#3 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

18114291We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves sat on my bookshelf for a year, recommended by Doug, a friend who loved it. The reason I didn’t pick it up sooner? Book snobbery… It’s by the author of The Jane Austen Book Club. (Which, for the record, I haven’t read, but I think it was turned into a super cheesy movie, right?) Did I care that it was a finalist for the Booker Prize? Nope.

Well, I finally decided to give it a try and, surprise!, I really loved it too.

The story centers on the family of Rosemary Cooke, her older brother, Lowell, and her sister, Fern. Rosemary’s childhood is the same as most, she’s quirky, playful and talkative, she loves her siblings; her childhood is also so very different – her sister Fern is a chimpanzee. (This is not a big reveal. The back cover copy on the book will tell you as much.) Within this story of a complicated family, Fowler weaves in themes of animal cruelty, human nature, love and trust, memory, and the imperfectness of childhood.

 

#2 News of the World by Paulette Jiles

25817493 A galley of News of the World sat on my shelves for almost a year and, for whatever reason, I just didn’t pick it up. But I’m glad I finally did, it’s a charming book.

The premise: “In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.”

At first I was apprehensive that the young girl/older man narrative would veer into cringe-worthy sexual territory, but thankfully it never did. The aging news reader character, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, surprised and delighted me. Kidd’s view of the world is wider than the characters around him, he reads the news aloud to crowds, verbally presenting the world to those who cannot read and/or have no access to newspapers. Because of this world view, his lens positions the story within a bigger historical context and provides insight into that particular time in that part of the Southwest. We get a glimpse of the eradication of Native American tribes, the ramifications of slavery, the appropriation of Mexico, the violent grab for land, power, people, money, all at the complex intersection of new and old, of civilization and wilderness.

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#1 Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

27774632I really wanted to like Pond. It came highly recommended by a great local bookseller, the cover and overall book package is lovely, and the blurbs sang the book’s praises.

“A sharp, funny, and eccentric debut …” from The New York Times book review.

“Dazzling…” from O, the Oprah Magazine.

“Innovative, beguiling…meditative…” Los Angeles Times.

I just can’t get on the praise train with this book. While there were moments of really nice writing, short passages that made me pause and re-read, ultimately I was bored by the narrator’s interior voice, felt constrained by her solitude (I know this is the author’s intention, to make the reader share an intimate and intensely confined space with the narrator, but I didn’t enjoy it and failed to meditate on the blandness of the narrator’s life in that space) and couldn’t find the dazzling or the humor.