Friday, October 01, 2010

Aug/Sept Reading Report

Coop- Michael Perry.  I read this one slowly.  I think I might actually have started it back in June.  It's terrific.  Part of the reason I found it so moving is that he is also a former fundamentalist (he was a "real" fundie, though).  So we have a lot in common.  But Coop isn't about his fundamentalist upbringing, although that comes up fairly often.  It's about a year of his life, living on a farm and raising chickens and pigs and a couple of kids, plus various building projects, like the chicken coop of the title.  I'm not normally a fan of nature writing--even though Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has been recommended to me at least a dozen times, I've never been able to get past the first chapter because she just seems so smug. Her writing is so beautiful and polished that it seems like showing off.  One suspects that I am jealous, yes?  But every time Perry started to veer in that direction, he'd make some sort of snarky, wiseass comment and pull it back.  I remember at one point thinking it was like reading a teddy bear, albeit a teddy bear with a snide sense of humor. When I finished reading this back in mid-August, I was going to devote an entire post to it, but now I can't remember what it was going to be about.  I think mainly I was impressed at his lack of anger at his upbringing.  I'm not exactly dripping with rage, but I think I'm far more resentful of the ways my religious upbringing warped my brain than he is (it's possible that is because he's male, so it wasn't quite as restrictive for him? although since my upbringing wasn't precisely fundamentalist-- again, this link-- it wasn't anywhere near as strict as his).  There's one moment toward the end where he mentions a rebellious phase he went through in his twenties, so maybe he just doesn't talk about it much.  Anywho.  Highly recommended. 

Turn of the Screw - Henry James.  This is a ghost story in about 115 pages.  You'd think it would have taken me an afternoon to read it.  But I had forgotten what it's like to read James.  It's like trying to walk through jello.  I didn't really get absorbed in it until about the last 20 pages, so it took several weeks to read.  It's a classic, and I think a lot of people read it in high school, but I never had.  If you don't mind lingering over sentences that unfold slowly in your head, almost blooming there, then by all means, read it.  But I think most modern readers (me!) will find themselves impatient with his style.  I wanted to read it because Crusie used it as the basis for her most recent novel........

Maybe This Time - Jennifer Crusie.  This has been out for a month or so, and I've been studiously avoiding reading reviews so I wouldn't read any spoilers.  But I did notice that it hadn't been getting universally glowing reviews.  So finally I sat down to read it last night, finished it today, then went back and read some of the reviews out there.  First of all, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Couldn't put it down.  It's based (see above) on the Turn of the Screw, so it is a ghost story that takes place in a big creepy house with some really creepy demented characters, both human and ghosts.  The setup:  Andie Miller goes to see her ex-husband North one last time before accepting her boyfriend's proposal.  North asks her as a personal favor to spend a month taking care of his wards-- two kids of whom he has guardianship after a cousin died-- and offers to pay her ten thousand dollars to do it.  The kids live in a rotting mansion in southern Ohio that a reclusive millionaire-type had moved over from England.  Andie arrives there to find that the house is haunted and the ghosts are tormenting the children.

The reviews often complain that the romance is neglected for the ghost story, which surprised me.  That would not have occurred to me-- it's clear right from the start that there is still a lot of chemistry between Andie and North and that they are going to end up together at the end.  Although they aren't together for the first half of the book, they think about each other so often and there are so many flashbacks to their brief marriage that it didn't seem to me that that part of the story was being neglected.  I did feel at one point that Crusie was waiting too long to bring North down to the haunted house, but I wasn't by any means disappointed at the lack of romance, as apparently many were.

There were also some complaints that Crusie didn't do the ghosts "right"-- as if there were a right and a wrong way to write about the paranormal.  I'm not a big fan of paranormal anything--I've read a few that were OK, but generally it's a turnoff for me.  So maybe that's why her version of ghosts didn't bother me at all--I haven't read enough other paranormal books to know how you're "supposed" to write a ghost.  I thought she handled that aspect of it pretty well, with a good mix of characters who were believers and skeptics, and a believable amount of wondering, is this really happening?  Even though I'm pretty skeptical about that type of writing, I thought within the context of the story she really made it work.

But there were definitely some problems.  It's fun to see cameos of favorite characters from previous books, but I think you have to make it work in the current book without reference to the other books.  And I don't think she did that.  She brings in Gabe McKenna from Fast Women and (presumably) Simon from Faking It to play fairly minor roles, so their characters aren't fleshed out at all.  I thought in both cases the role would have been better played by one of the many characters who is already in the novel--for example, when Gabe and North are searching the house, even while I was reading it I thought it should have been North's brother Sullivan who was with him.  It would have made much more sense, and would have cut out a superfluous character.

Oddly, the thing that bugged me the most wasn't mentioned by anyone else-- at one point, North gets a concussion, and he is up in the bathroom puking his guts out, while Andie just doesn't seem to care.  She totally ignores him while she wanders around doing other things.  What??  Even if she wasn't in love with him, it's just basic human decency to take care of someone when they're sick.  And it seemed especially harsh since he had just been pretty considerate of her when she was similarly ill.

Which I think ended up being what worked for me the least--Andie.  She was terrific with Alice, the younger of the two children she was trying to help.  But she's rude and dismissive of her mother at the beginning-- which you figure must mean that her mom is horrible, but it turns out that her mom is actually pretty cool.  and she's rude and dismissive to her boyfriend who becomes her ex-boyfriend halfway through-- her breakup with him is so abrupt and unfeeling that I just felt sorry for the guy.  (although I didn't blame her for being mad that he showed up after she asked him not to).  and when Kelly, a reporter, is possessed by a promiscuous ghost and sleeps with half the men in the house, Andie blows it off because she decides Kelly would have slept with them anyway.  and then she leaves North vomiting all alone upstairs after he's been injured.  She just seemed mean-spirited sometimes.

On the other hand, one of the things other reviewers mentioned most often as a bad thing-- Andie's "neglect" of Carter, the older of the two children-- didn't bother me that much.  For one thing, I have a son who is not particularly talkative, and if he wants to withdraw, the worst thing you can do is to try and talk him out of it.  You have to kind of go with it until he's ready to communicate.  Since Carter was actually in danger, maybe that doesn't apply here, but still, I think it made me more sympathetic to how Andie handled him than some others were.  But for another thing, I thought Crusie did a pretty good job of showing that Andie became aware of how wounded Carter is as the story progresses, and that paralleled the way she became aware of how North had been wounded.  It became part of the growth of the heroine. 

Overall, I enjoyed it.  It kept me completely absorbed all the way till the end.  There is plenty of Crusie's trademark humor.  And although Andie will never be my favorite Crusie heroine, she had enough good moments to balance out the bad. It's a good, fun read.  Recommended.


  1. Haven't read MTT yet (we do not have a prosperous library here and i do not have disposable income) so I really appreciated your review. It gives me something to think about when I do read it.

    I'm not one of those people for whom anyone can "ruin" a book--I read tons of reviews but your tone was very appealing--you like the book very much while thinking about it critically and acknowledging it's flaws. I'd love to read more reviews from you!

    I love H. James especially Washington Square, and I adore the elegant viscosity of his writing--I prefer thinking of it as swimming through honey, his subtle turns of phrase that can be so damning.

    I confess to being a wimp--Turn of the Screw scared the livin crap out of me in high school.

  2. "elegant viscosity" is *exactly* how James feels. love that. I remember reading Portrait of a Lady in college and loving it, but I think this is the first time I've read James since. The next time I'm feeling up to James, I will read Wash Square-- didn't they do it in "Reading Lolita in Tehran"?

    Since I'm such a cynic about paranormal stuff, I'm not often scared by it, but the end of "Turn of the Screw" and the final scene of MTT thoroughly creeped me out. Both are well done.

    I have to confess I pulled MTT out again this morning to download some of the songs from iTunes and got sucked right back in. It really is good.

  3. p.s. for those of you who are Clapton fans and as cheap as me, iTunes is charging $27 for Clapton Complete, while amazon has the disk for $12. sometimes the old ways are better. ;-)

  4. I liked Maybe This Time a lot, too, but it's not my favorite Crusie. That's a tie between Wild Ride, Faking It, Welcome to Temptation and Bet Me, all of which are flawless, amazing books. Maybe This Time felt too short to me, like there wasn't time to show us all the characters or emotions. Or maybe I just wanted more pages to read. It really was a good book, but I'm with you on a lot of the issues.