:: February’s book reviews and suggestions are split into two parts because I may or may not have had a lot to say about a couple of them. Check back tomorrow for the next six books I read last month. ::
Delicious Foods by James Hannaham :: I actually read this book a few months back but didn’t want to miss talking about it because I loved it so much. The opening scene itself is a good indicator of whether or not you will enjoy the book, let alone be able to stomach it. It is heartbreaking, heartwarming, loving, and brutal all at once. The realities of such a plot are striking and raw while the use of cocaine (“Scotty”) as a voice is spectacular. Forewarning: brutality is delivered in a way to make the reader uncomfortable as one should be with such transgressions in society; it is honest.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood :: So good. The subject matter is not easy: drugs, physical and emotional abuse, assault, death, etc. In fact, let’s just call it what it is: rough. In less capable hands it would be too much, it would mine your emotions and leave you disgusted, stuck, manipulated. The author manages to weave these hard, rough, terrible things together and still show us something wonderful and beautiful. Please, even if the middle begins to skeeve you out, read until the end. It’s worth it.
Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont :: Many, many people do not care for this book whether due to the structure or because, in their view, nothing happens. These people are not wrong. Very little occurs – but for me that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That’s life, most lives. Few people go through life with a big event like being chased by the mob or being blown up in a museum or what have you. In this book, the event that sets everything in motion is an affair – or rather, the delivery of letters that alerts the family to the patriarch’s affair. For me, the emotional upheaval of a family following such an event is enough of a plot to keep me reading. Where this book lost me, was in its structure and delivery of this emotional upheaval. I get where the author was going, but I don’t think it was pulled off quite as well as it needed to be to really work. The husband and wife are neatly enough drawn, but the children are not. Also, eleven is a little old for this girl’s behavior and how she carries herself (she reads closer to nine or maybe ten; a lot happens between ten and eleven); this discrepancy made her character grating and unbelievable for me. The other characters, the mistress and the son’s female friend in particular, are not fully drawn either. I don’t expect every side character to have a full story (they are side characters after all) but there were too many loose ends and whys for these two characters the author gave high enough stakes that they should’ve been more complete. In the end, this is a book on the infidelity of an older man, his younger wife, and the ensuing fallout, though not done as well as last month’s Swimming Lessons.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi :: This book lives up to its hype. The only issue I had was that as the book goes on, the chapters become shorter. The book’s structure is close to what I would consider vignettes, though the opening chapters are more detailed and immersive in both plot and character development. The later chapters, in contrast, operate more as the stereotypical vignette (think: “Hairs” from The House on Mango Street, which is one I love) and do less to tell you about the character and more to tell you about their situation in society (a couple feel a bit like placeholders to get from one generation to the next). That said, the complexity of such a novel (and the research it must have taken to bring such complexity to life) and its evocations (anger, sadness, grief, rage, hopefulness, etc.) make this book a standout. It read fast and feeling, which is really the ideal.
**Keep scrolling for more reviews below the links**
Home is Burning: A Memoir by Dan Marshall :: The preface pulled me in (tongue-in-cheek funny), the repetitive descriptors of family members and anecdotes lost me (readers are smart enough to remember things that happened fifteen pages ago), and the gravity of the experience kept me reading (though I admit to setting it down often). The memoir’s focus wanted to be on the dire situation and how the family coped with it, but more often than not I was put-off by the family members’ characteristics when it comes to being spoiled, incompetent, and entitled. The cussing and general lack of decorum don’t bother me at all, but on more than one occasion I had had enough of the children for repeating their stupidity at others’ expense (especially the father’s, obviously). The author reads rather more self-aware now than he was when it was happening in some aspects (recognizing you are spoiled is something), but in others (the brief discussions of women and the aide regarding unattractiveness, for one of many examples) it still lacks introspection. I’m a little torn on how to feel about the book because it’s a memoir, but I think the aspects of affluence (these kids are a prime example of affluenza) that allowed the children to behave so poorly and the repeated notions of “having nothing now” gave me a more “woe is me” attitude than one where I could truly engage. In other words, I feel for the gravity of the situation but I do think it could use a little perspective in what it is to have nothing while also going through this type of loss (as many families and loved ones do in this country every single day).
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez :: This book made me tear up multiple times and laugh. Not many books accomplish this for me. Sure, it has its issues and plot holes, but I loved it anyway. The structure of this book may be off-putting for some as it follows multiple narrators. The narrators most pertinent to the story’s plot go back and forth and are interspersed with singular chapters that serve to illuminate the book’s theme. I loved the structure because I felt like the plot had enough going on that it could handle the forks, but I could see how traditional plot-readers would feel like it detracted from the forward motion. Don’t let this deter you; even if you like a traditional plot structure, give this story a shot.
– M. Ray Hall