Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Friday, May 29, 2020

"Kudos" by Rachel Cusk

Another brilliant book by Rachel Cusk which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I'm sad that I'm finished with the trilogy! I would definitely read them all again, which--in case you were wondering--is high praise. There are so many books in the world, and though many of them may not be worth reading, I will never have time to read all those that are. Because of this, my tendency is always towards choosing something new over going back to something familiar . . . except for a select few (but ever-growing number of) books.

Once again, as with Outline and Transit, I found myself both jealous of and slightly appalled by the conversations in Kudos. Jealous because I don't often have soul-baring conversations, appalled because I definitely don't have them with strangers. But I also realized (because Sam pointed it out) that the dialogue in this book can't really be called conversation; instead, the book is full of monologues delivered to the narrator. And (as Sam also pointed out) despite the natural feeling of these monologues, they're still fiction. Just because it seems like the narrator's actual experience doesn't mean her chats are as constantly scintillating as this book would make one think.

I want to memorialize page 200 here, because I strongly identified with it. I grew up in a household of silent, awkward family dinners, and I have a clear memory of one dinner where teenage me decided (without speaking the thought aloud, of course) that when I grew up I would have a family that talked at the dinner table. Page 200 raises the bar. "Huge comforting meals were served and . . . everything was discussed but nothing examined, so that there was no danger of passing . . . into the state of painful self-awareness where human fictions lose their credibility." Now I want to ensure that we both discuss and examine. Although this may have to wait until my seven-year-old is a bit more mature. 

The setting of this book is never revealed. I spent a good bit of the book trying to figure out where it might have taken place, and then felt a brief moment of annoyance that it wasn't specified, but then I imagined what the book would have been like if I knew where it took place, which made me realize this would have made it an entirely different book. The location really isn't that important, and it actually makes more sense for it to be anywhere/nowhere. But . . . ugh, but I'm still curious. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

"The Driver's Seat" by Muriel Spark

This novella is stark and strange. Sam read it first and then wanted me to read it so we could talk about it but I don't know what to say.

The story follows Lise, who (though this is not explicitly spelled out) must be mentally ill. She flies from Copenhagen to Italy (or somewhere like it) in search of her "boyfriend" (who doesn't actually exist). She draws attention to herself wherever she goes, prompting stares of annoyance and discomfort rather than glances of admiration. The end is made evident from the beginning, but though there is mention of a "whydunnit" I don't feel like I got an explanation.

Should the story be taken at face value? Sam had an interesting idea. The only way he could make this book make sense is if Spark took the notion that "she was asking for it" and wrote this novella from the ridiculous perspective of what it would be like if the victim was actually asking for it. At least that does seem more feasible than imagining that this collection of bizarre characters (referring to Lise, Bill, Mrs Fiedke and her nephew) would actually intersect.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

"They Both Die at the End" by Adam Silvera

My eighth-grader practically begged me to read this book because they connected with it so strongly. I read it this weekend and now I don't have the heart to tell them it wasn't my kind of book. I appreciate the book's message--not just to live life to the fullest, but don't be afraid to live life to the fullest--but overall the book didn't make a significant impression on me and I'm not sure I can find a tactful way to express that to my child. I can see why it meant so much to them and I don't want to burst their bubble by trying to explain that I am callous and unfeeling.

But I don't have to be tactful for you! The writing wasn't terrible, and even though it was firmly rooted in YA territory, that's not what bothered me either. I think my biggest complaint is that the book is so obviously trying to wring emotion from the reader. I have consciously and intentionally resisted succumbing to tear-jerkers ever since watching the movie Fried Green Tomatoes (as I may or may not have mentioned before).

This book takes place in nearly-contemporary New York City, with only one thing that distinguishes the story from real life: Death-Cast, a system that gives everyone a notification between midnight and 3am on the day they're going to die. The entire story takes place during a single day where 18-year-old Mateo and 17-year-old Rufus have both received their alert. So obviously all kinds of bravery and heartstring-tugging and profundity ensue as they go about wrapping up their too-short lives.

I suppose I'm showing my age. I'll leave this one to the young whipper-snappers.