The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer is a book about life and its endless possibilities.
When the novel begins, a group of six childhood friends are on equal footing; all of them have an artistic talent and the environment to nurture that talent. As we follow the group into adulthood we see those endless possibilities dwindle into a single reality. We see varying degrees of love, money, talent, ambition, and satisfaction and the roles they play in the lives of these six intertwined friends.
Comparing the outcomes of these six fictional lives is a small step away from comparing our own lives to our own peers. This novel, however, can show us that finding the perfect balance to happiness is not always as straightforward as we would like it to be.
The quote below summarizes this theme of the novel. The funnel however, does not stop after childhood, the funnel continues to narrow and squeeze with every choice we make.
“When you have a child,” [Ash had] recently said to Jules, it’s like right away there’s this grandiose fantasy about who he’ll become. And then time goes on and a fuel appears. And the child gets pushed through t that funnel, and shaped by it, and narrowed a little bit. So now you know he’s not going to be an athlete. and now you know he’s not going to be a painter. Now you know he’s not going to be a linguist. All these difference possibilities fall away.”
The Interestings is in the running for the best book cover. Although not particularly representative of the story, the attention it draws is undeniable.
If you are looking for pure entertainment, this book is not for you. However… if you let this novel plant seeds in your mind, and if you let your wandering thoughts water those seeds, you may find yourself emerged in something much larger and much more rewarding than a novel.
One more good quote…
“Part of the beauty of love was that you didn’t need to explain it to anyone else. You could refuse to explain. With love, apparently you didn’t necessarily feel the need to explain anything at all.”
There is an argument surrounding A Visit From the Goon Squad whether it is a novel or a collection of linked short stories. This gray area is a main reason I loved the story. It jumps in time, switches character perspective, and at times feels plain messy. Messy in a very tidy way. Just when I thought I was getting lost and confused, Egan would slip in a quick reference to time or character that would ground me again.
In a Nutshell
A Visit From the Goon Squad is not an easy plot to summarize. The main character changes from chapter to chapter. Often, a minor character in one story will become more prominent in the next. The settings range from New York City to Africa, from childhood homes to safari adventures.
Each chapter is a fresh start, a new story, but the thread that connects them makes them much more than if they were standing alone.
Music and Time
The array of characters are mostly related to the music industry in some way. We connect with musicians and agents; missed talent and forgotten stars. The variety provides different views of the world and each one draws interest in their own way.
Time kills. I think Egan would agree. Every character is defeated, or at least beaten down, by time. We see hopeful talent that falls flat, golden memories tarnished by reunions, and optimism sours into demise.
I read A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan several months ago and never posted a full book review until now. As it is an exceptional book that made my list of Favorite Books of 2015, I thought late was better than never.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman is one of the most suspenseful books I’ve ever read. The intense mystery is set in the very first chapter and does not cease until the very last page.
The only comparable suspense novel I can think of is The Shining, and that is high praise.
A Strange, Strange World
In the first chapter we meet Malorie and two four-year-old children who are trying to escape a life of terror to a place they can only get to by rowing blindfolded down a river for several miles. Why is her life filled with terror? Why does she have to be blindfolded? Why are all the windows on their house boarded up and covered? Why has Malorie not seen sunlight for over 5 years? Why does she never refer to the children by name? Where are all the people?
All these questions and more hook the readers’ curiosity and the intense danger Malorie feels is transferred to the reader. With every chapter, more answers are revealed but more questions also arise. Malerman reveals just enough to keep the reader understanding this strange world more all the time, but keeps the door closed on the biggest secrets until the very end.
Great Suspense Stems From Great Writing
Without giving too much away, I will tell you that the characters in this world refuse to open their eyes outside. This had two major effects on the writing: 1) sight was often lost, and the author deepened upon the other senses for description, 2) not knowing what could be right next to you, something dangerous, something deadly, adds a lot of suspense all by itself.
At one point, Malerman integrates counting into a suspenseful scene. Set outside in a world full of unseen dangers, the characters are putting themselves at risk every second they are outside. The counting draws attention to those danger-filled seconds ticking by.
Without a doubt, Bird Box is the best book I’ve read so far this year. If you love suspense, horror, apocalyptic stories, or simply good writing, you should read this book!
A random stroll through the library or bookstore can turn my whole day around. I love the randomness of the books that catch my eye, and trying to figure out why that title or that book cover drew me in.
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing recently caught my eye at the library because 1) we’re a list-loving society and 2) I’m a writer always trying to improve my craft.
The book is small, filled with few words and many illustrations, and can be read completely in 10 minutes. The advice is solid and witty. You may want to take another 10 minutes to read it again.
#3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
#4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…
These are ones I’ve heard many times but a reminder is always nice.
#9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things — I can’t agree more. There are certain authors I love but at the same time, I despise their lengthy paragraphs of description. Get to the point or I’m going to skip a few pages and then be frustrated when I realize later on that I missed an actual plot point!
Which leads us to the tenth rule of writing that can not be argued with…
#10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Obvious, right? But what are those parts and how do we, as writers, know when we’re boring our readers? Check out the book during your next local library stroll to get Leonard’s take on this.
Interesting Fact: This book was originally published in the New York Times in July 2001 as “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”.
Here is my favorite blog post of the year, a list of my favorite books read in 2015. Although the publishing dates range from 2001 to 2014, they all found their way to the top of my reading list last year and I’m very glad they did!
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
This novel is inspiring, imaginative, unique, and fulfilling. It’s a story I want so badly to be true that sometimes I ignore the label of fiction it possesses.
Journey. Expedition. Adventure. None of these words quite capture the magic felt while cruising the Pacific’s current with Pi Patel, a zoo-keeper’s son who finds himself stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of an ocean with a murderous bengal tiger.
Without cramming Life of Pi‘s theme into a single word or phrase, it is about… Humanity. Peace. Storytelling. Faith. And how we interprets these things. What we choose to believe and how we push away the improbable as impossible.
I recommend it to anyone who wants to be inspired by imagination.
Dry by Augusten Burroughs
One of the best pieces of creative nonfiction I have ever read. Burroughs’ brilliant storytelling mixes pure truth with dirty humor in this memoir about his struggle with alcoholism.
I recommend it to lovers of creative nonfiction, people who want to understand what creative nonfiction is all about; and anyone interested in getting a first-person perspective of an alcoholic.
A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan
There is an argument surrounding A Visit From the Goon Squad whether it is a novel or a collection of linked short stories. That gray area is a main reason I loved this story. It jumps in time, switches character perspective, and leaves you slightly dazed and confused.
I recommend it to readers and writers who want to think about time and those who enjoy blurred boundaries.
Redeployment by Phil Klay
This collection of short stories surrounding political, emotional, and humanity issues of the Iraq War is must-read! Klay’s writing is concise, dense, and relevant to our time. While some stories may draw you to tears, others may outrage you into action.
I recommend it to every American.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. Like Redeployment it is a story of our times, portraying an insiders view of Iraq in the years before America declared war. But don’t mistake this novel for a war story, it is a story of human nature through and through. The story is one I will not easily forget.
I recommend it to thoughtful readers who are curious about human nature and why we do the things we do.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Set in the Minnesota summer of 1961, Ordinary Grace is an enriching story about real life and untimely death. It is filled with memorable, flawed characters; written in a clear, comforting voice; and set in a world that feels far away yet so close to the heart.
I recommend it to readers looking for an honest, realistic, heart-felt story. Also to anyone looking for an exceptional audio book!
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Devil in the White City is a story about the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and the notorious mass murderer, Dr. H. H. Holmes. While so many historical nonfiction authors are not, Erik Larson is a story teller, making the story very entertaining. The story drops teasers like a suspense novel, builds character like literary fiction, and weaves multiple story lines better than most novels in any genre.
I recommend it to fiction lovers who crave a little history.
Elegies of the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen
Through detailed looks at side characters, we get a gradual picture of the main character’s life. Elegies is a story of unique structure that will make you take a close look at the people in your life and the impact left lingering long after they disappear.
I recommend it to readers and writers who crave something other than the lovable main character in the typical obstacle-based plot.
Tobias Wolff captures his childhood in a pool of childhood adventures written in quick, smooth prose.
Wolff wastes no time with his writing. He knows exactly where he’s going and jumps directly into the scene. Wolff’s opening sentences widen your eyes and narrow your vision. He jumps time swiftly, skipping weeks, months, even years in single sentences without jarring the reader.
First sentences of chapters:
- The sheriff came to the house one night and told the Bolgers that Chuck was about to be charged with statutory rape.
- Our car boiled over again just after my mother and I crossed the Continental Divide.
- My father took off for Las Vegas with his girlfriend the day after I arrived in California.
- When I was alone in the house I went through everyone’s private things.
- I kept outgrowing my shoes, two pairs in the seventh grade alone.
A Memoir Point of View
The distant, introspective nature of memoirs always strikes me as curious. Wolff writes in the first person, but I felt disconnected to the story, as if Wolff is writing the memoir in order to discard the old memories instead of capture their timelessness. His rebellious youth, disjointed family life, and lack of respect seem like a distant life, even for the reader.
This Boy’s Life leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that seems certain to lead to destruction. If I didn’t know the main character went on to live a long life filled with writing, I would have guessed the book to end with his death or imprisonment. He was surrounded by dangerous people and cared very little for his well being. At times, I felt shivers go up my spine.
A Memorable Quote
“Like anyone else, she must have wanted different things at the same time. The human heart is a dark forest.”
Although Tobias Wolff is one of my favorite short story authors, I didn’t enjoy his memoir as much. He’s certainly a fantastic writer and his childhood was filled with smirking adventures, but the story did not capture me.
The girl on the train is Rachel, an unemployed alcoholic who rides the train into London every morning. Rachel peers out the train window at a particular house where a young couple live. She images the perfect life this young couple must live. Until one day, when the woman that lived at the house disappears and Rachel may have saw something that could help the police find her.
You could argue that every major character in this novel is majorly flawed. The main character is an unemployed, alcoholic stalker. And she is just the tip of the iceberg. The cast is polluted with angry, obsessive, violent, lying, cheating characters. Not to mention there is a murderer in the mix.
**SLIGHT SPOILERS** My favorite part of this book was how much of a stalker the main character/narrator was without realizing it. She was oblivious to the strangeness of her obsession with this couple she watched on her daily train ride. Then we learn about her interaction with her ex-husband, then she reaches out to the husband of the missing lady, and to push it really over the top *SPOILER* she goes to the therapist who is also a suspect in the police investigation.
Multiple 1st person POVs
The point of view is always 1st person but different chapters jump into different characters’ heads. I enjoy this style of writing and thought Hawkins distinguished the characters’ voices well. I do wish she would have introduced all the characters’ POV closer to the beginning. I was jarred out of the story when Anna became a third 1st-person POV so late in the novel.
Its nothing fancy but, as a writer, I saw this quote is a great example of how to add flair to a boring action. There are so many times when our characters have to knock on doors, walk across the street, cook dinner, and endless other actions that are needed to move the plot forward but are thoroughly boring.
Hawkins could have written this like “I knocked and Scott opened the door” or “Scott let me in after I knocked” or she could have skipped the action all together but instead she adds mood to the sentence.
From this sentence, we can deter that Scott was waiting for Rachel to arrive, that he was anxious for her to get there. Hawkins successfully sets the mood of the scene before our narrator even walks in the door.
This was a solid story, solid writing, good suspense but it didn’t capture my attention like I thought it should have/could have. The book has received a lot of hype in the media lately so my expectations for the book were very high.
Creative nonfiction, even more than fiction, is forced to speak the truth about human nature. There are no futuristic apocalypses, zombie attacks, superpowers, or otherworldly beings to distract us. Rarely is there constant-page-turning suspense or a mansion with secret rooms behind the bookshelf.
This is why I admire authors of nonfiction that capture my complete interest with their unnatural insight of the real world and twist it into beautiful prose.
This is why I admire Augusten Burroughs.
“I have four hours to kill before dinner. In the past, this would have been just barely enough time to obtain a comfortable buzz and establish my relationship with the bartender. Now it seems like more than enough time to perhaps write a screenplay. Alcohol time is very different from sober time. Alcohol time is slippery whereas sober time is like cat hair. You just can’t get rid of it.”
Dry is a memoir of Augusten Burroughs’ struggle with alcoholism. It follows Burroughs though his early 20’s when he works in advertising during the day and drinks all night, every night. When his coworkers pressure him into rehab, he begins to see what he has been blind to for years.
Its a beautiful, heart-felt struggle filled with lots of laughs! Burroughs has the uncanny knack to make the reader laugh out loud even when the material is dark and heartbreaking. His over-the-top dramatic comparisons and downright hilarious.
“The problem is, I’m a slob to begin with. So when you combine alcohol with a slob, you just end up with something that would appall any self-respecting heroin-addicted vagrant.”
“Augustin Burroughs is a wickedly good writer…” -Chicago Sun-Times
His balance of description, action, insight, and humor kept me interested until the very end.
My test for a great writer? They leave me wanting more. The following quote ends a chapter, and left me wanting to go on and on and on.
“Tonight the speaker is talking about how people in recovery are always looking for these big, dramatic miracles. How we want the glass of water to magically rise up off the table. How we overlook the miracle that there is a glass at all in the first place. And given the universe, isn’t the real miracle that the glass doesn’t just float up and away?”
After reading Dry, every existing Burroughs book has been added to my reading list. There are endless lessons I could learn from his writing and it doesn’t hurt to be entertained along the way!