REVIEW: Nine Inches

I’ve been a lover of Tom Perrotta’s work for 15 years, and his collection of short stories, Nine Inches, did not disappoint. Perrotta writes characters so realistic and relatable you feel you are reading a diary, not a collection of short stories.  I frequently refer to Perrotta’s writing as “comfort food for my brain” due to the beautifully simplistic way he explores and portrays human nature so honestly and empathically.

Nine Inches is a collection of stories revolving around the various residents in a suburban New Jersey town. These stories become vehicles for exposing the loneliness, self-empowerment, battle of “what ifs”, pride, love lost and found, and true kindness we experience through the various relationships we encounter over a lifetime.

Pros to this collection: Obviously I’m a fan of Perrotta’s writing and it holds up throughout the collection, the female characters are impressively written, each story is well shaped and related, reminding the reader that we all inhabit this time and this life together.

Cons to this collection: While each story is solid and beautifully told, the similarities between a few of the stories creates that feeling you have when you listen to an entire album of – let’s say – Barbara Streisand . Perrotta would have benefited from adding a touch of variety to his exploration of these common themes.

Stand-out stories: Nine Inches, Senior Season, and Kiddie Pool. 

Rating: 4 Inches

REVIEW: The Bird Artist

My father has begged me to read Howard Norman’s The Bird Artist for years. I’m not sure why I waited so long – Pops has never lead me astray with his recommendations before (Calvino, Aira, Camus…the list goes on), and I’m happy to say that his perfect track record is still intact.

The Bird Artist ‘s format is reminiscent of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. There is a main plot line being told, with character study vignettes of various townspeople interspersed throughout. The ease with which Norman writes makes this weaving in and out seamless, and allows the reader to relax into the small town rhythm of Witless Bay, Newfoundland. Each and every character, whether main or supporting, is fully developed and vividly depicted. The central characters who move the plot have clear points of view and complete character arcs which are beautifully humanly flawed.

I have nothing negative to say regarding The Bird Artist. It is a pleasant read that held my attention from beginning to end (the first paragraph alone is enough to pull you in completely) – and we all know how much I’m a sucker for solid character development. I’m also a sucker for an offbeat love story, which is what is at the heart of The Bird Artist.

 

Rating: 4 Quacks

REVIEW: The Turn of the Screw

Like Thomas Hardy, Henry James falls under the “authors I probably should read if I want to consider myself a well-rounded and knowledgeable pretentious reader” category of my list. Dissimilar to Thomas Hardy, I am not going to rant about Henry James.

The Turn of the Screw is an incredibly engaging, eerie, and unique piece of literature. While one (me…I’m the one) might argue that it could be cut down from a novella to a short story – I have respect for and understand his writing reflects the style of the time (wordy, that’s my code for wordy). I have opted to not let this ruin my James experience.

I would need to read more of James’ work before creating an overall opinion of his authorship since The Turn of the Screw is such a short and unique piece; however, I am more than prepared to extol my love for this story.

To write a believable and non-gimmicky ghost story takes a lot of skill. James achieves this in The Turn of the Screw by using a truthful and empathetic narrator. The reader can easily trust that there is no hidden agenda in her narrative.  Her veracity is established from the outset due to her vulnerability and compassion. This vulnerability also allows for immersion in the supernatural atmosphere of the tale and the suspension of disbelief.  You see the ghosts the young governess sees, you feel her love for the children, and you ache for her desire to protect them.

Okay. I do have to rant about this one little thing, I thought I could get through writing my review without doing so but…the prologue was unnecessary. It added nothing to the story, as there was no need for a set-up. The governess’s recounting of the tale stood perfectly well on its own.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

As expressed earlier, I am undecided on my general feelings of James’ writing – there is a chance that the impact of the story outweighed the faults I encountered in style – but, I am certainly intrigued enough to explore more of his writing.

Rating: 4 Apparitions

REVIEW: Henrietta Who?

Catherine Aird’s Henrietta Who? contains everything a British mystery should: a cast rich with comfortably familiar types, a bundle of laughs, a dash of romance, and an intriguing whodunit at the core.

Aird entices you to become a part of a small English town and live among its occupants. I genuinely felt that I was a participant in the journey taken by the characters due to Aird’s seamless method of creating an intimate and voyeuristic atmosphere.

Though there were some slight tweaks that IMHO could be made to the plot, I was too impressed with Aird’s ability to infuse this mystery with heart to be bothered by them. Unlike many others of this genre, the stakes involved in Henrietta Who? are more emotionally complex . You can’t help but care for Henrietta and want to see her succeed in her quest to discover the answers she is looking for. Because of this quality. Henrietta Who? is above your run of the mill easy mystery beach read – though still a perfect choice for that purpose.

Consequently, Hernietta Who? is the perfect addition to everyone’s summer or traveling reading list.

Rating: 4 Unidentifiable Persons

REVIEW: Cat’s Cradle

World. I’ve fallen in love with Kurt Vonnegut. I simply ate up Cat’s Cradle. It was fast-paced, well narrated, the perfect length, and filled with wonderful black humor. Every single character was wisely developed, and the plot swept me away on a journey making me think, “I  totally don’t get how I ended up here, but it makes perfect sense and I love it.” (Similar to my review of Shantytown by Aira).

Reading Cat’s Cradle and its interesting take on free will, and the relationship between man and technology prompted me to research Kurt’s (we are on a first name basis now…yes, I know he is no longer alive) inspiration behind writing the novel. My findings led me to fall even more in love with K, and to an eyeopening view of the grey areas in the field of research. I don’t want to give away any of the information I discovered, as it could take away from the plot of the book. But, y’all got Google, so I recommend checking it out for yourselves.

Kurt Vonnegut is almost at the Hemingway level in my pyramid of love. I cannot wait to read the rest of his works.

Rating: 4 Strings

REVIEW: Another Roadside Attraction

Here’s the thing. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins is one of my all-time favorite novels. There is something very special about it. There is something very special about the way he weaves together his plot lines. There is something very special about the characters. There is something very special about its heart. Jitterbug Perfume is a book to be remembered and recommended.

Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins is not as special.

Now. Considering how much Jitterbug Perfume affected me, it is very possible that there was no way another one of Robbins’ books was going to match my deep-rooted love for Jitterbug Perfume. And, my inability to stop comparing the two novels may have set me up for disappointment.

Another Roadside Attraction does have strong qualities. It is quirky, profound, the plot is clever, and the characters mostly enjoyable. The main issue I have with the novel is that it amplifies the few flaws in Jitterbug Perfume. So instead of enhancing the positives of my first Robbins experience, it enhances the negatives. The jumps in time and plots aren’t always smooth, and the ending is not as astute as the rest of the novel.

I experienced a similar issue with Chuck Palahniuk’s novels. I absolutely adored Fight Club, but none of his other novels has met that bar. Yet, I keep reading him. While I do enjoy most of his works, I am frequently left with a less favorable aftertaste, as they are not as well executed as Fight Club. My extreme love for Fight Club possibly warped my ability to fully enjoy the rest of Chuck’s collection.

I fear that this is what has happened to Tom and me. I will continue reading his works because of the brilliance of Jitterbug Perfume, but my desperate desire to love each one as much as Jitterbug will make me judge his other works more harshly than I would most novels.

I am fully aware that this review:

  1. Sells Jitterbug Perfume and Fight Club more than the book I am reviewing
  2. Is possibly more of a reflection on my personality type than on Tom Robbins’ abilities as a novelist

Rating: 3.5 Fleas