REVIEW: Rabbit, Run

John Updike, you’ve left me utterly confused.  Rabbit, Run was one of my “this book (and its sequels) is on every MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE list so I should probs check it out” books. And it was one I was looking forward to reading – seemed to be my cup of tea from what I knew about it. And, while I was reading it continued to feel that way. Then I put the book down. And now I don’t know what to think about anything.

I read Rabbit, Run in one day. Obviously I was invested, and Updike just as obviously writes with a unique and engaging literary style. But my first thought when completing the novel was “I freakin hate that guy” (full disclosure, that sentence contained more “F” bombs than just the one and of the non “freakin” variety). Now, when I say “that guy” I mean our anti-hero, Rabbit, not Mr. Updike. And when I say “hate” I don’t mean in the fun way we love to hate anti-heroes (what up, Don Draper) or a solid villain, I mean I hate him. He has zero redeemable qualities, there was maybe one moment where I thought “okay, maybe you aren’t THAT bad.” However, I never once rooted for him to turn it around, nor did I care if he did. Pretty much, zero part of me cares about the future of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. And zero part of me understands how there are 5 million other books about this jerk, and why I am expected to read them if I am to be considered well read.

So, now what am I supposed to do? I can’t sit here and say I got zero pleasure from the book and denounce John Updike’s ability to write a clear and intriguing story, but I don’t want to applaud the creation of one of the worst characters I’ve ever come across. Honestly, I would take a slew of Ayn Rand’s horrible creatures over this dude.

Read this book. Or don’t. I certainly won’t be continuing the series, unless it’s to be able to feel further justified in my attitude towards the man. On a positive note, I was very into the supporting female characters and would happily read a novel or two based solely around the character of Ruth.

 

Rating: 2.5 Entitled Bros

 

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REVIEW: Persepolis

The graphic novel market is one that has impressively expanded over time and is the perfect vehicle for Marjane Satrapi to engage audiences in her memoir of the after-effects of the Islamic Revolution in Iran during the ‘80s, Persepolis.

I am a fan of non-fiction and take pleasure in learning as much as I can about the world and it’s citizens, but it can be daunting to take on history books or at least those whose intended audience is assumed to have a background and the lexicon to support it. Usually lacking a clear narrative and heart, they leave me cold. I absorb knowledge more easily when personal context is involved.  

Young Marjane’s experiences of the revolution translate beautifully to the graphic art form. Upheaval in society, rioting, and war are all issues that pack more punch when depicted visually; not just reliant on the written word. It’s easy to become detached from and dehumanize events like the Islamic Revolution when you are simply reading recorded facts. Satrapi makes it impossible (much like Art Spiegelmen did with Maus in the ’90s) for a reader to disengage via the graphics of Persepolis. None of the imagery is explicit, but it puts a face to a piece of history. In addition, there is the added impact of experiencing events through the eyes of a child, which broadens the allure of the memoire. 

We should be indebted to those authors like Marjane Satrapi who incorporate the use of the visual arts to bring knowledge to the masses.

Rating: 4 Protests

REVIEW: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I decided to add a contemporary YA novel to my list this year for a few reasons, one of them being that I have little to no idea what’s out there for kids these days (beside the Twilight and Hunger Games worlds), additionally the YA novels of my time were integral in shaping my love of literature and sense of self. I was very pleased to discover that a novel like Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda exists.

Even if the character development and writing style were stripped away, Albertalli would still get high marks solely for the basic narrative in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Adventure. A problem generally exhibited in YA novels, films, and TV is the attempt to tackle every topical issue at once as opposed to focusing on one major issue and allowing others to pop up organically. This flaw weakens the intended impact.  Albertalli, on the other hand, hits the nail on the head with her approach to dealing with common teen issues in today’s society without over saturating her plot. While the main story follows Simon and his journey as he copes with his sexuality, Albertalli peppers in other issues (cyber bullying, heartache, alienation) without distracting from the main narrative.

Now, we add in Albertalli’s easy but high quality style (another general issue I have with YA…we should be upping kid’s literacy game, not dumbing things down for them) and fully realized characters. Well, there’s very little to critique.

Far too often we project unrealistic images onto younger generations of what their high school experience should be, Albertalli’s ability to keep it real throughout Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is what corralled my attention from beginning to end. I was giddy (yes, me, giddy) getting caught up in Simon’s email exchanges with his mystery crush. I felt a part of Simon’s social circle, because I’ve been there too.

Rating: 4 Secret Admirers

Special shoutout to SW for the recommendation

 

REVIEW: Of Love and Other Demons

Gabriel García Márquez. An author who has continuously entranced me with his vibrancy and ability to balance the surreal and real. An author I have committed myself to because he had me at “hello” (I reviewed him last year as well: The Story of a Ship-Wrecked Sailor). But, as with all relationships, the honeymoon phase had to end at some point and now we get down to the nitty gritty.

Don’t get me wrong, Of Love and Other Demons exhibited many of the qualities which led me to fall for Márquez: an air of mystery, passion, ­­­and fluid writing. Yet, I was not fully invested in the plot. I started Of Love and Other Demons about 3 times in an attempt to determine if my current mood was the factor deterring me from becoming engaged. However, as it transpired, the novel never grasped me.

Much like my feelings towards The Sound of Things Falling (legit spent about 10 minutes coming up with that title because it left such a little impression on me), I can’t quite put my finger on why I couldn’t connect with this novel. I find this to be frustrating. As I hope I have made obvious, I like to be able to support and express my opinions with clarity. I believe my discontent was a mixture of a few things:

  • The balance Márquez generally creates was off; typically, the fantasy Márquez adds never detracts from the ability of the reader to accept that his stories are capable of existing in reality, it merely enhances them. The fantasy Of Love and Other Demons enhanced the narrative a bit too much for my taste. 
  • I was disinterested in the characters. They are well constructed, but I was apathetic to their fates. I can’t work out why.
    • As a result I was indifferent to their relationships. And since the novel’s main focus is on the relationship between a young girl and a priest, this was an issue.
  • You know I’m seriously struggling sorting through something when I start making lists. (Holy alliteration, batman)

So for now I will go with: well written book, still a fan of the author, the general concept just wasn’t my cup of tea.

 

Rating: 3.5 Rabid Exorcisms

 

REVIEW: The Princess Bride

I’ve rewritten this review multiple times trying to throw in more of the technicalities of the novel, but I can’t be objective on this one. It is a story that has been too much a part of my heart for so long. This review is in fact a love note to William Goldman.

How a person can currently exist without knowing the truest way to say “I love you” is “as you wish” is a concept I have yet to grasp. But, there seems to be a population of fully grown humans who have never seen The Princess Bride. (Lookin at you best friend.) A film which helped shaped my childhood and foster my off-beat sense of romance; it is one I return to frequently, quote often, and think of when I need a smile. So, naturally, it took me 30 years to read the damn book (inconceivable, I know).

William Goldman redefined the fairytale genre with The Princess Bride. Relating the
main story of romance and adventure to us via an abridgment of the “original” novel, with annotations by our narrator, Goldman himself, sets the tone of whimsy from page 1. Though the framework of The Princess Bride’s plot is quite standard, Goldman zests it up with his over-the-top cast of characters, unconventional humor, and twisted wit. Goldman’s manipulation of a formulaic genre which has spanned centuries makes The Princess Bride an instant classic which speaks to all generations. A classic that is brilliantly executed in both media and print.

While he adds his own flare to the emblematic romance world, Goldman never forgets the root of the tale, the thing we all really yearn for: true love.

Rating: 4 Rodents Of Unusual Size

REVIEW: Invisible Monsters

Last year I did not tackle any of Chuck Palahniuk’s collection, though I did mention my constant struggle with him in my review of Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction as follows:

“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.”

 Invisible Monsters is the closest I have come in my Palahniuk adventures to thoroughly applauding his genius as I did with Fight Club. Closest but still no cigar.

The heart of Invisible Monsters is a beautiful one; an exploration (albeit a twisted, graphic, and gory one) on the struggles of self-identity and body image and the difficult (Tarantinoesque) journey to becoming the person you want to be. The characters, though beyond heightened, evince kernels of universal truths. The overall plot line, engaging and quirky. But. But. But. It just gets to be too much, Chuck. Chunks of the novel involve road trip like expeditions with 3 of our main characters, and after a certain number of these excursions I was done with them. Yet, they kept trucking along. Similar in essence to the road tripping adventures of Humbert Humbert and Lolita, but instead with a newly disfigured former model going through an existential crisis, a pill-popping transgender woman who is the glue holding it all together, and a fairly unnecessary jerk of a guy. 

When the Prozac Nation tour isn’t occurring, we are jumping back and forth in a convoluted time line of our mutilated model. While this backstory ultimately ties some loose ends together, it is once again, TOO MUCH, and hindered my empathy towards our anti-heroine as opposed to enhancing it.

All of that being said, Palahniuk executed the ending of Invisible Monsters masterfully (a trait he often lacks), and, as mentioned before, the overall arch and concept is strong. 

Though this wasn’t quite kissing another Palahniuk frog, it still wasn’t the prince I’ve been hoping for.

Rating: 3.5 Brandy Alexanders

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