You can read my review of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain on askmissa.com by clicking here.
Category Archives: Contemporary Fiction
“Time is a goon.”
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan was extremely impressive. Egan’s prose had me hanging on her every word from the beginning.
The novel tells the story of Bennie, a middle-aged former punk rocker and big-shot record executive, and Sasha, his assistant. Through the inner lives of other characters, Egan tells the stories of their past and present. She effectively interweaves music and technology as themes throughout, creating an accurate lens through which to view modern life.
Egan also has a way of making the aging process, the passage of time and nostalgia beautifully
tragic; I felt an aching for the 80s and for who the characters once were, yet the book pretty much comes around full circle so that in a way, you’re right back to where you started even though years have passed. There is beauty in redemption as well.
“I think, The world is actually huge. That’s the part no one can really explain.”
Nothing in all civilization has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshiped by man.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman is flawless. Its subject matter – a sinking English-language international newspaper based in Rome – evokes simple nostalgia that is echoed in Rachman’s simple yet elegant prose.
Each chapter focuses on the experiences and perspectives of varying staff members and one faithful reader, from the obituary
writer to the has-been foreign correspondent. Their lives intersect, but each character is eccentrically distinct, at times clashing with one other, but all bound by the fact that they cling to the endangered newspaper as passengers aboard the Titanic must’ve clung to one another.
There is humor in Rachman’s writing, but he has also written multi-faceted humanity into his characters and the newspaper, which is like a character itself.
You will most likely find yourself empathizing with these characters and their well-intentioned efforts as well as their failures. You will feel for them what you feel for your grandmother who still uses a typewriter because she refuses to learn how to use a computer. I wasn’t sure that this was the type of novel I’d enjoy when I first picked it up and read the back cover at Costco, but I’m so glad that I did read it!
If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.
Well, I had to renew it from the library three times, but I’ve finally finished reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003 and I definitely understand why now. It is amazingly well-crafted and original and features an unforgettable protagonist. I even found myself marvelling at individual sentences at times.
The novel is told from the point of view of middle-aged Calliope Stephanides retelling the history of her family from Asia Minor all the way to Detroit, Michigan, where her own personal history begins and she takes the reader all the way up through her adolescence. The history of her ancestors is imperative to her own story because a dark secret has been covered up and has manifested itself in her own genes: Callie was born a girl, but due to a mutated gene, her body becomes that of a male’s as soon as she hits puberty. She has both male and female genitalia. By the way, before you fly into a rage, this isn’t a spoiler because it’s revealed in the first few sentences of the novel. It is quite shocking at first. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to relate to a narrator who’s a hermaphrodite, but this story is so incredible, moving, and epic and Callie is a strong, funny, inquisitive and brave protagonist.
That’s the amazing thing about fiction and about being inside the head of a character completely different from you. It really expands your mind and enables readers to have empathy for people that they most likely would not be able to empathize with in the ‘real world’.
Eugenides also does a remarkable job of contrasting the Old World ways and customs with those of American life. We see how quickly the next
generation becomes Americanized and loses touch with the roots of their parents, how quickly they forget. A physical environment has so much influence over who a person becomes, which also factors into Callie’s gender identity. Her environment has molded her to be female, but eventually the biological self starts to mutiny against that conditioning, and she is thrust into foreign territory, much as her grandparents felt when they arrived in the United States. A person becomes conditioned to one place or one set of circumstances, but chance thrusts them into another.
This novel is a grand achievement, with the makings to become a classic. Although Calliope has been compared to the likes of Holden Caulfield, among others, she/he is unlike any other protagonist that came before.
So currently, I’m reading Paul Auster’s Moon Palace. I actually had never read any of his books until the English editor of a newspaper I was writing for in Buenos Aires recommended him. I saw a copy of The Book of Illusions in the small English section of the airport in Montevideo, Uruguay and bought it without hesitation. I loved that book.
So now I am 3/4 through Moon Palace, and I have got to say, Auster does not disappoint. Now I want to read his other novels. I love the span of his imagination, the scope and unlikeliness of events in his characters’ lives, yet how it all resonates with things that I actually feel and think as well. He is one of those writers who drag you deep into the mind of their protagonist and the protagonist’s world, so that even during the hours when you’re not reading the book, you’re walking around with the character’s mindset and thinking about the characters like you know them better than most of your friends.
In Moon Palace, the protagonist’s name is Marco Stanley Fogg, but you almost forget that; he is seldom addressed by his name throughout the book, and then his life recedes into the background when the events of Thomas Effing’s life take center stage for a good portion of the book.
Anyway, just coming out of that portion now, but just wanted to get down how much I love Auster’s style of writing. And his characters are so unique. I’ll have more to say when I finish the book, which will probably be soon!