REVIEW: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

As we know, I am a sucker for a solid short story collection, and Raymond Carver did not disappoint with What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. 

What We Talk About… explores a multitude of aspects of human interactions and relationships, generally via snapshots into a life. While each story in What We Talk About… has a beautifully constructed arc, they lack finality. This sounds like a potential negative; however, the lack of finality creates quite a powerful effect.  The reader is gifted with the ability to peer, only for a specific moment, into the window of a life.

Carver’s stories end on an inhale, allowing each tale, and every little detail to linger with you long after you are done. Due to the skill in Carver’s writing, this device elevates What We Talk About… to a level of storytelling few can achieve.

Standouts:

Why Don’t You Dance?

I Could See the Smallest Thing

The Bath

So Much Water So Close to Home

Everything Stuck to Him

I would like to thank the friend who recommended What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. You gave me the gift of a piece of literature which will always stay in my heart, and for that, I will always be grateful.

Rating: 5 Front Lawn Slow Dances

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REVIEW: East of Eden

Do you ever delay finishing a book because you don’t want it to be over? Or find yourself unable to start a new novel because you need time before you fully move on from the last?

I finished East of Eden in March of 2018. I still miss it.

Through a seemingly simple premise, East of Eden, explores a variety of familial and romantic relationships and their many layers in this multi-generational saga. Steinbeck has a grace and subtlety of language, which allows him to treat his characters with care; you feel his love for them.

While the obvious biblical symbolism of Cain and Abel throughout the generations of the Trask family could easily become tiresome, each set of sons has a unique identity and hardships to bear. Consequently, the reader becomes more invested in their journey than the symbolism. Every character in East of Eden is compelling and fully developed; whether they comprise the center of the story or its orbit. The strength of Steinbeck’s supporting cast, especially in the character of Lee, elevates the novel from a solid piece of literature into a masterpiece. 

Steinbeck is the rare exception to my rule of “every story can be told in 350 pages or less,” I wouldn’t cut a single word of this 600 page masterpiece.  

P.S. Cathy Ames is one of the greatest characters ever created. 

Rating: 5 Acres

 

REVIEW: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Agatha Christie is the queen of British mystery for good reason; her writing is specific. She never over indulges in back story, or “clues” unless they serve a purpose and her pacing is impeccable. All of Christie’s works are enjoyable, but, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a cut above, it is devourable (okay, that’s not a word, but it should be). 

Alas, the problem with reviewing mysteries, is they are mysteries. Anything one could praise about Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (and there is A LOT to praise), would ruin the experience and give things away.

So, what do I do guys? I’m not sure what to tell you other than I loved The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I LOVED it. Loved. It. So. Just. Read it. Read it, devour it, love it, pass it along. Trust me on this one.

Rating: 5 Suspects

 

REVIEW: Stoner

Every so often, a novel quietly hits you in a way you weren’t suspecting. Keeping you on the edge of your seat riveted to its pages. Though seemingly so simple, it breaks your heart, as you finish it, to know you will never experience its magic for the first time again, that though you may read it 100 more times, that first-time experience will be lost. You savor it. You miss it when it’s gone. It is novels like these that keep us hungry for more. 

John Williams’ Stoner delivers that magic.  

Stoner, originally published in 1965, rose to popularity and became a delayed American classic in the past 5-10 years. Williams creates a classic Americana vibe reminiscent of Steinbeck, mixed with the air of Hemingway’s simplicity (literally the greatest compliment I could give an author, so you know I am not exaggerating my love for this novel), without being referential. This could be a reason for the delay in Stoner’s widespread popularity – Williams belonged in the generation before his own.

The author’s technique and style as he navigates through the life of our titular character, Professor William Stoner, is so smooth, the realization of how enamored and invested you’ve become in this middle-aged academic’s world doesn’t land until you’re a wreck when it’s over. There are no crazy plot twists, no mysteries to unfold – it is simply the story of a man and his Midwestern life. A story that has earned top placement in this heart.

 

Rating: 5 Seminars

 

REVIEW: Slaughterhouse-Five

Last year Kurt Vonnegut came into my life and I fell in love at a Hemingway level (see here). So it was only natural that I would add Kurt’s most famous classic to my list this year, Slaughterhouse-Five. It is now tied with Turtle Diary for my favorite book of the year.

From Vonnegut’s succinct and poignant style, to the plot, to the characters, to the black humor, to the unique perspective on topical issues…I can’t find a flaw. What fascinates me about Vonnegut most is how seamlessly he integrates science fictional elements into novels which would otherwise be characterized as modern realism. Vonnegut uses this tool in Slaughterhouse-Five to bring into focus themes of free will, suffering, warfare, and ethics – very down to earth elements. While Billy Pilgrim (our narrator’s lead) is a relatively fantastical character, his journey is true to human nature.

Slaughterhouse-Five has become a staple of American literature for a reason. Its honesty. Vonnegut takes the dark and complicated aspects of what it means to live in this society and strips them down to their truest form, to expose what is at the heart of life. So it goes.

 

Rating: 5 Poo-tee-weets

REVIEW: Turtle Diary

I’m back and I’m in love…with Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary.  This is yet another novel which falls under the “book my father begged me for years to read and I stupidly kept putting it off” category. (Seriously, father really does know best.)

Hoban checks all my boxes with Turtle Diary: short, masterfully alternates narratives, straightforward moving plot, well developed realistic characters. While each of these characteristics is flawlessly executed, the novel as a whole manages to transcend its parts.

Hoban creates magic, and a hint of mystery, with Turtle Diary. Though written in the 70s, Hoban’s depiction of the sobering loneliness that can come of flying solo in modern society evokes an even stronger message today. In a world where majority of our interactions take place through technology, it is easy to fall in line with our narrators’ (William G. and Neaera H.) need to become a part of something bigger than themselves. Something tangible. Something that requires an honest connection, even with a stranger.

Turtle Diary has moved its way to being one of my top recommendations; a novel I would encourage all to read.

Rating: 5 Turtles Swimming Freely

REVIEW: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has provided further proof why C.S. Lewis is quickly becoming one of my all time favorite authors. I opted to revisit this classic because my recollection of it was scant. In addition, I have recently developed an appreciation of Lewis’ genius and style (see my reviews of his works from last year here and here).

Lewis tackles the worlds of children’s lit and fantasy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  so skillfully there is little room for critique. In this brief novel Lewis accomplishes the creation and establishment of a vividly and intricately described fantasyland inhabited by richly imagined characters. Narnia is a world that easily draws in children, while keeping parents on the edge of their seats. Much of the novel obviously alludes to Christ and various aspects of the New Testament, in a manner that avoids preachiness; a quality of Lewis’ I’ve frequently noted. Lewis also weaves elements of mythology and folklore into the story with a variety of characters, adding an interesting depth, often eschewed in children’s literature.

Pleased with my decision to rediscover this novel as an adult, I am eager to continue my journey through Narnia to continue exploring a new love.

 

Rating: 5 Turkish Delights