So what if I’m posting this in early mid-February?
Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison: Note to self: Don't ever check out audio books from the library that were published more than two years ago. They'll be so scratched up that you only hear about seventy percent of the text. The weird thing about this particular book--which I suspect might be a very good book--is that no matter how much I missed, the story still seemed to be in the same place when I picked up again, like a soap opera.
The story itself--of a racist white senator of mysterious origins, raised by a black preacher to more or less be a black preacher himself--is undeniably interesting, tapping into all the big American questions. The storytelling is innovative and poetic, consisting largely of dialogue and virtual sermons. There's probably a lot to say about Ellison's choices in this regard. But I'm not the one to say it. I just sort of floated along and was glad to be done with it.
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore: Last time I posted a pre-meeting review of a book club book, I started a bad trend and a minor controversy. This time around my lips are sealed until Feb. 13.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt: I may have been foiled by audio bookery yet again: I accidentally checked out an abridged version of this novel. So maybe the director's cut makes the characters deeper and more likable (and by "likable," I don't mean "nice," just people you want to spend some time with). This version was still a pretty juicy story about revenge and prejudice (racial and otherwise) in a small southern town, where a 12-year-old girl from a "good" family stalks her brother's alleged killer, a poor white meth addict. I felt like she was supposed to be following in the footsteps of Scout Finch or Tom Sawyer or some other kid hero from southern lit, but she seemed bratty to me, and her sidekick--a brattier, racist brat named Healy--made me think she had terrible taste in little friends. On a side note, Donna Tartt seems to view snakes primarily as weapons, so if you have sympathy for reptilian Americans, consider skipping this book.
Escape from Houdini Mountain by Pleasant Gehman: Like Michelle Tea, Pleasant Gehman can tell a good story about crazy times (think drag queen boyfriends, theme parties, pranks gone wrong). I loved reading about Hollywood's trashier days, when the hills abounded with formerly glam ruins. But in some of the pieces, I longed for Michelle Tea's vulnerability and ability to apply a long view to her youth. For better or worse, sometimes Pleasant Gehman seems like she's still at the party.