Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: A Review

The Art of FieldingThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here is further evidence (as if I needed it) that I need to relinquish my stubborn reluctance to pick up certain books.

The Art of Fielding, despite being about baseball (i.e. the slowest, most boring sport in the universe) and college boys (also some of the slowest and most boring things in the universe), was exactly the kind of novel that I love.

Henry Skrimshander begins his promising career as a shortstop at Westish College under the tutelage of classmate Mike Schwartz, but one ill-fated throw shatters his zen-like composure on the field and threatens his entire future. The novel follows Henry and Mike as well as the small college's president, Guert Affenlight and his prodigal son of a daughter, Pelly.

The story is sprawling in scope and crawling with quirky characters in the way that John Irving and Michael Chabon's novels are. (It did, at times, echo A Prayer for Owen Meany just a little too closely – though Irving himself endorsed the novel with a dust jacket blurb, so apparently he was okay with the similarities, so why shouldn't I be?)

It wasn't perfect, and the end wasn't the home run (ha ha) that I hoped for, but it was fun and I will definitely read Harbach's sophomore effort.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty: A Review

The ChaperoneThe Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars.

The premise of this novel is terrific: the story of one summer in the life of silent film star Louise Brooks and her chaperone, Cora. Cora is a likeable and compelling character. An orphan who has made a life for herself in Wichita, she is seeking answers to the questions of her parentage and early years and embraces an opportunity to return to New York City as a chaperone to a fifteen year old Louise Brooks who has been invited to study dance there for the summer.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story of the summer these two very different women spent together -- Cora seeking her past, and Louise chasing her future. Moriarty does a fabulous job of rendering these two characters and painting New York City in the twenties; I was absolutely captivated by both the characters and the setting.

However, I felt like narrative didn't have anywhere to go after this pivotal summer, and Moriarty winds up leading us through the subsequent years in these women's lives at breakneck speed, summarizing the consequences of this turning point in each of their lives in a way that made me feel distanced from each of them. I think Moriarty strives to make this a story about Cora's search for identity, but ultimately the ending feels too pat, and a bit contrived.

Still, the prose is lovely and the characters and setting are magical at times. Definitely worth the read.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker: A Review

The Age of MiraclesThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this novel primarily because of the buzz but also because it is set in San Diego where Walker grew up(and where I now live).

The Age of Miracles follows Julia, a young girl on the cusp of adolescence in a world on the cusp of collapse. Julia's San Diego looks a lot like mine except for the one small detail that her earth has suddenly started to turn more slowly: days swelling by minutes at first and then by hours, circadian rhythms interrupted by pervasive daylight and, alternately, agonizingly long stretches of darkness.

The premise of time somehow slowing has tremendous literary potential...from the obvious plot possibilities to metaphor, and I believe the best moments in this novel are when Julia
ponders the larger and more esoteric implications of "the slowing": "From then on, we all had little more time to decide what not to do. And who knows how fast a second-guess can travel. Who has ever measured the exact speed of regret?"

It is, by turns a coming of age story, a love story, and the story of a family, all set against an incredibly innovative dystopian backdrop.

My only complaint is that the set-up makes the end nearly impossible to pull off without tremendous tragedy or an improbable solution. Walker does a fine job, but not perfect, and I felt just the tiniest bit disappointed.(Though I honestly have no idea how she could have made it any better.)

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this and think it would have an enormous YA appeal as well.