jerks, but nonetheless), except for the heroine. I felt like she was a caricature of a woman carrying on an affair, (and of course, she is the one character you want to be much more fully dimensional, in a book exploring the complexities of emotion and deed that lead to an extramarital affair). I confess I found both the husband and the boyfriend jaw-achingly boring (but that may just be because I don’t share the author’s taste in men). Fox does nail the excitement and thrill of carrying on the initial flirtation; once the affair was consummated, it started feeling a little more like a Sweet Valley High novel. But maybe that’s because, oh, the cliché! the boyfriend suffered a fit of morals at that point and the heroine swooned around pining after him and breaking the husband’s heart. Oh, and, OF COURSE, she winds up pregnant (saw THAT coming at around page ten). It’s not a bad read, but there are certainly much better books on adultery out there on which to waste your time (Sarah Duncan’s Adultery for Beginners, Tom Perrotta’s Little Children, hell, Madame Bovary).

Also, I must point out that the cover and title (much like Adultery for Beginners) made it very, let’s say, awkward for me to leave this lying around the house while I read it. Of course, that alone is probably a decent indicator that I am not conducting a raging affair. As you know, opportunities to conduct romantic illicit affairs abound for the sleep-deprived, milk-stained, rumpled mom-of-four. Seriously, some men totally dig nursing bras and Teddy Grahams.

Just ask Quarto.

**********
*Westley, "The Princess Bride"

11 comments:

Liz said...

The problem is that all those men also crap their pants on a regular basis.

Badger said...

I loved gods in Alabama, but then I read it before the other two. I do think her books are best read in order, and also, she has a VERY southern aesthetic, particularly in her first two books, that I don't think I would have connected with quite as much if I didn't live here. Some southern authors do a good job of painting a picture of the south and placing you in it, but I think Jackson's books sort of assume you're already IN that picture, you know?

Shirty said...

Oh NO! I put down Nightingales of Troy after the first story, planning to come back to it after The Wordy Shipmates. I really enjoyed the writing in the first story, but now I guess I won't be too broken up if I don't get back to it before it's due back at the library. Damn.

shawn adams said...

I just stumbled on your blog while looking for others who'd been blown away by Alice Fulton's dazzling collection, The Nightingales of Troy. Obviously, I think you are way wrong about this book. No offense, but you seem to be speedreading or something because the second story is "Queen Wintergreen," there's no priest in it. IMO, it ranks among the best short stories in the English language. Really. Read it carefully, and you'll see that it's not just beautifully written but flawless in structure with a break-your-heart ending. The priest comes along in the title story. I was totally pulled in by this character and the story. A careful reader would never describe it as being "about the degenerate priest!" Your blog loses credibility with such cavelier assertions. The nurse (who appears throughout) is the main character, and she's a hoot, a one-woman riot, and among the most memorable and fully-developed characters I've ever read. She's my favorite character in the book. (I guess you quit before the 1960's story, when she meets The Beatles? So funny!) You admit you had a bias against this book before you read a word. Reviewers should be more judicious. I mean, at least read the book before you tell the world! The connectedness -- once you get it -- is one of those unexpected pleasures I yearn for when reading fiction. What this author does to create the ambiance and texture of each decade in the 20th century is a wonder in itself -- I can't think of anyone who's done this before. If you try this book again, with an open mind, please start from the beginning and just go with it. It's irresponsible to blog on a book you've read incompletely and inattentively. It proves a remark I heard the other day. This guy I work with said, we all know how many times bloggers read the books they review. Less than once.

BabelBabe said...

i was biased going in in a good way, and i even say it may well turn out to be the sleeper hit of the season. But the first story WAS wonderful, I didn't check the TOC but I remember the 2nd, yes, and the one with the priest (yes, I know he wasn't the main character, but he was memorable) lost me. Sorry. Maybe I will try it again but it's fair to write about a book that could not keep me engaged.

nutmeg said...

I was going to write something on Tom Perotta but I think I have changed my mind.

Why, may I ask, did Shawn Adams continue to read your post if it was so "irresponsible"? This is one of the misconceptions about blogging that confound me. This is your personal blog, you are not working for any publishig house etc etc. A blog is kinda like television, if you don't like it you can turn it off (or not read it!) Why get all militant and angry over someone's opinion - no one is forcing you to read it.

But I have to say BB, if Shawn thinks the impact of your blog is that BIG who am I to argue - take it as a compliment ;-)

Badger said...

Wow, Shawn Adams can BITE ME. Way to win people over to your POV, with the confrontational language and whatnot! But I do give him/her props for not commenting anonymously. So LOOK AT ME, not being all negative and shit!

Scribblers Inc said...

I really liked the way you have reviewd the books, but the irony is that none of the stuf you mentioned is usually available here..can you come to my blog and critique some of the stuff that I have written? may turn out to be useful for me....

Scribblers Inc.

BabelBabe said...

well, no, he's not technically anonymous, but there's no profile/email and somehow I doubt he'll check back for my response. which is a shame because while i didn't appreciate his last, cheap shot, he makes good points and I would definitely follow my gut and his advice, and give the book another shot, later, when my brain is back to somewhat normal functionality. i'd like him to know that his intelligent and enthusiastic words made a difference.

Jess said...

BB, you are SO irresponsible. It's just shocking.

It's one thing to offer a differing opinion - and a suggestion to give something another try - and something else entirely to discount your entire opinion. I'm being completely sincere when I say that I value your "I couldn't finish it" reviews as much as your "Go forth and read this" reviews.

tut-tut said...

Have you read The Great Man by Kate Christensen? You might like it . . .