Archive for the ‘Adult Fiction’ Category

Love Medicine

by Louise Erdrich

HarperPerennial, 1993; originally published in 1984

Source: purchased many years ago

Reread it because . . . it was time

 

Love Medicine was the first Louise Erdrich novel I ever read. My introduction to Erdrich’s work came via a Native American Literature course I took as an undergrad, taught by the university’s writer-in-residence, Janice Gould (who had fantastic taste in literature; I loved most of the reading she assigned). Over the next couple of years I devoured nearly everything Erdrich wrote. When I decided recently to finally reread some of her work, I knew I would start with Love Medicine since it was both the first Erdrich novel I ever read and the first she wrote.

Love Medicine was also one of the first novels I ever read with multiple narrators. This is a tough book to start with if you’ve had little experience with this literary technique. Not only does Erdrich switch narrators from one chapter to the next, but she moves back and forth in time and between first- and third-person narration. To add to the confusion, there are a plethora of characters, and you need a family tree just to keep track of who’s related to who and how.

Erdrich handles this deftly. She never info-dumps on the reader; instead, she introduces the characters organically and give them each an opportunity to tell their own story in their own time. In doing this she creates realistic, multi-dimensional characters more successfully than if she spent pages describing their histories and personalities.

Before rereading this, I really couldn’t remember anything about it other than the novel’s narrative style. Once I started reading, however, I was delighted to discover how familiar it felt. Yes, most of the book had escaped my memory, but more of it was lurking in my brain than I initially thought. As I was re-introduced to the characters the book started floating back. Marie’s name triggered a grin; Sister Leopolda’s name incited a shudder; Gordie’s name made me want to weep 200 pages before it should have.

There is one passage, however, that stuck with me even after I forgot all the others. Upon rereading it I find that it still moves now me as much as it did years ago. I don’t normally include large quotes in my reviews, but I’m sharing this one because it is a great example of why I love Erdrich’s writing. There is so much grief in her work but there is strength and light there, too.

Brief back story: Marie’s mother-in-law, the formidable Rushes Bear, has moved herself in with her son, Nector, and his family. There is no love lost between Marie and Rushes Bear; Rushes Bear is an extremely difficult person to get along with and it doesn’t help any that Marie is a Lazarre, which just gives Rushes Bear another excuse to despise her. (The Lazarres are on the lowest rung of the social ladder on the reservation.) Marie is pregnant when Rushes Bear moves in. When she goes into labor, Rushes Bear and Fleur Pillager deliver the baby. After the birth, Marie overhears this conversation in the next room:

“You take this,” said Nector. “The money’s yours.”

There was a clank as something hit the floor.

The door closed.

“If that Pillager won’t take it, you can,” said Nector.

“Not from your hands.”

“I’m your son,” he said.

“No more. I only have a daughter.”

“Her?” he said, almost laughing. “But she’s a Lazarre.”

“You shame me,” Rushes Bear said. “You never heard any wail out of her, any complaint. You never would know this birth was hard enough for her to die.”

I never saw this woman the same way I had before that day. Before that birth of the child, a son after all, Rushes Bear was a hot fire that I wanted to crush. After that, things were different. I never saw her without knowing that she was my own mother, my own blood. What she did went beyond the frailer connections. More than saving my life, she put the shape of it back in place. And even though her wild moods descended again, and again, with more violence until she was lost in those storms, sometimes for weeks, and even though sometimes she’d rise from her place behind the chair and bolt for home when we weren’t on guard, and even though she was more trouble to me than any child I ever had, I took care of the old woman every day of her life because we shared the loneliness that was one shape, because I knew that she was in that boat, where I had labored. She crested and sank in dark waves. Those waves were taking her onward, through night, through day, the water beating and slashing her unknown path. She struggled to continue. She was traveling hard, and death was her light. (104-105)

“More than saving my life, she put the shape of it back in place” – love it.

 

Other reviews: BookLust, Caribousmom, Regular Rumination, Shelf Love

Did you write a review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

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We, Robots (review)

We, Robots: A Novella of the Singularity

by Sue Lange

Book View Café, 2010

original publication: Aqueduct Press, 2007

Source: ebook provided by the author

 

We, Robots is the story of Avey, a robot babysitter who is given the ability to feel pain. As Avey and her fellow robots’ understanding of their emotions develop, the humans around them elect to block their own emotions, becoming more robot-like themselves than the robots. In We, Robots Avey looks back on its life, from the time it arrived in Wal-Mart to the day it left its owners to return to the factory in which it was built.

We, Robots is a well-crafted story. Avey’s voice is exactly how I imagine a robot would talk and think. When she speaks, she speaks with that stereotypical robot voice, in short, clipped sentences. When she thinks, she processes information rapidly, and puzzles out anything she doesn’t understand in a very logical, stream-of-consciousness manner. I grew fond of Avey as I read the story, and was a little disappointed with the fairly abrupt ending. It is a very introspective novella and I think Avey’s story gets short-changed.

For me, the biggest flaw in We, Robots is not the abrupt ending, however, but the novella’s beginning. It opens with a foreword by author Sue Lange defining the term “singularity.” When I started reading this foreword I cringed. Oh, man, I thought. If she has to explain her story before I’ve even read it, then I’m in for some shoddy writing. But I wasn’t. Lange’s novella stands on its own two feet, no explanation required.  I wish she had let it speak for itself.

If you read this – and I recommend that you do – I suggest skipping the foreword and going straight to the story. It is a contemplative look at the human race and worth a few moments of your time.

P. S.  Bonus points if you catch the Pink Floyd reference!

Thank you, Sue Lange, for giving me a copy of We, Robots!

 

Other reviews:

Book Sake, Cheryl’s Book Nook, Grasping for the Wind

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by Shobhan Bantwal
Kensington Books, 2011
Source: public library
When I spotted The Full Moon Bride on my library’s new books shelves a while ago I remembered that S. Krishna had given it a positive review.  I impulsively checked it out, stayed up way too late reading the first half of the book, and then, over the course of the next week . . . skimmed the rest.  This may sound strange, but I’m actually proud of myself for skimming the second half of the book.  As I mentioned once before, I am bizarrely obedient when it comes to finishing books.  I don’t like to put down a book half-finished, even when it’s just not working for me.  Hence my delight my skimming the rest of The Full Moon Bride.  It’s a baby step in the right direction.
Even though I had a tough time finishing it, I’m not going to rip on The Full Moon Bride.  It’s a fairly decent book, and one I might have enjoyed it more were it not for one little thing: there was way too much telling and not enough showing.  (Actually, there were other little things that bugged me, too, but that was the main annoyance.)  I wanted to tell Soorya, the narrator, “Stop.  Stop telling me who you are.  Stop telling me who everyone else is.  Just live your story, and I will see who you are.”  The characters never really came to life for me, which is a pretty big drawback in a book that’s more character-driven than plot-driven.  
I do encourage you to check out other reviews before writing this book off completely.  If you wrote a review, please let me know so I can add it to the list.
I realized when I sat down to write this review that I can count this book for two different challenges – the South Asian Challenge and the What’s in a Name? Challenge (for the “life stage” category).  Yay!

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by Jim Butcher
ROC, 2000
Source: public library
As part of R.I.P. VI, Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting several group reads, one of which is a Storm Front read.  Even though I didn’t sign up for the group read, (I’m still figuring out how to get back into blogging after my little hiatus and I’m trying not to overload myself with challenges and reads), I read the book anyway.
I don’t even know where to begin.  Storm Front is such a gripping read.  I made the mistake of reading it during my lunch break a few times, and each time I did I dreaded one o’clock like you wouldn’t believe.  Not because I didn’t want to go back to work, mind you, but because as soon as one o’clock hit I was at yet another “I can’t stop now!” moment.  And even though the plot moves rapidly, it’s not at the expense of character development, which I really appreciate.  Butcher does employ quite a few stock characters, however, but Harry Dresden himself escapes a lot of the wizard/hero/outcast stereotypes, making him a far more engaging character than he could have been.
One of my favorite aspects of the novel is the magic-technology relationship.  It seems like many magical books – particularly those featuring wizards – are set in worlds free of modern technology (Lord of the Rings, A Wizard of Earthsea, etc.).  Even those that aren’t still manage to seem as though they are.  Take Harry Potter, for example.  It’s set in contemporary times, yet the wizards and witches seem to live in old-fashioned bubbles.  They communicate using owls, for crying out loud.  I could call, text, email, and Facebook about fifty people in the time it takes them to send one owl.  (I still totally want one, though.)  And unless I missed it, we’re never given an explanation for the strange lack of modern technology in the Hogwarts world.
It’s explained in Storm Front, however.  Harry Dresden brews potions by candlelight, drives a beat-up Beetle that’s constantly breaking down, and avoids computers and elevators like the plague because magic has a strange effect on anything manufactured after the forties.  Butcher uses this as more than just a way to take advantage of the dark, brooding environment that accompanies the conventional wizard image; it’s an excuse to have Dresden’s car break down at the most inopportune moments and to mess with other characters by making their radios spaz or their computers crash.  This magic-technology quirk is just one more reason to love this book.
Storm Front makes for a perfect R.I.P. VI read, so if you’re looking for an October book that will have you burrowing under the covers, check this one out.  I actually finished the second Dresden book last night and it was as entertaining and nerve-wracking as the first.  (About halfway through the second book there’s this scene at the police station – if you’ve read it, you know exactly what I’m talking about – that had me so on edge that when the phone rang I nearly jumped out of my skin.  Phones and Dresden really don’t mix.)
Other reviews:
  
Stainless Steel Droppings group read: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3
Did you write a review?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list! 
*I just learned that James Marsters narrates the Dresden audiobooks.  Hmmm, I’m suddenly very motivated to start listening to them . . .

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by Henrik Ibsen
translated byHenrietta Frances Lord
D. Appleton & Co,1908
originally published1879
Source: free ebook(yay!)
A Doll’s House is the March selection for the Year of Feminist Classics reading project (check out the reading list here).  This is the first month I’ve actuallyactively participated in the project, and while I’m thrilled that I finallyhave the time to participate, I feel a little like I’m butting my nose intosomeone else’s conversation. Anyway.  On to the play . . .
A Doll’s House is one of the only Year of FeministClassics’ selections with which I have some prior experience.  During my freshman and sophomore years incollege I wrote the theater preview articles for the university paper, whichmeant that for every production I got to sit in on a rehearsal and interviewthe members of the cast who were willing to talk to me.  ADoll’s House was my veryfirst preview article.  I was so nervousand worried about getting the article right that I called the drama teacherat my high school to get some insight into the play and what kinds of questionsI should ask the cast.  This wasapproximately ten and half years ago (go ahead and do the math; yes, I am that old!) so unfortunately I don’t remember a lot of the detailsfrom that phone conversation, the production or my interviews with the studentswho played Nora and Torvald.
One of the things Ido remember is the drama teacher referring to A Doll’s Houseas “the door slam heard ‘round the world.” When I mentioned this to the student playing Torvald, he disagreed(which prompted a surprised, “Really?” from the student playing Nora).  He didn’t see the play from a feministperspective at all; he viewed it entirely from the perspective of hischaracter.  I wish I remembered exactlywhat he said, but, alas, I do not.
Reading this playnow, I was struck by how frequently Torvald refers to Nora as his littlebird.  While his manner of speaking toher drives me crazy, she does fit that pet name perfectly for most of theplay.  In both her speech and mannerismsshe constantly flits about, darting and fluttering from one thing to the next,like a caged bird that just cannot settle on its perch and accept itsconfinement.  It makes me wonder how muchof her caged bird behavior is a result of Torvald’s treatment of her; as muchas he cares for her, she is like a pet to him, and so pet-like shebehaves. 
This flutteringceases at the end of the play, when she suddenly sees herself, Torvald andtheir relationship with absolute clarity. When I read that scene, it felt as though the whole world wentstill.  I knew what was coming, and yet Ifound myself holding my breath.  Whenthat door clicked shut, the silence was deafening.

Nora and I do nothave much in common.  She is not acharacter I feel particularly drawn to, and honestly, for most of the play sheannoyed the snot out of me.  But when shetells Torvald that she has a sacred duty to herself, when she says, “I thinkthat before all else I am a human being just as you are, or at least I will tryto become one,” I saw myself opening my door for her, providing her with ahaven for as long as she needed it.  Idon’t know if that’s just my port-in-a-storm side coming out – that part of methat insists on being a source of stability and comfort for people who need it– or whether, in resolving to become the person she truly is, I finallyconnected with her.  I suppose the reasondoesn’t really matter.  Either way, mydoor is open, Nora.
Be sure to stop bythe Year of Feminist Classics blog to follow this month’s discussion!

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by Jerome Charyn
W. W. Norton & Company, 2010
Source: ebookprovided by Tribute Books
When Tribute Booksemailed me and asked if my blog would be a stop on the The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson blog tour, I was ecstatic.  Read and blog about my namesake?  Sign me up!
Unfortunately myenthusiasm withered when I read the book. I feel awful writing that, but it’s true.  It’s not that I disliked the book.  It just never captured my interest.  The characters felt like pencil sketches tome, never fully fleshed out or developed, and I found myself feelingindifferent to their story.  Thosefeelings never really changed as the book wore on no matter how hard I tried. 
The undeveloped sidecharacters didn’t bother me as much as the undeveloped character of EmilyDickinson.  She was the one I wanted to care about, but I felt disconnectedfrom her the entire time I read.  (On theplus side: this book provided a unique experience.  I don’t know that I’ve ever felt sodisconnected from a first-person narrator before.)  Her voice felt very inauthentic, but not in ahistorically accurate sense.  (I have noidea if her manner of speaking is historically accurate; I know nothing abouthow people spoke in the 19th century.)  I mean that her voice never felt real; Inever really heard her.  She never felt like a real person to me, which is funny since she was.
Fortunately, we arenot all the same, and what bothers one reader may delight another.  Be sure to check out the other reviews!  A lot of blogs signed up for this blog tour andI’m sure there are as many opinions as there are reviews.
A specialthank you to Tribute Books for including me on this blog tour!

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