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

Sunday, January 30, 2022

"Rose Royal" by Nicolas Mathieu

This was an intriguing little novella that just flew by. It felt like I'd only been reading for about five minutes when I noticed that I was already more than halfway through. Another five minutes later it was over--well, five minutes and a shock. (Yeah, I'm exaggerating about the five minutes, but not about the shock.)

The story here is about Rose, an aging-but-still-hot administrative assistant who spends most of her evenings drinking among friendly acquaintances at a dive bar. Though her life is not devoid of happy moments, neither is it incredibly satisfying. Yet she doesn't strive much towards making changes that would increase elements of value, and this is more due to inertia than to being content. 

Enter Luc. 

The subtitle of this book is "a love story" but I have it on good authority that that's meant in irony. Whereas at first blush being with Luc seemed like an improvement, in many ways it turned out to merely highlight Rose's dissatisfaction with her life. 

Overall I found this novella to be a fun momentary diversion: strong writing that flows well, a story that moves the reader through it effortlessly, and a powerful ending that took me by surprise.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

"Hell of a Book" by Jason Mott

This is a really hard blog post for me to write. It would have been hard anyway, for two reasons, but unfortunately it's made even more difficult by the fact that I finished reading this book about two weeks ago and we all know by now that such a delay does not help a literary amnesiac write a blog post.

The author of Hell of a Book has written a book about an author who has written a hell of a book and is on a book tour to promote it. The writing from the author's author's perspective seems light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek, reminding me somewhat of Christopher Moore. Mott describes a man who is a bit self-destructive (drinking too much, being surprised by an angry husband who chases him through hotel hallways away from the wife he hadn't known was married) but Mott does not at first describe what the author looks like, so initially I didn't even think about it, and then I started to wonder, and finally Mott confirmed that the author was black. (That's not a spoiler. It's right there in the blurb on the cover--how did I not notice that at the beginning?)

Flitting around the periphery of the author's story is a news story. A tragedy has occurred, and everyone knows the details--everyone, that is, except for the author (the one in the book, not the one of the book). When people ask if he's heard about the tragedy he truthfully says yes, because of course he has heard people talking about a tragedy, but he hasn't heard any details. Throughout the book, those details emerge slowly: from an amorphous blur to a vague outline to harrowing details. 

So are you wondering about the two reasons that this blog post would have been difficult for me to write even if I'd written it right away? One is (in case you hadn't already guessed) because I am white. And while on one hand Mott has done an excellent job of portraying the disturbing reality of being black in America (particularly of being black and male) without alienating those who are not, I still feel uncomfortable expressing an opinion (especially publicly) on that disturbing reality. Like . . . who am I to say anything? The other is that this was a pretty complex story, with enigmatic characters whose relationships with Mott's author are difficult to determine and possibly even open to interpretation. Including too many details would surely either give away spoilers or contribute erroneous interpretations or possibly even both. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

"Apples Never Fall" by Liane Moriarty

I JUST REALLY ENJOYED THIS BOOK. I never wanted it to end, I was enjoying it so much. It was almost like a guilty pleasure, but I just couldn't stop reading, though it's inevitable that when that happens the book eventually ends. And so this one did. But oh, I had so much fun while it lasted! 

Sam and I (purely due to me being influenced by ads) had watched and enjoyed the TV series "Nine Perfect Strangers" last fall, which is based on a book by that title which was also written by Moriarty. So Sam gave me this book for Christmas (or was it for my birthday? they're close enough in time that sometimes they blend together) and what a perfect gift idea it was!

This was the story of Stan and Joy Delaney, recent retirees who sold their highly-successful tennis school a year ago and had since found themselves at loose ends. Their four grown children, each recovering from a childhood as a tennis prodigy, lead adult lives with varying degrees of success and happiness--lives which didn't necessarily match up with what their mother wanted for them. It was a mystery and a family drama infused with humor, but that describes the type of book that would normally make me want to vomit (well, maybe not the mystery part, but definitely the rest of it) though somehow this book evaded that fate. In fact, between the abrupt appearance of Savannah on the doorstep one night in September, contrasted with Joy's unexpected disappearance the following February, I was hooked (and no vomit in the forecast).  

As avid readers, I expect you all know about Chekov's gun? The playwright was known to have repeated on several occasions that if a gun is placed in a scene it must at some point be used. Well, it was not obvious from the very beginning (and that in itself is a good thing), but in Moriarty's book, nothing appeared that didn't later fit in as an integral piece of a very complex puzzle. One might think this could be annoying--having everything explained, nothing left vague, all the loose ends tied up so neatly with a bow--but instead it was so completely satisfying, and clever. The cleverness!! And it was all fair and above-board. There may have been misdirections, but there were no true red herrings.

When I was almost finished with this book, I was telling Sam about it and comparing it to the story of Nine Perfect Strangers. My take at the time was that the two stories were quite similar, with dark themes that somehow all ended happily. But that was before I read the last chapter of Apples