Monday, July 1, 2013

Reading roundup

At last I've had some time to work my way through part of the pile of books on the nightstand.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell was one of the Pulitzer finalists snubbed this year. I'm not sure it's a prize winner, but it's certainly a very good read. Our protagonist is 13-year-old alligator-wrestler Ava Bigtree, whose journey to hell and back is the novel's triumph--creepy, harrowing, and lovely all at the same time. The parallel tale of her big brother Kiwi at work in a hell-themed theme park... less compelling. I suppose the contrived ending is permitted because of the novel's flirtation with magic realism, but things wrap up a bit too tidily, and quickly. I doubt that hell exists, but if it does, I'm sure Russell got one thing right: there will be lots of mosquitoes. Definitely a good book for your next vacation in Florida.

Harry Hole, the hero of Jo Nesbø's crime novels, is cast from the same mold as other brainy but taciturn and depressive detectives, like fellow Scandinavian Kurt Wallander and of course the greatest of them all, Adam Dalgliesh. I was not fond of the first Harry Hole thriller I read, but desperation at a lousy airport bookstore drove me to a second, The Snowman. (I know what you are thinking: buy yourself a Kindle, dumb-ass!) As one after another implausible suspect turned out not to be the twisted serial killer (surprise!), it soon became apparent that this novel violated my rule number one of suspense: Harry Hole should never make mistakes that any reader of a Harry Hole thriller would know not to make. Most unforgivable is that the true (but equally unlikely) culprit revealed himself to Harry and the reader by the halfway point, but apparently only the reader noticed. A life or two and many pages could have been spared.

From the very start, Colson Whitehead's first novel, The Intuitionist, reads like something new, all crazy rhythms, sentence fragments, off-kilter adjectives jumping off the page-- it takes some getting used to. Alas, by the end of this short novel, the whole contraption almost shudders to a halt under the burden of its unlikely premise and overreaching metaphors. What it's about: in a parallel but familiar universe, elevator inspectors and manufacturers are vying for power in New York City. What it's really about: political corruption, identity, matter-of-fact racism, and just maybe spirituality. Promising, ambitious, disappointing... I'll give Mr. Whitehead another chance.

Some grown-ups seem to like The Hunger Games, and I've read and enjoyed a few kid novels in my day (several Potters, The Golden Compass), so why not? I doubt I'll be reading the sequels of this one. For me the writing falls pretty flat, and the book seems aimed at a different demographic than mine (duh, ya think)? That said, there is a pleasingly subversive feminist message behind the story arc (and no, I don't just mean the fact that the female protagonist can shoot an arrow and generally kicks ass). Keep on reading, kids!

Speaking of sequels, digging any deeper into my stack of unread novels is on hold until I finish Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel's sequel to Wolf Hall, my favorite book in years. After reading a few pages I am pretty confident that I will not be disappointed...

1 comment:

  1. This ain't fiction, but you should read 'Just My Soul Responding' by Brian Ward. Great read.