Recent current events have me hiding away, a mountain-top(ish) house and pet sitting gig, where I’ve been on a double binge: Reading and Eating. I’ll spare you the details of my Pepperidge Farm Cookie gluttony (they were on sale, 2 for $5) and crackhead like inhalation of Lindt Lindor Milk Chocolate Truffles (honestly, my desperate chomping was Dickensian in its desperation) and stick to the books. Life, as a rule, would always be better if I would just stick to the damn books.
RAZZLE DAZZLE: THE BATTLE FOR BROADWAY, Michael Riedel, Simon & Schuster, 2015, 464pp
Saw this in the New Releases section at the library and hesitated. In that fantasy world in which I live where I am pals with Broadway types, I recalled something about theatre-folk not caring for Riedel and, not wanting to be disloyal to my imaginary friends, I was going to pass. Then, I remembered he had been on the late, lamented (by me, at least) Smash, and so, I decided that if Megan Hilty, Wes Taylor, Christian Borle, Andy Mientus, and Jeremy Jordan agreed to appear in the same show as had he, I’d be forgiven for reading his book.
I’m a sucker for Broadway stories, gossip, and history. A book that gives me backstory on the Shubert and Nederlander dynasties, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Michael Bennett, Hal Prince, Tommy Tune, Stephen Sondheim, and on and on and others and the history of Mack & Mabel – which was my first and finest flop-love as a child-theatre-fanatic; well — it’s a book I’m going to devour. Was it well written or insightful or particularly riveting? Probably not. And, this sentence on page 389: “He looked passed the decay and saw the former grandeur.” Passed? Really? It is this sort of thing that makes me scoff and sniff with unearned superiority. I mean, granted, my blog entries are rife with errors – but I write these in about 60 minutes, tops, and I do NOT have a copy editor (more is the pity).
THE TROUBLE IN ME, Jack Gantos, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 224pp
My YA read for the week, also a library hold, recommended by one or another book blogger I follow – I cannot remember. In this, a pyromaniac in training hooks up with the wrong kind of kid, starts his training for what will eventually be prison. This is an autobiographical tale made fiction. I’m not in the business of denigrating someone’s life story. It was a fast read. I wasn’t much moved. I didn’t much get the point. I grow weary of first person, self-consciously hip narrators in the YA catalogue.
THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR, Scott Hawkins, Crown, 2015, 388pp
This was recommended by the Gilmore Guide to Books blog. No, not recommended, RAVED about. Listen:
Bottom line? The Library at Mount Char is the answer to every booklover’s prayer that they have not already read everything new under the sun, because there is nothing like this book. It is that ingenious in its premise and execution. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but oh, I loved this book.
It qualifies as Science Fiction (according to the library, from which I got my copy) and I am, admittedly, not a huge Science Fiction fan. Still, I am determined to read across genres, to experience the best of all worlds. I did find this book interesting for about three-quarters of its length. Then, I started feeling the dreaded “let’s finish it in a way that allows for a sequel” sort of writing. Not a fan. Especially not a fan when what feels like a carefully constructed and elaborately designed universe, and its main characters, suddenly become someones other than who they have been for the first three-quarters of the book. What I considered to be the false, unbelievable softening of the Carolyn and Father figures, and the weirding of the Steve character, ruined it for me.
FATES AND FURIES, Lauren Groff, Riverhead Books, 2015, 392pp
I’ve been burnt by believing hype about hot books more than a few times lately, so, when people kept telling me how great this book was, when it was given such rave reviews, when the Twitter-literati poured on the praise, I thought, “I just won’t ever get around to reading it and thus, I can avoid all the trauma and self-doubt I experience when I don’t love a book as much as my Twitter-idols and vast and sundry of the literary and intellectual elite do.”
But, there it was at the library. DAMN THE LIBRARY!
I agree that Lauren Groff is a marvelous writer. There were many beautiful passages and images in the novel. Her sentences are artfully constructed, measured and rhythmic, striking. Listen:
Denton Thrasher gathered Lotto in his arms and wiped his face with the hem of his pajama top, revealing a furry white belly, and Lotto was rocked on the edge of the stage, smelling witch hazel and Listerine and pajamas worn too many times between washes.
The next paragraph — the next few pages are as — maybe even more — luxurious of image and insight, including this:
He reached out a hand to Lotto’s shoulder and patted him until he calmed. It felt as if they’d crossed a bridge a second before it collapsed.
Holy Proust — and we are only on page 30-31. Page 43, then:
In twenty years, they’d have country houses and children with pretentious literary names and tennis lessons and ugly cars and liaisons with hot young interns. Hurricanes of entitlement, all swirl and noise and destruction, nothing at their centers.
So much good, there. So much. And 62:
‘Don’t know,’ Mathilde said. ‘I can’t tell if you’re benign or malignant. But I feel like I could tell you all my secrets right now and you’d keep them to yourself, waiting for when best to deploy them.’
That is a holy shit line in and of itself, but when you get to the second half of the book, it becomes even more-so. Holier. And, too, shittier. Which sort of sums up the trick Ms. Groff pulls off so neatly with a finesse and elegance of technique one cannot help but admire.
Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage told from the perspective first of the husband, Lancelot, or, Lotto, and then, the wife, Mathilde. They are both despicable. And both entirely lovable.
For me, however, Mathilde was far more interesting and so, that more than the first half of the novel was from Lotto’s perspective was disappointing. On page 312 it is lamented that Volumnia of Coriolanus is far more interesting than the title character, but nobody would go see a play called Volumnia. Perhaps, but I don’t think many readers would have objected to this novel being more Mathilde than it was.
Nonetheless, this book does very well that illumination of the contours and landscape of a life, a real life, a real human, shaped, formed, worn into who and what they are by long, slow accumulation of forces, storms, shifts, disappointments, joys, truths, lies, drips, drops, daily, daily, daily waiting and wanting, so much of it subterranean, unseen, never understood even by those one stands beside, sleeps beside, dies beside. Love and contempt cohabit so often in such intimate proximity, the line between the two sometimes imperceptible, concern and care crossing so easily into contempt and cruelty. Yet, even so, still, there can be love, deep, abiding, horrifyingly strong and terrifying and comforting and confusing and irreconcilable love.
Fates and Furies tells such a huge story, a love that is also a hate, mythological, classic (even an omniscient narrator speaking to us in bracketed asides) and writ large on lives rather small, spirits and souls rather petty.
I liked it very much. Did I five-star it like this year’s Did You Ever Have a Family and Everything I Never Told You? No. But, it was as close as I’ve come in a while and for that — and for it NOT being another hot, new read that I was forced to throw across the room — I am grateful.