Sunday, May 08, 2005

Book Roundup

It's been a while since I've written about books. Ones I've read, even. Here are my most recent conquests:

Fluke: Or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

This was an experiment on my part. I'd never read anything by Moore before, and for a while this seemed like a relatively straightforward albeit offbeat novel about whale researchers in Hawaii bedeviled by saboteurs. Then, about midway through, when the protagonist is swallowed by a whale and discovers it's not a whale at all but actually some kind of lifeform-based ship, I realized that we weren't in Kansas anymore. Overall, not an unpleasant way to spend several hours. Moore's writing is wry and often funny; the book's absurdist elements remind of Douglas Adams a bit.

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

Several months ago I read Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. After Grealy died in 2003, her best friend, Ann Patchett, wrote this memoir. It's a remarkable testament to the power and limitations of friendship -- how demons can literally consume you despite the support and love of dozens of friends. Apparently there's been some controversy about Patchett's book; Grealy's family considers it to be an opportunistic attempt by Patchett to cash in on Grealy's tragic life. I don’t know about that, but I would recommend this book without reservation. Just read Lucy's first so that you can see what all the fuss is about.

Good Faith by Jane Smiley

I love Jane Smiley, but this book was far less inspired and compelling than many other books she's written. It's set in the early 1980s, just as that decades' wave of greed and amoral capitalism is swelling to its peak (although I wonder, has that wave truly crested?). A small-town real estate agent, by all accounts a nice, bland, ethical guy, gets caught up in a huge development scam. He's lured by a smooth-talking former IRS agent given to spouting Gordon Gekko-esque soliloquies on every other page. One of the biggest flaws of the book is this character; he's so transparently unbelievable that I simply couldn't suspend my disbelief that any of the otherwise supposedly intelligent characters in the book would be fooled by him. Then there's the dialogue, which seems to exist solely to explain the real estate market and the workings of the Savings and Loans of the time period. I guess it's comforting to know that even Jane Smiley can stumble from time to time.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Read this book! Read this book! Now! . . .Okay, are you done yet? It's so deliciously good -- dark, witty, sad, complex, plus a mystery or four to bind it all up. I don't want to say too much because I wouldn't want to spoil any of the book's multiple surprises. Let's just say that this book lives up to the potential of Atkinson's amazing first book, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, in a way that her second and third novels did not. If you have read Case Histories, let me know. I'd love to discuss this with someone in the know.