Tag: loss


Woeful Wednesday: A Little Life (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 6 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Woeful Wednesday: A Little Life (A Tournament of Books Selection)A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on March 10th 2015
Genres: Asian American, Coming of Age, Fiction, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 736
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.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome--but that will define his life forever.

It’s inarguable that A Little Life is beautifully written and takes the reader to dark places that most of us would rather not go, which is normally a plus for me, but unlike many readers I wasn’t totally swept away by the this tale.

Not only was A Little Life an incredibly slow start for me (mostly because I didn’t care about most of the early details the characters experienced) but even as I went on I found the book to be increasingly unbelievable. Not so much the horrors that Jude went through, but the incredible good fortune that he kept finding in spite of his past. I’ll save most of that type of discussion for The Socratic Salon.

A Little Life could have probably benefited from some extreme editing, I think it’s about 200 pages too long and has at least three characters that could have been combined into other characters or cut. I love long cradle to grave character study sagas most of the time, but this one just felt… I don’t know, forced? I don’t have a proper adjective.

Have you read this A Little Life, Reader? What did you think? How do you think it will fare in Tournament of Books 2016?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Redeployment: A Tournament of Books Selection

Posted 30 January, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Redeployment: A Tournament of Books SelectionRedeployment by Phil Klay
Published by Penguin on March 4th 2014
Genres: Fiction, General, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 304
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction · Winner of the John Leonard First Book Prize · Selected as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post Book World, Amazon, and more  Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned.  Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. In "Redeployment", a soldier who has had to shoot dogs because they were eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people "who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died."  In "After Action Report", a Lance Corporal seeks expiation for a killing he didn't commit, in order that his best friend will be unburdened.  A Morturary Affairs Marine tells about his experiences collecting remains—of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers both.  A chaplain sees his understanding of Christianity, and his ability to provide solace through religion, tested by the actions of a ferocious Colonel.  And in the darkly comic "Money as a Weapons System", a young Foreign Service Officer is given the absurd task of helping Iraqis improve their lives by teaching them to play baseball.  These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier's daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier's homecoming. Redeployment is poised to become a classic in the tradition of war writing.  Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss.  Written with a hard-eyed realism and stunning emotional depth, this work marks Phil Klay as one of the most talented new voices of his generation.

Whoa. This book takes on some of the hard truths that soldiers and Marines returning from (and participating in) the longest two wars in American history have to face. As a veteran this was a difficult read for me. When I started the book I didn’t realize it was a collection of short stories. At first I was disappointed because the first story is so raw and powerful. It’s about how a man returning home from Iraq struggles to reintegrate back into everyday life with his wife and dog. I wanted to know more of that character’s struggles. In the end though it turned out to be a good thing that this was short stories because I found that I could only read it in short bursts, so harrowing are the narratives at times. Perhaps this is the reason I don’t read a lot of war fiction (or war non-fiction, for that matter).

In a time where less than one percent of the American population is in the military – it’s so easy for some to forget the experience that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been through. There are many people who don’t know anyone in the military. This book is important if not for that reason alone.

A line in the first story ‘Redeployment’ struck me so hard because it’s the honest to god’s truth.

“We took my combat pay and did a lot of shopping. Which is how America fights back against the terrorists.”

What else is there to do after you’re haunted by a war that makes little to no sense to you or the rest of the country? Another line that I ran across hit me hard because as a veteran I’ve always had a hard time with the “Thank you for your service” type gratitude actions that I would get. It’s an awkward feeling that many veterans don’t know what to do with (I’m not saying don’t do it when you see a man or woman in uniform – just that it’s a weird feeling – at least for me).

“I was angry. I’d gotten a lot of Thank You for Your Service handshakes, but nobody really knew what that service meant…” 

I worked as a Unit Deployment Manager for the Air Force, it was my job to tend to all the airmen that would be deployed, ensuring they had all their training, paperwork, and equipment. While because of my rank I was not the one making personal selections on who would go and who would stay at home (unlike the Army, the Air Force does not deploy entire units at one time, instead it’s a piecemeal selection of individuals based on job functions that are needed down-range). Despite that I still fielded phone-calls from angry spouses and sent men and women away from their families to miss anniversaries, Christmases, and even the birth of their children.

The stories in Redeployment focus exclusively on the Army and the Marine Corps and I’m okay with that. The problem that I had with this collection is that there were no stories told from the point of view of female characters. Women, despite not technically being allowed in combat, are in combat. I felt that Klay might have strengthened his book if he could have told at least one story from the perspective of a woman.

The other thing that will probably drive civilian readers crazy are the excessive acronyms. It didn’t bother me because I knew what most of them meant, but I can definitely see this as being an impediment for a reader with little to no knowledge of military jargon.

Like I said, this was a difficult read for me but I do think that it’s an incredibly important and well written book. It’s not really about the wars themselves, it’s a portrait of the people who fight those wars at the lowest level. I have to highly recommend it to everyone.

As far as The Tournament of Books goes, I predict that it should at least make it out of the first round (depending on what it’s pitted against), but it’s unlikely it will take the whole hog.

What do you think, Reader? I know this has been a meandering review, but does this appeal to you at all? To those of you that are active duty or veterans, really, thank you for your service.

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Wednesday Whimsy (and Heartbreak): Lost & Found

Posted 28 January, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Whimsy (and Heartbreak): Lost & FoundLost & Found by Brooke Davis
Published by Penguin on January 22nd 2015
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, General, Humorous
Pages: 320
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.

Millie Bird, seven years old and ever hopeful, always wears red gumboots to match her curly hair. Her struggling mother, grieving the death of Millie’s father, leaves her in the big ladies’ underwear department of a local store and never returns.Agatha Pantha, eighty-two, has not left her house—or spoken to another human being—since she was widowed seven years ago. She fills the silence by yelling at passersby, watching loud static on TV, and maintaining a strict daily schedule.Karl the Touch Typist, eighty-seven, once used his fingers to type out love notes on his wife’s skin. Now that she’s gone, he types his words out into the air as he speaks. Karl’s been committed to a nursing home, but in a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes. Now he’s on the lam.Brought together at a fateful moment, the three embark upon a road trip across Western Australia to find Millie’s mother. Along the way, Karl wants to find out how to be a man again; Agatha just wants everything to go back to how it was.Together they will discover that old age is not the same as death, that the young can be wise, and that letting yourself feel sad once in a while just might be the key to a happy life.

Can we start with the cover? I adore it. That and Monika the Book-Pusher (she really needs to just rename her blog) are the two main reasons that I picked this one up. For the most part this book is delightful. My heart broke continuously for poor Millie after she was abandoned by her mother. I spent most of the book terrified on what would eventually become of her.

Lost & Found is told from three perspectives: Millie, Agatha, and Karl. For the most part this technique works very well for this book – the reader is able to enjoy and understand the backstory of each character without it getting too much in the way of the central story at hand – that is finding Millie’s wayward mother. While I enjoyed the sections narrated by Millie the most, so innocent and so weird (in a good way!) Agatha’s story was a close second for me. 

As sweet as Millie is there is something a bit haunting about the sections written from Agatha and Karl’s perspective, they are both haunted by the simple fact that they are aged – something they could never properly conceive during the prime of their lives. Despite this sense of haunting their characters are fun, quirky, and unexpectedly delightful.

As much as this story is about both the elderly and the extremely young being invisible to our society at large it’s also about grief. All of the characters have lost someone – how a person chooses to handle this grief is something I really feel is explored quite well by Davis. I particularly enjoyed the essay included at the end on her handling the grief of losing her mother.

For all the good in this book, I didn’t find it to be great. It’s definitely well worth the read but for reasons I can’t quite pinpoint it lacked the ‘it’ factor that makes me jump up and down and proclaim “EVERYONE MUST READ THIS BOOK!”.  The characters are delightful, the subject matter is heartbreaking but still heartfelt… but there was still something missing for me.

I seem to be on an Australian author kick lately, purely by accident. There’s something fabulous for me about trying to figure out which English speaking country the story is located in. (Spoiler: it’s Australia) 

Excellent reviews also at:
A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Words for Worms

What about you, Reader? Have you read anything lately highlighting the problem our society has in rendering both the very young and very old nearly invisible? Tackling aging or grief?



April @ The Steadfast Reader

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