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

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

Quick Review: Beyond Words

Title: Beyond Words: How Animals Think and Feel

Author: Carl Safina

Published: 2015

The down low: Nonfiction about animal behavior going into depth on killer whales, wolves and elephants.

Summary in 2 sentences: Carl Safina talks to numerous animal behaviorists and other who have spent their lives studying animals. He shares stories and insights into how animals think and feel, and proves that animals do have incredible human-like tendencies.

Why you should read it: If you like any type of animals, this is a great book to read, as Carl combines anecdotes about wolves and elephants in the wild with observations of his own pets (which include two dogs, a squirrel and I think a bird of some type). Also, it makes me mad that people still treat animals so inhumanely in this day and age, so everyone should read this to get a bit of perspective.

How Books & Bachelorettes categorizes this book: Critter nonfic

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.”

Quick Review: The Kept Woman

Title: The Kept Woman (Will Trent #8)

Author: Karin Slaughter

Published: 2016

The down low: Most recent addition to the Will Trent series

Summary in 2 sentences: When the body of an ex-cop turns up at a construction site that’s connected to one of the NBA’s most valued and powerful players, Will Trent senses trouble. Marcus Rippy has already gotten away with rape charges, and then a set of bloody footprints at the crime scene reveal that there was another victim – a woman who knows Will very well…

Why you should read it: I will admit that I got confused when I requested this from the library; I really enjoyed Pretty Girls and when I saw a new book by Slaughter was out I requested it immediately. Be warned that this is part of Slaughter’s really popular Will Trent series. I didn’t understand half the context and character relationships, but it was still pretty good. I’d imagine this would be amazing if you’d read the others.

How Books & Bachelorettes categorizes this book: Twisty detective story