I’ve a partially finished entry about my family Christmas gathering and my gift of heirloom (such as it is, as in, my distorted gene pool’s rendering of both “family” and “heirloom”) butcher knives adorned with baby aspirins (don’t ask, yet) wrapped in Justin Bieber paper (yes, that Justin Bieber) near ready to post. But, only near, and it may never get any closer than that as it’s turning out to be difficult giving it the rhythm of truth without revealing details too personal and not mine to reveal. Therefore, having last written about books December 5, when I talked about the remarkable Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, by Bonnie Jo Campbell [CLICK HERE] – and, since this is sort of a book-blog, it only makes sense I ought, sort-of, to write about what I’ve been reading.
The full-disclosure thing: Mothers, Tell Your Daughters was one of those very different, very wonderful refreshments and revelations of a read, making it difficult for anything read in their wake. This is why reading lists must be carefully curated and managed, why to-be-read stacks (or shelves, or rooms, or storage units) need have many choices from widely varied genre. Thus, since Mothers, I’ve gone non-fiction bio-ish to crime procedural to dystopian fiction to Young Adult issue oriented to MFA-soaked literary fiction. None have been awful but, alas, none have come anywhere near the joys and appreciations given bloom when reading Ms. Campbell’s work. That said, here:
BECOMING NICOLE: THE TRANSFORMATION OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY, Amy Ellis Nutt, October 2015, Random House, Hardcover, 302 pages Reportage rather than biography, this covers the becoming of a transgender girl, and the awakenings of her identical twin brother, parents, and community. The bigotry and ignorance she encounters is predictably horrifying, the end result reasonably heartwarming, but, I wished for more of her voice, her feelings about the experience. That really wasn’t what this book was; instead, it had the feel of an extended, padded newspaper personality/social issues piece – a bit rushed and surface.
THE KILLING KIND, Chris Holm, September 2015, Mulholland Books, Hardcover, 320 pages A hit man who kills only other hit men. A hit man who was made a hit man by his government training as a killer. A government made killer who has left behind a woman too good for him who will never get over him who he manages to put in danger even though she thinks he is dead. A hit man, killer, who’s left behind a woman too good for him, whose only friend is another man destroyed by the same government forces that destroyed our hit man; guess who dies? Damaged people in a damaged world and no one is really to blame but everyone is responsible, everyone is guilty to one or another degree. Too bleak for me right now. Too cold. Too violent. Too absent impossibly unrealistic happy outcomes – which is what I think I need at the moment in fiction, since they seem so unlikely in real life.
GOLD FAME CITRUS, Claire Vaye Watkins, September 2015, Riverhead Books, Hardcover, 339 pages This was another of those books about which many, many, many people raved. This was another of those books in which a dystopian-barely-the-future is foist upon us, the wages of our sins, this purgatorial punishment one of an encroaching, ever-expanding desert of annihilation, aridity, and absence of truth. This was another of those books from which I get that the MFA-crowd admires experiments with languaging, voices, structure, and the asides and digressions of story, but in this case, I found it off-putting – rather like there wasn’t enough there there, so it was sent back for filler and the author used research and character sketches to fill the required three-hundred pages. In addition to which, nearly every character was unlikable.
WHAT WE SAW, Aaron Hartzler, September 2015, Harper Teen, Hardcover, 336 pages My Young Adult read for the past few weeks about a Steubenville-type gang rape in a small town that takes place at a teen party, is filmed, the victim shamed and made pariah, the horrific crime by school sport-team jock-types covered up, all of this by lots of people who ought to be better, know better, live better. We’re distanced from the real horror of rape culture by experiencing the events from a long-ago friend of the victim who wasn’t at the party when it happened but investigates events, pushes buttons, forces issues; Kate. The Kate-voice is powerful and, I think, very well done and tonally-Zeitgeistian on-pitch, but it felt — for me — a little like an Afterschool Special tone. Thing is, the people who really need this simple a primer won’t read it or get it, and the actual audience likely already knows all of this and could use something more reflective and intense.
UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR, Patrick deWitt, September 2015, Ecco, Hardcover, 317 pages Now this was very different. I always meant to but never did read deWitt’s previous novel, The Sisters Brothers, (he has a gift for titles, yes?) – It begins (sort of) and ends (ish) with a harbinger (kind of) of a man wrapped in burlap (at least, symbolically?) and Lucy Minor (the major character, maybe) escaping death (sort of) and leaving his home (such as it is). It’s seriously playful – or playfully serious, and darkly illuminating or illuminatingly dark. It was very Wodehouse on acid while depressed and horny and homesick. I liked it. I think.
So, there we have it. The five reads since Ms. Campbell — and I apologize to these authors, required as they were to try to get me past my adoration for Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. Thus is life. We can’t — any of us — control the ways in which things happen or the people we come across — I mean, see above picture of me with butcher knives and Bieber wrapping; we all have our crosses to bear.
Ad now, I have five (or ten) more books I’d like to finish before it becomes 2016. So, off to read, here where I am, going. Love and Light, friends. Love and Light.