Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed (2017)
So Margaret Atwood's retelling of The Tempest is about an ousted, grieving artistic director who uses his prison literary program to stage a vengeful production of The Tempest. It's imaginative and spell-binding, and I enjoyed being enriched by Atwood's various interpretations of the play. I especially found the characters' engagements with the text so enchanting to read. It made me think about how art iterates, how we respond, how we echo. I did think it felt too educational at times, like I was a student trying to cram in all possible understandings of the material. The revenge plot aspect was sometimes tedious, especially when as it was nearing the end and was most glued to the plot of The Tempest. But there was real magic in the emotional impact that Atwood achieved in the latter parts of the book, where one of her characters in particular slid from one play analogue to another.

PP Wong, The Life of a Banana (2015)
When twelve-year-old Xing Li's mother dies in a freak accident, she and her brother move in with the strict, wealthy grandmother who scorned them before and still scorns them now. The childish narration of twelve-year-old Xing Li gives this book its charm, and the way she works around and through her grief is compelling. Her friendship with Jay, and their mutual attempts to safely be their offbeat selves, is another is another highlight. The plot, however, really didn't work for me; it was a jumble of contrivances, stereotypes, and paper-thin ideas that would've been better served the book had they been fleshed out. So many serious elements were barely grappled with and seemed to simply serve as dramatic plot bombs. The scenes not narrated by Xing Li weakened the book as well--because, really, her voice is the best thing the book has going for it.
cover shows a jockey riding a horse "There are tales that are remembered and tales that are forgotten, but all tales are born to be told. They demand it; the dead become tales in order to live. Their eternal life is in your mouth."

Tales and eternal life are somewhere near the core of C. E. Morgan's epic The Sport of Kings. The novel is about horses and race and gender and land and family and desire and evolution, but all those concepts circle around the idea of survival: what remains, and where do we--with our lives, so short and yet the longest thing we will ever experience--fit in with the hope of something bigger than ourselves. Or something big enough to make ourselves feel whole.

The first interesting thing about this book is the dedication: "This book is dedicated to the reader." I liked the framework and the relationship this establishes. This book is for me, and it's also for you, whoever you are, whoever you are who picks it up, opens it, reads it. It's not for someone else. Despite this book's intelligence and erudition, it's not dedicated to someone more intelligent or more erudite than you. It's dedicated to you, and if you dedicate yourself back to it, this book will meet you where are you are. Morgan has finished her work, and now the reading of it, the challenge of it, the analysis of it, the moral urges it provokes, those all belong to the reader and no longer to her.

Read more... )
cover shows two illustrated, contrasted houses separated by a hedgerow"She had teeth in her heart. Marion knew they shouldn't be there, but there they were: teeth in her heart."

Hortensia James and Marion Agostino share a few similarities: they're both of a certain age, they're both widowed or nearly widowed, they both worked their hearts out to get to the top of their respective professional fields, and for different reasons, they each started living small--making themselves smaller, smothering a part of themselves--years ago. You wouldn't know this self-repression or their similarities from looking at them, as it's their decades of venomous bickering that's left a very public impression: "Their rivalry was infamous enough for the other committee women to hang back and watch the show. It was known that the two women shared hedge and hatred and they pruned both with a vim that belied their ages."

When the two are forced to live together following an accident, the forced intimacy allows them to both re-trace the grooves of their antagonism as well as create some new connections. It allows secrets and truths and confessions to grow.

The Woman Next Door is a tightly-focused character study of two elderly neighbors in South Africa. I'd particularly recommend this to readers who love periodic deep dives into backstory--frequent if graceful shifts between the present and the past--because that's where the magic of Omotoso's storytelling lies. She shines a light on what history is, and how things get lost, and how we fail to be as brave as we ought to be, and what we do as a result.

Read more... )

May 2017

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