Rao, Cheeni. In Hanuman’s Hands. Harper, 2009. ISBN 978-0060736620 pp. $25.99
After his overdose, Cheeni’s father threatens to disown him if he doesn’t get clean, so he gets himself into a kind of halfway house with a motley crue of the marginalized. The young narrator thinks drugs give him a connection to the divine in a way his ancestors achieved through more spiritual means, and believes there is a curse on his family because they deserted the wrathful goddess Kali for the promise of the US. While suffering from DTs, he attempts to put the chaos of his life into some semblance of order.
The memoir swings like a pendulum from the author’s two-faced childhood in America (getting drunk, burning down houses, and attempting suicide while passing himself off as an earnest student on the college track) to his family history and pastoral life in the India. While the East meets West storytelling is presented in vivid, (sometimes lurid) sensory detail, it wanders all over the place timewise and I couldn’t get past the 50 page mark; “vivid as an acid trip” as proclaimed on the back cover didn’t work in this book’s favor, for me.
Roose, Kevin. The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. Grand Central Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0446178426 336 pp. $24.99
Roose, raised in the Quaker faith, decides to take a semester “abroad” from Brown at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, a Christian college with strict rules (hugs are not allowed to last more than 3 seconds). Passing as newly saved, he gets involved with a number of campus activities and holds in depth conversations about faith with students and staff, trying not to be noticed as a reporter or unsaved, even as he maintains ties to the secular world. Roose worked for A.J. Jacobs at Brown, the author of A Year of Living Biblically, and I thought this was going to be a sort of copycat book, but I think Roose made the project his own.
The narrative hooks the reader from the beginning as we follow Roose through the collegiate semester. Roose is even-handed and fair on top of being a good–not great–writer. There was humor and some surprises here. I am not sure it lead to further understanding of the Evangelical movement for me as a reader, but I appreciate the impact it had on Kevin, and the barriers he breaks down.
The phenomenon of Facebook accounts being limited by school make this seem dated to today’s readers; it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that Facebook was changed so anyone can join, and Roose talks about maintaining personas on Brown and Liberty’s networks.
Callahan, Tess. April & Oliver. Grand Central Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0446540599 336 pp. $
April’s brother’s funeral brings her childhood friend and soulmate Oliver back to town, and their shared history strains Oliver’s relationship with his fiance.
Oliver has always been a little too goody shoes for April’s bad boy preferences, and there is a lot of “right place, wrong time” that those suffering from unrequited love will be able to relate to–lots of sizzling and palpable longing.
The writing is lovely, though the symbolism and use of dreams as metaphor sometimes a little obvious/over the top. The character development is strong–this is much more of a character driven book than anything else, but there are plenty of suspenseful action scenes that balance out the thoughtful, more reminiscent passages. I started it thinking there were only two ways it could end, and the author surprised and delighted me, and left me wishing there were more.
de Lint, Charles. The Mystery of Grace. Tor, 2009. ISBN 978-0765317568 272 pp. $
When Latina hot-rodder Grace intervenes in an attempted robbery in her neighborhood and is shot in the chest, she comes to in her bedroom, dead. It seems she and a number of other people who died in the neighborhood was “stuck” in a limbo of sorts, but can crossover to the world of living two nights a year. As she comes to terms with being deceased, Grace makes friends and is quick to take advantage of Samhain to slips back through, where, or course, she meets a soulmate. The conflict of this ill-fated long-distance relationship is played out against Grace trying to figure out the reason why Alverson Arms exists.
The premise is clever and De Lint sets up the boundaries of his world very neatly while his characters wrestles with love and identity and spirituality and existentialism. I didn’t think John and Grace had particularly unique voices.
The writing is solid, but not a wow. I appreciated all the cultural allusions–as a reader, it made me feel smart when I got them!) but there was a lot of repetition in terms of the author sharing information through his characters. Using carrots < > to indicate Spanish was an interesting device.