Friday, July 04, 2014

good books by two ‘mericans, a new zealander and an indian-british-‘merican

Happy 4th, y’all! What I have learned so far from my morning spent dodging the heat and internetting in bed is that “#merica”/“#murica” is a thing. Blink and you’ll miss a meme.

At the risk of being un-‘merican, one of my favorite books these past months was by a New Zealander. But don’t worry, I’ll eat some freedom fries to make up for it.

My May and June reading log: 

Cover of Wake. The book is as good as the cover.
Wake by Elizabeth Knox: One of the strangest and most human stories I've read in a while, this novel starts out like a zombie book (why are the residents of this New Zealand spa town gnawing each other's faces off??) and takes a turn for the existential. Elizabeth Knox is a genius at manipulating point of view, creating a story with a relaxed pace that is somehow also full of twists. The invisible monster wreaking havoc on the survivors of the initial massacre literally feeds off human misery, which is basically how evil works: hurt begets hurt, war begets war.

So what are a bunch of ordinary, peace-loving survivors to do? Bury the dead. Feed themselves. Care for each other. This is not, thankfully, a novel of heroes or even big heroic acts (though there are a couple). This is a novel in which the park ranger continues to look after her endangered birds, and the 14-year-old longs to return to his world of video games. The rules of Knox's world are somewhat ambiguous, but don't worry, things are *sort of* explained. Like all the books I love, Wake is about life, is about everything; and it does what it does with simple but sparkling language. Wake will stay with me a long time.

Losing Touch by Sandra Hunter: Great book! Long review here!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: I think I'm onto Gillian Flynn's formula: murder mystery + recent cultural history + cool abandoned places. I'm in. Dark Places is still my favorite, but Gone Girl ups the twists and turns in its portrait of a couple trying to outwit each other. It's sort of an examination of gender roles and coupledom and the media, but it doesn't have a lot that's profound to say on these topics. Still, I genuinely admire Flynn for her ambition--I can only imagine the number of 3" x 5" cards taped to her wall to plot this stuff, all while giving language and character the respect they deserve.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: One of the characters in this ensemble novel is the son of a folksinger whose big hit was a song called "The Wind Will Carry Us Apart." As one of the other characters points out, that lyric doesn't actually make any sense. And yet this story--which follows a group of artsy (if not always genuinely talented) summer camp friends over the course of decades--is essentially about how the wind (i.e., time) carries people apart and together in ways that don't always make much sense. In its own unflashy way, this is an experimental novel, butting up against the idea that fate is fated, or even the result of the choices we make. This is a novel where the guy with AIDS lives, and the healthy guy dies. Because life, if you live long enough, is full of surprises. I find that encouraging, especially on days when my doom seems laid out before me. It's not a perfect novel. Michael Cunningham and Zadie Smith and Lorrie Moore have done what Wolitzer does with more beautiful, sublime strokes. And I wasn't always sure what warranted a scene or why. But the characters became real to me, and interesting.

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