Saturday, October 24, 2009

52 books in 52 weeks

29. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

The narrative voice in this epic history of 18th century Jamaican slavery is fiercely hypnotic from page one. The story is told in a linguistically compelling dialect; it reminded me a bit of the "Sloosh'a's Crossin'" chapter in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. The plot is dramatic and, at times, brutally violent, but there is something about the telling that comes a little too close to historical romance for me - not in the "romantic" sense, but in the lengthy, overly descriptive tendency toward repetition.

30. You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem

Oh, Jonathan. What are you doing to me? I love your novels - I've pushed Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude on dozens of readers, but what the heck was this? That poor pathetic girl was not an engaging protagonist, and if you're going to have a kangaroo kidnapping subplot (and I would have lobbied against this), I need details to make it at all credible or absurd. I, too, would like to write a novel landscaped with all my favorite LA eastside spots, so perhaps I can just appreciate it for that.

31. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

If you like The Turn of the Screw, you will love The Little Stranger. Waters's post-WWII ghost story very skillfully captures the historical detail and sense of place that make for a creepy haunted house narrative. What takes the novel beyond conventional imitation is the richness of Waters's characters. The not-quite-successful country doctor, his likely closeted paramour, her fading gentry mother, and even the adolescent scullery maid are all fully drawn. They easily carry the weight of trying to do something new with a long-established genre.

32. Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Perhaps the best part of this book was having cocktails with Dan Chaon after his Vroman's appearance while I was in the middle of reading it, but I digress. Chaon deserves the accolades he's been receiving. This novel is both parts literary and cinematic - his descriptions stretch the boundaries of how common objects are usually perceived. He brings his scenes to life in a way that is vividly visual. The complicated plot is woven well between the three alternating narratives, and the denouement does not disappoint.

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