Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Reviews: 1/1/2014-1/12/2014

These reviews are all off my 2014 TBR lists; two are titles from 2013, and one is a paperback I had for a long time.

Nine Inches: Stories: Tom Perrotta remains one of my favorite authors. These stories hit on some of the same themes from his previous novels of suburban angst -- lonely people (teens and middle-aged men and women) who choose to do things that will come back to haunt them in an exurban universe that is more or less out to get them. These stories are funny, cannily told and frequently heartbreaking. In one, a lonely woman whose son won't come back to visit becomes drawn to a cult that makes girls go out in winter without jackets; in another, a pediatrician finds his mojo -- sort of -- playing the blues in the back of a guitar store. Some people get second chances; some regret chances missed; and some just opt out entirely. Perrotta is in fine form, seeding the green lawns and flower beds of despair. And no, the title has nothing to do with what you're thinking -- it's the distance middle-schoolers must stay from each other while dancing. CHALLENGES: What's in a Name Challenge (a book with a number spelled out), 52 Books in 52 Weeks, TBR Pile.

The Two Hotel Francforts: A Novel: David Leavitt also is one of my favorite authors. After large historical mural he brought forth in excellent "The Indian Clerk," he moves to a much smaller canvas with The Two Hotel Francforts. Like "Clerk," Francforts is a historical novels about exiles -- two couples living in limbo at hotels in Portugal after fleeing the Nazis in France. Leavitt probes deeply into his two main characters: Peter Winters and his wife, Julia. The Winterses fled to Paris so Julia could escape her New York family, but now their relationship, based on neuroses and boredom, threatens to unravel as they seek passage back to the States. Meanwhile, they encounter another expat couple -- the Frelengs -- with whom they become entangled. Leavitt's narrator tells the tale from the perspective of a time long after the events, and his occasional asides hinting of what has happened lend the tale a strong sense of foreboding. Once more, Leavitt explores human desires amid chaos and frailty. CHALLENGES: TBR Pile52 Books in 52 Weeks, European Reading Challenge (Portugal).

Brendan: Frederick Buechner followed up his classic "Godric" with this tale of a sixth-century saint, Brendan the Navigator, as told by his close friend and aid Finn. Buechner's faux-Gaelic prose makes the novel somewhat difficult to read at first, but once one gets used to the slightly off-kilter rhythms, the story emerges as one full of humor, fantasy and poignancy. Brendan, taken from his parents at age 1, is raised to be a priest just a generation after St. Patrick has brought Christianity to Ireland. Beliefs in local myths and gods mingle with Christian tenets, sometimes comically and sometimes tragically. After an adventure selecting a new Irish "king," Brendan decides to be a "blue martyr," setting off on two long sea journeys in search of a heaven-like country of the young. He encounters whales, icebergs and, perhaps, Florida. Brendan is a faithful Christian seeking God's plan for his life, even as he stumbles through wrath and regret. This poignant tale is about existential faith and grace and tries to suggest how we can find our own way as we travel the paths of saints. CHALLENGES: TBR Pile52 Books in 52 Weeks, European Reading Challenge (Ireland), Roof Beam Reader.

Currently reading: Instructions for a Heat Wave by Maggie O'Farrell
Next: & Sons by David Gilbert


Joy said...

Hopping over from the What's In a Name Challenge. That's a lot of good reading to start the year!

Joy's Book Blog

Charlie (The Worm Hole) said...

The one I like the sound of best, ironically, conveniently, is Nine Inches. It sounds like there's a fair amount to think about. That said I like what you've said about Brendan, the history appeals to me. Well done on your challenges so far, though I of course have to say especially What's In A Name!