My reading has been far outpacing my blog writing lately. I feel like maybe I’m in a blogging funk. The past couple of weeks I either want to spend my evenings (after the kiddo goes to bed) reading, zoning out with television, or sleeping. I hope to find my blogging vigor again soon! I’m pretty sure it’s a phase.
But before I get too far behind, I thought I’d play catch-up with a few mini-reviews.
I adore Barbara Pym. I’m slowly making my way through all of her books. A Few Green Leaves is my eighth Pym novel, leaving five more works to go. Published in 1980, it was her last completed novel. Not quite as sharp in focus as some of her earlier works, it still contains many elements of Pym-ish goodness: British small village life, clueless but well-meaning and unfailingly polite characters, romantic misunderstandings. Our heroine is Emma, an unmarried anthropologist in her 30’s, coming to the village to get some peace and quiet to work on her notes. We also meet the rector Tom, who lives in the too-large rectory with his sister Daphne. Daphne swooped in to help Tom after his wife died some years ago, and is now chafing at her life in the village, dreaming of moving to Greece, where she vacations annually. Pym portrays traditional gender roles in a changing time with subtle skill – men are usually oblivious and self-centered and women are ambivalent about their unappreciated efforts. Country doctors, elderly spinsters, people behaving incredibly politely to one another while thinking something else entirely… the rambling cast of characters circle around one another throughout the novel, and nothing much happens but the stuff of life – conversations, garden walks, “hunger lunches,” a few halfhearted romantic assignations.
A Few Green Leaves was delightful. It’s not my favorite Pym ever, but it’s a worthwhile, most enjoyable read. If you’ve never read Pym before, I wouldn’t recommend that you start with this one; I’d pick Excellent Women or Jane and Prudence. Still, if you’ve read a Pym or two and you’d like to continue, feel safe that this one will provide you hours of intelligent, amusing, entertainment.
I don’t even know how to begin to describe The Zero by Jess Walter. The jacket blurbs mention satire many times, and Kafka and Heller are referenced twice. Jess Walter is another of my very favorite authors, and he has a terrific gift not only for scathingly funny black humor, but he also portrays his characters with a genuine compassion and humanity – even when they’re not “nice” people. This is a book about 9/11, published in 2006, with a reverent eye on the tragedy and an irreverent one on America’s response. Brian Remy is a New York City cop who was among the first on the scene of the Twin Towers falling. He now is experiencing alarming gaps in his memory, waking up in the middle of scenes and acts that he has no idea how he got into. No one seems to want to hear about his problem, or they think he’s being funny when he tries to tell them about it. So the reader is pulled along into this bizarre mystery/political satire, trying to piece together just what the heck Brian’s gotten himself into. A shady secret government organization chasing paper scraps that flew out of the towers? Infiltrating a terrorist cell? His own son is pretending Brian died in the towers, and Brian’s just desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the other person living his life. It was trippy, weird, dark, funny, sad, smart, and a page-turner. Jess Walter does it again! Seriously, this guy can do anything.
Last, but not least, my book group book for April was The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez. It made for an excellent discussion last weekend. Told from multiple points of view, this book highlights Latin American immigrants from various countries all living in one apartment complex in Delaware. The main characters are the Riveras, a husband and wife and their teenager daughter, Maribel. Maribel sustained a traumatic brain injury in an accident in Mexico, and the Riveras are told that special education in America is the best hope of recovery for their daughter. So Arturo gets a work visa for a mushroom farm, and the Riveras pack up everything they own. The realities of living in a country where you don’t know the language, have no transportation, and face bigoted individuals is humanely portrayed by Henriquez. She puts a human face on Latinx immigration in America. Others in the apartment complex have their own stories, from a Panamanian-American teenage boy named Mayor who falls in love with Maribel, to a Guatemalan man named Gustavo who’s working two jobs to send money to Mexico for his children’s education. These strangers become like family to one another. I empathized with them, and greatly appreciated Henriquez’s message. These are voices we need to hear more of in America, now more then ever. However, there was something about the novel that didn’t work for me as much as I would have liked. I felt like it was a bit heavy-handed at times, and Mayor’s actions towards a mentally compromised Maribel were problematic for me. I cried, so obviously I was emotionally invested, but I couldn’t give it more than three stars. Still, I would recommend it for book groups because it offers a lot to discuss, and I think it’s a book that deserves to be widely read on the strength of its message alone. Plus, it’s a quick read.
Have you read, or do you plan to read, any of these books or authors? Have you ever been in a blogging funk? Have you ever read a book that you felt almost guilty for not liking better? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.