Archive for May, 2012

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like A Visit from the Goon Squad.  It was a bit confusing at the start, but once I figured out what the author was doing, it read smoother.  Jennifer Egan chooses one person, and tells a story of that person that happened in the past.  Sometimes a different chapter brings you back to that character, but it is farther in the future, or the focus of the chapter is on the child that the character has in the future.  I found myself reading each chapter faster and faster because I wanted to see who she would move on to for the main character in the next chapter. 

It seems that the main character of the book is Bennie Salazar, a music producer living in NYC.   In one chapter we read about his teenage years in San Francisco, and in another about his wife’s life in their suburban New York home.  In other chapters, we read about the life of his assistant Sasha – I think I liked the chapters about Sasha the most, but it may be because her chapter was the first one in the book.  There are various chapters about her life in NYC, her time in Naples, Italy, her college life in NYC, and her married life in the California desert.

In reviewing this book, it is easier to talk about what the book is, or what the author does, as opposed to what the book is about.  For instance, I liked how, at times in the middle of a chapter, Jennifer Egan tells the reader what will happen to a character in the future (for example: At the age of 18 she will join a cult across the Mexican border whose leader promotes a diet of raw eggs; she’ll nearly die from salmonella poisoning before her dad rescues her. A cocaine habit will require partial reconstruction of her nose, changing her appearance, and a series of men will leave her solitary in her late twenties, trying to broker peace between her dad and her younger brother, who will have stopped speaking.).

I also liked how Jennifer Egan, when writing conversations between people, used the verb “goes” instead of “says”  (for example: “Ahem, I go. You have six kids.”  “So I do, he goes.”).   My parents used to correct my sister and me every time we would tell stories using “goes” instead of “says”, (“Where did she go?”) which is why it is so interesting to me that the author used “go” in her conversations.  It gave the discussions a very casual feel because they also didn’t have quotation marks a lot of the time. 

When I got to the chapter that was done entirely in PowerPoint, I was excited, because when A Visit from the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I read about the inclusion of a chapter done in PowerPoint and thought it would be an incredibly neat addition. And it was incredible!  I read this book on my e-reader and when I got to the PowerPoint chapter, there was a suggestion that the reader go to Jennfer Egan’s website becuase it is formatted there in color and some slides even have music! It is done in PowerPoint because the chapter focus is a 12 year-old girl (Sasha’s daughter) who has a slide journal. 

I really enjoyed this creative, one-of-a-kind book, and can see why it won the Pulitzer.  I LOVED it!


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My rating of Swamplandia! should be a LOVED (*****) rating, because I loved the last 3/4 of the book, but the first 1/4 of the book was pretty slow and it took me a while to get going and to get to the place where I actually wanted to read the book and not put it down.  Once I got to that point, it turned into a LOVED review. 

The story is told from the point of view of two characters – a brother and a sister, named Kiwi and Ava.  They lived on an island in a Florida swampland called Swamplandia! where their family ran an alligator amusement park.  Ava had been training to be an alligator wrestler just like her mom and dad.  Kiwi wanted to escape the island and live a normal mainland life.  Their mother unexpectedly died of cancer, and Swamplandia! lost its customers.  Soon Kiwi ran away to the mainland and Ava was left on the island with her older sister, Osceola, while their father went to the mainland to figure out a way to save Swamplandia!

Ava’s story takes off when she is forced to go find her sister, who took a shipwrecked boat into the swamp.  Kiwi’s story takes off when he finds a job at another amusement park and tries to make money to send home to his family.  In the beginning I was annoyed every time a chapter would turn away from Ava and move on to Kiwi, but near the end of the book I looked forward to Kiwi’s story as well.  All three children had been home schooled and lived on the island their whole lives, so he was not used to what he encountered on the mainland.  I think Ava’s character was meant to be about 13, and her character is extremely endearing – especially in her enthusiasm and pride at being an alligator wrestler.  I really wanted her to succeed and I was rooting for her as she was finding her way through the swamp, trying to find her sister. 

I really enjoyed Swamplandia! – it was definitely something like nothing I have read before, and I really appreciated its original premise.

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The Cove: A Novel, is a quick read that has a couple of twists and turns that make for an interesting book.  Unfortunately, it took a while to build up and the twists and turns did not happen until the 2nd half of the book, so it was pretty slowgoing at times.  The book takes place in Appalachia, in North Carolina, and is set just at the end of WWII.  The main character, Laurel, lives in her family home with her brother who is just returned from the war.  Laurel is spurned by their community because she has a birthmark and because she and her brother live in the ‘cove’, which the people think is either haunted or hexed. 

While she is doing her laundry in the stream, Laurel hears a flute playing and finds that there is a man in the woods who she brings to her house to care for.  He is a mute, but once he recovers from his yellowjacket stings, he is willing and able to help Laurel’s brother around the farm.  The story relating to this man’s history and the resulting effect of his stay Laurel’s house is the source of the twists and turns.

Taken overall, the The Cove was a quick read that was, in my mind, better than Decidedly Average (***), but maybe not as good as Enjoyed it! (****).  I decided to go with an “Enjoyed it!” rating because I appreciated the book’s build-up to its ultimate unexpected conclusion.

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Once again I am stuck in what I call one of my “book buckets.”  This time, it is a Civil War book bucket.  It started with the reading of a biography of President Lincoln, followed by a re-read of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and is now continuing with this book – a fictionalized account of various people affected by the Civil War.  The March was a perfect complement to the other Civil War books I read because it was from the point of view of people who were affected by the War – it was either soldiers (Reb or Union); generals; nurses or slaves.  Each one of the stories was compelling and all the stories were interwoven so that some of the characters interacted with each other in the various storylines.

The main focus of The March is General Sherman’s march through the South, and the destruction of the towns and cities that he went through.  The fictionalized point of view of General Sherman was incredibly interesting, given that I imagine that E.L. Doctorow performed some research into the type of man he was and what his character was.  I enjoyed this storyline and the story of a freed slave (Pearl) tagging along with Sherman’s army as it makes its way through the South.  Pearl looked white because she had a slave mother and her father was the master of her house, and when General Sherman’s army made it through her town, she and the other slaves were freed without then being told where to go.  Her story as she realizes she is free and how she survives is engrossing.  The storyline I liked the least was about two Reb soldiers who were in a Reb jail and were freed when Sherman’s army came through, only to disguise themselves as Union soldiers and get into all sorts of trouble along the way.

All in all I enjoyed this short book encompassing many different aspects of the Civil War and highly recommed The March.

I also took the time to re-read The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane.  While I am glad to have re-read this book, I am sad to say that I was pretty bored during the short 140 pages.  The battle sequences, while seemingly exciting and realistic, were, for the most part, confusing because I could not really tell what was going on.  I suppose this is actually more realistic because from the battle scenes in the books, if the Civil War was fought on rough terrain in the middle of forests and farms, I imagine that it would have been confusing for the soldiers doing the fighting.  I am glad to have re-read what has been described as a ‘major American text,’ but I would not put it on my list of favorites.

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