Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reviews- four books

Lately I've been on a reading-in-bed-before-I-fall-asleep kick, so I've gone through a few books lately, namely:

Room, by Emma Donoghue. You know those creepy news stories where a man kidnaps a girl, keeps her prisoner for years, and the girl ends up having her rapist's child, Austrian basement style? Well, Room is a novel with a similar premise, only it's told from the perspective of a five year old boy, Jack, who has spent his entire life in a single room with his mother, not understanding that a world outside exists. His friends are Rug, Chair, and Dora the Explorer, and he sleeps hidden away in a wardrobe because his mother doesn't want the bad man who comes in at night to be able to look at him. The book is disturbing and completely addictive, and very cleverly written. My sister Kerry sent it to me and I couldn't put it down.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett- after Room I needed something a bit cheerier, so I finally read the book that everyone I know had already read. The Help, set in the segregated South in the 1960s, is the story of white housewives and the black housekeepers who do their chores and raise their children. Although they spend their days together, they don't interact outside of strict societal norms, until one of the town's socialites, Skeeter Phelan, returns from college and decides to scratch below the surface. The Help is an enjoyable read, full of lively characters and a bitchy villian who is just so fun to despise, the type of book you could recommend to nearly anyone and know that they'll like it. My one critique is that I feel it's been overpraised as an "important" book. If it were written during the 1960s, maybe that would have been the case, but since the book was written 50 years after the troubled times it describes, it certainly isn't an Uncle Tom's Cabin or even a To Kill A Mockingbird. However, it's still a great story and well worth a read.

The Wonder Boys
, by Michael Chabon. Michael Chabon is one of my favorite authors, so I had high expectations of this book. However, I wasn't a huge fan, mostly because I didn't like the protagonist, frustrated writer and college professor Grady Tripp. He's a 40 year old man who cheats on his wife, obsesses over one of his students, smokes pot all the time, and basically needs to grow the fuck up. He's not quite as awful as the husband in On Beauty or the dad in The Squid in the Whale, but is pretty much a rehashing of the pompous, male academic stock character. The side characters were a lot more likeable and entertaining, despite (or perhaps because of) their flaws.

Lastly, I read We Need to Talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. I thought Room was disturbing, but it has NOTHING on Kevin. This book is the story of a school shooter, written by his mother in a series of letters to her estranged husband. She wasn't sure she wanted to have children, she resented giving up her former lifestyle, and then her child turns out to be...evil. Is she somehow to blame, or was he just born that way? We know at the start how Kevin turned out, but Eva tells the story in chronological order, from all of her doubts during and after pregnancy, to how difficult Kevin was as a baby, and then things go from bad to worse as Kevin displays an ever deeper streak of cruelty, to which his father is willfully ignorant. As a narrator, Eva writes beautifully and certainly reveals her own flaws...but with every chapter, the story grows darker and the sense of dread expands. I feel traumatized after reading it, but I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. I'll tell you one thing, though, I will definitely not be seeing the movie- the book was haunting enough. I'm going to have to read some Jennifer Weiner next as an antidote!


Kris said...

But the Kevin movie has SWINTON! I am kind of mesmerized by Swinton.

When I was sick last week, I started reading the Sookie Stackhouse books on Kindle. They're fun; different tone from the show. THAT'S the kind of chaser your need for a disturbing book...

J.R. said...

Speaking of stock male academic characters, have you ever read Straight Man by Richard Russo? One of my top five books. Same character but a very very funny take on it.

eileen said...

I've been trying to comment but it's not working!! To summarize,
I like SWINTON's crazy outfits but she strikes me as cold.

Will have to finally read to Sookie Stackhouse book that's been on my shelf for ages. and I will have to check out Straight Man- I really liked Empire Falls.

Suldog said...

I haven't read any of these, but MY WIFE greatly enjoyed The Help, and she may talk me into reading it someday soon :-)

Tom said...

Have you seen Wonder Boys the movie? Michael Douglas is absolutely a character you can root for. Also his editor, Robert Downey Jr is hilarious. Highly recommend.