Friday, October 31, 2008

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson ****

I've read Marilynne Robinson's other book, Housekeeping, when it was on the Diane Rehm book club back a few years ago. I really didn't get that book, so I can say that this one is a great improvement over that.
Gilead is good, but very very slow. It takes most of the book to get to the meat of it, & by then you're almost too frustrated to care. The story is about a man in his 70's who's going to die soon--he has a heart condition. It's the 1950's in Iowa, he's a preacher (though I never really figured out of what religion), & he has a young son that he never thought he would have. The whole book is a journal that the man is writing for his son, so he'll have some idea what his father was like when he's grown. It's a very nice book, well written. I'm just not used to the extremely slow pace, I think. One of the characters, Jack Boughton, is memorable in that he's flawed. Everyone else seems to be so very well behaved, though we really don't get to know about John Ames' wife. Jack's character was the best part of the book for me. I, like most of us, like my story heroes flawed. And Jack is flawed. But of course, tries his damnedest.
If you can handle the slow pace, I highly recommend this one.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rape: a Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates ****

What a great title, eh? This is an extremely short (154 pages) extremely fast read & I thoroughly enjoyed it. It tells the story of a woman who gets gang raped in a park while walking home on the night of the 4th of July. Her 12 year old daughter is with her, & much of the book is told thru her words. That moment changes their lives forever & sets in motion a series of events that are told in short chapters. The incident happens in 1996, & one of the cops that responds to the call is a Desert Storm veteran. It's amazing how this violent attack attaches these lives to each other, never to be separate again.
I read this book because Dog heard on NPR a listing of 4 American authors that deserve to win the Nobel prize for literature, but probably won't. Other than Joyce Carol Oates, there was John Updike, Philip Roth, & Cormac McCarthy. I've read Philip Roth recently (The Plot Against America), but had never read the others.
The story on NPR was right--none of them won. It was French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. I'd like to read some of his work in the future. But for right now, Joyce Carol Oates wins on Suelle's Soapbox!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dark Matter by Philip Kerr ****

I guess you could call this a mystery book for scientists. Sir Isaac Newton is the main character, & as I've heard it described elsewhere, he plays the Sherlock Holmes to his assistant Christopher Ellis's Watson. Written from Ellis's point of view (he was a real guy too!) the story is very well done & shows much of the inner workings of Newton's mind.
Newton has been put forth as the most intelligent human ever, since all later physics is based upon the firm foundation that Newton built. The main mystery of the book is the solving of a seemingly unsolvable code. The code has been found on the bodies of several dead guys discovered murdered in the Tower of London. And since the Mint was housed in the Tower, & since Newton was head of the Mint, he set out to figure out what was going on. There's a lot of great action to break up the intellectual stuff & some romance with Ellis thrown in for good measure.
I'm glad the book is written in Ellis's voice, since otherwise we'd be reading a bunch of scientific mumbo jumbo with a little bit of plot thrown in. As Ellis himself finds out when he tries to read some of Newton's much-lauded publications, he can't get through them awake. But that doesn't stop him from respecting & admiring the amazing brain that was Newton.
Good stuff!