Wednesday, March 30, 2011

There are most definitely secrets

Though not read for the A-Z Reading Challenge, I just finished Chris Bohjalian's newest novel, Secrets of Eden, a murder/mystery/thriller type.  I've loved everything that I've read of Bohjalian's, but for some reason this one didn't capture my attention as quickly as the previous novels.  It's not bad, but it wasn't great either.  Of course by the end I was shocked and most definitely thrown for a loop with the twist he provides, but I didn't like the fact that it took me that long to become engrossed in the story.

Like most of Bohjalian's novels, Secrets of Eden is told from several different perspectives, four to be precise, and peppered with excerpts from the writing of Heather Laurent.  One thing to keep in mind when reading Bohjalian's novels:  the characters are not always what they seem.

 The first character is Stephen Drew, the local pastor in the community.  He is the character that informs the reader that the murder/suicide of Alice and George Hayward has taken place and shaken the small Vermont community he presides over.  As Drew explains what's going on in the town, and his own personal feelings about what has happened, the reader is able to get a glimpse of who Drew "might" be.  We discover that, after the tragedy, he is having a crisis of faith and that he might have been more involved with members of Hayward family than he should have been.

The second perspective we get is that of Catherine Benicasa, the deputy state attorney.  She's been assigned to examine the incident because of suspicions that have arisen in the initial investigation, such as the bullet's trajectory and the blood alcohol levels in George Hayward's system.  This, coupled with Drew's rather abrupt exit of the town, leads Benicasa to believe that he was somehow involved in the event.

The third character introduced to the reader is Heather Laurent, an author of books involving angels and how they are real entities that enter into peoples lives when they most need them.  Originally she is in the area for a book signing and speech but, after reading about the story in the local paper, she becomes intrigued with the event and decides to go to the town.  This, along with the fact that her childhood is eerily similar to what has just taken place in Vermont, causes her to become a suspect in the investigation as well.  Also, she becomes involved with Stephen Drew.

The last character introduced, and perhaps the most compelling of the four, is Katie Hayward, the teenage daughter of Alice and George Hayward.  Through Katie the reader learns of the aftermath of the investigation, what has happened in the town, and how she is managing to cope with the loss of her parents.  We also learn the truth about the night in question.  I must say that Katie's chapters were the ones that pulled me in and shocked me the most.  They were definitely the icing on the cake...with sprinkles.

As a whole I have to say that I was a slightly disappointed in this selection.  Though well written and at times compelling, I was left wanting until the very end.  Thankfully the ending of Secrets of Eden was such that my opinions were elevated somewhat.  Overall grade:  B+

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

T=Trans-Sister Radio (Book #1)

Finally, the first book finished on the A-Z Reading Challenge! I feel slightly accomplished. And without further ado:

Chris Bohjalian's Trans-Sister Radio was simply fascinating. I've read a few of his other books and this one did not disappoint. The thing that I like about Bohjalian is that none of his books touch on the same topic. Yes, similar themes run throughout every book of his I've read, but the way in which he approaches those themes is remarkably refreshing. Because of this, and his writing style, he's quickly become one of my favorite contemporary writers.

In my latest foray into this author's work I ventured into the world of the transgendered male. The novel is told from the perspective of the four main characters: Dana, the transgendered lead, Allison, Dana's lover, Will, Allison's ex-husband, and Carly, Will and Allison's nineteen year old daughter. Interspersed between each of the different viewpoints are excerpts from a NPR interview ran on the All Things Considered program which tells the story of Dana and Allison's struggles to be a couple in a small Vermont town.

One of the aspects that I truly enjoyed while reading this novel was the characters' constant allusions to what would transpire. The reader is always kept in the loop and is able to speculate the events that are soon to occur. While this may seem like something that most don't like in their literature, Bohjalian's presentation fits the themes and the stylistic structure in which the novel is written. You truly feel for these characters and those feelings continually change as the book progresses: anger, sadness, incredulity, pain, runs the gamut.

I think that the part of the novel I found most interesting, and angering, was the portrayal of the school and townspeople's attitude toward the relationship between Dana and Allison. The fluidity of personal and professional life is constantly called into question and ethics and morality are heavily depicted. As an educator, I found myself most definitely on the side of Allison. Yes, we should act as a moral compass for the students who attend our classes, yet where do you draw the line? Where does privacy start? That's the question constantly asked throughout this novel and it's one that, because of the delicate nature of the subject and situation, is never fully resolved.

As a reader you are able to see Dana and Allison's relationship run the course and you also receive a glimpse of their lives after the dissolution of their relationship. We're told from the beginning that the two don't end up together, but Bohjahlian definitely offers the reader a wonderful twist that, as a close reader, you would speculate.

Ultimate comment: definitely worth the journey into a thoughtful, sensitive approach to an extremely controversial topic. A+

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Moviegoer...didn't go

I've recently finished reading Percy Walker's The Moviegoer for my scattered book club from Scotland and I have to say that it left me wanting...a lot. I can't put my finger on what I didn't like about this book; perhaps it was my lack of interest in any of the characters or the writing style that disappointed, despite the fact that it won the National Book Award for Fiction.
I had such high hopes for this read for many reason. 1) I will soon be heading to Biloxi and New Orleans to meet up with the above mentioned book club, 2) I tend to like novels set in the South, and 3) the synopsis sounded intriguing. Alas, I was let down.
As a breakdown to why I didn't enjoy this read I offer the following: the characters bored my to death...and I wish it had done so to Kate! I feel that the major failing in this work rests in the complete lack of kinship the reader feels with any of the characters presented, much like Flaubert's characters in A Sentimental Education. Binx is a scatter-brained cad who rests on his laurels and wants to lay every woman he sees. Kate is a manic-depressive, bipolar disaster who needs constant attention and approval. Together they present the reader with nothing. They simply fade into the words on the page. There are other minor characters: Sharon, Binx's secretary and latest sexual conquest, Binx's Aunt, who offers some of the better lines, as well as some others too minor to mention.
Yes, there were instances of shining stardom, but those were so few and far between that, when they did happen, they quickly became lost in the ho-hum.
In the end there were a few notable quotes that I pulled from the mire that was The Moviegoer:
1) "Before, I wandered as a diversion. Now I wander seriously and sit and read as a diversion" (70). What a perfect way to describe Binx...a constant diversion.
2) "All the friendly and likeable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive" (100). Too bad Kate didn't take her own advice here.
3) "At night the years come back and perch around my bed like ghosts" (144). One of the more haunting images that Percy invokes. Much more in the spirit of New Orleans and what one would expect.
Despite my complete dislike and disappointment in this book, I am extremely excited to venture to the South and explore the glossed over locations that Percy peppers throughout the text. Here's to Southern Shenanigans!