Short book reviews

11 Jan

As made obvious in the post title, below are a few reviews of the most recent books I have read. Would love your book recommendations in the comments, if you’d be so kind.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver

A novel written via first-person perspective from a too-smart, fussy, elitist mother whose son has committed a Columbine-like mass murder, this one is initially tough to get into, mostly because the protagonist is a mostly unlikable character. But it picks up, slowly and surely, and builds to a thrilling, spooky conclusion as the reader pieces together what actually happened and why. A bit wordy at times, and one of the seemingly millions of books that provides its characters a ridiculously over-eloquent vocabulary, but well worth the minor flaws. After the halfway point, it’s tough to put down. Grade: B+

“Homeland” by Sam Lipsyte

A caustic, funny story of a  remorseless thirtysomething loser writing letters to his high school alumni magazine detailing how lame his adult life has become, “Homeland” is a snappy read of ridiculous scenarios told by an unapologetic dickhead. At times hilarious, and incredibly well-written, but not substantive enough to be one of my favorites. Grade: B

“Trudy Hopedale” by Jeffrey Frank

I picked up “Trudy” because a previous Frank  novel “The Columnist” remains one of my very favorite books. “Trudy” is written in a similar tone — set in D.C., detailing the travails of political wanna-bes brimming with confidence yet lacking even a modicum self-awareness. Strong satire and fast-moving plot, but again, nothing too substantial here. Good, not great. Grade: B-

“Bridge of Sighs” by Richard Russo

“Bridge of Sighs” is Russo at his very best. The plot surrounds an old man recalling his life from a young age up to the present, with occasional chapters devoted to first-person POVs from other characters. The small town, reflective nature of the content gave it a “Wonder Years”-like mood, but with such incredible character depth. It’s a bit long at 500+ pages, but Russo balances detail with pacing like no other. I don’t care if I lose my Uptown cred for saying this, but Richard Russo may just be my favorite author. Grade: A-

“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski

On the surface, “Edgar Sawtelle” is nowhere near my cup o’ tea. It’s slow. Long. Not modern. Not funny in the least. About a subject matter — dog breeding — that I couldn’t care less about.

All that acknowledged, I have to corroborate most other reviews that the last 75 pages are insanely gripping. I’m not sure it was worth the almost 500 pages leading up to it, and I’m still terribly conflicted about the ending, but it was an undeniable page-turner at the end. That’s saying something. Grade: B+


4 Responses to “Short book reviews”

  1. A.B. January 11, 2010 at 9:11 pm #

    It’s true “Edgar Sawtelle” is about dog breeding, but that’s kind of like saying “Catcher in the Rye” is about kid who leaves boarding school. It’s all true, it’s just only part of the story.

    Wasn’t “Edgar Sawtelle” sort of a new take on “Hamlet”… Kid’s beloved father is killed by the father’s brother, who ends up with the kid’s mother? Anyhoosers, it was loooong. Took me ages to read. But I thought the storytelling was extraordinary. Certain parts stayed with me for months. I was awed by the writing and have recommended this book to many people since reading it.

  2. B. January 11, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    Yes, it is a re-imagining of “Hamlet,” a fact that I had to look up because I’ve never read “Hamlet.” Yes, I am ashamed.

    I fully agree with your assessment that it wasn’t really about dog breeding, but there were so many passages about the training, the dogs’ reactions, the letters from fellow breeders, etc that dragged on forever. I confess to much skimming.

    Without giving any spoilers, did you enjoy the ending? Did it feel right to you? I’m still torn.

  3. A.B. January 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    That is a great point about the ending… Actually, when I hit page 400 or so and realized I was almost done, I got an extra jolt of adrenaline and tried to power through. Sadly, because I take a sleeping pill each night, powering through the last hundred pages took me more than a week. But that’s not the point.

    Like you, I didn’t find the ending completely satisfying. But I thought getting there was worth it. Weaving so many potentially mundane details into a story so richly crafted made the ending more forgivable, I think.

    Also, I used to read mostly fiction, and for the last couple of years I haven’t enjoyed it as much as a good biography or memoir. So the fact that “Edgar Sawtelle” held my attention seems significant, even though it probably isn’t. Also, I liked all the stuff about dogs.

  4. RandBall's Stu January 13, 2010 at 8:49 am #


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