Kincaid, Nanci. Eat, Drink, and Be From Mississippi. Little, Brown and Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0316009157 400 pp. $
I bought this one, on my own, because it sounded like a highly appealing novel about a brother and sister who move away from the deep South to seek their fame & fortune in California, but don’t end up happy or fulfilled as adults.
The storytelling was wonderful, if leisurely paced. Although the novel covers Truely and his sister beyond their adolescence, both continue to struggle with relationship issues; his sister Courtney struggles with body image issues, and the book is in some ways about identity as well; thought the siblings have moved to CA, MI is still a touchstone for them.
Both childless, Truely ends up fostering a young friend of a friend, and make an attempt to salvage the life of a young man with a juvenile record who needs positive adult role models. If this had been the primary plot, I’d recommend it–it just takes Kincaid too long to get there–almost half the book.
Helget, Nicole. The Turtle Catcher. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. ISBN 978-0618753123 304 pp. $
The Turtle Catcher chronicles the history of two German immigrant families, living in Minnesota during WWII, and is primarily focused on a hermaphrodite who presents as female, and finds acceptance only with the “slow” boy on a neighboring farm.
While an important book from a voices not heard standpoint, I found it poorly written, hard to follow, and bleak.
Wertz, Julia, editor. I Saw You…: Comics Inspired by Real Life Missed Connections. Three Rivers Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0307408532 192 pp. $
Inspired by “missed connections” ads on Craigslist, this collection of comics is proof that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. A talented bunch of independent artists take verbatim entries and embellish. One or two are autobiographical and focus more on the assignment, rather than inventing a graphical story. In most cases, pictures compliment the stories well; there is a lot of repetition of theme, and some are more clever than others; “Trading Smiles” in which the cartoonist imagines two passers by literally removing the grins from their faces and swapping them, is particularly notable.
Editor Wertz has arranged the vignettes very well, grouping by topic such as “coffeeshop crushes” and “unhappily ever after.” Many drawing styles are represented: soft & rounded, angular, stark black & white, shaded, manga-ish, realistic. Presentation (panels vs. one-page illustration vary the composition.
This adult themed anthology is highly entertaining for “voyeuristic” readers who like glimpses into the real–or imagined–lives of others.
Jordan, Toni. Addition. Sceptre, 2008. ISBN 978-1921351242 256 pp. $
An Australian woman with OCD meets a man when she steals his banana at the supermarket because she needs ten to feed the demon of her disorder. Romance ensues, and though takes her OCD well into stride, her happiness inspires her to try therapy again, which means drugs, which means no more OCD and a major personality change.
The story is charming and entertaining, but contains a great deal of depth as well, and goes somewhere a little dark at the end, which balances out the lightness well. There is a lot of humor, and the author does a good job of making the OCD make sense. I liked the idea of embracing her “flaw.”
Alison, Jane. The Sisters Antipodes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. ISBN 978-0151012800 272 pp. $23
This biographical account of the author’s family, torn apart by infidelity, focuses on the history of two Australian couples, and the effect of divorce and remarriage on the children and parents. Part tribute to the stepsister with whom she competes for their fathers’ love and attention, Jane confides and speculates about the skeletons in her family’s closet in intimate fashion.
The writing is lovely, highly literary and reflective in tone, and the pace, leisurely. The themes of identity and self-worth and sexuality and sibling rivalry resurface over & over, but the narrative wanders so much back and forth through time so much it’s a huge turn off. I kept thinking, ‘stop hinting about WHAT you’re going to reveal, later, just spit it out!’ The slow pace and denseness may be deterrents for some readers; others will love the prose and plod on through.
Pung, Alice. Unpolished Gem. Black, 2018 (reprint). ISBN 978-1863951586 290 pp. $
Chinese-Vietnamese immigrants migrate to Australia in the 1970s in search of a better life, and quickly adjust to culture shock. Author Alice Pung, eldest daughter, shares family secrets, and depression that runs in her family, affecting her and her mother. At various points, Pung chronicles her parents courtship, her grandmother’s experience as a second wife, and her own struggle to fit in at school.
Browne, S.G. Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament. Crown, 2009. ISBN 978-0767930611. pp. $
In this self-proclaimed “zom-rom-com” the undead are the sympathetic characters. Victims of trauma are unexpectedly and unexplainably becoming “reanimated.” The zombies, all at different stages of acceptance, ability and decomposition, are outcasts of society. Their second class citizen treatment ranges from harassment (assault and limb-stealing) to SPCA imprisonment for curfew violations, with termination imminent if a human family member, or Breather, doesn’t bail them out.
Some cope by meeting in AA-styled group sessions. In Undead Anonymous, Andy develops a crush on the lovely Rita (a suicide victim) and meets several unique and interesting individuals, including the charismatic Ray, a self-sufficient zombie who refuses to be disenfranchised and rallies the others for equal rights for the reanimated.
This very funny satire manages to not take itself too seriously without getting campy. Browne deftly balances humor with pathos, and gore with romance. The vivid writing flows, delivering a satisfying pace and many amusing scenes. Characterizations are strong, and the voice steady throughout. My one criticism is that there is a hair of predictability to the story, but the ending still didn’t play out exactly as I thought.
The opening draws the reader in immediately: Andy comes to in his parents kitchen, suspecting he has just killed them. From there, Browne delivers a backstory that relates what life is like as a zombie that one could analogize to being a minority, gay, or even, a teen–others tend to make snap judgments about members of these communities and may be intolerant to varying degrees.
Mun, Nami. Miles From Nowhere. Riverhead, 2008 ISBN 978-1594488542 304 pp. $21.95
Melvin Burgess’ Smack (Harper, 1999) meets James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (Anchor, 2005) in this gritty tale about a street teen. Set in 1980, 12-year-old spends six years working through addiction and other issues, meeting a cast of characters along the way. Though I cared enough about Joon to plod on, the narrative was disjointed and difficult to follow.
Lebra, Joyce. The Scent of Sake. Avon, 2009. ISBN 978-0061662379 366 pp. $13.99
Nineteen year old Rie, like all good Japanese girls of 1825, submits to the marriage her prosperous parents arrange for her, hoping she will come to love her husband, who is adopted into her family’s brewing business. Rei demonstrates a shrewd head for business, and in a time when women are taught to subjugate themselves, she finds subversive ways to make her voice heard as she moves towards her goal of making White Tiger the number one brewery in Kobe, in spite of fire, shipwreck, and betrayal.
Lebra’s writing is disappointingly straightforward. An historical novel must contain complete and vivid worldbuilding, and the author opts to TELL us of time’s passing as she builds the story of this dynasty, rather than SHOW it. The pacing is very disjointed, with the narrative skipping forward days within one chapter, and years one chapter to chapter. The point of view slips several times, to Rie’s husband Jihei, and later to her husband’s son, Yoshi.
Thos familiar with Japanese history and culture may enjoy this novel more than those who are not; the author doesn’t define italicized Japanese terms in context, and doesn’t even bother to highlight other words, assuming, for example, that everyone knows what an obi is.
Clearly, Lebra has done her research; she has a handle on the Shinto religion, and describes traditions from ceremonies to the day-to-day running of a household very adequately, but the novel has a wooden feel to it, and it’s hard to pinpoint what’s missing.