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Monday, April 25, 2011

Paul Harding - Tinkers

I literally just finished reading Paul Harding's Tinkers. Sometimes I don't get to writing the blog until late at night, or I put down the book for awhile and go do something else to let the book sit with me. I closed the book and picked up my iPhone to type this blog. I apologize for any misspellings- it difficult to type on this thing.

Those that read this blog wouldn't know that my Dad left my mom, my two brothers, and I when I was very young. The story is complicated as most divorces are, and I would be willing to guess that my Dad wouldn't frame what happened with that wording - left us- but whatever the case, he wasn't a part of my life at all. Ken left and started over with his own family that he kept separate from us. And for most of my life I waited for him to come and find us. A lot of my childhood is a blur due a very fickle memory on my part- through a series of complicated circumstances as well- but I can remember being twelve and being very good with maps because I needed to be able to tell my Dad how to get to us like he couldn't find us and that is why he never came. I am also a Red Sox fan because, although I never spoke to my Dad, I assumed he followed them as intently as I did because I was born in Boston and he lived in New Hampshire. I found out very recently that he doesn't follow sports, and when he did he was a Bulls fan which ironically is where my mother moved when she left back to Illinois. I mention all of this now because this book gave me another way back into my story. For a long time in my life I have felt like a detective uncovering things long forgotten- who my dad was and why he left and similar such stories. So I appreciate opportunities to feel my story again. Harding captures this story with surprising clarity and power. I got to read for the first time an expert writer capture a scene, unfortunately not from my real life, but from how I have envisioned meeting dad for the first time. With him coming to my house and knocking on the door with his hat in hand apologizing. Harding doesn't give you long to linger in that moment and I was sort of mad when it ended because I thought at first that he clipped it but he didn't.

This is a brilliant novel. Well worth a Pulitzer prize. It stands up against some of the other powerful winners. It hasn't cracked into my top ten favorite novels of all time- but it definitely in the top 15 pulitzers. I know this wasn't much of a review. All that I can say is take a day and read it- his lyrical wanderings are a welcome respite from chaotic modern life. Some of the writing in this book will literally break your heart. And as a young writer, his writing is humbling, and makes me strive to be a better writer. His writing isn't as unapproachable as Penn Warren's but it is of an elite class that I definitely admire.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Edna Ferber - So Big

Well, the first thing I have to say about this winner was that it definitely was a book. I read every word of it, and I have decided that it qualifies as a novel. It has all of the component parts, characters, setting, plot, conflict, climax, resolution. It is consistent in character, some of the characters change. Some stay the same. The actions and dialogue are all very believable and sound fluid and natural. At one point I cared about how it ended, and it ended exactly the way I wanted it to. With all of that said, I couldn't have cared less. Edna Ferber writes very securely. She says exactly what she means. Although her meaning is superficial and very out in the open, it is amazing that this won a pulitzer. The first point is that it isn't a bad novel, it isn't a good novel though. It is definitely a novel. I enjoyed reading some it. Some of it I couldn't be done with sooner, mostly the ending. The ending was meaningless. I must have missed the boat when they covered the idea that the ending doesn't have to be significant in any way. I wrote a book, and I am not saying that all of the drama, conflict, and tension need to resolve on the last page that gets old. But there has to be something. The last page added nothing to the story unless I am missing a great deal. It was the last thing I read. I will give it that. There should have been an epilogue or something to explain what happened. Not that the action was complicated. Dirk goes back to his apartment and his Japanese servant gets his clothes ready. That is all. I just didn't understand why that was the last thing I read. Again, I will say it was an ending. The last sentence was in fact the last sentence therefore it was an ending. But I clearly didn't get whatever it was Ferber was trying to do.

Anyways, I am glad that book is over. Well, I can't say that, that would give the impression that I had some sort of feeling to that book. I liked Selina DeJong, which is exactly what Ferber wanted me to do, so she succeeded there in creating a main character that was extremely likable, but she tipped her hand the entire way which was really disappointing and left you really doubting her writing ability. Just because I agree with an author's worldview doesn't automatically make them a good writer in my eyes. Sometimes that makes it more difficult on them if anything because I am really watching closely what they decide to do. Anyways, Ferber isn't a bad writer. It takes some considerable skill to weave a novel together that is coherent and thematically consistent, that has very believable characters and really fluid dialogue, but overall I wouldn't read anything else by her because she didn't make me care.

New Pulitzer winner was announced as Drew has covered extensively on his blog and twitter feed, so congratulations Jennifer Egan for your winning work A Visit from the Goon Squad, it sounds fantastic, although I won't know until a year from now. So I am looking forward to it if this ambivalence doesn't crush my willingness to read. So I am on to Tinkers which sounds equally amazing on a rainy day in April.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eudora Welty - The Optimist's Daughter

I just finished my third Pulitzer in April which is a great rebound from taking the entire month of March off. Eudora Welty's winner The Optimist's Daughter was a terrific unassuming little book. Welty can really write a sentence. She chose a very narrow story with which to use to bring a lot of things out. She achieves a lot in this very brief novel, not everything but a lot of things. She writes with precision, brilliant precision. She has startling clarity of purpose in every image she chooses. Her laborious use of everything she introduces reminds me of another Pulitzer winner Cunningham and Wharton. Welty is a phenomenal writer who I hope is remembered.

One thing that limits her is her setting, the Deep South, which I think she commands every aspect of but her writing of it makes it seem like, as an oft-quoted joke between Drew and I, a regional novel. A slight caveat, southern gothic is my favorite form of American fiction- so that comment is not to say that I felt put off by her setting, by no means. I just found that the way Welty paints the south extends some of the elitism that can be very pervasive in certain places. I recently met an individual from near Nashville, TN that had not traveled to northern Illinois before and he comment on Midwesterns complete lack of regional pride that he had experienced in the south.

Welty also writes very well from the female perspective. I say this as a male who has written an extended work from a female character's perspective- that imagining things and speaking truly from a certain perspective is one of the most challenging things to achieve in great writing. Given Welty is a woman, she writes excellently embodying her world well. There were several times in the novel that I thought were brilliantly inside the person she has created for us in Laurel McKelva. The breadboard at the end of the novel I thought was a perfect, if at a moment a bit trivial, image for her to use for us to be completely enveloped in her characters. I wished that some of her chief conflicted were more directly addressed but I have never seen a writer give us a character explain her own limitations and write perfectly as the character would understand them with all of the character's foibles. On a side note, Fay and the Chisoms are to-date the least likable characters I have encountered on the Pulitzer journey thus far.

After this novel, I have no clear direction for my next read- so we will see where April will bring me. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Peter Taylor - A Summons to Memphis

An interesting thing happened to me as I was reading this book. I am currently a teacher's aide at the high school I graduated from in my hometown. I live in the 'big' town next to the tiny town I grew up in after a time away at college. While I was in the library helping a student with a reading project, I decided to take a turn around my high school's modest library where I found a first edition of Taylor's novel. And I felt a great collision with this novel and felt that if there was a time that I was going to finally feel connected to this work it was now. (Taylor's main character is a rare book collector who is constantly revisiting his childhood home) Taylor's novel is about a lot of things- one of which is the tension felt for being in between places. All of Taylor's character seem to be caught between where they are and where they think or thought they should have been. Taylor captures this emotion quite clearly. Also, Taylor captures the idea of how place and things can define us. He does an amazing job, and this may be a strange generalization, but how the mind set of perhaps places such as the South and other regions of America and maybe the world can place a keen identity to their settings. Taylor makes Memphis and Nashville into major characters in his novel, but also particular possessions as well. What is interesting about his novel is that there is almost no dialogue at all. The entire novel is told through recollections by the narrator Phillip Carver and this particular narrator has no connection to conversation whatsoever. All of this is very intentional on Taylor's part given that the major plot devices he chooses to use are all telephone calls- an interesting choice on his part for two reasons. One being that his choice in not portraying any dialogue at all would make it difficult to disseminate those calls without telling us exactly what was said, but the second interesting choice is that the telephone for Taylor's writing period is the chief image for two people to be caught in a tension between being present to one another but also disconnected. Another image for him to craft his thesis of isolation. Taylor is a craftsmen in this regard. Another poignant use of the no dialogue is that if regions and cities are to be characters then they obviously won't be able to have any lines so to speak. So by Taylor cutting out dialogue altogether Memphis and Manhattan get to be as present a character as Phillip, Holly, or any other. For all of these reasons, I admire Taylor's ambition.

All of that said, I did not connect to Taylor's award winning novel. Perhaps it was intentional on the author's part- portraying an emotionally aloof character will hinder the reader's ability to connect and all of that reinforcing his central premise. I don't believe that is the case. The last few pages and the swell of 'action' betray that sentiment. Taylor rallies the reader into tracking the action of the ending closely only to be a little let down by the anti-climactic ending- which is another arena Taylor masterfully crafts but I think against what I understand as his purpose. Taylor, like many other esteemed writers, is very efficient in his word and image choice using everything that he put into his novel by the end. A thing of beauty that I admire every time I see it used- note here another Pulitzer winner Butler's '93 winner- so with that said his ending is exactly the ending he wants and is leading you toward the whole novel. Only for
you to get there and say- now what was that all about?

Anyways, I will read more Taylor and find out if this novel is representative of Taylor's work or not and if it is then I might better understand what Taylor was trying to do with this ambitious novel. As it stands, I think that novel worked but maybe not as well as I can see right now. It won the Pulitzer, and as with some of the other winners Drew and I have read so far with this one I am sort of puzzled as to exactly why this one won. It was a good book, I don't know about great necessarily, but good and worth reading.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cormac McCarthy - The Road

After a long, too long, drought in Pulitzer Project. I made it back in quickly triumphant fashion in the month of April. Drew and I haven't decided on a challenge for this month, so I am just going to use this month to really catch up on reading this month. While my novel is in the middle of revisionland this month, I will have a lot more free time and potentially much less stress as March was sort of a tough month all in all arena's of my life. So let's start talking about The Road.

First and foremost, I LOVED THIS BOOK!. I can't talk about it in the past tense because I will treasure this book in my heart forever. I LOVE THIS BOOK. If you have a brain in your head, if you are alive, if you are drawing breath at this moment, then you MUST read this book. I loved it. It was a hard fought battle. It was tough-going and some of the sentences every so once in awhile were a little wonky. But some were beautiful and the in-between kept you engaged like no other book I have ever read. This stole the place of greater works in my top ten favorite novels of all time. This pulitzer project is ruining everything I thought I had solidified about my opinion of the written word. This book is a triumph for humanity. For all people of all times, this book is a tour-de-force. This book will be everything you want in a novel. It is a glorious display of power in the hands of a craftsmen on an elite level. You will never read another book like it. I can't find a way to praise this novel more. I LOVE IT.