Feed My Dear Dogs by Emma Richler (#18)
One of the perks of being married to a fancypants TV producer guy is that he brings home review copies of books sent in by publishers. Most of these suck, but every so often a gem like Feed My Dear Dogs lands in my lap, all the more awesome because after reading the first few pages, I didn't know if I'd be able to finish it.
Don't get me wrong; the first few pages were as beautifully written as you could wish for. But there's a crazy density -- combined with a loopy, lyrical quality -- to Richler's prose that had me reeling until I got my sea legs. After that it was clear sailing.
The loopy narrative is the voice of Jem Weiss, middle child of five of the precocious Weiss family (no relation to the author's own non-fictional clan, Richler clarifies).
"I never really grasped why it was at all necessary to leave our house now and then and go to other houses, to play with other kids..." So begins this story that takes us inside the magical world of the Weiss family, as Jem paints scene after (mostly unconnected) scene of a seemingly idyllic childhood spent in a large family of precocious children, a larger-than-life father, and a gentle, beautiful mother.
But as Jem's intense love for her family reveals itself, you get an increasing feeling of dread. Everything's too perfect, you think. But I'm getting into spoiler territory, so I'll back off now. Suffice to say that I found this novel beautiful and funny and touching... in a non-Oprah kind of way. But I'm one of those people who has way romanticized their own childhood, and I only recently learned that puts me in the minority.
There's more meandering than linear storytelling in this book, but the net effect is rather like spending a cozy evening sharing treasured family stories. Questioning the dearth of plot would just make you look like a petty jerk.
By the way, in case you're wondering, author Emma Richler is daughter to Mordecai Richler, sister to Daniel. There's some serious talent in that family. (For proof, check out Daniel's 1992 novel Kicking Tomorrow. I have no idea why the dude doesn't write more fiction.)
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (#19)
I hadn't read Vanity Fair in about 15 years, but I was inspired to revisit it after Exxie posted about it on her site. I'd forgotten how good it is. And how accessible. Did I already say how good it is?
It's also renewed my ire at Mira Nair and her movie adaptation of the book. Plus, I know Reese Witherspoon is America's sweetheart and all, but she said some dumbass shit about Becky Sharp being a feminist hero that needs to be corrected:
In my opinion, Becky Sharp is an early feminist. She is really a very modern character. She'd been deprived of parents and has no place to go in the world - yet she still manages to succeed. Every success she has in her life is based on her own merit, which is a modern idea for a period story.Whuh? Did we read the same book?
I think she absolutely has a heart, even in an environment where people care very little about other people, a society of buying and selling people. You can buy your way into society and then fall from grace because you lose money. In a world that's so hard to negotiate, she does a fantastic job of managing. She figures out how to negotiate her way through society.
First off, let's get this straight, and pay attention, because I'm only going to say this once:
Becky Sharp is NOT a hero, dammit.
Thackeray goes out of his way to make it clear that Vanity Fair is a "book without a hero." You're not expected to be in any of the characters' cheering squad. The subversive thing about the book is how Thackeray tempts you to like Becky by making her clever, charming and witty... especially appealing compared to the tepid, dull and downright stupid cast of characters.
(Remember, the book is called "Vanity Fair" -- a place peopled with weak, stupid and/or corrupt, immoral characters -- and Thackeray repeatedly reminds of this in narrative asides, keeping us mindful of the fact that everyone in it is suspect.)
As far as being a "feminist" hero... well, my definition of feminism is pretty broad and inclusive: a feminist is someone who believes in the right of women to exercise a full array of choices. But all Becky chooses to do is steal her friend's boyfriend, mess around on her husband, and neglect her child. I don't see how these are feminist choices. Someone disabuse me if I'm wrong.
Now that I've scared almost all of you away with my rigidly moralistic streak, is it too late to mention that I find this book incredibly entertaining? I do! It's funny! Pick it up! I'd even go so far as calling it a good beach read... if I were the kind of person who recommends beach reads.
I can't believe I wrote this entire post without the baby waking up. I am the best mom ever. And I'm almost caught up on my backlog! Let me see... only... oh, crap... only six more books to post about. Oy.