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Author Archive: "Dianah"

Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage

About as introspective as a novel can be, Murakami's latest spends its entirety inside the somewhat sad mind of its protagonist. Damaged by a betrayal he cannot comprehend, Tsukuru is a man wholly undone by his closest friends. After years of loneliness, and only after stumbling into a new relationship with a woman who insists on his complete presence, Tsukuru realizes he must unravel his tangled past. Hoping for a new life of connections and companionship, Tsukuru tracks down his former friends and is, perhaps, a bit more kind than they deserve. Murakami writes with crisp, clear prose, and his characters feel wonderfully alive. A detailed character study, "Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage" is delicately done; a lovely read. 


Excavation

Involved in a secret five-year relationship with her middle-school teacher, Ortiz focuses on the emotional toll experienced at the hands of "Mr. Ivers." It is pretty satisfying to watch as Ortiz slowly becomes aware of the inequalities of this relationship, yet at the same time, it's entirely heartbreaking to watch this child (because, let's be honest, that is exactly what she is) take step after step toward the abyss — completely unaware of the skittering gravel beneath her feet.

While the reader may still want the closure of the after-story of Ivers's discovery and prosecution, this is not that story. Here we discover why, at 13, Ortiz walks open-eyed into a sexual relationship with a man more than twice her age. But can a 13-year-old girl, romanced by her teacher, go open-eyed into any relationship? Of course not, but she doesn't know that; she believes she is making a decision about her life. We discover why she doesn't tell, why she keeps the secret, and why she continues the relationship for five years. Isn't that what we always want to know in these situations — the "why?"

Excavation is... just that: a peeling back of layers to uncover what hides underneath. Wendy Ortiz absolutely flays ...


Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit

An homage to the institute of the fading British holiday centers, Graham Joyce tells an addictive tale here. David, a university student, spends his 1976 summer working at the rundown Skegness resort — a hot, sticky, and ladybug-infested summer — in order to escape home. Something has brought him here, although he's not sure what, and a sense of unease begins to settle on him. Increasingly, odd things start to occur; there's a man in an electric blue suit (but David can't make out his face), a small boy (but what is wrong with his eyes?), and a fortune-telling machine (but the fortune is unreadable); they seemingly appear everywhere. David can't sleep, but when he does, his dreams are haunted by terrifying versions of the man, the boy, and the machine. Unsettled, David also becomes entangled with other staff members at the resort, all of whom seem unsavory; or are they actually dangerous? This slow-boil tale is a creepy, startling read; Graham Joyce is a master of mood, and he is in full control here as he slowly dribbles out tiny bombs of exquisite tension.


Shimmer of Something

Possibly poems, possibly really (really) short stories, possibly mini essays, Brian Doyle's "box poems" — smallish bits of writing with perfectly aligned edges and not one word short or long — are so perfectly exact, they seem utterly intriguing even before you start to read. (How, exactly, did he do that?)

Doyle is a man who lives and breathes stories, and this slim book is stuffed with them. The almost worshipful view Doyle has of life's minutia is sometimes breathtaking — how does he articulate so clearly the myriad things that catch his attention (things that very few of us ever even notice)? Doyle writes, "Maybe we guzzle forty stories with every breath we draw and they soak into us and flavor and thicken and spice the wild stew we are." Doyle's style is so offbeat and unusual, every time I read him, I envision all his stories lined up inside him, so tightly packed that they escape in a giant, gorgeous burst of words and laughter.


Children Act

Ian McEwan's The Children Act tackles a very touchy subject these days: religious freedom and all the ethical, moral, legal, and criminal ramifications therein. Fiona, a High Court judge, must rule in a case involving a Jehovah's Witness family, in which the almost 18-year-old son is on the very brink of death unless given an immediate blood transfusion. Clearly, McEwan has thoroughly researched this issue, and his depiction of the family's position is spot-on. Fiona is at a crisis point in her marriage, and this distraction only makes her job more difficult. While the reader will likely feel secure that Fiona's ruling is the correct one, sometimes life spins out a string of unanticipated consequences, and then, what good is hindsight? McEwan is a masterful writer and barely 25 pages into this book, I was newly awed at his ability to exquisitely articulate even the vaguest and most fleeting emotions. His immaculate insight into the human condition is astounding.


Lila

With Lila, Marilynne Robinson revisits her beloved town of Gilead, just as she did with Home. This time around, her focus is on Lila Ames, who in both previous novels has been a sort of paragon of calm and dignity. In Lila we learn about her childhood and young adulthood, which could not be further from calm or dignified. Lila lives through a childhood that begins in neglect and works its way through unceasing labor, abandonment, and the endless struggle for survival. Unexpectedly arriving in Gilead, Iowa, and meeting the Reverend John Ames, Lila's life is about to take another sharp turn. The Gilead/Home/Lila trilogy, read together, is a gorgeous, layered, nuanced look at small-town America, full of beauty and peace — truly home. Exploring themes of trust, family, rebirth, security, and love, Lila is stunning and beautiful. It's an intricate look at the complexities of the heart.


The People in the Trees

The People in the Trees has done a thorough job of rattling me to the core, and several months after reading it, I still can't stop thinking about it. The book has so many things I love: an unreliable narrator, explosive endings, secrets, unlikable characters, a scientific bent, cultural clashes, an arrogant hero, and ordinary life depicted realistically. This is a tough book to love, yet I do... and I don't. Rarely has a book had me so torn, but this one has, and in stereo. I want to beg everyone I know to read it, because I desperately need to talk through this amazing, crazy, bizarre story with someone. The last 75 pages are absolutely riveting; I could not put it down!


Man’s Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning is like nothing you've ever read before. The first half of the book depicts Dr. Frankl's four years losing everything in concentration camps — a description so hellish, it leaves you desolate. Shattered by his Holocaust experiences, Frankl struggles to survive after he is freed. In the second half of the book, Frankl shows how that period of his life informs and develops his theory of "logotherapy" — he asserts that life is about finding meaning, what is meaningful to each individual. As excruciating as his experiences are, Frankl's theory is full of love; he is able to find redemption for himself and others. This book is beautifully life-changing.


Ruby

Ephram Jennings spends a lifetime in love with Ruby Bell. He is a good man with good intentions, but is she too broken to reach? A harrowing tale set in rural Texas in the '50s, Ruby is a story — and a woman — you will not be able to forget. Years and years and even generations of pain can bury a person too deep for redemption, yet Ephram can only love Ruby because that is all he knows how to do. Dark, horrific, and disturbing, Ruby is one amazing book that will crawl beneath your skin and infect you with its characters — which, surprisingly, is not at all a bad thing. This one will be on my Top Five list this year.


The Burgess Boys

The Burgess Boys is a story about family — what it is, what it isn't, and what it can become. For their entire lives, a childhood tragedy hangs over Bob, Jim, and Susan Burgess. It takes another tragedy (of sorts) to shake apart the tedium that has flattened their lives. Strout's three siblings each undergo major character change and growth, which is seamlessly woven into this straight-from-the-headlines story. Strout reminds us that when there is no hope, when there is no help, there is still family.


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