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book beginnings on Friday: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

crossing to safety

I heard enough about this book that I put myself on the wait list for it at my local library. And then I waited for a YEAR. So when it came to me, I knew I had to prioritize reading it – who knows when I’d get another chance! (At the library copy, at any rate.) I am opening this book knowing absolutely nothing about Stegner (other than a vaguely good reputation) or the story itself. I’m here on faith. It begins beautifully:

Floating upward through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface. My eyes open. I am awake.

Poetry and beginnings in this beginning; I think it augurs well.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (audio)

out stealing horsesYou may recall that Pops read and reviewed this book some time ago, and recommended it. I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Out Stealing Horses is just a short book, but in the end, it is bigger than it looks. I would like to commend my Pops for his spare review, leaving the plot mostly untouched and teasing us with rather coy praise; he convinced me to read this book (although it took me a while), and now that I have, I can see where his leaving the plot alone was the right move. I absolutely agree that

a summary may in itself sound spare and unremarkable – and spoil the real value here. What’s special is the way the story is told and how it is revealed, the author’s voice and the narrative structure he uses.

So, no summary for you, only setting: our elderly protagonist lives alone and isolated in a remote patch of Norwegian forest, as the twentieth century comes to a close. We alternate between his quiet dog walks and simple meals, and his memories of a brief time when he was a young boy-becoming-man. There are perhaps more questions raised than answers supplied; but we don’t mind, because of the lovely evocative moody writing and what we know of our protagonist by the end – which is far from everything.

Again, echoing my father, I was impressed by the translation; enough linguistic oddities remain to indicate translation, only slightly and very pleasantly, as with “very many thanks” (a sweet phrase but not one you hear often in English). I also appreciate Pops’s note about pacing, that it varies, ratcheting up and then calming back down. For all its thought-provoking and occasionally stressful subject matter, Out Stealing Horses is ultimately a rather soothing book. It should go without saying, then, that Richard Poe’s narration is also excellent, matching the tone, mood, atmosphere, pacing, and lyricism that I understand is present in print.

Quiet, contemplative, and understated, I think this is a fine work of art. I get the feeling that this is a book with many layers, and that multiple readings would yield returns, and to the extent that it is about aging, I confess I wonder if I got it all. This is also true of the war bits – I have questions – but I suspect we’re supposed to have questions.

I don’t think my review has done this book justice, but I do think my father’s did beautifully, so let me refer you back to it (again, here), and simply add my additional praise. Good book. Check it out.


Rating: 8 stolen horses.

The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band by Frances Washburn

A slim, evocative, entertaining tale of strange happenings on an Indian reservation in South Dakota.

red bird

Sissy Roberts is the girl everyone tells their problems to, whether she likes it or not. But, as she tells the reader on the opening page of Frances Washburn’s The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band, “no one so far has confessed to me that they killed Buffalo Ames at the Scenic Fourth of July Rodeo.” The novel, despite being framed around Buffalo’s murder and the subsequent FBI investigation (which mostly consists of bothering Sissy for answers), is entirely Sissy’s story.

Though the FBI man sent to her corner of the reservation doesn’t believe in her ignorance, Sissy really doesn’t know who killed Buffalo that night–and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do to get out of this town and off the rez. Her interest in solving the murder is half-hearted; she is more concerned with solving the mystery of her own future and ducking lackluster marriage proposals from the shallow pool of men on the rez. But the two will prove to be interconnected.

The strengths of this slim, quirky novel are Sissy’s strange mix of tenderness and sass, and Washburn’s grasp of the rez and its sense of inertia. For all the frustration that Sissy and the other diverse, well-wrought characters experience, however, the final result is moderately uplifting, like the music Sissy delights in throughout.


This review originally ran in the March 7, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 beers.

guest review: The Falling Sky by Pippa Goldschmidt, from Pops

This review bears on some recent discussions: scientific fiction and scientific nonfiction.


Thanks to Kirk Smith at his blog, Fiction About Science, for both passing on a copy of this book to my Pops, and for publishing his review there. I am reposting it here, as originally published by Kirk Smith.

falling sky

The Falling Sky is about a “realistic scientist doing realistic science.” That is the hook that brought me to this special first novel written by a PhD astronomer, now a recognized writer in Edinburgh, Scotland. But it is so much more than that.

One could say this is the insightful story of a young woman finding her way from adolescence into a life of her own; or her personal contemporary tale of sexual awakening and relationships with other women; or a striking and remarkable exploration of how a scientist’s unique perspective can literally saturate the way she perceives and interacts with everything around her; or an emotionally wrenching journey with a family trying to make sense of a pointless and tragic death. It is really all of that.

That may seem to be quite a burden to place on an easy-reading first novel of only 264 pages; but Goldschmidt succeeds gracefully and does not overreach. Her story of Jeanette comfortably weaves modest measures of these elements together – and tempts the reader to fold closed the pages, finger inserted, while looking off into space to savor the author’s words and Jeanette’s thoughts. In that sense, this is not a “quick read.”

There is fuel here for artists, romantics, philosophers, mystics, feminists, photographers and scientists alike. Those familiar with Edinburgh are teased with pleasing glimpses.

But for one so inclined to the feast, it is possible to see the scientific perspective virtually everywhere in this story; in its language, metaphors, analogies, repetition of certain words and its oblique references to black holes, cosmology, time scales, anti-matter, entropy. Some may see excess or stridency in this; for those it should be accepted as essential immersion in Jeanette’s world, as setting and mood, and not as cause for anxiety or fear of missing something. There is more to savor.

Storytelling here is not linear, but not distracting: chapters alternate between “Now” and “Then” as the 3rd person narrative traces Jeanette’s young life as an astronomer while we gradually learn more of her adolescent past. She is smart & ambitious, yet confused. She is a talented and intelligent scientist whose rational lens often fails her in navigating the human world of relationships. She is an emotional creature like all of us, and it wrenches her life. The reader is drawn in as she searches.

For my money, this is a beautifully composed review, as well as describing what sounds like a quite attractive read. The book is in my hands now, so eventually you can expect me to weigh in. Thanks, Pops.

did not finish: The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (audio)

borrowerI made it exactly 25 pages into this one (although via audio, which was about 30 minutes, give or take). I remember hearing about The Borrower ever since it came out in 2011, and it sounded real cute: children’s librarian befriends sweet little boy who might be gay and whose censorious, bigoted, ultra-religious parents are a drag; she ends up either liberating or kidnapping him, depending on your angle, and they have adventures together. Nice story, right? In fact, it opens with a story time reading of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, which drives home the fact that this plot has been done before. And that’s no complaint or criticism. As Makkai notes in the voice of her narrator, “you can always count on a librarian for a derivative prose style.” I can dig that little joke (and also fear it is too true).

But things went south quickly after that. Faced with the censorious mother, Lucy (the librarian/narrator) rails that she would never “defy the Constitution” by refusing to check out certain books to a ten-year-old boy at his mother’s request. Now, I sympathize with Lucy’s gut reaction and not with the nasty mother; but I think it’s only respectful to be clear on what the Constitution actually says. The First Amendment protects the right to speech, press and assembly; it most certainly does not protect the right to read anything one likes (unfortunately), and the rights of minors have been curtailed in our courts in favor of their parents’ right to decide for them, with abundant clarity. This use of the “defy the Constitution” argument was outrageous and left me reeling. From a librarian, no less!

Next Lucy notes that

I wasn’t at all concerned about (the boss) enforcing this, or even remembering it a month later. And if she tried to fire me because I’d checked out a book to a patron of the public library, I’d have so much free legal representation within ten minutes that her gin-soaked head would spin.

Well, that’s bold – and naive. If this librarian were fired for checking out a book to a ten-year-old that the child’s mother had expressing forbidden her to check out to him, I think her legal case would be in some doubt; and while it’s conceivable that the ACLU or a similar organization would take the case on, I wouldn’t bet my job on it. I’d put the chances pretty low, in fact. To think that every unjustly-fired, underpaid city employee gets “so much free legal representation within ten minutes” to make heads spin is… idealistic, at best.

And then Lucy snobs out on her profession of librarianship, except oops, it might not be fair to call her a professional because she’s non-degreed and thus in most work environments ineligible to be called a “librarian” at all (this is a subject on which there is some controversy within the field and I don’t want to enter into that now, but I think it does bear on the credibility of this novel): in reference to the cardigan she’s wearing,

I hated that I’d started to look like a librarian. This wasn’t right. In college, I’d smoked things. My first car had angry bumper stickers. I came from a long line of revolutionaries.

Now this made my head spin. Librarians are about as diverse as any other demographic group you’d care to examine, and certainly there are those cardigan-clad shh-ing grannies with buns; but there is also no dearth of tattooed, funny-looking, hipster, punk, revolutionary-as-hell librarians. And you know what? Some of us wear cardigans, too. Despite the disappointingly cartoonish view of librarians represented by these lines, they also made me wonder if Makkai realizes who her audience is for this book: I am assuming that at least in part those attracted by her basic plot would be librarians (I am one), and she just alienated us with her snobby narrator.

So. This review threatens to be as long as the tiny piece of this book that I read; I should stop. I think I’ve effectively communicated that I was disgusted by the 25 pages’ worth that I listened to, and very comfortable turning away towards greener pastures. In fact, I’m now starting a novel by Joe Hill, whose librarian character in NOS4A2 was possibly a little bit of a cariciature in the other direction – with her purple hair and all – but also closer to the librarians I know. So there.


I am not assigning this a number rating after such a brief read but clearly if I did, it would be a low number of my grumbles.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (audio)

orchardistI read about this novel… somewhere… some time ago, and had it loaded on my iPod along with many others. And then Christine Byl (author of Dirt Work) praised it mightily on her facebook page, and it moved to the top of my list.

I will by sharing the plot outline as I vaguely understood it when I started this book: an old man manages an orchard in the hills, alone, as he has for many years, when a pregnant girl appears at the edge of a field and seems to need his help. He helps her.

That’s all I knew going in, and I’m a little tempted to leave it at that for you, too. I’ll tell you a little more, but I do want to leave a lot for you to discover on your own reading.

The old man, Talmadge, has indeed managed his expansive orchard property in Washington state for some 40 years, ever since he was 17 and his 16-year-old sister disappeared into the woods one day without warning. He has one friend from town, Caroline Middey, and a few friends among a group of Indian horse wranglers who seasonally stop by to help him pick his fruit; but he is mostly alone. And then the girls show up – two of them – and begin by stealing some apples from him on market day. He sets them out plates of food at his cabin and wanders off to let them eat; when he returns, they have cleaned the cabin of every scrap of food. They are both visibly pregnant, and look about 13 years old.

Talmadge does his best to care for these girls, who are consistently portrayed, early in the novel, with the imagery of wild animals. They stare, they watch him carefully and warily, they flinch away; they don’t talk. Their loyalty is towards each other; they have no more ability to trust Talmadge than a stray dog that’s been beaten. They are strongly identified with the wild. And somehow, in my early understanding of this book, I had thought that the story began and ended with the pregnant girl (or as it turned out, girls), but I was wrong. This novel spans a number of years – about 25 of them. Early on, it appears that the action is in essence Talmadge’s recovery of a family, lost when his mother died and his sister disappeared and now replaced by these young women and their children. But no, it’s not that simple. That does seem to be the momentum, the effort of at least some of the characters in question, but the world that Coplin portrays is too much the real world for anything to come out that easily, or for anyone’s dreams to be fulfilled so fully.

I enjoyed very much the simple depiction of central Washington state in the early 1900′s. Coplin, like her characters, doesn’t use flowery speech, but communicates nonetheless the gnarled beauty of a landscape of hills, canyons, and fruit trees, and the careful loving care Talmadge puts into the details of his orchard: it’s an art, really. Her writing evokes the feeling that this is another time, only a little related to our world today. It’s a beautifully written story, and beautifully read as well by Mark Bramhall.

The pace of this story is careful and measured. Talmadge is a contemplative man; seeing as how he’s past middle age and employed at growing trees, it should not surprise us that he takes his time in all things, which Coplin reflects in the rhythms of her writing. Bramhall follows suit in his reading, which is lovely and sedate. In the first, say, third of the book, the reader feels some tension about the two pregnant girls and their immediate fate: there are presumably labors and deliveries to come, at a schedule that cannot be denied, which gives the pace a little push. But in the middle third things slow considerably, and if one is going to get impatient with this book, this is when it will happen; I got a little impatient myself at the slower middle bit. Come to think of it, the story is sectioned off rather like a person’s life, which it resembles in several ways. In its youth, the plot leans forward into the future; in middle age it slows somewhat; and it regains a sense of urgency in its old age, when it feels its death coming – or the death of its characters. So, on pacing I have some mild criticisms, which can be alleviated by being a little patient because you enjoy the story so much, or by being a more patient reader than I am.

An overarching theme is clearly family, or relationship. The characters in this novel almost without exception lack family in the traditional sense of blood relatives; they make their own families outside those bonds – or fail to, and also relate strongly to the earth. There is a fine passage near the end about a young woman losing track of her physical self while doing physical work, feeling closer to the dirt than to her own body. In fact, women doing physical work is a thread throughout, which I also appreciated. (And now that I think of it, is another clear connection to Dirt Work.)

Overall, The Orchardist is a moving story, beautifully written, sad and exquisite and with some fine statements on human nature, and an underlying statement on our diminishing relationship with the land. Fine narration by Bramhall. Caveat for pacing, but that’s a matter of preference.


Rating: 7 Rhode Island Greenings.

book beginnings on Friday: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

I already had this book on my list (already had it loaded on my player, in fact), but then Christine Byl recommended it and it raced to the top of the figurative stack.

orchardist

The Orchardist is a novel set in late-1800′s Washington state, and it begins with a description of the title character:

His face was as pitted as the moon. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and thick without being stocky, though one could see how he would pass into stockiness; he had already taken on the barrel-chested sturdiness of an old man.

I knew almost nothing about this book going in, except that I had heard good things; and I will tell you even less at this point about what’s inside the covers. I think this story is most enjoyable when you start it blind. So I’ll just say that so far, I’m mesmerized by the descriptions, the character-building, and the remarkable, quiet reflection of humanity. Do check it out. (I’m very much enjoying Mark Bramhall’s narration, too.) Happy Friday, friends.

Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister (audio)

farewellI “like” the Dorothy Parker facebook page, available here, which is run by Ellen Meister and posts Parker quotes and anecdotes regularly. This is how I became aware of Meister’s new book, a nod in novel form to the feisty one.

In wrapping up this audiobook experience I am a little conflicted. I was alternately spellbound and greatly entertained, and exasperated, with the novel’s protagonist, Violet Epps. Violet is a movie critic in present-day New York, and her verbal wit on the page is razor-sharp (as they say), in the spirit of her acknowledged hero, Dorothy Parker. But in real life, she’s petrified of everything, rarely finding the voice to ask for a seat at a restaurant; in the opening scenes (quite frustrating) she is trying to break up with a dirtbag loser boyfriend but can’t. And then she obtains a book signed by Dorothy Parker, and discovers – gasp – that she can summon the dead writer at will. This changes Violet’s life enormously.

Violet needs a helping hand in several areas of her life: dumping the boyfriend and fielding a new one; dealing with a horrible bratty new underling at work; and fighting a custody battle for her recently orphaned niece. Mrs. Parker (as she insists on being called) is a great help – or sometimes a great interferer – in these matters, giving Ms. Epps (as she insists on calling her) the backbone she needs. Sometimes this takes the form of encouragement (or even feeding her lines); but Mrs. Parker also has the ability to enter Violet and take charge of her body, which can be messy. There is always the questions of where to give credit (or blame) – how much is Violet in control of herself? She is apt to give Dorothy Parker the credit, but she’ll have to learn how to stand up for herself by herself in the end, of course. The satisfying flip side to Violet’s growth is that she has something to offer Mrs. Parker, as well.

On the one hand, Meister’s characters were well-developed and believable (with the possible exception of a rather ogre-ish grandmother), and I cared about them. Dorothy Parker was wonderful, everything you’d want her to be, realistic, heroic but humanly flawed. I was honestly desperate to get back to this audiobook when I had to shut it off. I needed to know what was going to happen next; I was excited or anxious for Violet, who I liked.

On the other hand, Violet’s behavior was often infuriating. She was so slow to learn, so allergic to speaking up for herself in even the most obvious of needs, that I wanted to shake her. We spent what felt like eons in situations where she should have just done something. Now, I’m not a person who typically struggles to speak up for herself; I don’t suffer from social anxiety except in the most exceptional of circumstances. Perhaps I should be tolerant of this portrayal because perhaps it is entirely realistic for people who truly fight these issues. [Although, the explanation for Violet's social anxiety - a trauma involving her recently-deceased sister when they were small - I found rather trite.] But even if this was a realistic portrayal, I found it tiresome.

Similarly, perhaps I should give allowances for this part because I’m not a romance fan – but in the thread of this story that was a romance novel, there occurs that maddening trope wherein the woman wants the man but pushes him away, and it takes far too long for them to reconcile their totally obvious mutual desire. My patience was tested. But, romance fans, you should like that part.

I know I sound harsh here, but I point out again, the plot’s action had me riveted and I am going to miss Violet Epps (and Dorothy Parker!) very much now that this book is finished. I just want to communicate that I had conflicting moments throughout.

And in the end, I was silly putty in this book’s hands. I was so pleased for the happy endings and for all the characters that I forgot my earlier quibbles. Had I been I overreacting? Or did the later success of this novel simply wash away the memories of my frustration? Whatever it was, my patience with this book was rewarded and I’m won over. Three cheers for Violet and Dorothy, both.


Rating: 6 edits.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. The idea is to open your current read to a random page and share a few sentences. And try not to include spoilers!

typist

I have discovered an awesome new book on audio that I want you to know about. Set in 1920′s New York City, The Other Typist‘s first-person narrator is Rose Baker, an orphan employed as (yes) a typist at a precinct police department. She is entranced by a new hire named Odalie, who exerts a magnetic pull on everyone, it seems, but most especially Rose herself. Here’s your teaser:

She was never once rebuffed, and the man – I say man here generically, because there were several – invariably introduced himself and reached into his pocket to fish out a lighter and a replacement cigarette, while Odalie puffed on her pilfered prize and regarded the gentleman with a sly, delighted expression, as if to suggest nothing he could pull out of his pocket could sufficiently replace the unique and spectacular treasure she had just stolen.

I just love this line, read masterfully by Gretchen Mol, with its subtly suggestive reference to what a generic man might pull out of his pocket to impress Odalie. She, the other typist, is a classic, manipulative femme fatale; but then again, there are some unanswered questions to ask about our narrator Rose, too. And that’s the kind of set-up I like. Stay tuned…

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (audio)

flightAnother beautiful, thought-provoking book from Kingsolver; and another outstanding narration by the author herself. Like The Lacuna, which I called one of the best books I read in 2012, this will be a standout. I fear this will be one of those longer reviews, as I have so much to say…

We open with a young mother of two in a less-than-thrilling marriage, named Dellarobia Turnbow, hiking up a mountain to meet a man for adulterous purposes. On her way there, she’s distracted by an amazing sight. The hills appear to be aflame, but there is no sound and no heat. She is amazed, and disturbed, and stands up her would-be lover and goes back home; it’s something like a religious experience, although she’s not particularly religious. She does, however, attend church – one of many compromises for the sake of her mother-in-law, who terrifies her.

Dellarobia lives on her in-laws’ sheep farm in Tennessee and rarely gets to leave the property. Her husband is kind but dull. She is frustrated. The strange thing happening up on the mountain, however, will expand her world: it has implications for climate change, and is variously interpreted as an event of an environmental as well as a religious nature.

The cool orange flame on the mountaintop is a mass migration of Monarch butterflies, pushed out of their normal overwintering site in Mexico by a mudslide that killed a village, caused in turn by clearcutting and climate change. Dellarobia doesn’t have the context to begin to comprehend such happenings, so she has to learn slowly; aiding her in this process is the amazing Dr. Ovid Byron, an entomologist who has written the book (many of them) on Monarchs who shows up to park his camper on the Turnbow farm and study their special mountain. Ovid is a striking figure – physically, as a black man, he is of such a minority in the rural mountains of Tennessee as to be exotic to Dellarobia; audibly, his accent (similar to Jamaican) is mellifluous and musical; and intellectually, he boggles Dellarobia’s mind and pushes her to new ways of thinking. This is a young woman who would have gone to college if she hadn’t gotten pregnant, and her thwarted ambitions are sparked by Ovid’s presence.

Meanwhile, the local religious community becomes convinced that Dellarobia prophesied the Monarchs’ arrival, that she had a vision; she is tentatively treated as a hero or religious figure, which doesn’t sit well with her feared mother-in-law, Hester. The media – local, and then national – blows things out of proportion, highlights the sensational, and alternately threatens to turn her into a sex symbol or accuses her of suicidal tendencies. Her marriage – which we learned in the opening scene was not strong or happy – is predictably strained by all the activity and attention. And perhaps most poignantly, her small son Preston is told by Ovid that he is a scientist, and begins a new way of thinking, himself.

As a family story or the story of one woman, alone, this would be an extraordinary masterpiece. Dellarobia is a remarkable woman, and I think she is probably representative of many young women who have greater abilities than they end up exploring, trapped (in Dellarobia’s case) in rural and familial circumstances that limit her. Just as in The Lacuna, one of Flight Behavior‘s greatest strengths is Dellarobia’s realness: her quirks, her frustrations, her fantansies, her day-to-day life and thoughts. We get to experience this story inside her head, and the inside of Dellarobia’s head, all by itself, would be a glorious gift for Kingsolver to bestow upon us. The other characters too, all of them, are fully realized, more real than the people I know in the real world; they’re complex, and even the initially unlikeable ones (I’m looking at you, Hester) are multi-faceted and deserving of our sympathy in the end.

But! That’s not all! There’s more to this story than Dellarobia and her family of wonderfully real, odd people. The Monarch butterflies, climate change, the complexities of farming in a changing world, the environmental movement, 350.org, and academia are all explored and examined in a wonderfully nuanced way. Idealistic young – and old – environmentalists show up on the scene as well, and there’s a lovely scene in which one of them quizzes Dellarobia on her commitment to leave a smaller carbon footprint. As it turns out, being rural and poor puts her in a pretty good place footprint-wise already, a fact which humbles (not to say embarrasses) her interlocutor.

Dellarobia turns out to be the perfect vehicle for teaching us all the science of Monarchs, of migration, of weather patterns and geography, of climate change, and of relationships among people and cultures. She’s ignorant, but not unintelligent, and once she learns how to open her mind, she is an inquisitive student; and Ovid Byron is a wonderful teacher, and let me add, his dreamy accent, so well performed in this audio edition, is to die for. [I do recommend listening rather than reading, upon which more in a moment.] However, this is never a polemic, and Dellarobia is far, far more than a vehicle; you remember I was terribly bothered by that issue in Sophie’s World, and a little bothered by it in Ishmael, but there is no trace of it here. As I wrote above, Dellarobia is very, very real. Instead, this is a moving, complex story, starring sympathetic, believable characters, that also handles some large, important questions: like, what are we doing with our world?

I have a quick note to make on the ending, mostly for my father. Pops has noted that where Derrick Jensen is brutally honest about our future, Bill McKibben tends to draw intelligent conclusions and then inexplicably end on what feels like an unrealistically optimistic note. Well, in the same vein, Kingsolver may end things a trifle more hopefully than is realistic – it feels good, you understand, but it’s a McKibben ending rather than a Jensen one, if you follow. And then she thanks McKibben in her Author’s Note, so that’s fitting.

The Author’s Note also includes a brief discussion of what in this story is true to life (and how she found it out), and what is fiction. This is a well-researched book, and I appreciate her delineating the boundary between fact and fiction, as I always do.

The audio narration by Kingsolver herself could not be improved upon. Dellarobia has an Appalachian twang and darling figures of speech. Her BFF Dovey is even cuter and mouthier; she collects jokey church billboard sayings, some of which Dellarobia is sure she makes up (“Moses was a basket case”). Dellarobia’s in-laws have their own audible personalities; her husband Cub is nothing in life if not sloooow in all respects including speech. And Ovid Byron! Oh, the accent. Swoon. Kingsolver does all these beautifully. If you have to read this book rather than listen to the author read it, then fine, but I pity you. Get the audiobook!! Do it!


Rating: without question a perfect 10 newborn lambs.

This book is so wonderful – particularly in Kingsolver’s masterful narration – that I wonder if I should go back and try some of her earlier work again. I remember being decidedly nonplussed by The Poisonwood Bible, and I know I’ve read The Bean Trees but have no impression of it (which is not a good sign); I can’t decide if I’ve read The Prodigal Summer or Animal Dreams or not (also not a good sign). But The Lacuna and this one are both so grand, I feel I should delve more deeply. Also, while I’m pondering past readings, I wonder why I keep getting Kingsolver crossed with Margaret Atwood in my mind? I wanted to attribute The Robber Bride (which I enjoyed) to Kingsolver. Maybe it’s that I’ve found them both a little hit-or-miss; I was less impressed with The Year of the Flood and ambivalent about Oryx and Crake and The Blind Assassin; have no impression from Surfacing; but loved The Penelopiad, and found The Edible Woman mindblowing.

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