A GoodReads' Refugee (Anna Janelle) looking to broaden my horizons and break free of the threat of Amazon's looming influence on one of my favorite social networking platforms. In other words, I'm planning to set up shop here - gradually transferring reviews and to-read lists, customizing my own content, and learning how to best interact with the community here . Please be patient with me while I acclimate to the new reading environment. I look forward to continuing old friendships from GoodReads and forging new friendships here at Booklikes.
In continuing to work through the massive amount of random used books that I impulse purchased at a church book sale, I came across this gem. And by gem, I mean tedious, pretentious, "aren't I edgy and ironic," hipster crapfest of a book that I almost didn't finish. I should have known better to trust a book that quotes Claire Danes' as a featured recommendation on the back cover, but the front cover was so pretty and it was hardback and super inexpensive so I ignored my better judgement. Regardless, it was a time-suck - or just a sucky way to waste my pre-baby precious time (11 days until the baby's due to drop - so many books, so little time).
Disclaimer: As far as I know, this book is (thankfully) not a movie - although some reviews that I've read have compared the family dynamic to that featured in The Royal Tenenbaums. It's been too long since I've seen the movie for me to accurately assess this critique; however, this heinous book may have been made better with some aptly placed Bill Murray. After all, aren't all things better with Bill Murray?
I'll preface this review by saying that I picked this book up at a used book sale held by a church in my hometown. On the last day of the sale, they have a ridiculous deal where you pay $3.00 for all the books you can stuff into a bag. (Coincidentally, I paid $15 for 48 books - 27 of them hardbacks in near new condition - mind-blowing stuff here). Because the books are so cheap, I get a bit grabby and end up choosing books I wouldn't normally purchase at full price. This is one of those books.
It's written by Lauren Kelly who - I didn't notice until I got home - is a pseudonym of Joyce Carol Oates. I'm not a huge fan, but I'm not prejudiced against her brand of contemporary fiction. In fact, I rather liked a sick little book I read awhile back called Zombie and Blonde has been in my "own-but-have-yet-to-read" pile for years. It was advertised on the front cover as "a novel of suspense," so I was eager to give it a quick read and see what it was all about. I finished it in just over a few hours, staying up late into the night to read it (really, not such an endorsement considering I'm nine months pregnant and not sleeping much to begin with).
The tale bounces back and forth between the early 1970s and a span of a few months in 1993, following a doll-faced awkward intellectual Lorraine (now known as Lara) Quade. A particularly harrowing childhood has left Lorraine/Lara scarred - both emotionally and physically - and this book chronicles her struggles to understand the past in order to live more fully in the future. When Lorraine receives an anonymous envelope with a ticket to an event on campus, she is put into contact with another party, Zederick Dewe, who is the recipient of the same strange gift. On the surface, the two have little in common; however, a strange, erotic charge binds them together which sets their strange, tragic relationship spiraling out of control.
A sad, strange, beautiful book that captured my complete attention (despite the increasingly hard-to-ignore distractions that accompany being nine months pregnant).
A group of well-to-do industry leaders and their wives gather at the home of a South American Vice President to celebrate the birthday of Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese businessman who holds the power to bring much needed industry (and jobs) to the largely impoverished area. To entice Mr. Hosokawa, a devout opera fanatic, to attend world renown soprano Roxane Coss has been engaged to sing as the night's entertainment. Unfortunately, the party quickly devolves into a tensely negotiated hostage situation as a group of rag-tag terrorists known as La Familia de Martin Suarez emerges from the air vents and demands possession of the President (who is, incidentally, not in attendance). With the terrorists' initial goal thwarted, a stand off begins to unfold between the unyielding, outside government and the stubbornly idealistic terrorists calling the shots inside the house. Caught in-between are those hostages, largely important businessmen and politicians, deemed too valuable to be released. With these forty odd men, the terrorists opt to keep Roxane Coss, who turns out to be more than just in-house entertainment. Her gift of song literally becomes the reason for living for those on both sides of the divide.
Despite the tense, action-packed beginning, the book's action is largely stagnant and slow moving. Instead, the driving force behind the book's compelling movement is the development of both character and relationship in the unusual circumstances created by the bizarre situation of a four-month hostage standoff. Even though the gun-slinging terrorists are the stuff of nightmares, Patchett paints their humanity - repeatedly pointing to their youth, inexperience and physical deformities or afflictions to allow the reader to form some attachment to characters that might otherwise be off-limits to any empathy. (Side note: I actually fell down on the side of the terrorists by the end of the novel - beautiful Carmen, little Ishmael, self-conscious Cesar, butch Beatriz - they were all so much more human, more flawed, than the men that were held hostage and positively changed, that is changed for the better, by the experience. In addition, I'm now terrified of contracting shingles, Descriptions of General Benjamin's festering wound settling into his eye made me cringe and curl my toes).
Overall, this book reminded me of situations in my own life where things went wrong - be it a power outage, a disappointing change of plans, an unexpected snowstorm, an unwelcome disruption of any kind - that proved to be a welcome interruption to everyday life. You leave this read genuinely believing these capitalists and politicians were better off for having been held hostage for four months.
I really didn't cue into the magic surrounding the music and opera singing- as I'm by no means knowledgeable or even remotely interested in this particular art form. I lack culture in this respect, but my reading wasn't negatively impacted. Instead, I imagined my own joy at having a storyteller - someone like Neil Gaiman or J.K. Rowling - at my disposal in such a situation, an enthralling author willing to guide me through the empty days with their magic gift of character and plot. Even given my lack of experience with opera, I can see how art and the passion surrounding genius or talent can infuse an otherwise abhorrent situation with a sense of beauty and wonder.
As for the ending - I wasn't terribly surprised but I was genuinely disappointed. A bit heartbroken, if you will. Without going into spoiler territory, I feel that Patchett did everything she could to warn the reader of the impending doom without explicitly spelling it out. I was, however, utterly baffled by the short epilogue. I felt it was tacked onto the end as an afterthought; it had no connection to the character/ relationship development that had previously taken place. In my opinion, it somewhat cheapened an otherwise thoughtful, tender read.
"There were worse reasons to keep a person hostage. You keep someone always for what he or she is worth to you, for what you can trade her for, money or freedom or somebody else you want more. Any person can be a kind of trading chip when you find a way to hold her. So to hold someone for song, because the thing longed for was the sound of her voice, wasn't it all the same? The terrorists, having no chance to get what they came for, decided to take something else instead, something that they never in their lives knew that the wanted until they crouched in the low, dark shaft of the air-conditioning vents: opera." (p. 71)
"'If we put a gun to her head she would sing all day.'
'Try it first with a bird,' General Benjamin said gently to Alfredo. 'Like our soprano, they have no capacity to understand authority. The bird doesn't know enough to be afraid and the person holding the gun will only end up looking like a lunatic.'" (p. 165)
"Could Mr. Hosokawa say...that this was the happiest time in his life? Surely that could not be the case. He was being held against his will in a country he did not know and every day he found himself looking down the barrel of some child's gun. He was living on a diet of tough meat sandwiches and soda pop, sleeping in a room with more than fifty men, and although there were irregular privileges at the washing machine, he was thinking of asking the Vice President if he could kindly extend to him a second pair of underwear from him own bureau. Then why was this sudden sense of lightness, this great affection for everyone?" (p. 166)
"A kiss in so much loneliness was like a hand pulling you up out of the water, scooping you up from a place of drowning and into the reckless abundance of air." (p. 207)
"She could see the battered-down portion of grass from where she was now. It was different from this vantage point, larger and almost perfectly round, as if they had spun each other in great circles, which seemed possible. She could smell the grass in her hair. Love was action. It came to you. It was not a choice." (p. 271)
"'It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.'" (p. 300)
Status Update: 10-1-2013 PG 66 T-Minus 3 Weeks and Counting
In honor of the US government's historic shutdown, I'd like to propose a shutdown of my own. I'm proposing to shut down my uterus and force a mandatory evacuation, like, today. At 37 weeks, she is a nonessential employee in there - and a viable candidate for the outside. I have 22 days of pregnancy left to go until my due date, and I feel like crap. My back hurts, my fingers ache, my feet are swollen, I can't sleep, and it hurts to even sit. I'm one big ball of hurt and discomfort.
I had a doctor's appointment today, and I was really hoping he'd take a look inside and announce, "WOW. This bun is ready to come out of the oven. Off to the hospital with you! Immediately!" But, alas, my cervix did not get the pink slip that I had sent off today. The employee is on lock down and refusing to leave or even edge towards the exit area.
So, I read, and I wait. I've long since put away the What to Expect When You Are Expecting (though, to be honest, I didn't really read all of it - just sort of skimmed through when I remembered - which was once a month or so). So far, I haven't gained too much from this read - but I AM approaching the breastfeeding chapter, and that is one area that I'm in need of urgent education (and an attitude adjustment, if I can admit that out-loud. As a first time mom, I understand the benefits but I'm still fighting off the personal skeeves associated with lactation and all the associated swelling and leakage. Vomit-o-rama).
Hi GoodRead Refugees and Native Booklikers,
Allow me to make a brief introduction that will have to suffice until I gather the know-how and patience to create an embedded "About Me" page.
I'm Anna - a 29 year old life-long book lover and collector of cats.
Up until a few days ago, I did most of my reviewing on GoodReads; however, I've become recently discouraged by the changes in policy that have affected some of the members. I was not personally affected, but I fear that undesirable changes to the site will continue to roll out under the new corporate ownership. As such, I'm keeping my profile active for now, but I'm choosing to explore other sites as potential homes for my reviews in the future. I have high hopes for this site, but I'm still getting used to everything - so I anticipate a steep learning curve.
As I mentioned before, I'm somewhat of a crazy cat lady. I have four furkids (Archie, Lucy, Mitzy and Polly), one dog (Wilson), and a brand-spanking new husband (Lou). We've been together, assembling our collection of animals, for seven years, but only made it official this past April.
We are currently expecting our first furless child in late October - a little girl - due to join us in just 22 days. Naturally, we are excited and scared to make this transition into parenthood; however, at this point in my pregnancy, I'm just ready to get this baby out of me and into my arms. I've been suffering fairly severely from "pregnancy brain" - unusual flightiness, trouble focusing, trouble sleeping, trouble forming coherent sentences, and somewhat crippling anxiety. As such, I haven't been reading or writing as much in the recent months. I have hopes that once the baby is on the outside, I can start to function on the inside and regain my reading and reviewing capabilities. (As a side note: I did manage to finish Bel Canto tonight, and I have hopes of reviewing it tomorrow).
I have an affinity for literary and contemporary fiction, psychological thrillers, and young adult fiction, but I'll give most anything a chance. I'm a used book junkie - who has piles of unread books, collecting dust on my bookshelves, basement and attic crawlspace, just waiting for their turn to be read. One day, I hope to unite all my books in my own personal library room, complete with shelves built into the walls - and catalog them completely with the aid of a program online.
I'm currently taking a break from the working world - and a brief hiatus from my continuing education until I get the hang of being a new mom. Up until this semester, I was working in data management for an online cyber charter school and working towards obtaining my Masters in Library Science. I'm not anxious to go back to work anytime soon, but I am anxious to start my studies again. I have hopes that things will be settled enough this summer for me to resume classes and parent my daughter as a stay-at-home mom. One day, I intend to be back at work - this time in a public or academic library, continuing my work with data management and databases.
I'm glad to be part of this new community of readers, and I have high hopes for my participation here in the future.
Thanks for welcoming me!