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.
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.
A heartfelt tale that brings its readers real Dominican-American culture and history, as well as fictional struggles of an overweight nerd that feel just as real. Junot Díaz’s first novel mixes magic realism, comics, and sex-obssessed young men into the all-so-important family history of our main character, Oscar. Díaz’s novel questions how our family history molds our present as well as what is means to be an American. And in Oscar’s case, the two questions are endlessly interwoven.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has been named the best novel of the 21st Century so far by The Guardian and was listed as one of 11 21st Century Books Our Kids Will Read in School.
Narrator – Far from the story, Yet close at heart
I love the conflicting personality of the narrator. He is a typical, cocky, sex-driven college kid who tries and fails to hold a relationship with Oscar’s sister. Yet, he sees something in Oscar, something he can’t properly explain, that makes him befriend Oscar, when others seems disgusted by him.
The narrator, Yunior, is also an outsider with a distant yet curious view of the family. Most of the book is written in a “3rd person” perspective because Yunior was not present for most of the action. The parts he is present for are clear 1st person perspective. A tricky balance that Díaz pulls off well. Still, like any 1st person narrator, the reliability comes into question.
Junot Díaz balances the big and small, the love and hate, the real and magical, the American and Dominican with intricate precision. We view stories of many different time periods, in drastically different settings, and hear from different voices.
“It is Mr. Díaz’s achievement in this galvanic novel that he’s fashioned both a big picture window that opens out on the sorrows of Dominican history, and a small, intimate window that reveals one family’s life and loves.” – New York Times Book Review
A truly wondrous book that I recommend to all and I fully support teaching this book in schools. Why didn’t I give it five stars? Because it just failed to pull at my heartstrings. I was unable to relate to the characters, their struggles, the setting, therefore I didn’t get emotionally attached to this book.
Why Mary Francois Rockcastle’s debut novel, Rainy Lake, was all about opposing forces, In Caddis Wood explores the parallel of humans and nature and how they interact and disrupt one another. Both novels focus on the strength of family in difficult times but while Rainy Lake is told through a teenager’s eyes, In Caddis Wood focuses on an aged married couple whose history haunts their present.
Hallie escapes to her family’s second home in Caddis Wood as often as she can. What is she escaping from? A husband who would rather be at work than at home. An emptiness left behind since her twin daughters moved far from home. A past filled with disastrous family deaths. And on top of all that, a long-ago affair and a serious illness are currently haunting Hallie’s marriage.
In Caddis Wood explores the inner workings of a marriage with a history. The lengthy timeline shows the reader that issues are not solved overnight; that marriage comes with a full history of mishaps, struggles, and hope.
Point of View
In Caddis Wood is told in alternating perspectives from Hallie’s and her husband’s, Carl, point of view. The overlap is small and the timeline large. The present time in the story covers many months and a lot of descriptive backstory stretches the timeline even more.
Connection to Nature
My favorite part of this novel was the characters’ connection to nature. As a nature-lover myself, I related to Hallie when she “escaped” during a long walk in the woods and enjoyed the in-depth knowledge of plants that was explained. Nature’s destructive power was also explored in the book through forest fires and hurricanes.
One parallel explored by Rockcastle was the destruction of nature and how it repairs itself, compared to the deteriorating health of Hallie’s husband, Carl, from a disease without a cure. As he is dying, Carl is working on an architecture project thats main aim is to rejuvenate an area of river that has turned into a polluted waste ground after years of commercial and public dumping. The team uses specific plants that soak up the pollution in the soil and whisk it away.
Although it is an interesting parallel, the comparison is too obvious for my liking. As a reader, I like connections/parallels/themes to be subtle, something to be uncovered. At one point, Hallie wonders aloud if nature can always find a way to rebuild itself, the why can’t doctors find a way to cure her husband.
3 stars. The book was well researched and written in excellent, smooth prose but the storyline itself didn’t connect with me. My young, unmarried self couldn’t connect to Hallie’s life-long marriage with drastic peaks and valleys. I enjoyed Rockcastle’s debut novel, Rainy Lake, much more!
I’ve been planning this post in my head for a long time. Why? Because I love sharing great books!!! I’ve read a lot of good books this year, check out all my Book Reviews here, but the books that made this list were exceptional!
The link on each title will take you to my previous post about the book.
My new favorite book! After dozens and dozens of published novels, Dean Koontz still pushed his limits and tried something new with The City. With the smallest amount of “science fiction” I have seen in a Koontz novel, The City was all about humanity, and the everyday courage, strength, and goodness of everyday people that typically get lost in the background.
The story, the writing, and the real-life insight this book possessed was unmatched.
It’s not too often I read children’s chapter books (let alone enjoy them), but I got lost in this fun, sic-fi tale. The main character, Nobody Owens (Bod for short), is raised by 18th century ghosts that linger in a local graveyard. Although the plot is quite dark (Bod lives with the ghosts because his entire family was murdered by people who are now after him), Gaiman keeps the mood very light and entertaining. Infused with ancient traditions and twists of sic-fi, The Graveyard Book is story all ages will enjoy!
This novel is a story of 100 teenage boys who are chosen to partake in the annual Long Walk, where they walk until they literally cannot take another step. The kicker? When they stop walking, they are shot on site.
The plot hides intense emotion, psychology, desire, and mental torture beneath an extremely simple plot. It was more than I ever expect any book to be and the simplicity of the plot made the thoughts it unraveled that much more shocking.
The moment I finished listening to this audiobook, I started it over again. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want it to stop.
I’ll admit it…I watched the movie before reading the book. But, like always, the book was 10 times better than the movie.
Of all the characters I read this year (hundreds, maybe thousands!), Charlie was far and away the most realistic. I felt like his letters were written to me and by then end, I wanted nothing more than to be his friend and tell him everything was going to be alright.
Koontz dives into non-fiction with this memoir about Trixie, his beloved, intelligent golden retriever. With every chapter introducing a new Trixie story, I was deeply in love with this dog by the end. Its a precious story any dog-lover will cherish.
I hesitated to add The Prestige to this list because I didn’t have the same emotional connection to it as I did with most of the above. The reason I did keep it on here was because the structure of the novel was my favorite of the year! Priest mixed an unlined timeline, journal-entry format, and different characters’ points of view. The twisted structure was the perfect match for the complicated plot and secret-keeping characters.
Once again I was tempted to leave this book off the list but ONLY because I finished reading it about a week ago and don’t know if it will linger with me like the rest have. Still, I think it deserves to be here. Lepucki is a master at keeping suspense high in this low-action plot. Although not a lot happened, the massive amount of mystery and tip-of-the-tongue secrets made me want to ignore the world and snuggle up with a blanket and this book.
Thanks for reading! What were your favorite books of 2014? I love recommendations. 🙂
This will be my first year participating in NaNoWritMo. As I am in the middle of writing my first novel, I am going to use NaNo to punch through to the end of it! I am not a fast writer. I’m constantly worried about getting the facts right, the plot and characters staying consistent and that slows me down, a lot. To get out of this groove, I have set up some rules for myself for Novemeber.
As a writer with an unrelated full-time job, finding time to write can be difficult. When I do sit down to write, its typically only for 2-3 hours. These rules will help me make more time to write than I usually do. A lot of time that I usually spend reading (like my hour-long lunch breaks) I plan to switch to writing time.
My Plan for NaNoWriMo:
- Finish the editing of my manuscript so far so I can move forward with confidence
- Do a little research on ideas
- Create “Facts” list on my story
- Write down vague plot plan/ideas
- Do not read any books
- Unless it is a writing book for prompts/ideas/advice
- Write no blog posts (although I do have a few saved up that I will post)
- Write every single day
- Even if its just 1 paragraph!
- Write every day after supper
- If I can’t, either wake up early to write or do so before I go to bed
- Write on my lunch breaks
- Weekends: wake up early to start writing
- If my novel plot has me stumped…
- Make a list of possible next moves
- Write an unrelated scene that might happen in the far future or a past scene I previously skipped
- If I get stuck, the quote poetry would be a good prompt
- No editing. Period.
- Resist going back to check facts of the story. If its not on my facts sheet, make a note and move on
- Keep moving forward!
I’m excited and a little nervous for NaNoWriMo. Because of my full-time job and my haunting quality as a slow writer, I’m not expecting to reach the 50,000-word goal. Instead, I have set up my own goals.
My Goals for NaNoWriMo:
- Finish the very-rough first draft of my novel
- Create a habit of spending more time writing
- Improve my ability to keep writing and letting go of the need to double check and edit my work so often
If I reach the 50,000 words that’s great! But I feel the goals above are more important than a word count and will be things I can carry with me past the month of November.
What’s your plan for NaNoWriMo?
Or are you completely winging it? 🙂
I am a writer, said Picasso. I make my own letters.
I love when a writer, in the midst of a novel, slips in a short chapter or section that although it is relevant to the story, it does not progress the plot in any way but is interesting and often poetic. These stand-alone chapters will have a unique structure, tone, point of view, or something else that sets it apart. They can be used to recapture a reader’s attention during a slow section of the plot or they can reinforce a theme.
Below I have transcribed one such chapter from Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet. Another example of this type of mid-novel poetics is this paragraph from The Storm at the Door by Stephen Merrill Block. Although the topics are consistent with the larger piece, aspects such as the mood or the method of delivery stagger.
The Flame Alphabet is written in first person but as you can see below, this chapter doesn’t elude to a narrator (in first person or otherwise). We have no indication of our character finding or thinking about these quotes and none of the famous names mentioned in the chapter are relevant to the rest of the story. I believe this chapter is present to grow the theme of the book, to inform the reader that our narrator is not the first person to believe language is evil.
In his early writing, Thoreau called the alphabet the saddest song. Later in life he would renounce this position and say it produced only dissonant music.
Letters, Montaigne said, are a necessary evil.
But are they? asked Blake, years later. I shall write of the world without them.
I would grow mold on the language, said Pasteur. Except nothing can grow on that cold, dead surface.
Of words Teresa of Avila said, I did not live to erase them all.
They make me sick, said Luther. Yours and yours and yours. Even sometimes my own.
If it can be said, then I am not interested, wrote Schopenhauer.
When told to explain himself, a criminal in Arthur’s court simply pointed at the large embroidered alphabet that hung above the king.
Poets need a new instrument, said Shelley.
If I could take something from the world, said Nietzsche, and take with it event he memory of that thing, so that the world might carry on ever forward with not even the possibility that thing could exist again, it would be the language that sits rotting inside my mouth.
I am a writer, said Picasso. I make my own letters.
Shall I destroy this now, or shall I wait for you to leave the room, said his patron to Kadmos, the reputed inventor of the alphabet.
Kadmos is a fraud, said Wheaton. Said Nestor. Said William James.
Do not read this, warned Plutarch.
Do not read this, warned Cicero.
Do not read this, begged Ovid.
If you value your life.
Bleed a man, and with that vile release spell out his name in the sand, prescribed Hippocrates.
No alphabet but in things, said Williams.
Correction. No alphabet at all.
Consciously or not, our characters take on a part of ourselves. They might take on our quirks or our bad habits, they might take our sense of humor or our fears. Our characters take adventures we wish we could experience and they face adversity with the strength we wish we could muster. Sometimes. Other times, our characters express the worst of us. They bully the nerdy kids we once were and they accompany us as we wallow in our own misery. The revelation could be life-changing but more likely realizing your character has adapted part of yourself will make you smile as you sit alone with your computer one day. Becoming aware of that part of yourself will open up that character—and probably yourself—to a new understanding.
2. Practice creativity
Creativity is a muscle that needs to be toned. Using your creativity to string together unique sentence structures and weave multiple plot lines into one story will help you devise creative solutions to life’s more pertinent problems. Understanding your character’s deepest ambitions, fears and truths will help you relate to your friends, family, coworkers and hopefully even strangers on the street a little more.
3. To become a better writer
Becoming a great writer takes practice. Building a plot line from scratch and following it through to the end is a huge accomplishment because it’s not easy. I’ve heard too many stories of writers who have quit halfway through writing a novel; pushing through and writing a hundred little scenes that come together as one story will teach you things nothing else can. Writing a novel will force you to create a complete world and unlike short stories, you will need more than a few characters to populate it. Things get complicated. Unraveling and then controlling those complications is a necessity to writing a great novel and practice is the only thing that will get you there. You will make connections you didn’t see before and you may just find some magic that you never knew was there.
4. Create a character that surpasses round
The most brilliant writers can create round characters in a single sentence and have you sharing their tears by the end of a short story. Unfortunately, most of us are not quite that good. Sticking with your main characters through the length of a novel will force you to fully develop them. They will follow you around throughout your day and hopefully by the end of the novel they will be the ones showing you where the story needs to go next. Learning to understand a character to that depth will help you develop more round characters in the future.
5. Patience, hard work and dedication
That’s what they always tell us it takes to make it in the world. What better way to prove you can do those things then by sitting down night after night, putting words on the page without any immediate reward?
How often do you have the power to create an entire world to your exact liking? If you wish our world had magic or mummies or dragons, nothing is stopping you from making that true. If you want to know what kind of world it would be without electricity or without fear, write it. If you’ve always wondered what it would like to be an astronaut or a detective or a shark’s best friend, write it and have fun with it! Create anyone you’d like and have them do whatever you wish you could do. There are no limits.
7. To call yourself a writer
Sound shallow? William Faulkner once said, “Don’t be a writer, be writing.” Once writing becomes part of your everyday routine, you won’t feel the need to tell everyone you meet, you will simply be.
8. There is always hope
You may not believe it will get published but you have to start somewhere. Even if every publisher and agent turns you down, they will at least have heard of your name.