Thursday, May 19, 2005

BOOKS: The Heckoning: The Time of Reckoning, part deux

They say that, as labour approaches, knocked-up chicks feel an urge to "nest": cleaning, cooking, and otherwise preparing our domiciles for our precioussssss bundles of joy.

I did not experience this.

Not that I was expecting to, because it'll take a more powerful force than mere hormones to fire up the likes of
me with the desire to cook and clean. But in the last month of my pregnancy, I did read up the proverbial storm, and if that was hormonally induced, then I say "Bring on more hormones!"

Without further ado (oh hell, maybe a
little further ado), here are some of the most recent books I've finished. And I must say, they've been winners. You could do much worse than pick up any of these titles:

Fingersmith
by Sarah Waters (#15)
It is difficult to understand how any one could find this perversion entertaining... Total Perversion. Don't let the kids watch it.
~
Amazon.com customer review
Sweet! Another reviewer described it as "lesbian Victoriana". Whee! If that isn't enough to make you rush out and get your hands on this novel, it also came highly recommended by several people whose opinions I respect. I liked it, too.

Fingersmith is actually two stories: Sue Trinder is an orphan raised on the hearth of the thieving community of London. Maud Lilly, also an orphan, is a sheltered naif raised in Nowheresville, England. Their paths -- and narratives -- cross when Sue is recruited by a gentleman con artist (who goes by the handle "Gentleman", natch) to dupe Maud out of her fortune. And then the plot goes sideways and gets all twisty.

You can't throw a rock on the internet without reading about Waters's indebtedness to
Charles Dickens, and I see the basis for the comparison, but this novel could only have been written now. While it has all the plot convolutions of a novel by Dickens or Wilkie Collins, its social critique takes direct aim at the status and sexuality of women. At times, the melodrama got a bit too heavyhanded for me, but that didn't stop me from being utterly glued to the novel for the last hundred or so pages.

So in a nutshell: Dickensian, perverse, melodramatic, lesbian Victoriana. With a social message.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (#16)
I like to tell people that novels written in the first person by characters with mental disabilities (handicaps? Different abilities? My lexicon is out of date) should be a recognized genre. But then when the people I say this to ask me to cite examples, I can only name two: this one and
Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn.

I actually read
The Curious Incident when it first came out. But then I lost it for several months, believing that I'd loaned it out and forgetting to whom and secretly cursing all my friends. And then I got all obsessed with it, which made me want to re-read it, of course, leading me to curse my friends even more.

And then I, er, found it amidst a stack of books while doing a mini purge of my book collection (and that's a long story for another day). And then I re-read it in an evening. I even got Acquilad to read it (and you know how he is) through a simple tactic called emotional blackmail; I told him that if he didn't love this book, he couldn't claim to know me, since I am, in fact, soul sister to the main character, Christopher, a 15-year-old autistic boy.

Just a few of the things Christopher and I have in common:
  • we both love dogs, rats and orangutans
  • we like math
  • we hate crowds
  • we hate loud noises
  • we like schedules
  • we can concentrate on things for very long periods of time
  • we like to make lists
I can't recommend this book strongly enough. It's sort of Secret Diary of Adrian Mole meets Sherlock Holmes. Even Acquilad loved it, and I'm here to tell you that if Acquilad and I agree on a book, it must be great and you should run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore.

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (#17)
Interestingly, I picked this up after reading
A Curious Incident, and there are some nifty parallels between the two books. While the latter is a coming-of-age story narrated by a teenaged autistic boy in England, A Complicated Kindness is a coming-of-age story narrated by a teenaged Mennonite girl in Manitoba.

Going to university in southern Ontario, I became good friends with several Mennonites. Not regular Mennos, though. These guys drank, danced, and drove cars... hence their self-imposed label: "the wayward Mennonites". They were (and are) a charming, smart, well-adjusted bunch who are a rare combination of good fun and extremely moral. But something that never occurred to me during my friendship with these guys was just that: they were all guys.

I've never been close to a Menno girl (or
woman, if you must), and Toews's novel gave me a glimmering of understanding of just how shitty it can be to be a wayward female Mennonite. As charming and personable as my wayward Menno boys were, I'm now coming to realize that the male-dominated hierarchy in which they were raised permitted these so-called excesses with the catch-all excuse that "boys will be boys". I can only imagine how hard it must be for a sensitive, rebellious, intelligent, adventurous young woman to be true to herself in this environment.

This is the situation in which Nomi, the main character of
A Complicated Kindness, finds herself. Smart, rebellious and funny, she's trapped in a small town, tied to her well-meaning but weak-willed father by love and guilt after they're abandoned by Nomi's mother and sister.

I liked this book much more than I expected to. I expected it to make obvious, heavyhanded, anti-religious statements, but in fact it's much more subtle and sensitive than that, while at the same time being extremely honest, unpretentious and, believe it or not, funny. I strongly recommend it.

Whew. That's all for today, kids. Enough about me. What are you reading these days?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm reading Reading Lolita in Teheran... wonderful!

cj427 said...

I have a third book to add to The Curious Incident and Motherless Brooklyn: Set This House in Order, by Matt Ruff, in which the main character(s?) has multiple personality disorder. It's pretty damn good.

Nicole said...

I have been trying to get through A Complicated Kindness since I picked it up super cheap after Christmas. I can't get into it - I might try it from the beginning again, because so many people seem to love it and I'd like to give it a fair shot.

As for what I'm *actually* reading - Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. Just started it, and so far so good. (I should qualify that by saying I'm a big fan anyway.)

Rob said...

Well, someone mentioned Cloud Atlas and so I gave that a try. Interesting book. Now I just need to figure out what it all meant.

Caro said...

Speaking of books expected to have a too-heavy religous theme, but then surprising you: I just finished Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I was one of the best books I've ever read (and I read a lot; obsessively, some might say.) And as far as handicapped characters as narators: Faulkner did a pretty fantastic one in The Sound and the Fury.

Meredith said...

I just started The Reef by Edith Wharton, which is fantastic so far, and finished Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley. Happy reading!

dawn said...

i've been reading BEHIND EVERYMAN, by david israel. the funniest thing written in the last ten years, i think.

fshk said...

You're forgetting the king of the narrative-as-told-by-mentally-disabled genre, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.

Tracie said...

I too loved _The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night_. My daughter is a high-functioning autistic and her disability is not as severe as Christopher's, but I loved getting inside his head, as well as just enjoying the book overall. I wanted to let you know that the correct term is "developmentally disabled" in the case of people with autism, Down Syndrome, and the like. It's not a big deal to me -- you just expressed uncertainty about it so I thought I'd let you know.

If you're interested in reading some writing done by an actual autistic person, I can recommend books by Temple Grandin -- _Labelled: Autistic_ and _My Life in Pictures_. I worship this woman for being able to talk about what it's like to be autistic and for writing about her experiences. Her books are written in very simple language and are *facinating*.

Doppelganger said...

cj427, thanks for the recommendation. I'm increasingly interested in this genre (if I can call it a genre).

And Caro and fshk, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've never read any Faulkner. I should probably get on that, huh?

Rob, I just finished Cloud Atlas. I'm still mulling it over, but I'll be posting about it soon.

Nicole, definitely give A Complicated Kindness another try. You won't be sorry, I swear.

Tracie, thanks for the clarification (and I say that sincerely and without snark). I have a niece with Down syndrome (also high-functioning, and don't even get me started on what an awesome kid she is), so you'd think I'd know such things, but as I'm sure you know, terminology doesn't come into play when you're just living your life day to day.

Anyway, I've been meaning to read Temple Grandin's books, ever since I learned about her through PeTA, when they lauded her for her work on designing humane slaughterhouses. I find the connection she makes between being autistic and understanding how animals think really interesting.

Feather said...

Forrest Gump: first person; mental disability; incredibly entertaining.

Homestar Runner said...

Another member of the insane narrator club is the unforgettable chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest.

harafish said...

This comment's coming a little late, but just wanted to add:
Flowers for Algernon to the list of said 'genre'.
Not the best book every written but definitely affecting.