under the sun

I'm in full-out summer-read mode. You know? The kind of reading where you have options -- you could invest an entire afternoon in a story about hot summer nights in Florida, or you could read like two pages of a story before falling asleep.... The point is, this is the kind of reading where your brain is just not working too hard. I think of it as resting before all the reading I'll be doing this fall.

So on that note, I've just finished reading Alice Hoffman's Turtle Moon. First published in 1992, it's a classic Hoffman outing -- lots of passion, hitting the road, crime and crime-fighting, ghosts, mixed up kid logic, anthropomorphism.

I have a half-theory about Hoffman's writing in the 1990s versus the last decade. Frankly, her early works are a little more adventurous, a little more fun. Around the time she published The Blackbird House, it feels like she inserted a distance between herself and her characters. Does that make sense? I'm not sure if it's because her more recent books tend to break into shorter stories that are loosely connected versus following a string of characters through a plotted story. There's a chance this is merely a reflection of Hoffman's development, and I'm so shallow I can't fully embrace that.... For example, The Ice Queen and Turtle Moon both follow a small number of characters through stories with strong plots. But where Turtle Moon has characters you can believe in -- young, divorced mothers, lost children -- The Ice Queen was wonderfully fantastical and fairy tale-like, but the main characters are inherently unlikable.

In other notes....

You should read "Comic Sans," a short story in The Incongruous Quarterly. I admit to being particularly fond of this story because of my own time on a university student newspaper. But it's a really fun read.

I wouldn't say Jennifer Weiner's new book about the female members of a politician's family (after the politician publicly and grossly cheats on his wife) is getting the best reviews.... I fully plan to read Fly Away Home. While at the same time wondering why American writers are so obsessed with philandering politicos. (See: The success of The Good Wife.)

I'm re-reading Chasing Shakespeares. I first read this one while still at university, and I remember it being this adventurous romp through modern-day London in search of Shakespeare's true identity.... So you can see why I'd pick it up again. So far? I forgot how bogged down by neuroses the main character is. I mean, he's a master's student obsessed with writing a new and interesting biography of Shakespeare. But at the start of the book he's sort of disappointingly and depressingly combing through Elizabethan-era letters and transcripts, all of which are actually fake.

The startling thing I had forgotten about this book is that it reads like a story written by an academic. Which is not necessarily a bad thing (see: A.S. Byatt), except the novel is first set in the United States. And the main character, Joe, is a working-class sort of guy. In keeping with her idea of how such a person might speak, Smith sometimes assigns really weird style to his conversation. For example, describing his vehicle as a "pile-o'-shit truck." Or, one summer while working for a window-installing company, his coworkers apparently said, "Some book you got, Joe, ain't even got tits and ass on it, what's it good for?"

It strikes me as so odd, to be honest.

But then there's the good (if equally unbelievable) parts. Joe had the measles when he first read Macbeth. The part where Lady Macbeth has died, and Macbeth is grieving her, apparently elicited this response:

"That speech took me somewhere a nine-year-old kid had no business going. It was a place that could swallow me up and not even notice. Like the woods beyond where the roads go, where grownups get lost. I put my head down on my arms and cried, and it wasn't just I had the measles, I knew that place was out there. But I knew, when I got there, I'd recognize the place and I'd know a man who had been there too." (p. 4)

No comments: