Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On These Violent Reminders

Sometimes the world is just too much. Too beautiful, too big, too brutal, too small.

After the massacre at Newtown, I tried to think that this was just the world's nudge to remember to slow down. (To those of us who were lucky enough to watch the tragedy unfold at a distance anyway.) It was a reminder to pay attention. To appreciate, to love. But now, just a few months later, that nudge feels like a shove. Like something violent. Like a message. (Did you know that the last mile of yesterday's marathon was dedicated to the Newtown families? God. It feels like a stampede of tragedies, one upon another upon another.)

As a writer, I feel like I am constantly trying to contain the world with my words, to control it. In my photography, I am simply trying to capture it. To slow it down. To savor it in gorgeous delicate increments. It seems I have made a career of this impulse to just hold on. I am consumed by it. But sometimes the world is too much and too loud with its reminders that no matter what I do, I can't contain it, control it. I can't protect the people I love (no matter how hard I try), and worse, I can never ever, ever appreciate it enough.

I don't know what the remedy is for this feeling. It's daunting. And awful. I feel sometimes as though I am always anticipating the next tragedy. Expecting it. Imagined grief haunting so many moments.

I can only imagine what the families, all those families so similar to my own yet now so profoundly different, must feel. Wishing they had slowed down, paid closer attention, loved more. As if there is some magic spell that might have kept them safe if they did.

The responsibility of holding onto something as ephemeral as life, of cherishing each fleeting moment, is too big. If this is, indeed the message to be taken by those of us who, once again are the lucky ones, then how on earth are we supposed to heed it?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch: A Review

The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars?

I'm beginning to think I am just a sucker for an unreliable narrator. This book, like SCHRODER (Amity Gage) and DEFENDING JACOB (William Landay), unfolds via a first person narrator who first establishes our sympathy and then systematically undoes every bit of this trust.

The premise is clever (though, perhaps, a bit too clever): two couples, both parents of a fifteen year old boy, meet for dinner at an upscale Amsterdam restaurant. The two men are brothers, and one of the brothers (not the narrator), is in the running to become the next Prime Minister. However, they have come together this night to discuss something their two boys have done. I won't spoil this by going into detail, but rather leave the grisly discovery to you.

I loved the way the mystery unfolded, and all the little twists and turns along the way. I do think there were some significant plausibility problems: would someone of Serge Lohman's stature choose such a public venue for this discussion? Would Claire really, really do this? What is this mysterious mental illness that can be detected via amniocentesis? And had no one but Paul really discovered that youtube video??

Regardless, I found it really riveting. It is flawed, but worth the read.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne: A Review

The Love Song of Jonny ValentineThe Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 1/2 stars. What a smart and topical book.

THE LOVE SONG OF JONNY VALENTINE about an eleven year old pop-star (a la Bieber) is actually (underneath the biting cultural commentary) a tender story about a boy in search of his father. We follow Jonny on his cross-country mega-tour and on his quest to reconnect with his dad.

The first-person voice is pitch-perfect (sorry)...Jonny is simultaneously media savvy, jaded, and somehow still wonderfully naive. At times, this incongruity is positively heart-breaking. I think the characters were exquisitely drawn as well.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany: A Review

Heart Like MineHeart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It seems like every time I pick up one of Amy's books, I am reluctant to put it down without finishing, and there are few books I can say this about. I think this is due to a magical combination of readability (though certainly not sacrificing complexity of character) and Amy's tremendous empathy for the people who live within her pages.

Grace has never wanted children. But when she meets Victor (who has two children of his own), she reluctantly accepts the position of part-time step-mother. However, when Victor's ex dies suddenly and mysteriously, she is thrust into the very role she never wanted to fill.

The novel is told in alternating chapters between Grace, Ava (Victor's 13 year old daughter), and Kelli (the ex). There's a nice mystery at the heart of the story which keeps the pages turning. I found myself sympathetic to all three characters due to the sensitivity with which they were treated by their author.

Really looking forward to her next one as well (there's a sneak peek at the back of this book).