Quick Review: The God of Small Things

Title: The God of Small Things

Author: Arundhati Roy

Published: 1997

The down low: Man Booker Prize winner in 1997.

Summary in 2 sentences: Twins Esthapen and Rahel are growing up in India in the ’60’s. While they are wealthy, their mother starts an affair with an “untouchable”, a decision that will lead to tragedy.

Why you should read it: This book will make you feel things. It is one of those novels that is depressing but for a reason, not just to exploit your emotions. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a great tough read.

How Books & Bachelorettes categorizes this book: Drama

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Topical Books: It Can’t Happen Here and The Handmaid’s Tale

I read It Can’t Happen Here and then immediately started The Handmaid’s Tale. I am now in a heightened state of paranoia and will immediately read some light-hearted beach reads. Here are quick overviews of both books:

It Can’t Happen Here was written in 1935 by Sinclair Lewis. It tells the story of a popular politician, Buzz Windrip, and his meteoric rise to President. Buzz owes his success to the fact that he makes ludicrous promises to the American’s who he is trying to appeal to: the working class (sound familiar?). This similarity to modern times has created an interest in the book today (I was one of 62 in a queue to get the book out from my local library). Once Buzz takes over, he quickly forms his own army, called the Minute Men, and thus he is able to exert full authoritarian control. The main protagonist, Dorms Jessup, is a journalist who tries to flee to Canada and then joins the revolutionary forces opposing Windrip. Honestly though, this book was so boring I can’t even remember how it ends. I finished it less than a month ago…

 

The Handmaid’s Tale was written by Margaret Atwood in 1985. There is also a brand new Hulu series which is amazing (but very disturbing). In the Handmaid’s Tale, it has been three years since an unknown group of radical Americans shot and killed the President and all of Congress. They then remove the constitution in the name of safety for the populace. The heroine, Offred, used to be a normal woman: living and working in Boston with her husband and young daughter. The revolution brought numerous restrictions to women’s lives. Women could no longer work or spend any money. Offered is taken away from her family and sent to a stranger’s home to act as the womb for a powerful couple who cannot have children.

Margaret Atwood wrote the foreword to my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale in February of 2017. I think I shall let her finish out this post:

“In this divisive climate, in which hate for many groups seems on the rise and scorn for democratic institutions is being expressed by extremists of all stripes, it is a certainty that someone, somewhere-many, I would guess-are writing down what is happening as they themselves are experiencing it. Or they will remember, and record later, if they can. Will their messages be suppressed and hidden? Will they be found, centuries later, in an old house, behind a wall? Let us hope it doesn’t come to that. I trust it will not.”

-A

The Light Between Oceans

Tom Sherbourne returns from the World War I and just wants to forget about everything from his time overseas. He signs up to work “on the lights”, that is, working the lighthouses that are scattered across the coast of Australia. He then marries Isabel, but they are unable to have children. So when a baby washes up to shore the couple makes the devastating decision to keep the baby as their own.

I will say I was expecting something else from this book. I had seen the previews for the new movie and figured the book would be sappy and feel-good. While it was sappy in some parts, I would never call it a feel-good novel. Without giving anything away, I was pretty surprised by the ending.

The question that this novel revolves around is essentially an overused one. “How far would you go for someone you love?”

I am curious to see what others thought of this novel, specifically the ending. My only problem with this novel was that I found myself distracted by the sappy tones at times and couldn’t just enjoy the storyline, but maybe that’s a personal problem.

-A

The Couple Next Door

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena; 2016

Anne and Marco leave their six-month-old baby, Cora, alone one night when they attend a dinner party at their next-door-neighbors’ house. They live in a townhouse and share a wall with their dinner party hosts. When their babysitter cancels at the last moment, they decide to bring the baby monitor with them with the arrangement that the parents will take turns checking on Cora every half hour. Okay, GREAT. Lo and behold, when Anne and Marco return home a little after 1 a.m., Cora is gone.

Cora was safe and sound when Marco checked on her at 12:30, which only leaves a small window of time for the kidnapping to have taken place. There is also no other sign that anyone besides Anne and Marco had been in the house, and how could anyone have known that Cora would be left alone in the house except for the two couples? Granted, things got a little shady at the dinner party. Anne watched her neighbor, Cynthia, outrageously flirt with Marco. They’d all had a little bit too much to drink. And why can’t Anne remember what happened the last time she checked on Cora?

What unfolds is, predictably, a whole untangling of secrets and lies. The catchphrase for many books these days is that ‘every marriage has its secrets,’ but like, hard pass if the average marriage has deception to this level.

Pros: extremely fast-paced and never a dull moment, a few unexpected twists, and overall a fun read.

Cons: the writing style of this book was so bizarre that it completely distracted me from the plot. A fairly outlandish premise and I truly didn’t agree with the ending.

-M

 

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; 2016

In what has been a year so far of almost exclusively (disappointing) thrillers, Colson Whitehead’s National Book Award winner, The Underground Railroad, reminded me why I spend so much time reading. Cora is a young slave on the Randall farm, a cotton plantation in Georgia that is a synthesis of every horror ever told about slavery: slaves are beaten and raped for amusement, attempted escapes to freedom are met with public displays of execution, and women are used as breeders for more slaves. Cora bears her own scarlet letter, as her mother escaped the plantation when Cora was young, making her the only slave who succeeded in disappearing from the Randall planation to freedom in the North. Cora lives in a kind of exile in Hob house, a conglomerate of female slaves who have been rejected by the rest. Eventually, a way out arrives in the form of Caesar, an educated slave on the plantation who tells Cora about the underground railroad which can lead them to freedom.

A familiar narrative so far, but in in Whitehead’s rendering the underground railroad is not only a secret network of safe houses and passageways, but a network of safe houses where you can open a trapdoor in the floor and find a functioning railroad with actual steam engines and boxcars running beneath. Although imaginative – and certainly wondrous – Whitehead only shows the railroad occasionally, making Cora’s tale of escape towards freedom more realistic. First, in South Carolina, the state seems to have a more liberal attitude toward former slaves, and Cora and Caesar settle there until more sinister plans for their destiny are revealed. From there, it’s back on the train to several more stops: North Carolina, where they have abolished slavery and are also keen on abolishing the entire race; Tennessee, barren and hostile; Indiana, a temporary safe haven; finally, the North. With each stop, Cora is pursued by the bloodthirsty slavecatcher, Ridgeway.

The timing of this novel – with President Obama’s departure from the White house, with so much social change and unrest – is everything. The Underground Railroad did for me what (sorry, Zadie – I’m still your #1 fan!) Swing Time didn’t. It’s the novel we need right now; it’s more than a novel about race, it’s also highly concerned with narrative authenticity and authority, how the past influences the present and future – similar to Zadie Smith’s past novels, particularly NW. Whitehead’s novel is also about all of the different ways in which black history has been stolen by white narrators. Cora, too, is very aware of her own narrative changing with white hands:

“No slave had ever keeled over dead at a spinning wheel or even butchered for a tangle. But nobody wanted to speak on the true disposition of the world. And no one wanted to hear it. Certainly not the white monsters on the other wide of the exhibit at that very moment, pushing their greasy snouts against the window, sneering and hooting. Truth was a changing display in a shop window, manipulated by hands when you weren’t looking, alluring and ever out of reach.”

It’s page after page of horror, murder, cruelty. But it’s an important book right now. Whitehead never strikes hard on the parallels between America’s current racial crisis and his slave narrative, but it’s all you can think about while reading it.

Must read, must read, must read!

-M

 

“Black hands build the White House, the seat of our nation’s government. The word we. We are not one people but many different people. How can one person speak for this great, beautiful race – which is not one race but many, with a million desires and hopes and wishes for ourselves and for our children […] All I truly know is that we rise and fall as one, one colored family. We may not know the way through the forest, but we can pick each other up when we fall, and we will arrive together.”

She’s Come Undone

This book sucked. I was going to try and write a professional blog post about it, but physically cannot do that. I would not recommend this book to my worst enemy, unless it was to see someone’s reaction to the truly horrible plot and execution of this storyline.

The story opens with Dolores Price and her parents who get a black and white TV when Dolores is three. The novel follows Dolores from there, through her early childhood into adulthood. Warning: spoilers ahead, but you really shouldn’t worry because I DO NOT RECOMMEND YOU READ THIS BOOK.

Dolores becomes overweight in her early teen years, whether because of her parents’ divorce, her obsession with TV, or her rape by an upstairs neighbor, it is unclear. Dolores takes hit after hit and nothing seems to ever go right for her. First her parents get a divorce, next her mother has a nervous breakdown and has to be institutionalized, then she has to go live with her grandma, then she is raped by an upstairs neighbor, and finally her mother is killed in a freak accident.

I would not have liked this book if it was written by a woman, only because it seemed to be written in poor taste, if nothing else. BUT, this book was written by a man, which really irritated me. To be fair though, I was probably reading the lecturing tone into the book because I knew it was a man writing.

My main issue with this book was the fragmented storyline. Dolores leaves college after about one month and drives up to Cape Cod to see the beached whales. She takes a swim with the one dead whale and is subsequently rescued by a search crew that has gone out in search of her and sent to a mental institution for seven years. SEVEN YEARS. This part made no sense to me. It becomes obvious later in the novel that she did not admit to them that she was trying to drown herself in the ocean, so what makes them hospitalize her for seven years?

My second main issue with this book was the relationship between Dolores and her husband, Dante. This book could have turned itself around after her stint in the mental hospital. I was fully ready to embrace the book if Dolores got herself together and went off into a semi-normal life after staying in the hospital. But NO, she goes off and chases down her old roommate’s ex-boyfriend and starts to date him (the first real crazy thing she does the entire novel).

When Dante turns out to be a jerk, Dolores just goes with it, doing whatever he wants. When she gets pregnant, he makes her get an abortion and she doesn’t even leave him when she finds he has been sleeping with one of his high school students.

Dolores is just a lightning rod for bad luck. Also, is the message in the end supposed to be that TV is the root of all evil? Or that men are? I don’t get it.

-A

Behind Her Eyes

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough; 2017

 

WHOA. I’ve read a whole bunch of recently published thrillers lately, and Behind Her Eyes has definitely come the closest to *shocking* with a twist ending. The publishers of this book really pushed the twist ending – literally, it’s all over the book jacket – but this was my Book of the Month pick for February, so I decided to go for it.

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It’s difficult to to review this book without giving anything away, so I’ll stick the main details. Louise is a single mom who on a rare night out meets a gorgeous man whom she really connects with; they kiss, but then he reveals he’s married and flees the bar. The following Monday, she arrives at work where she is a secretary at a private clinic, and meets her new boss. Who happens to be David – the same David from the bar. Just as Louise and David manage to work out their awkwardness and agree to be friends, Louise bumps into Adele, David’s wife. Adele is beautiful and lonely, and is eager to befriend Louise. As Louise is sucked deeper into her separate relationships with both spouses, she realizes that something about their marriage is deeply wrong. Why is David going out and getting drunk and kissing strangers when his wife is so perfect and devoted? And why does Adele want Louise to keep their friendship a secret from David? And more importantly – why does Adele have an ancient Nokia cell phone?

Although this book will undoubtedly be leveled with Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, it’s pretty far out of that realm – although, is it even a thriller these days if the main character doesn’t drink too much?? It’s difficult for me to decide exactly how I feel about this, particularly because there are some crossing of genres that sort of confused me. Anyway, what I do know is that I quite literally could not put this down. I read it in a few hours this afternoon. The ending is certainly a twist, and most definitely unnerving.

In my opinion, too much was given away too early, but although I had a pretty good idea of where the story was going, I was definitely surprised by the very final twist. Absolutely someone should option this for a movie asap.

And now, for real, I will stop reading thrillers with girl/her/woman in the titles.

-M