Posts Tagged ‘Novel’

I have a penchant for novels told from the point of view of a writer. This was even sweeter for the fact that a young gangly, white college graduate writes in collaboration with The Help–women whose black skin and pressed maid uniforms speak of an entirely different sort of upbringing.

This book is about crossing boundaries between race and social class during a time (the early 60’s) when integration was a four letter word and white people didn’t associate with colored people. Except they did. Stockett attempts to show the love and fear, the pain and joy and the familial bonds that tied the white and black cultures together. Stockett confesses in her end notes that this novel was inspired by The Help who took care of her family during her formative years.

In summary, Skeeter is inspired to write a book told from the viewpoint of the maids. Her first challenge is to find women who not only offer compelling stories of abuse and triumph, but who are also willing to risk their lives and livelihoods just to tell their stories. There are two heroines in this novel: Skeeter and Abileen. As they begin their journey, writing together, they begin a friendship that is not based upon servant and master, but friend and friend–two women equal in spirit and hope for a world where all people recognize that black and white are only skin deep.

Stockett is just as brave as the women in The Help, she writes several chapters from the vernacular and point of view of the maids. Much ado and criticism have sprung forth, claiming that Stockett’s use of vernacular was stereotypical and the depictions of black characters were offensive. While the white folk don’t have a southern accent, the vernacular of the maids is not horrific. It might not be perfectly accurate, but it is easy to read and understand. Furthermore, I could *hear* the characters speaking. This is an excellent accomplishment for any writer! I am always quick to praise a novel that delivers me into a visual experience of the author’s imagination, but rarely do I find I can also hear every word that a character speaks. If Stockett’s representation fails someone’s high standards for perfect vernacular, they could use a little help finding the point of the novel.

And on the tune of visual representation. I was there. I enjoyed the social and political references even if a few of the details experienced time travel. The Help explores a new slant about the lives of people who keep hired help. I qualify it as ‘new’ because the novel spends little time outside of the perspective of the maids or the situations they are inextricably involved with. Unlike classic novels where maids are present and often even have names, this book is a celebration of the work they did and the racism they shouldered with smiles on their faces and ‘yes ma’ams” on their lips.

I recommend taking the time to read it before Dreamwork’s version hits the theaters in August 2011.

In the news Stockett’s brother’s help Ablene filed a lawsuit in February 2011 against Stockett for stealing her identity and using it as the maid Abilene.

Kathryn Stockett’s website

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Hunter’s Run has an interesting evolution, having taken more than 30 years to be completed and published. Three men worked separately and together to bring this sci-fi novel to life.

Synopsis:

The main character, Ramon, left planet earth because he had prospects working to develop a new planet for habitation. He is carried on an alien spaceship to this new planet, 1000 years pass during his trip, and he becomes  a prospector on the new planet when he has arrived. Ramon is a man who is quick to temper and violence, and when he murders a man he is forced to run into the wilderness. Few prospectors or humans have explored the wilderness, there are massive and frightening creatures, there are thousands of animals that haven’t been discovered, and the land has not really been charted. This is when he stumbles upon an alien race hiding from the aliens who brought Ramon to the planet.  This is when Ramon begins an unlikely and psychologically interesting adventure.

The themes:

This novel will surprise and delight the science fiction reader. Using a new twist, the authors explore the idea of identity and how experiences can change and affect the ways that we perceive and interact with our world. This novel intersects the themes of guilt, fear, anger, and redemption to create a tightly woven novel that brings you full circle from beginning to end.

The writing:

These men spent decades pouring thought and care into their writing and story craft. And, to be fair, it is decent writing for the science fiction genre. This is not a literary novel and should not be judged as such. The writing does not become tangential or wander unnecessarily (which is one of my complaints with many science fiction novels). All-in-all I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the science fiction genre. I think it would make a good movie for the Sy-fy channel.

The ending:

Endings are so important. I have to say that I wasn’t thrilled with the ending. It felt abrupt and I wasn’t ready to put the book down (which is probably a compliment). The thing is, the afterword was facing the final page of the novel. This was jarring. While I like afterwords, I think it’s best if they have at least one blank page between them and the final page of the story. This will give the reader a moment to pause, reflect, and digest the story that they’ve just spent hours reading.

George R. R. Martin’s Website

Gardner Dozois doesn’t have a website, but here’s the Wikipedia page about him.

Daniel Abraham’s Website

This novel sits on my fence. To be a good novel, or not to be. That is the question.

Winfield has crafted a novel about a masters student, at UC Santa Cruz, who is more interested in drugs and sex than writing his thesis. His life is set on a path by the fact that his name is William Shakespeare–and his master’s thesis is about, guess who, Shakespeare. While Willie moves closer to completing his thesis, his life is paralleled by that of the historic Shakespeare. Winfield brings Shakespeare’s youth and accidental impregnation of Anne Hathaway to life and makes a case for Shakespeare practicing Catholicism during a time when papists were being hung, drawn, and quartered by the Queen of England.

I think the parallel structure of the novel is clever, and the imagination of Shakespeare’s youth was well drawn up. I particularly loved the inclusion of many Shake’s quotes in a relevant and illuminating manner. This novel also shed to light the political situations that Shakespeare would have grown up feeling oppressed or frustrated with.

My issues with the book come from another area. First, the descriptions are flowery. Rarely do I find myself skimming sentences, but it became so bad at points that I even skimmed whole paragraphs. Winfield isn’t verbose, but his first novel includes many details and scenes that do not add to the texture of the story. The long winded scene at Berkeley Campus, for example, felt as though it were merely telling us what it was like to be a student at Cal. The experience could have been cut down to one or two pages, but instead it sucked up page after page telling us about picketing, people shouting absurd chants, and tabling for myriad causes. While these are all a part of Berkeley culture, it was primarily irrelevant to the novel.

“My Name is Will” is Winfield’s first novel, and it was well enough crafted to ensure that he will continue to write, and be read. As I said at the beginning of this post, I can’t recommend this novel, but I also can’t condemn it. Read it yourself, and tell me what you think.

Jess Winfield’s website

This is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read this year. Little Bee has a new home in my top 10 list. I won’t give a synopsis, but I will say that you MUST read this book.

But it’s not the story that makes this novel great (although the story in itself is good enough to accomplish that). It’s how the story is told that is captivating. The structure of the novel is important in the tale. And that’s all that I will say about it.

Cleave is a master of the English language. He employs metaphors so powerful they will change the way that you view our world. His writing is not flowery, it does not waste paper or ink, and it does not get lost in itself. Cleave’s writing is concise and enticing.

This book will probably be the best novel you read this year and it’s only his second novel. Cleave is a writer to follow.

Cleave’s website: http://www.chriscleave.com/

This novel was a delightful read. Michael Gruber has a talent for vivid and precise language. The novel is an action packed mystery in which the characters stumble upon evidence that appears to point to the existence of an additional, unknown, Shakespeare play. Gruber manages to entwine romance (or at least sexual desire for the female as a mythical object), deception, the mafia, literature, screenwriting, manuscripts, and cryptography.

I read this book while on a camping trip, and the only problem was that I didn’t have enough time to read the novel from cover to cover in one sitting, which is exactly what I wanted to do.

The book isn’t fast paced. We meet the two main characters through first person narrative and because of this we get to learn their deepest feelings that would never be spoken out loud. But this internal experience of the characters leads us on many tangents that not only help to develop the characters, but also develop the plot. Even though it may feel like the novel is tangential, every idea and thought conveyed works to build up to the final moments of the novel.

This was an excellent read. While I couldn’t wait to get to find out what happened, I enjoyed every page in my journey to the end. This is a novel that will remain fresh in my mind for years to come.

Michael Gruber’s website: http://www.michaelgruberbooks.com/

Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife was a national bestseller and was made into a major motion picture. A friend’s comment on facebook inspired me to purchase Niffenegger’s debut novel before seeing the flick on my 37″ flatscreen at home. The friend had posted a comment about how the movie was disappointing after reading the book, and now I’m not sure I want to see the movie. There were few moments in reading The Time Traveler’s Wife that I didn’t feel like closing the book and picking up the Cormack McCarthy novel Suttree instead.

So lets start with the good. The plot was a novel idea. Heh. Pun intended. Henry, the c0-main-character, has chrono-placement disorder CPD, aka he time travels and he has no control over it. The book is written generally chronologically in time, Clare’s time, from the first time she (at six) meets her future husband, to her at 82 years old. Nifennegger jumps about a bit, to give the reader a sense of Henry’s disorienting experience of life. It’s a new way of telling a story, so that was good.

Unfortunately, Niffenegger, lacks a few essential skills as a writer. Hopefully this novel isn’t the best idea she’s thought of, because her prose is lackluster. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few beautiful moments, but they were overshadowed by her poor understanding of metaphor. There was one metaphor that stood out as deeply egregious in my mind. Henry takes his daughter(s) out for ice cream and states that they eat their banana splits like vacuums. Metaphors are very visual usage of words, so lets zoom in and have a look of what a vacuum eating a banana split would look like. Oh, vacuums don’t eat. Good point. And most vacuums don’t suck liquid either. So really it would just mash the banana and ice cream into the carpet making a giant sticky mess. So children often make messes when they eat, but the point is–it was a bad metaphor, and the book is loaded with them.

Additionally Niffenegger doesn’t seem to mind relying on the cliché. Clare has heard things a gazillion times. I wonder, mathematically, how much of your life would be spent listening to the same thing in order to hear it a gazillion times. These phrases generalize rather than painting a clear picture of what’s happened. Maybe she actually heard it ten times and was feeling frustrated with the repetition. Niffenegger could be more suave with her word choice and metaphors.

Finally, and most importantly to me, Clare and Henry both speak with the same voice. Sometimes I would have to search around to figure out who was speaking to me. At least the sections are labeled as to who is speaking, but they still both speak with the same voice. Working in first person is not easy, but every person thinks differently, and since much of The Time Traveler’s Wife is in thought it seems natural that Henry and Clare should have different thought processes and different tones, different voices.

All in all, if I’d picked this book up when I wasn’t on vacation I probably wouldn’t have expended the energy to finish it. The story itself is excellent, but Niffenegger’s execution isn’t.

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a riot. Unfortunately John Kennedy Toole did not live to see it published or receive the highest honor a writer can be awarded. A Confederacy of Dunces is a mixture of high and low comedy mostly from the viewpoint of a very troubled man in his late twenties (or maybe early thirties). Dunces takes place in New Orleans, both on Bourbon Street and in the residential areas. The protagonist, Ignatius, is an overweight PhD graduate (and virgin) who has no desire to work a real job, has a gastrointestinal valve problem, likes to write,  and has a very peculiar pessimistic world view. Nothing is ever good enough for Ignatius.

Toole is a master of finding and maintaining character voice. He digs into the mind and heart of Ignatius and never misses a beat. The story itself is a selection of adventures and mishaps, but there is a sense that Dunces only gives us a sliver of Ignatius’ life. The novel lacks character growth, there is no epiphany, it begins and ends and the reader is left assured that Ignatius misadventures are far from over. Normally when I read a novel I want some sort of conclusion, I want to see the character experience a change, but Dunces was written so perfectly that I find the ending to be more than satisfactory.

Wikipedia on John Kennedy Toole: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Kennedy_Toole