Something Missing by Matthew Dicks
2009. Broadway Books. ebook. 224 pages.
Recommendation from: Behind the Stove
I started reading this book in 2009, but had to return it to the library before I’d made it very far. For some reason, my mind gets weird about books I’ve returned to the library unread, sort of like, “Oh well! I tried! Guess it wasn’t meant to be” and then I almost never check that book out again. For some reason, Something Missing became the symbol of this phenomenon to me, and I feel like I have totally grown as a reader and a person by finally checking out the book again (ebook this time) and finishing it.
Perhaps now I will conquer other books in this category: Adam Langer’s Crossing California, John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.
Anyway, Something Missing is a light read about a somewhat obsessive-compulsive burglar, Martin, who routinely robs his “clients” in such a way that they won’t notice anything is missing: cleaning supplies, food, and occasionally, after much planning, a more expensive item such as jewelry or an antique. But one day, after nearly being caught by one of his clients, he decides to orchestrate something good to happen in their lives, triggering a chain of events that thoroughly upends his routine, lonely life.
Martin struck me as a cross between Don Tillman of The Rosie Project and Amelie, of the film Amelie. I enjoyed the author’s fantasy of the kind of planning that goes into this kind of regular burglary. I think the book had some slow moments, but overall I found it a pleasing book with an unusual premise. There were moments that were surprisingly suspenseful as well: at one point, Martin accidentally knocks a client’s toothbrush into the toilet, and out of his own germ-phobia and fondness for his client, he races to replace the toothbrush before the client returns home.
Excerpts from others’ reviews:
I’m Booking It – “[Martin’s] someone I was thinking about even when I wasn’t reading. There’s something sweet about him, even with everything he has going on. I cheered when he finally started reaching out.”
Steph and Tony Investigate – “It’s not a perfect book by any means . . . but it’s a fun romp, perfect for reading on the weekend or at the beach.”
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
2014. St. Martin’s Press. Hardcover. 296 pages.
I had read all of Allen’s other books except this, the newest one. In Lost Lake, a widow wakes up out of a year-long bout of emotional slumber, and takes her young daughter to visit a great-aunt at a declining lakeside resort. All of the usual elements of Allen’s books are there: the slight dash of magic, the healing of past wounds, and a little romance. Lost Lake has a more melancholy air than Allen’s previous books. I don’t know if the backstories seemed more sad, or that some characters’ regret was more palpable. I do know Allen took a two-year hiatus from writing after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and wrote this book after her treatment. Perhaps this experience changed the tone, but perhaps that’s reading too much into it, as The Sugar Queen was a more somber entry as well, if memory serves.
I do want to note that the story of one character’s childhood seemed to come straight out of Appalachian author Lee Smith’s playbook, which delighted me. But overall, this is probably my least favorite of Allen’s books, and one that I wouldn’t re-read.
Excerpts from others’ reviews:
Lesa’s Book Critiques – “Allen’s latest novel, Lost Lake, is as haunting and magical as the location of Lost Lake itself.”
The Sleepless Reader – “It’s likely that I’ll always have a good time with everything she writes, but within this, Lost Lake felt a bit watered down. It needed to be longer and more focused.”
write meg – “It lacked Allen’s trademark warmth, her zing and zip; it felt like a husk of a story instead of a full-blooded novel, and it suffered for that.”
This Is Running For Your Life: Essays by Michelle Orange
2012. FSG Originals. Kindle ebook. 351 pages.
I often tune into Jenny‘s Reading the End Bookcast podcast, but not usually in a timely fashion. I managed to listen to the Sept. 17th podcast soon after it was posted online, and realized, hey! I could read their next “assigned” book before its review episode! So I dutifully bought Michelle Orange’s This Is Running For Your Life on my Kindle and . . . stopped reading after the first two and a half essays. For some reason, I had thought a book of essays on pop culture would be fun, quick reading and I was very wrong. Not the author’s fault, of course, but definitely required a readjustment of my reader expectations. The thing is, I admired Michelle Orange’s formidable and perfectly executed vocabulary and incisive analysis, but I wasn’t interested in most of her chosen topics. True, I did highlight some choice phrases from her essay about manic-pixie-dream-girls but even then, I thought the essay went on too long. (This essay had also become rapidly dated in the two years since the book’s publication.)
Because I had purchased the book, and because I saw that the Jennys of the podcast had devoted most of an episode discussing each essay, I persevered after a hiatus. I’m glad that I did, for I really liked the fourth essay, “One Senior, Please” which was mostly about Michelle Orange flying to Halifax to visit her dying grandmother, and is a musing on flying and on her grandmother’s life. The Jennys of Reading the End Bookcast found the essay disjointed, but it was my favorite essay of the collection. Orange’s observations about flying were spot-on and funny. This observation followed a description of a several hour wait on the tarmac before departure:
In a tone that grew more defiantly nonchalant with every update, the pilot advised us that some of our bags would arrive on a future flight. Even with routine debacles such as this it’s rare to be promised future bullshit while the current bullshit is still very much in progress. Sorry ’bout that, folks.
I also loved how movies formed the connective tissue between granddaughter and grandmother. Maybe I just like memoirs/novelizations/personal essays about grandmothers (books like Kimi Cunningham Grant’s Silver Like Dust and Jeannette Walls’ Half-Broke Horses come to mind).
The other standout essay was the fifth, “Beirut Rising,” a description of Orange’s visit to Beirut in 2008. I love travel writing, and this essay was a straight-up example of that genre.
The rest of the essays continued to have their moments of apt commentary and interesting, though sometimes incomplete, juxtaposition of ideas. I’m glad I persevered with it, but the collection wasn’t really to my taste overall, with the exceptions noted above.