Category: Reviews


Faulkner-esque Friday: Lincoln in the Bardo

Posted 17 February, 2017 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Faulkner-esque Friday: Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Published by Random House on February 14th 2017
Pages: 368
Goodreads
four-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War
On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel - in its form and voice - completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.

Oh my goodness, you guys. Saunders has completely blown me away with Lincoln in the Bardo. I described it repeatedly to an illiterate co-worker (love you B!) as The Sound and the Fury with ghosts. Saunders creates a beautifully atmospheric novel without sacrificing character development – though – it doesn’t happen the way you’d expect.

This novel is incredibly, well, novel. Saunders creates a world where we are able to see the main players reflected through the eyes of the dead who are obsessed with petty (and not so petty) wrongs that happened to them in life. Thus, they are stuck in ‘the bardo’. When Willie Lincoln dies, we get to see the confusion of a dead child along with the reflections of his father’s grief. What’s so interesting about the form of Lincoln in the Bardo, is that it’s written more like a Greek chorus, with other ‘characters’ explaining the action – rather than us seeing the action.

There are intermittent background chapters that appear to be excerpts from memoirs or history books about what is happening in the world outside the graveyard. Explaining the pressure of the Civil War on President Lincoln, the party that happened prior to Willie’s death, and other general historical snippets to give the rest of the novel context.

The concept of the bardo is fascinating enough it ran me down a brief wormhole of Tibetan death rituals and the such. I may have some future reading about that.

Overall, this is an excellent novel by an author who I believe will be considered one of the great authors of our lifetimes. It has a fresh form, an interesting story, atmosphere, and just generally fantastic writing. This is a book that literary fiction lovers absolutely must check out.

Does this sound too weird for you, Reader? Too hard? It’s definitely not a beach read, but it’s hard reading that I think is totally worth it.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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M-Mini Reviews: Tournament of Books 2017

Posted 16 February, 2017 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

by Brit Bennett, Francine Prose, Michael Chabon
Published by Harper, Riverhead Books

tournament of books

A weak correlation of books, I realize it, connecting the ‘M’ titles together in the Tournament of Books selections, but time is growing short. Today, I’m going to take a look at MoonglowThe Mothers, and Mister Monkey.

Moonglow by: Michael Chabon

Brief Synopsis: The author’s grandfather makes a deathbed confession about war, love, childrearing, and mental illness.

Brief Review: When a novel starts with the aside: “In preparing this memoir I have stuck to facts except when facts refuse to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I understand it.” I know that I’m probably going to have a good time. (This was of course before KellyAnne Conway’s ‘alternative facts’ nonsense, but I digress.) I did find Moonglow to be pretty fun. It jumps around in time quite a bit and has inspired me to want to learn more about Werner von Braun and the Nazi development of rocket.

Brief RatingProbably a solid three stars. Maybe more if you like Nazis and space.

The Mothers by: Brit Bennett

Brief Synopsis: An African-American girl growing up in California survives her mother committing suicide only to get pregnant too young. When she makes the choice to have an abortion, lives change.

Brief Review: Look. The writing in this book is gorgeous. The characters are well developed and believable. The story is interesting and compelling. My issue with this book is the fact that it feels a little preachy. Nadia’s pregnancy and subsequent abortion completely defines who she is through the entire novel. I’ve not had an abortion, but the literature of women who have cite that more often than not, this is not the case (see Katha Pollitt’s masterpiece Pro). Let me be fair by saying that I’m sure that it can be the case sometimes.

Brief Rating: Definitely at least four stars, if it hadn’t been so preachy on the abortion thing, it would have easily been five for me.

Mister Monkey by: Francine Prose

Brief Synopsis: A novel that details pieces of characters lives involved with an off-off-off Broadway production of a children’s musical: Mister Monkey.

Brief Review: While I didn’t find the comedy to be “effervescent” nor the prose to be “breathtaking”, but this novel is unique, if nothing else. I loved how Prose has a chapter told from the point of view of each character, randomly, spiraling farther and farther from the theatre troupe the reader would expect to be hearing from. This book is fun, a little wacky, and weirdly it has its deep and important moments.

Brief Rating: 3.5 stars or so, definitely worth a try, but probably won’t change your life.

The Tournament grows nigh, dear Reader! Are you planning on playing along? How many have you read thus far?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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For the Birds Mini-Reviews: Tournament of Books 2017

Posted 13 February, 2017 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reading, Reviews

for the birds

The time has come, (the Walrus said), to talk of many things!

Or, y’know, for me to finally get around to writing a few reviews for the fast upcoming Tournament of Books. (The Rooster waketh!) Let’s get started. This is the bird inspired group of mini-reviews.

Grief is the Thing With Feathers by: Max Porter

Brief Synopsis: The sudden death of a wife and mother gives rise to a ‘sentimental bird’, The Crow, joining the family for a period of time.

Brief Review: Look. No synopsis anyone can ever write about this book is going to do it justice. This book is part poetry, part allegory, and all beautiful. This slim book took me completely by surprise. What Porter manages to do with language from the point of view of the husband, the boys, and the crow is nothing short of breathtaking. This is a quick – though not necessarily easy – read. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Brief Rating: Five stars. For sure.

All the Birds in the Sky by: Charlie Jane Anders

Brief Synopsis: Two childhood friends. One drawn to magic, the other to science. When the world goes to hell in a handbasket, will these two work together to save the world, or are magic and science mutually exclusive?

Brief Review: This book is another weird one. It defies all genres. At some points it reminded me of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy, at other times it was a science fiction, dystopian nightmare. Still, at other times it was a love story. Despite this book pulling me in about a thousand different ways, I still found it ultimately enjoyable. I’d like to recommend it to people who love Harry Potter, science fiction, and dystopian end-of-the-world novels. However, for some of these people it just might pull in too many different directions.

Brief Rating: Three and a half stars. Maybe four.

That’s all I have right now, Reader! What is with Tournament of Books and bird novels? One of my favorites from years past is All the Birds, SingingAnyway, tell me all your thoughts on these two. How do you think they will fare in the Tournament?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Thoughtful Thursday: Commonwealth

Posted 5 January, 2017 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Thoughtful Thursday: CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 322
Goodreads
four-half-stars

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.
When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.
Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

I’ve never been a huge Ann Patchett fan, so I didn’t gnash my teeth too much when I missed out on Commonwealth at BEA. However, when it showed up on the Tournament of Books longlist and after hearing all the praise that had since been heaped upon this novel, I decided to go ahead and pick it up.

Lord have mercy, I am so glad that I did. Commonwealth is a long-game character study in the tradition of John Irving. Patchett manages to render her characters beautifully, despite all their flaws and ugliness. She manages to make the reader care immensely for quite a large cast of characters in an impressively short page span. At a sparse 322 pages, I would have never guessed that Commonwealth could have made me care for Fix and Franny, Beverly, Caroline, Albie, even Bert and Leo(n). (et. al.) Despite the flaws that Patchett lays bare in each character, I found it impossible to really hate any of them. Instead I found even the worst of the characters (Bert, it had to be Bert) beautiful and struggling in his own way. Maybe it’s because I literally do the job that Bert Cousins did, I found his struggle to be at home with the kids and away from work and even his attraction to beautiful Beverly to be incredibly relatable.

This is a domestic novel, but it’s not just a domestic novel. There are many layers to be peeled away in Commonwealth, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This would be a great selection for a book club.

What about you Reader? I’m late to the game with this one? Anyone have other thoughts or feelings about Commonwealth?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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If This, Then That: History of Wolves

Posted 2 January, 2017 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

If This, Then That: History of WolvesHistory of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Published by Grove Atlantic on January 3rd 2017
Pages: 288
Goodreads
three-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Linda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her 'Freak', or 'Commie'. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family's orbit, she realises they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; but if she doesn't, their son may die.Superbly-paced and beautifully written, HISTORY OF WOLVES is an extraordinary debut novel about guilt, innocence, negligence, well-meaning belief and the death of a child.

I want to start with a brief review of Fridlund’s History of Wolves. While I usually love debut literary fiction novels, History of Wolves was a bit of a failure to launch for me. I felt like Fridlund was a little too ambitious with this story. It’s true that the writing is lyrical. She attempts to create an atmosphere that is charged with the feeling something isn’t quite right, but this ultimately fails. The burn is a bit too slow. The juxtaposition between the scandal of child pornography and the family that seems a little too good to be true doesn’t quite come off.

Ultimately, I felt like the narrative push and pull that Fridlund seemed to be aiming for in History of Wolves failed because she was trying to do too much. The atmosphere in the woods, Linda’s school life, home life, and time she spends with the Gardners never really becomes a cohesive narrative. The reader thinks that there’s something slightly off about the Gardner’s, but honestly up until the reveal (which because of heavy handed foreshadowing was completely expected) it’s truly hard to really care.

I think that Fridlund would have been better served to focus completely on the story of Linda and the Gardner’s, cutting out the whole bit about the teacher and her odd upbringing in the commune.

That being said, if you read this book and enjoy it, or even mostly enjoy it I have to point you towards The Children Act, it explores similar themes of the rights of people to their religion weighed against the rights that their children have. It’s a fascinating first amendment discussion for anyone who wants to have it.

So Reader, what do you think? Have you read History of Wolves yet? Does it sound like your kind of thing?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Well Written Wednesday: All That Man Is

Posted 28 December, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Well Written Wednesday: All That Man IsAll That Man Is by David Szalay
Published by Graywolf Press on October 4th 2016
Pages: 358
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Nine men. Each of them at a different stage in life, each of them away from home, and each of them striving--in the suburbs of Prague, in an overdeveloped Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a dingy Cyprus hotel--to understand what it means to be alive, here and now. Tracing a dramatic arc from the spring of youth to the winter of old age, the ostensibly separate narratives of All That Man Is aggregate into a picture of a single shared existence, a picture that interrogates the state of modern manhood while bringing to life, unforgettably, the physical and emotional terrain of an increasingly globalized Europe. And so these nine lives form an ingenious and new kind of novel, in which David Szalay expertly plots a dark predicament for the twenty-first-century man.
Dark and disturbing, but also often wickedly and uproariously comic, All That Man Is is notable for the acute psychological penetration Szalay brings to bear on his characters, from the working-class ex-grunt to the pompous college student, the middle-aged loser to the Russian oligarch. Steadily and mercilessly, as this brilliantly conceived book progresses, the protagonist at the center of each chapter is older than the last one, it gets colder out, and All That Man Is gathers exquisite power.

First, funny story about All That Man Is, I remembered hearing about it at BEA. When I saw it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, I remembered that and picked it up. Last night, I finished it and went to take the dead tree book into the study where the rest of the books are stored when what do I see in my BEA book pile? Yep. All That Man Is. I is very smart.

Anyway, this book was a slow read for me – then again everything has been slow reading for me lately, so the fact that I finished it at all is pretty high praise. Szalay does some beautiful things with his prose, it’s really quite transporting. I think what I enjoyed most about this book was how European it is. I was stationed in Europe for about three years and I went everywhere that I could. A lot of the locations in this book were familiar-ish to me and Szalay’s writing is so transporting it was a little like being back there. At times it’s less a book about aging and growing and more of a travelogue.

The form of All That Man Is is another thing that is worth talking about. I suppose the easiest way to categorize it is to describe it as thematically related short stories. Each story follows a man in a different point of his life, in this way All That Man Is can be compared to Forty Rooms (which is amazing, read it), in that it is an exploration of aging within a particular gender. Forty Rooms spoke to me more, this could be a function of being a woman, but All That Man Is is powerful as well. The one flaw of this book is probably the fact that all the stories focus around white, middle class to rich men so social justice readers may have a hard time with that aspect.

Regardless, this is an incredibly well written and thoughtful book. Check it out.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Today Will Be Different

Posted 3 October, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Today Will Be DifferentToday Will Be Different by Maria Semple
on October 4th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Women, Family Life, Humorous, General, Literary
Pages: 420
Format: Paperback ARC
Goodreads
four-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.

Eleanor Flood, the main character in Maria Semple’s new novel Today Will Be Different, is self absorbed, overprivileged, whiny, bitchy, and awful. I love her. In Today Will Be Different Semple manages to capture all the first world difficulties of being a white, upper-middle class woman with humor, grace, and a touch of zaniness. There is a delicate balance that this novel straddles between chick-lit and literary fiction and Semple does it perfectly.

Eleanor is a well fleshed out and fairly dynamic character, she has feelings that are tangible and completely relatable to me. The scene where she takes her son to the doctor after the school calls her (again!) to tell her he has a stomachache. The doctor’s judgmental gaze that causes her to change her plans from lunch (with a friend she hates) to ‘Mommy time!’ I have been there. Complete with avoiding my friends that I hate. The boring (wo)men that you meet through networking or play dates who have nothing of any interest to talk about. I know those (wo)men!

Today Will Be Different had me nodding along at every turn, empathizing with Eleanor’s moods and feelings. Semple throws in some of the craziness that made Bernadette such a lovable book and capitalizes on that style with a fun story, easy reading, and likable characters. My sole complaint with Today Will Be Different is the ending. It’s such a minor complaint but it takes just a touch of the polish off of what otherwise is an excellent and enjoyable book.

Months after writing this review I had a chat with Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books about it. She pointed out some of the flaws in the book – some of which I remembered and some of which after all this time – that I didn’t. The conclusion that I came to after our discussion was that I found Eleanor to be so relatable… the weird little plot flaws just didn’t matter for me.

I devoured Today Will Be Different in about a day and a half. It is highly readable, very enjoyable, and overall a great time. Recommended for anyone looking for some fun, light reading where you might recognize yourself.

Anyone out there who loved this book? Who loved Where’d You Go Bernadette?? Hated it? Thoughts, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Whatever Wednesday: The Last Days of Night

Posted 14 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Whatever Wednesday: The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
Published by Random House on August 16th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?
In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

The Last Days of Night grabbed my attention before and at BEA. The clever title and the idea of a historical fiction account of the patent war over the lightbulb between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. What I am sad to report is that for me, The Last Days of Night didn’t really deliver on this rich subject matter.

Beginning with the characters. I felt like all of the characters up to and including Paul, Agnes, Tesla, and Westinghouse were incredibly static. The dialogue was rather stilted and quite frankly I didn’t really buy into much of it, though I knew that The Last Days of Night was based on real events. Much like the way many historical fiction novels pan out for me, I found the most interesting part of this novel was the afterword where Moore explains where his novel differed and expounded on the actual events of this case.

While I know that other readers found the book too technical, especially when it came to the litigation of the patent suit, that’s actually what I would have liked more of. To be fair, my opinion on that as an attorney may be really different than that of an average reader.

I said before that I was dubbing 2016 as the year of ‘could do worse on an airplane’ books. That’s squarely where The Last Days of Night falls. What about you, Reader? Has anyone else read this one?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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30 Authors: Rufi Thorpe on ‘After Birth’

Posted 12 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

30 Authors

Preliminaries

#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, visit: www.thebookwheelblog.com/30authors or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.

30 Author’s Book Review

Rufi Thorpe

“Bitch, I mean, come on: do you think I don’t know I’m wearing enormous pants?”

Reading Elisa Albert’s After Birth

When I don’t know what to read next, I usually turn to Rachel Fershleiser, who is a unique personage in the online book world. She is part taste-maker, part cheerleader, part guardian-angel of authors trying to find an audience, and she is one of those people who has found her power in being absolutely herself, by which I mean she is a fucking delight. She reads everything, and if you want to read something about kick-ass women processing their shit, she is the person to ask. (You should follow her on Twitter immediately is what I am saying.) So I asked, and she recommended After Birth by Elisa Albert.

I hadn’t heard of it, and I usually read this kind of thing. It didn’t have that many reviews, but it did have some impressive blurbs from Karen Russell, Emily Gould, Lydia Davis. The cover was sort of ugly in an interesting way. I didn’t know what to expect. Before I was thirty pages in, I had already texted my mother, my best friend, and my sister-in-law that they had to read this book.

Part of After Birth’s allure is its humor. The narrator, Ari, is scathing in a way that is particularly appealing, a kind of Dorothy Parker naughtiness, a willingness to be mean. “Yes, clearly I am not as lithe as before I fabricated and surgically evacuated a new human being. At any opportunity my stepmother will still give me the Scan, let’s call it, that classic down-up as common to the female of the species as is the vagina— and offer a specious don’t worry, sweetie, you’ll get back to normal soon. Bitch, I mean, come on: do you think I don’t know I’m wearing enormous pants?” (p. 15)

But part of the book’s allure is its philosophical insight, which is as furious and cutting as its humor. Ari is willing to say things that are unlikable, unfashionable, questioning our relationships to our bodies, our fear of death and birth, women’s place in the power structures of the world, and this gives the book an intriguing force and freshness. Ari is not fundamentally likable, and she is not always right, in fact often she is stubborn and stuck. But this is hardly a fault in a book that is questioning, among other things, why women have to be so fucking likable all the time.

After Birth tells the story of what happens to one woman, Ari, after the birth of her first child. I want to say it simply like that, because it makes clear one thing: I don’t think I have read another novel that takes this stage of life as its chief plot. There is no love interest in this book. (Ari’s husband is neither the solution, nor the problem; he is a good guy doing his best.) Subplots are scarce, and the major arc of the story follows her friendship with another woman who has just given birth.

If there is a major critique to be made of the book, it is that its internal nature, its psycho-spiritual subject matter, are not the stuff of traditional plot, and the effect can at times be claustrophobic. To create movement, Albert skillfully interrupts the current action with flashbacks which account for Ari’s relationship to her own mother who died when she was young and who was a bitch even before she died, and her grandmother who survived the Holocaust. (“Exactly what primal torments did she endure and escape? Everyone always wants to know. They ask around it. But you can’t un-know, okay? She survived by sucking Nazi cock. Nineteen years old. Survived with her mouth full of throbbing Nazi sausage. All righty?” p. 140)

The narrative is also constantly interrupted by what becomes a litany of failed female friendships: Molly with the clear gray eyes, Jess from Jewish summer camp, Rachel the “ano-fucking-rexic,” Shira the beautiful idiot with the sweetest gap-tooth grin, and of course, Mina, whose friendship Ari is desperate for, and who carries the bulk of what little current-action plot there is.

The book makes a commentary on its own lack of plot, asking serious questions about whether plot, which revolves around a series of decisive actions set up almost as an alter to cause and effect, a painstaking diorama of the forces of action, is in fact a male cultural construct which is of little use to a woman wanting to write about having babies.

Ari ruminates: “Adrienne Rich had it right. No one gives a crap about motherhood unless they can profit off it. Women are expendable and the work of childbearing, done fully, done consciously, is all-consuming. So who’s gonna write about it if everyone doing it is lost forever within it? You want adventures, you want poetry and art, you want to salon it up over at Gertrude and Alice’s, you’d best leave the messy all-consuming baby stuff to someone else. Birthing and nursing and rocking and distracting and socializing and cooking and washing and gardening and mending: what’s that compared with bullets whizzing overhead, dazzling destructive heroics, headlines, parties, glory, all that Martha Gellhorn stuff, all that Zelda Fitzgerald stuff, drugs and gutters and music and poetry pretty dresses more parties and fucking and fucking and parties? Destroy yourself, says my mother. Live it up. That’s what makes for good stories. She should know. Nurturance, on the other hand . . .The time it takes to grow something . .  . BORING.” (pp. 185-186)

It is a stubborn book. It is an important book. It is a glorious and flawed and incandescent book. And you should go read it right now.

Find Rufi Thorpe

 

Website   |   Twitter   |   Facebook   | Amazon

 

 

 

About After Birth

 

Website   |   Twitter   |   Facebook   |   Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks again to Allison for organizing 30 Authors and Rufi for her fabulous review! After Birth wasn’t my cup of tea when I read it, but Rufi’s written an excellent review. What about you, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Terrific Tuesday: Children of the New World

Posted 6 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: Children of the New WorldChildren of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein
Published by Picador on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback ARC
Goodreads
four-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Children of the New World introduces readers to a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarmingly intuitive robots. Many of these characters live in a utopian future of instant connection and technological gratification that belies an unbridgeable human distance, while others inhabit a post-collapse landscape made primitive by disaster, which they must work to rebuild as we once did millennia ago.
In “The Cartographers,” the main character works for a company that creates and sells virtual memories, while struggling to maintain a real-world relationship sabotaged by an addiction to his own creations. In “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” the robotic brother of an adopted Chinese child malfunctions, and only in his absence does the family realize how real a son he has become.

Children of the New World is fantastic. In fact, as of writing this review (30 July 2016), I have read 42 books this year. There are only two or three others that were as well written and enjoyable as Children of the New World. I picked up this book thinking that it was a novel, it wasn’t until I got halfway through the second story that I realized it wasn’t a novel but a collection of short stories. At that point I almost set it aside, (because I was in the mood for a novel) but ultimately decided to press on. Jeeze-o-pete, I’m so glad that I did.

I kind of relate this to the short story collection The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. Each story can absolutely stand on it’s own, but the collection as a whole is infinitely more enjoyable and most of the stories build off of the others in subtle and delightful ways. This method is how Weinstein has managed the extraordinary feat of excellent world building within the length of a short story. To be fair, the world building gets better the more stories that you read, but each story in Children of the New World is completely insular and most are 5 star stories in their own right.

A few of my favorites. Moksha takes the delightful idea that enlightenment is now something that has been digitized and can be downloaded into your brain – it’s now a drug that is illegal in most western markets. Phrases like:

There had been nonstop busts at yoga studios and health spas in the U.S.

made me giggle a little, but the chilling reality of where technology is going was, at times, sobering.

Later in the book with The Pyramid and the Ass the tenants of Buddhism are nearly criminalized and Weinstein makes ‘radical Buddhism’ synonymous with what the media calls ‘radical Islam’ today. Complete with kidnappings and mutilations. These kind of details are what I’m talking about when I say that Weinstein world builds within his collection of short stories. Both Moksha and The Pyramid and the Ass are excellent in their own right, but taken together they are phenomenal.

Another story in particular that I really enjoyed was the title story Children of the New World. In this story people are able to log into a virtual reality network and experience pleasures beyond their wildest dreams. They are also able to procreate, build houses, and lives in this reality (think The Sims). Children of the New World grapples with questions that I find to be extremely complex, even if they’re not quite ripe for discussion.

The only story that seems completely out of place and more incongruous than the others is the last one in the collection, Ice Age, I enjoyed this story, but it stood out – perhaps because of it’s placement – to be not quite a part of the same universe as the others.

So, Reader, has anyone has the pleasure of reading this collection yet? Thoughts and feelings on where technology is going for us? Is it out of control? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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