Sunday, 26 September 2010

Book Fiction By Amy Bloom : Where the God of Love Hangs Out

Where the God of Love Hangs OutBook Review Where the God of Love Hangs Out By Amy Bloom
Where The God Of Love Hangs Out, the latest collection from the reliable Amy Bloom, is surprisingly uneven. Perhaps the book relies too heavily on some of Bloom’s favorite tricks. Nearly all its stories are about 98 percent expository setup that seems as though it will never have a point, and then a final 2 percent that creates an absolutely horrifying sense of emotional clarity, of the ways people sometimes damage each other without realizing. Bloom is also fond of taking large leaps through time, then filling in the details in a rush between interconnected stories or sections within the same story. When these techniques fail, the construction becomes too self-evident. But when they work, the stories are deeply devastating jewels. Fortunately, most of God Of Love falls into the latter category, but it’s a closer call than in other Bloom collections.

The biggest problem is how much God Of Love relies on pieces previously published in prior collections. The central quartet of stories—tracing the lives of a mother and her stepson over 30 years—starts off with three of Bloom’s earlier pieces that have been slightly reworked, mostly to make the chronology make sense. The final story in the set has almost too much riding on it, as the family at the stories’ center gathers for one last holiday together, and it can’t live up to the desire for emotional catharsis that the preceding works create.

That said, Bloom specializes in realistic anticlimaxes, and when she does them well, her stories are among the best by anyone working in the form right now. Take “Permafrost,” which is less than 15 pages long, but dances through nearly that many years of history in tracing a social worker’s failed attempts to get her life started, viewed through the prism of her work with a teenager felled by flesh-eating bacteria. Bloom works in lengthy discourses about the fates of polar expeditions in the early 20th century and the complicated histories of two whole families before she’s done, and it all adds up to a final three paragraphs that stun with how deeply they convey a gaping sorrow that can never be filled.

The collection’s opening four stories—tracing the lives of old friends William and Clare, who become lovers, even though they’re married to other people—land among Bloom’s best work. Here, the liberal jumping through time works for Bloom, as she skips years between stories, and her characters are so well-drawn that the desire to find out what happened in the ensuing time is exhilarating rather than enervating. Bloom takes on several points of view—the lovers, their spouses, their children, a disapproving uncle—but she never loses the thread, which is enormously difficult in stories this brief.

William and Clare’s quartet and “Permafrost” are more than enough to recommend Where The God Of Love Hangs Out, especially to those with no prior experience with Bloom, who may find more of value in the central quartet of stories. The other three stories are a mixed bag, but all contain at least one or two paragraphs of evocative writing. Bloom perhaps over-relies on tiny moments that crystallize long-held emotions, which can make her stories feel too self-consciously important and literary. But it can also create exceptional power and beauty.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Read Book Review " The Widower's Tale : A Novel " By Julia Glass

The Widower's TaleThe Widower's Tale By Julia Glass
In a historic farmhouse outside Boston, seventy-year-old Percy Darling is settling happily into retirement: reading novels, watching old movies, and swimming naked in his pond. His routines are disrupted, however, when he is persuaded to let a locally beloved preschool take over his barn. As Percy sees his rural refuge overrun by children, parents, and teachers, he must reexamine the solitary life he has made in the three decades since the sudden death of his wife. No longer can he remain aloof from his community, his two grown daughters, or, to his shock, the precarious joy of falling in love.

One relationship Percy treasures is the bond with his oldest grandchild, Robert, a premed student at Harvard. Robert has long assumed he will follow in the footsteps of his mother, a prominent physician, but he begins to question his ambitions when confronted by a charismatic roommate who preaches—and begins to practice—an extreme form of ecological activism, targeting Boston’s most affluent suburbs.

Meanwhile, two other men become fatefully involved with Percy and Robert: Ira, a gay teacher at the preschool, and Celestino, a Guatemalan gardener who works for Percy’s neighbor, each one striving to overcome a sense of personal exile. Choices made by all four men, as well as by the women around them, collide forcefully on one lovely spring evening, upending everyone’s lives, but none more radically than Percy’s.

With equal parts affection and satire, Julia Glass spins a captivating tale about the loyalties, rivalries, and secrets of a very particular family. Yet again, she plumbs the human heart brilliantly, dramatically, and movingly.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Book Review : Freedom : A Novel By Jonathan Franzen Read Now!

 Freedom : A NovelNew Book By Jonathan Franzen : Freedom : A Novel
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; but a family is rarely just a family. Not in novels, anyway, where families tend to become metaphors for something else, something bigger: for the society in which they live, or perhaps for human relations in general. The Berglunds, the family at the heart of Jonathan Franzen’s sweeping yet intimate new novel, seem at times to stand for America itself—or, more specifically, for what Franzen refers to as “the American experiment of self-government, an experiment statistically skewed from the outset, because it wasn't the people with sociable genes who fled the crowded Old World for the new continent, it was the people who didn't get along well with others.”

With so much metaphorical weight to bear, it is no wonder that the Berglunds bend under the pressure. Admittedly, they started out strong. “Walter and Patty were the young pioneers of Ramsey Hill,” we learn on the novel’s first page, “the first college grads to buy a house on Barrier Street since the old heart of St. Paul had fallen on hard times three decades earlier.” Gifted with healthy doses of American pluck, reinforced by a coating of Midwestern (specifically, Minnesotan) reserve, these Volvo-driving, Whole Foods-shopping petit bourgeois will, within a few years, transform their neighborhood into an enclave of genteel civility.

And yet: we are made aware early on that the Berglunds are heading for a fall, or rather, a series of increasingly embarrassing and painful falls. Walter, we learn in the novel’s second sentence, will move from St. Paul to Washington, where he will endure a professional embarrassment significant enough to be reported in the New York Times. (His failure, it is later revealed, relates to his efforts to save threatened North American songbirds and derives from a fatal combination of good intentions and imperfect judgment, the same combination that will make his employment of his young and beautiful assistant, Lalitha, a marital catastrophe waiting to happen.) Their son Joey, meanwhile, will find himself drawn by his business partner—“ a bush-league sociopath who would end up in jail or in Congress soon enough"—into a scheme to sell rusted out and entirely useless truck parts to the U.S. military for use in Iraq. As for Patty, a former star athlete with a wrecked knee, an overzealous appreciation for wine, and too-intimate relationships both to Joey and to Walter’s best friend Richard Katz, it is perhaps sufficient to observe that a considerable portion of the book is comprised by her confessional memoir, "Mistakes Were Made: Autobiography of Patty Berglund by Patty Berglund. (Composed at Her Therapist's Suggestion.)"

Like Franzen’s previous novel, the National Book Award-winning The Corrections, Freedom is a big, ambitious, somewhat baggy book that goes slack in places and is, at times, a bit arid. But it is hard not to admire the ambition; and the good paragraphs tend to outweigh, and make one forget, the insufficiently polished and hurried-through. Franzen is one of a relatively small number of contemporary novelists who can work successfully on this sort of scale, and who is able to create characters of genuine complexity and emotional depth.

For me the most satisfyingly complex character is Richard Katz, the Berglund’s family friend (and, at times, worst enemy). A punk-rocker turned alt-country musician, Richard is intelligent but suspicious of the uses to which intelligence can be put, irresistible to women but increasingly disgusted by the shallowness of his relations with them, and so thoroughly destabilized by the success of his new band (whose music is, to his horror, nominated for a Grammy and played on NPR) that he refuses to record a second album with them, fleeing instead into a life of reclusiveness and manual labor. My favorite moment in the book finds Richard standing on the roof of a building in lower Manhattan faced with an attractive young woman, the latest in a long series of attractive young women he has flirted with and, more often than not, bedded: “Katz felt very, very tired. To be unable to bring himself to play for even ten seconds the game that Caitlyn was interested in playing with him was to understand the allure of death. To die would be the cleanest cutting of his connection to the thing—the girl's idea of Richard Katz—that was burdening him. Away to the southwest of where they were standing stood the massive Eisenhower-era utility building that marred the nineteenth-century architectural vistas of almost every Tribecan loft-dweller. Once upon a time, the building had offended Katz's urban aesthetic, but now it pleased him by offending the urban aesthetic of the millionaires who'd taken over the neighborhood.”

To excessively desire the approval of others makes one a slave to their opinions. But to fear and despise one’s fellows’ approval, as Katz does, is no more liberating: the burden of others’ ideas of us weighs as heavily in the one case as in the other. In the end, freedom is a paradox, and perhaps an unattainable ideal. And because it understands this, Freedom is, in the end, a fine, impressive, and memorable novel.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

New Book Review The Confession : A Novel By John Grisham

The Confession : A Novel

“The secrets of Grisham’s success are no secret at all. There are two of them: his pacing, which ranges from fast to breakneck, and his Theme—little guy takes on big conspiracy with the little guy getting the win in the end.” —Time magazine

“The law, by its nature, creates drama, and a new Grisham promises us an inside look at the dirty machineries of process and power, with plenty of entertainment” —Los Angeles Times

“With every new book I appreciate John Grisham a little more, for his feisty critiques of the legal system, his compassion for the underdog, and his willingness to strike out in new directions.” —Entertainment Weekly

“John Grisham is about as good a storyteller as we’ve got in the United States these days.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Grisham is a marvelous storyteller who works readers the way a good trial lawyer works a jury.” —Philadelphia Inquirer

“A mighty narrative talent and an unerring eye for hot-button issues.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“A legal literary legend.” —USA Today

Only a guilty man can save him.
For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. He doesn’t understand how the police and prosecutors got the wrong man, and he certainly doesn’t care. He just can’t believe his good luck. Time passes and he realizes that the mistake will not be corrected: the authorities believe in their case and are determined to get a conviction. He may even watch the trial of the person wrongly accused of his crime. He is relieved when the verdict is guilty. He laughs when the police and prosecutors congratulate themselves. He is content to allow an innocent person to go to prison, to serve hard time, even to be executed.

Travis Boyette is such a man. In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, he abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.

Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess.

But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?