Monday, November 14, 2011

Since I last reviewed Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson in October, I've read five (and a half) books. I meant to review each one, but it hasn't happened.

I never wanted to read Jodi Picoult, her books seemed too churned-out to me. I just pictured her sitting down to her computer, rolling up her sleeves, and saying "Time to write another family drama tear-jerker." But that's me being an asshole - a book should be about whether you enjoy it while you're reading it, and if she can write a good book a day, then so be it. My mother owned all of her books, and when I ran short on reading material a year or so ago she loaned me My Sister's Keeper. I read a few more and a few more until I'd read, at this point, I think all but 3-4, and to me they've been hit and miss. I hated Keeping Faith, loved Nineteen Minutes, and so on. Plain Truth fell between the two. I came away from it feeling like a judgmental "Englischer" with a new understanding of Amish culture. In the book, Katie Fisher is an 18 year old Amish girl who is accused of birthing, and killing, a baby in the family's barn in the middle of the night when the dead infant is found in the morning and Katie is proven to have recently given birth. She continues to deny not just the death but also the birth, even as she's reluctantly defended by Ellie Hathaway, a big city criminal defense attorney who, in my opinion, absolutely never rings true. She's supposed to be "disillusioned," but the only way we ever see that is because we're told, "This is Ellie Hathaway, a disillusioned lawyer." She's supposedly been toiling away for years and years with an insensitive boyfriend who won't take the next step in their relationship, defending hardened criminals and throwing up in the bathroom when she gets pedophiles acquitted. I just don't buy it. She shows herself to be, actually, rather sensitive almost from the first page, and her epiphanies and changes of heart feel extremely lackluster and predictable. Katie's stubbornness juxtaposed with her sometimes incredibly frustrating naivete can seem unbelievable - she relates to Ellie on levels involving relationships and parenting that seem too precocious for someone who is absolutely unable to grasp the simplest workings of the English law system no matter how many times they're repeatedly explained. All in all, I think that it was a very well-researched book - the look into Amish culture was absolutely the book's strong point, to me. Some of the characters (Ellie Hathaway in particular) seem a little too set up and contrived, but it held my attention and it was an interesting read.

Now this was an interesting (depressing, dark, horrifying, thought provoking) book. It's 2019, a cure for aging has been discovered. It's illegal at first, but that's almost a pointless part of the plot, it doesn't stay illegal. John Farrell, a lawyer, although his original career is rarely really a part of things, rushes to get "the cure" from a doctor giving them out illegally in his home, and remains 27 (I think it was 27? 20-something) permanently. The author provides enough of a scientific explanation for how the cure works to easily allow suspension of disbelief so that we can move on to the real meat and potatoes of the book - social implications. "Cycle marriages" become a thing - you sign up for a marriage that you know is going to end in 40 years, divide your assets in a way that you'd previously agreed upon, and move on - or, if you'd like, you can renew your contract. Forever being truly indefinite, not "until we start aging in 10 or 20 years and die in 60" changes everything about how people relate to one another. Commitment is scoffed at, people raise a set of children and then 30 years later raise a new set. "End specialists" - government sanctioned euthanasia providers - become common. Some barely-explained "greenies" crop up - troll-like men who terrorize, mutilate, and kill people who have received the cure - I hated that entire plotline, it's never really explained who they are, how exactly they're green (simple body paint?), why they're always short and bald (what if there's a tall guy willing to throw lye at people and dye himself green? Is he not allowed?). Not surprisingly, people are continuing to live and reproduce while dying at a much less frequent rate (the cure only prevents aging - not murder, suicide, cancer, accident, etc.), so the earth's resources are being stretched far beyond their capacities. Pregnant women are being killed in the streets, because the last thing the world needs is more mouths to feed. A culty new religion, Church of Man, has formed, more or less on the premise than mankind discovered the cure for aging, so we are who we should be worshiping. People realize, oh shit, I can never retire now. Rich people are stockpiling food and weapons in underground bunkers. People are living in caravans on the side of the road. I think that the biggest compliment that I can give this book is the subtle change in the main character's voice - you don't notice it happening, but when you finish the book (60+ years after John has received the cure), then go back and read the first chapter (in blog-entry form), he sounds so much more innocent, less jaded, cleaner than he ultimately does, but it's a very gradual change. The end of the book gets more grim than the cartoonish book cover would suggest - I mean truly, miserably depressing and disturbing - but this is one hell of an interesting read. Unfortunately, I was much more interested in the stories of John's father and sister - both reluctant to receive the cure. In his father's case, it's because his wife has already died before  the cure was discovered, and there's no reason for him to prolong being with her. He ultimately gets the cure and regrets it bitterly. His sister is married with small children when it's discovered, and her very minor side-story as her husband becomes interested in a cycle marriage and her children grow up stay the same age forever was, to me, far more interesting than John's ongoing relationship strife and bad decisions, but that's probably just because I'm a woman in a long-term relationship who will have children soon, and stories you can relate to are always more interesting. All in all, it's a book well worth reading.

There isn't a whole lot to review about this one - the subject matter interests you or it doesn't, and Mary Roach's writing style appeals to you or it doesn't. I'd already read Stiff (about death) and Bonk (about sex research) by the same author and loved them, so naturally I read this one too. Her books are, always, extremely well researched and well cited, extremely accessible to Joe Public, and darkly, dryly funny. This one was no exception.

I started this book because, for reasons that escape me, the summary on the back of the book caught my eye in Target and I put it on my library list. When it came in, I thought "Why the hell did I request this book?" but started reading anyway. I was tripping on British dialect a little, but I liked it well enough, or was intrigued, anyway, and looked up reviews online a chapter or so in because I am an absolute review junkie. I was completely disappointed to realize that it was the same author and a very similar premise as My Best Friend's Girl, which I guess I didn't hate, but it was not amazing. I kept reading and was pleasantly surprised. Mal and Nova are best friends - it's soon revealed that grew up together, quite literally from birth, and were raised practically as siblings (Nova's parents cared for their mentally unstable friend and neighbor's children, Mal being one of them), with a long-running unrequited love that neither knew was mutual. Mal grows up and marries Steph, who is infertile (or is she?) and also mentally unstable and badly wants a baby. Long-suffering Nova ends up agreeing to be a surrogate for them, only to be left twisting in the wind when Mal admits his feelings for her and Steph's festering insecurity and instability explodes, leading her to cut Nova and the baby out of their lives. 8 years later, the child, Leo, is in a coma, and Mal and Steph are still married, miserably, and childless. Everyone starts to come apart at the seams, and I was amazed at how the author managed to develop the characters so well that their seemingly inexplicable or ridiculous decisions seem perfectly in character and make total sense within the context of the story. You can write a story and say "And then he did this, and then she said that, and then this happened," and it will never have an impact if you can't feel what they're feeling, and understand their motivations and what led them to do the things they did. This book would've been a prime candidate for that - why can't Nova and Mal just get it together and date each other? Why would Steph even ask Nova to be a surrogate if she's been jealous of her from day one? Why the hell did Nova agree? Why is Steph so crazy? Why did Mal allow himself to lose his best friend and his child? Any of those are so outlandish that they could've easily, easily derailed the whole story, but every decision feels natural and makes sense in context. The ending is sad and unsatisfying, but making decisions as bizarre as those fully understandable is a feat that alone makes the book worth reading.

Finding Fish was a book that Mary had around that she'd had to read for school, and suggested I read it. It sat around until I had a dry spell between library runs; I wasn't as interested as I wanted to be. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. I had a messed up childhood myself, but I could relate to very little of Antwone's experiences (foster care, the 60's and 70's, African American culture, male perspective), but his voice is so strong and honest that it's impossible not to root for him as he builds his own moral compass from scratch and tries to find his way out of his abusive foster home. It's rarely about grotesque, gratuitous abuse (not never, just rarely), and more about a lack of love, support, or belonging. By the time he's out of the house and in the Navy, the book could say "And then he became a millionaire, and married a supermodel, and had five wonderful kids, and was waved by palm leaves and fed grapes all day" and you would keep reading just because the author is so genuine and likable, he deserves happiness and peace and it's truly enjoyable to read about him finding it. I tend to stay interested throughout the central struggle of a book and by the time it gets to the happily ever after, I'm thinking "Yeah, yeah, and then you were happy and blah blah blah, that's great," but this one, if he wrote another book about nothing but his happy life now, I'd read it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment