The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
This is a bit of a cheat because I got this from my mom (in hardback!) for Christmas and read it on the million-year journey from Wellington to Hahei, during which I thanked heaven multiple times that I had it with me during my multiple plane, bus, and ferry rides. So it’s a re-read, even though I just read it in December. Of course, when Oryx And Crake came out, to which this is the sequel, I read it twice in forty-eight hours, and then when a couple days later I saw Margaret Atwood herself speak at UW and was getting my book signed by her, I told her this, all droolingly fangirly, and she stopped what she was doing and sort of raised her eyebrow at me and was like “Uh, wow. You must not get out much,” but I didn’t even care because I was talking to Margaret Atwood and I was so excited. Anyway. Anyway, I very much enjoyed getting to know Oryx’ and Crake’s and Jimmy’s (and Amanda’s and Toby’s and Ren’s) world from a couple of different perspectives, and it was especially cool to get a look at the pleeblands—by the way, winky verbal constructions like ‘pleeblands’ and ‘ChickieNobs’ and ‘CorpsSeCorps’ annoyed the shit out of me my first couple of readings of Oryx And Crake, but either she toned down some of the newspeak or I was just inured to it, I don’t know. I also noticed that the vision of that future has changed in some ways since the first book—like, now the kids text, and they didn’t in Oryx And Crake because of course in the late 90s we weren’t, at least not in North America. (I think about that sort of thing too, whenever I read The Handmaid’s Tale). There was also a HUGE potential for all the God’s Gardeners stuff to come off as super preachy—well, they are a religious cult, after all—but I think that was handled well. Parts of the story are very scary, and parts are very funny, and parts caused me to have to work very hard to suspend my disbelief for a couple minutes there, but as always with this woman’s writing, I just dove headfirst into her prose and rolled around in it, lapped it up. I love her so much. I just love her work so much. I will be re-reading this again, for sure, many times, just as I do with so many of her other books.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
This was the last of my Christmas package books (just in time for my birthday package!) and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I did read The Time Traveler’s Wife a couple of years ago, just like everyone else, and while I liked the ideas in that story and liked a lot of the writing, there was something about it that just wasn’t a very good fit for me, somehow. The same turns out to have been true for this book, which is very interesting and well-researched and asks some good questions—but I couldn’t get into it very well. I found most of the situations in the story sort of far-fetched–and not the ghost story bit, either—that actually made more sense to me than, for example, the conceit that a trained psychiatrist would give a playacting twenty year old girl who had pulled out a couple of her eyebrow hairs pretending to have OCD some very potent psychopharmaceuticals. I didn’t really believe or understand (or, in the end, care about) the characters, and…actually, yeah, that’s all there is to be said. I am sorry, Audrey Niffenegger. I feel kind of bad because you seem cool and I want to get on board here but I can’t quite do it and I feel like it’s all my fault.
Carried Away by Alice Munro
Okay so Alice Munro has a new short story collection out, which is great news for me because I love pretty much everything she’s written and I hope she puts out a new collection every couple of years until I die. I know this because I saw it at the library the other day, in the new releases section. Simple, you’d think. Very, very simple. Ha ha, dear reader, HA HA HA HA. You see, at the Wellington library new releases cost five bucks to take out, and you can only have them for a week. The one week part doesn’t bother me so much, but the five bucks does, a little, and also I think I didn’t have my big bag with me that day or I was going to a show or something that was not very amenable to carrying a new library book full of stories to which I knew I was going to want to give my undivided attention, in the way you have to writing you love; I mean the only way I was going to be able to read that book, you realize, was on a Saturday night home alone, with fierce concentration, broken only by occasional cups of tea. Bada boom bada bing, the point is I didn’t get this new book out the other day, which turned out to be a tactical mistake because what did I do this past week but get quite sick and need some engrossing reading material? And what, may you ask, was missing from the New Releases section of the library when I dragged myself over there, ready and willing–happy, even, eager to pay the five dollars? Of course someone much smarter than me had swooped it. Which left me nothing to do but run over to the M section and grab this selection of stories of hers that I’d already read (with a foreword by Margaret Atwood, score!) and take that home instead, with much delight anyway. There is something so deep-sighingly comforting about re-reading something you love—this sense of well-being, like, regardless of how the story itself goes, whether it’s happy or sad or everywhere in between, you just get the idea that for the next hour or so that it takes you to read your story, you’re safe, you’re in good hands, everything is going to go very well for you.
Trouble by Kate Christiansen
I picked this up the way I often pick up books at the library: by sort of wandering around looking at dust jackets and popping anything into my bag that looks like it might be kind of good. I read this all in one day (right after finishing Alice Munro, so already it was going to be a rough comparison) and…I just felt sort of tired after reading it. A lot of showing and not telling, which I notice I give as a criticism a lot, probably because it is something I struggle with all the time in what passes for my own writing. Too much description, and a weirdly after-school-special sort of hollowness in the characters: middle-aged successful white psychologist who leaves her marriage because she catches a glimpse of herself in a mirror at a party when she’s flirting with some other dude and she realizes that she’s still hot even though she’s OMG forty-three and then she gives a random a blow job; high-IQ adopted daughter from China who hates everything; Latina best friend who is also a rock star and says things like “Come on, chica mia, let’s get some tequila!” and then she commits suicide because she is a heroin addict, thereby forcing the white psychologist to have to cancel dinner plans with this hot Mexican artist who speaks perfect English and wants to make out with her within five seconds of meeting her and is also in a loveless marriage OMG! And then when she gets back to her life in America her husband is still all “Well, honey, you have to be free” and she has a cool apartment on the West Side and now her daughter thinks she’s awesome because her rock star best friend killed herself and it was on all the gossip blogs.
The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony
A Hungarian sells meat out of a bus in Virginia and then turns into a large and beautiful butterfly in an MRI. Also he has a crush on his doctor. And I got to learn about pre-medieval Hungary as well.
I wrote the above right after I finished the book, just to remind myself of the basics before I could get home to write anything further, but…actually I think that sums it up fairly neatly. The last couple of weeks have been really super-busy and social and I haven’t been reading much, and when I have it’s just been in fits and starts instead of the slow steady sessions I usually prefer, so maybe that contributed to my sense of the story being a little fractured. I liked a lot of the language in this, actually—her multiple lengthy descriptions of the loathsome Pfleigmans were really gross, for example, just as they were meant to be, and she was clearly having fun with that sort of thing. As far as the dude turning into a butterfly—well, sure, why not. I didn’t care very much about any of the characters enough to have an opinion, one way or another, on their lepidopteran transfigurations, so sure, knock yourself out, g’head and turn into a butterfly…or should I say, turn into a (flapping, floating) metaphor that is conscious of its own metaphor-ness?