Posts Tagged ‘magical realism’

29th March
2011
written by Steph

Looking at my reading log, I realized that I finished Practical Magic back on February 10. Normally I try to write reviews for books within a week of finishing them, but obviously that didn’t happen with this one. While I was reading PM, I thought it was a fine read and when I finished it, I concluded that I liked it well enough. So why is it that I find myself struggling so hard to write anything about it? I hate when I end up feeling apathetic about a book, because I can barely muster up the energy to talk about it, which is really no fun for anyone. Basically, I had never read an Alice Hoffman novel before so I didn’t really know what to expect going into this one. I think I had seen the movie version ages ago, but I remembered pretty much nothing about that experience. Also, after finishing the book, I did watch the movie trailer and it seems like the film takes considerable liberties and has a different focus than the book. Essentially the movie makes it seem like the book is about these powerful witch sisters who are cursed in the sense that any man who falls in love with them is destined to die… this is very much not how things go in the book. There are two deaths, one tied to each sister, but neither of these really has a direct link to either sister… in fact, the first death is important in the sense that it strikes home the fact that death comes when it will and there’s nothing we can do to stop it when it makes up its mind to claim someone we love. (more…)
3rd June
2010
written by Steph

In the June issue of BookPage, I reviewed Ann Brashares' latest novel (the first in a trilogy), My Name is Memory. Fans of Twilight and The Time Traveler's Wife (so... not me! 😉 ) will likely love it to bits, and this one's already on the way to being a big hit.  The film rights for all three books have already ignited a huge studio bidding war, so it's only a matter of time before Memory makes it to a screen near you.  Of course, if you're anything like me, you'll want to read the book first! 😉 You can read a more in-depth review of the book here.

Even more exciting (for me), was the opportunity to read Aimee Bender's newest book, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and then talk to her about the book.  My interview with her can be read here. It was a real treat to talk to her, as Bender is both charming and intelligent, and it was wonderful to converse with someone who is so creative and has such an interesting perspective on the world.  Obviously I enjoyed the book a good deal, and I look forward to reading more of her back catalog!  Quirky and weird, this was a book that I felt had tons of heart and was brimming with emotion. If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary, I highly recommend it.
23rd May
2010
written by Steph

Man, oh man.  I am pretty sure I’ve never read a book anything like The Satanic Verses.  Probably because if literature can ever strive to do something new, unique, and original, then this is the book that does it.  Reading it is a rollercoaster, as I’ve never known a book that made me feel both so stupid and so smart.  Mostly I felt bewildered and befuddled while reading it, so confident that everything important was flying well above my head, but then when I finished it, I felt like a genius who could conquer anything.  I mean, I made it all the way through The Satanic Verses! How crazy is that?!? I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if Tony hadn’t read it previously and loved it. I won’t lie: I was super intimidated by this book. It just has this larger than life aspect to it, and I got it into my head it was one of those great novels of our time that scholars argue over and that provokes the issuing of fatwas against its author.  I just didn’t think I’d be able to deal with it or get anything from it. I mean, I’m no expert on Islam, and a book that long and controversial has got to be hard, right? I admit that I had a HUGE inferiority complex. (more…)
2nd March
2010
written by Steph

Maybe not the ugliest cover ever for a book, but it's up there...

Right before the winter holidays, I had the pleasure of attending a Secret Santa book swap hosted by my friend Trisha.  To this festive fête I brought a wrapped copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, because it’s one of my favorite books, and is also the book that first exposed me to one of my literary loves: magical realism.  I was delighted when a copy of The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende wound up for grabs that night, because it’s another magical realist book I’ve been wanting to read for quite sometime.  Alas, the copies I’ve always come across at the used bookstore have always been horrific mass-market paperbacks with atrocious covers, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to buy any of them.  They were just too ugly!  Now, I won’t say that the copy I wound up with at this book swap has a beautiful cover (the art is clearly airbrush work of the 1980s), but it was a lovely hardback copy with decaled edge pages, and the girl (named Eliza, who is also a friend, and also a Spanish-language speaker extraordinaire!) who brought it attested to the quality of the translation.  With all that in mind, I only felt a little bad when I stole it from another party attendee, forcing her to dive back into the wrapped gift pile. The House of the Spirits is a hard book to summarize, in part because so much happens.  It is one of those sweeping family epics in which readers are privy to the lives of the Trueba family over the course of three generations.  We begin with Clara as a young child, and watch as she grows up, marries Estéban Trueba, has three children of her own, and eventually becomes a grandmother and dies.  As the women in each generation reach maturity, the narrative torch is passed from woman to woman, though Esteban himself recalls parts of the past in his own words.  The beginning portion of the novel has much to do with love and relationships, but there are also discussion of social class (peasants vs patróns) and politics. In the last 100 pages of the novel, there is a shift so that the narration revolves heavily around politics and social uprisings, dealing with the first election of a left-wing leader in Chile and his ultimate deposition by a dictatorship. (more…)
30th September
2009
written by Steph
In a way, this book does dig its own grave...

In a way, this book does dig its own grave...

One of the nice things about going to a used bookstore where the merchandise is pretty much dirt cheap is that it allows me to be more adventurous with my reading choices.  I would never plonk down $14 on an unknown author, but when a book is only $2 or so, I feel I can take some risks.  When I found The Gravedigger by Peter Grandbois, the mentions of magical realism and comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez made this a book I knew I wanted to read, even though I’d never heard anything else about it.  I decided to take a chance… but did it pan out? Before I talk about my reaction to the novel, the basic premise: Juan Rodrigo works as the gravedigger for a tiny rural village in Spain.  As undertaker, he is tasked with more than just burying the dead, he is also a gifted storyteller who is able to communicate with the spirits of the recently departed, sharing their life’s true story (both the highs and the lows) with all who remain behind in the land of the living in the hopes that he can ease their burdens and help them move on with their lives.  Both jobs come with quite the burden of responsibility, but Juan Rodrigo has one other important task he must undertake on a daily basis: raising his thirteen year-old daughter, Esperanza, who is as headstrong as her deceased mother.  And as Esperanza begins the fraught journey that every girl must take as she begins to blossom into a woman, Juan Rodrigo finds that this job is about become even more difficult. (more…)
7th May
2009
written by Steph
Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

I doubt it...

When I reviewed Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth earlier this year, I stated up front that I’m not really a reader of short stories.  I always find the first part of anything I read to be the hardest slog as I work to attune myself to the writing and ensconce myself in the world of the story.  With short stories I feel like I’m doing this the whole time because just when I feel I’m in synch with a story, it ends and I’m left wanting more, but instead have to dive into a new story.  While I had serious problems with Unaccustomed Earth, the one thing that did impress me about it was how easily I slipped into each story, and moreover, each one felt like a complete entity that did what it said it would: it told a story.  But I’m supposed to be talking about Stranger Things Happen, right?  I’ve already reviewed Unaccustomed Earth!  Well, I give all this preamble simply because I’m a bit at a loss with respect to this collection, and in large part that’s because half the time I had no idea what was going on in any of the stories, and just when I thought I had a handle on them, they ended rather abruptly… the curse of the short “story” strikes again! (more…)
20th March
2009
written by Steph
Brought to you by the UW-Madison MFA program...

Brought to you by the UW-Madison MFA program...

Oh, The Monsters of Templeton… what am I to say about you?  You were one of Amazon’s notable books of 2008 back in February, and I almost bought you at a bookstore in D.C. back in November when I realized my tryst with The Name of the Rose was not meant to be (I haven’t looked back, and still no regrets), and I had such high hopes for you.  Is it my fault you could not meet the expectations I had set out for you?  Maybe.  But I kind of think the onus is mostly on you… The Monsters of Templeton revolves in large part around one Wilhelmina (Willie) Upton who decides that after an ill-fated affair with her married graduate advisor in Alaska goes South that she should too and returns home to Templeton.  Templeton has always been a safe haven for Willie – when the rest of the world is crazy, it’s the one place that is unrelentingly the same.  Only not so much, as a monster much like Nessie has been found floating belly up in Lake Glimmerglass, and her erstwhile hippie mother, Vi, has gone all Born Again on her.  Not to mention the parentage bombshell that rocks her world when Vi tells her that all these years she’s believed her father to be one of three possible men living out in a hippie commune is a complete and utter lie.  In fact, Willie’s real father is actually one of the denizens of Templeton, but it’s up to her to figure out who exactly he is.  Willie is equipped only with the knowledge that, much like Vi & herself, he claims to be descended from the town’s founder, Marmaduke Temple… only there have been several generations of Temples between Willie and Marmaduke, and so she must sift through her family’s history to figure out when the philandering was committed and by whom (Professor Plum in the library with a candlestick?).  Marmaduke Temple already actually has two lines of families sprouting from him on the family tree due to an affair with a slave named Hetty Averell, but might there be another one?  Only Willie can find out!  (Or you know, her mother could have told her who her father is since she does know, but then you wouldn’t have a book, so overlook that.) (more…)
12th February
2009
written by Steph

In honor of February being Black History month, I decided to read my first Toni Morrison novel.  I knew very little about her or her writing going into this, as the most salient trivia I had catalogued on her was that she had been featured multiple times in Oprah’s book club.  Let’s not hold that against her though, as she’s also been awarded the Nobel prize for Literature.  Also, I’m secure enough in my reading habits to admit that the real reason I picked this up at the used bookstore is because President Obama named it as one of his favorite books.  Ostensibly Beloved is Morrison’s best known book, but since Obama picked this one, so too did I.  What is it about all these O named people and their huge sway on reading habits? (more…)
4th January
2009
written by Steph
824173

My first book of 2009 was one I picked up on a whim at McKay’s, primarily because the title amused me, as did the opening line:
"The cure for death by lightning was handwritten in thick, messy blue ink in my mother’s scrapbook, under the recipe for my father’s favourite oatcakes: Dunk the dead by lightning in a cold water bath for two hours and if still dead, add vinegar and soak for an hour more."
I figured this would be a fairly quirky read, which it certainly was.  But what I wasn’t expecting was just how dark and disturbing a story I would be getting in the bargain; in fact, this is probably one of the most alarming and unsettling books I have ever read.  Don’t get me wrong, it was compelling and I raced through the pages (obviously, as we’re not even a full week into the new year!), but it was creepy. (more…)
25th December
2008
written by Steph
awesome!

Here's a name for this book: awesome!

As I mentioned in my recent entry regarding obsessive book buying, after our latest trip to McKay’s, we found ourselves in the position of owning three Saramago novels, even though neither of us has ever read any of his writing.  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding this a rather peculiar circumstance, since generally it intuitively makes sense to buy a single book by a given author and read that in order to decide if you want to read anything more by said author.  Clearly something beyond reason motivates me when I’m in bookstores. I decided to rectify this situation by vowing to read a Saramago novel after finishing Fieldwork.  Rather than hemming and hawing over which one to commit to, I selected All The Names off the shelf, using the fact that we’ve owned it the longest as justification.  That it was shorter than both Blindness and The Double was also likely a contributing factor, but let’s not focus on that niggling point. (more…)