Mini-review clearance: Fiction

In a comment on my last post, Thomas of My Porch suggested that I just make a clean slate of it and not worry about reviewing the books I read in 2012 or else it would be a chore. I think he’s probably right and I’ve seen others do the same. So I’m going to take the compromise route I’ve seen others take: in one two fell swoops, I will mini-review the remaining books read in 2012. Here goes:

Fiction

The Shunning by Beverly Lewis

My co-worker was curious about the huge popularity of so-called “bonnet books”, that is, fiction about the Amish. I hadn’t read one either, so three of us from work decided to read this very well-known one. None of us expected it to be good, and it wasn’t. It’s a melodramatic story about a young woman named Katie who discovers a family secret before her wedding to a widowed bishop. The book makes some troubling assertions about why Katie is the way she is. It was definitely “telling” and not showing with its emotional beats (e.g. “But what happened next was more eloquent and heart wrenching than anything she could have said.”) It became a joke with my co-workers how much I was disturbed by a description of one character as having “blueberry eyes” (it just made me think of the creepy button-eyed people from Coraline). Perhaps Lewis improved with her later books as The Shunning was one of her first books for adults. But I am not that interested in the genre to find out. Final word on this book: we liked the movie better.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

This is an atmospheric little novel about two sisters with a scandalous past featuring mysterious deaths in their family, the Blackwood family. It’s funny how Jackson gets you to root for the clearly crazy main character, Merricat. I was like, yeah, don’t let anyone keep you from burying stuff in the yard, Merricat! The truth about the family past can be guessed at early on, but Jackson wisely doesn’t try to pass off that revelation as the story payoff. There’s a real payoff regarding the final relationship between the remaining Blackwoods and the outside world.

Also, I discovered that a band I like wrote a song inspired by this novel and it’s quite good:

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis

This is a hilarious collection of stories about an orphan (named Patrick) and his eccentric aunt who has weird philosophies of child-rearing. I’m not sure of my favorite story, but perhaps the one where Patrick gets engaged to a snobbish debutante named Gloria Upson who has expensive taste and a bigoted family. The satirical depiction of the Upsons is superb and the climactic dinner table scene is both funny and oddly touching.

Shoot to Thrill (Monkeewrench #5) by P.J. Tracy

I don’t know whether this was just a dud on its own, or if I’m getting tired of this mystery series. The incessant switching of point-of-view among almost all of the characters became annoying. Also, my favorite characters have always been the guest-appearing cop characters – the ones from Wisconsin who were in #1 and #3 and the brand-new sheriff from the fourth book – and they weren’t in this book.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

It was so refreshing to read a book that truly transported me. There had been some great books read in 2012, but few managed to immerse me in their worlds as much as this one. The novel begins with a detailed account of one summer day in the life of bookish and observant Francie Nolan, an 11-year-old girl living in poverty in Brooklyn. Then it zooms back to a portrait of her parents at the time of their meeting and proceeds chronologically from there until Francie is sixteen. The book is a collection of well-chosen vignettes with some stories lingered over more than others. Francie’s experiment with a diary picks up the narrative at one point. In a different passage, Francie imagines a scene of triumph over her English teacher and it’s written in the form of a play.

Smith’s classic novel drew upon the author’s own childhood experience and it shows: Francie Nolan, her family and her community became about as real to me as characters can get. I especially loved Francie’s relationship with her brother Neeley, particularly near the end of the book. I grew very attached to all of them and was sorry for the story to end.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Mini-review clearance: Fiction

  1. debbierodgers

    It’s been a few years since I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but I don’t remember being much impressed by it. I must be the odd man out, though, as it is certainly a well-loved classic.

    Auntie Mame sounds like fun!

    • Auntie Mame was great fun! I am a little regretful that with my mini-review format (and the fact that I returned the book to the library) means that I couldn’t include an excerpt to show the humorous writing.

  2. I really enjoyed We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but I really didn’t like The Haunting of Hill House and was somewhat bored by her memoir Life Among the Savages.

  3. I do love it that the point of We Have Always Lived in the Castle wasn’t the reveal of the Real Truth. Way to go Shirley Jackson. The point of The Haunting of Hill House was also not a revelation of what was going on with the house. The point of that one was how awful and crazy-making it is to be stuck in a scary house all the time. That appears to be the point of all Shirley Jackson’s books ever.

  4. Thomas – I actually liked the Haunting of Hill House, but now I kind of feel like I’ve read the two ‘best’ novels by Jackson. I know there are others and I’m pretty sure Jenny read some of them and reviewed them, but if I remember correctly, they were a mixed bag.

    Jenny – Quite right. Like dogs and their owners, the people and houses start becoming similar in their craziness.

  5. I’ve had A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on my shelves for years. This is THE year for it!

  6. Pingback: Joining the Classics Club | A Good Stopping Point

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