Friday, December 31, 2010

52 books in 52 weeks

22. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

I don't know the name for this genre - suburban realism? a la Tom Perrotta? - but I always enjoy it a great deal. The fact The Slap took place in Australia and was read shortly after I returned did not hurt either. The novel of linked stories hinges on a BBQ where one man slaps another man's child. So simple, yet the perfect catalyst to reveal the characters' petty prejudices, selfish motives, and human limitations.

23. If Trouble Don't Kill Me: A Family's Story of Brotherhood, War, and Bluegrass by Ralph Berrier, Jr.

I reviewed this book for the LA Times on October 10, 2010.

24. If You're Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki

This novella is a gem - sharp and sparkling - and I'm not just saying that because Edan's a friend. I first heard an excerpt at the book release party, and the voice of the narrator was totally compelling. Funny as shit and perversely intriguing in her self-involvement. When I read the rest of the book, I was impressed by Edan's ability to sustain the pitch and stay true to the character.

25. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I got lucky at the end of the year, and I read a bunch of awesome books by women in a row. A Visit from the Goon Squad is probably my favorite book of the year. Each linked story is so rich in its own right, with details so unique and bizarre but also so plausible, and the characters are drawn so fully I still think about them regularly. Jennifer Egan wins again. Brava.

26. Room by Emma Donoghue

Where Goon Squad was remarkable for its characterization and detailed mini-plots, Room was a model for distinctive voice and style. The story is told by a young boy (age 5) who has been held captive with his mother in some suburban shed since birth. All he knows is Room. At first, it's a bit hard to accept he'd be so intelligent and cognizant and basically healthy, but the suspension of disbelief is worth it. Donoghue eerily captures what it would be like to only know such a small world and then...

27. The Best American Short Stories 2010 edited by Richard Russo

It appears that Richard Russo and I have similar taste in short stories. While I didn't love every story, there wasn't one whose inclusion I questioned. And then there were stories I loved, especially Brendan Mathews's "My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer." I can't explain why - uncanny images, emotional turns of phrase, pacing - but I haven't been so creatively turned on by a story in a while.

28. Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky

In the library version I read of Bad Marie, Marcy Dermansky writes that she wanted the book to be like a French film. Aside from the fact it took place in France, that hadn't occurred to me while reading, but it makes perfect sense. The story is decadent, surreal, uncomfortable, detached, and immersive. Marie and Caitlin somehow keep surviving and ending up in the bath, and that is life affirming in its own way.