Saturday, February 16, 2013

More from the Tournament of Books


Since "The Big Game" weekend, I have polished off three more books from the Tournament of Books list.  All have been hard to put down, which I suppose is the highest type of recommendation, although I rated them 5-4-3.5 stars respectively based on my own tastes and opinions. 

That brings my list of books read to 12.  I'm getting closer!  All three were also very geographically specific, so I'm counting them for my Around the USA reading challenge as well.

The 2013 Tournament of Books Finalists - Read (with reviews linked)

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
State: Missouri

This audiobook was 19 hours and I finished listening to it in three days. That's on my 3 mile commute. I just couldn't stop. I'd make up reasons to listen. This is a very well-written thriller that I can hardly discuss without giving things away. I almost hate myself for liking it because of all the hype, but it really pulls you in and makes you want to know where it is going. I don't read many thrillers, but this was a good one!

The audiobook is a great way to "read" this, because the chapters are divided between Amy, who has gone missing, through her diary, and Nick, her husband who is a key suspect. The two readers, male and female, really bring the story to life.

IvylandIvyland by Miles Klee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
State: New Jersey

This is a first novel by the author, and I wasn't familiar with his shorter fiction, although I've read almost everything by two of the four authors he lists as his influences - Michel Houellebecq and Nicholson Baker. Based on this book, I'm surprised not to see J.G. Ballard or Philip K. Dick on that list, because I could easily see this novel being influenced by either of their work as well.

Of course, I have read extensively in the dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction worlds. Not much of this one is explained, other than it taking place in New Jersey, but that isn't really a complaint. The reader is dumped into a world of chaos and disorder, and while details are mentioned in passing through various storytelling techniques (going back and forth in time, the story coming from different characters, some who only appear once), you are never really given enough information to fill in the gaps. The world is clearly dominated by Big Pharmaceutical, except not in the stark, sterile way in worlds like in Sleepless by Charlie Huston. In fact, there is rarely a feeling that anyone is actually in control in Ivyland. The cops are taking people home in fleets of ice cream trucks, the infrastructure is falling apart, and everyone seems to have access to drugs that may or may not be what they claim to be.

Half of the people in Ivyland are hardly coherent, either from a virus, or flawed chemical treatment before/after a virus, or because they are addicts. I'm still puzzled over most of them, and pleased by others (a very memorable professor is probably my favorite). The experience of reading this novel is also interesting. The first 100 pages tend toward information dump with a lot of characters and time periods, but fast-paced and interesting. The last 100 pages grow terribly sad as the story goes in directions I didn't expect. At least, if I've read it correctly. The entire thing left me unsettled as a reader. I look forward to what Klee does in the future.

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
State: Washington

The author tells the story in a very fragmented way - letters, e-mails, legal action, newspaper stories, etc. You find out later that the daughter of Bernadette is the one trying to tell the story this way. I enjoyed this method of storytelling, the same thing that I enjoyed in novels like The Historian. But then it is as if the author doesn't trust her own storytelling, and starts interspersing these elements with narrative from various perspectives, or commentary from the daughter. I found this unnecessary and redundant and not in the same spirit as the rest of the novel. I think she didn't have quite enough faith in the readers to follow the story she was telling!

This is very much the story of a rich northwestern wife who is displaced in her new residence of Seattle after fleeing a career as a successful architect. We get very little about the daughter, and her strengths and quirks tend to shift to match the needs of the story. She didn't have quite as much of her own identity as I would have liked.

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