Book Review: Woman No. 17

woman no. 17 book review

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review*

Sometimes, things aren’t what they seem. Lady, recently separated from her husband, needs to hire a nanny to watch her toddler, Devin, while she (Lady) writes a memoir.

Pretty much immediately after meeting her, Lady hires a woman named “S” (formerly Esther).

S, as you might have guessed, has a few secrets. These aren’t secrets to the reader though, and we find them out pretty much immediately, once the novel switches gears and is told from S’s point-of-view.

Woman No. 17 is a reflection on toxic motherhood, a critique on modern/contemporary art, and a page-turner. It’s weird enough and its story is gripping enough that you want to find out more.

Let’s talk about Lady. Lady’s been commissioned to write a memoir about Seth, her teenage son. Seth doesn’t speak and no one really knows why. Seth also doesn’t remember his dad, Marco, who took off when Seth was a toddler.

In the intervening years, since her baby daddy left, Lady’s modeled for an art photographer, married, and had another child, Devin, who’s now two or three. Recently, she’s asked her husband, Karl, who’s an OK but kinda boring seeming guy, to leave the house. He does, but insists on meeting at PF Chang’s every week or so.

So, enter S, a recent college grad who’s crashing on her mom’s couch and is looking to start over after a poorly thought out “art” project up in Berkeley.

She lands the nanny job and gets to move into the cottage behind Lady’s house. And then things get weird.

Or maybe things were weird to begin with, considering that S has decided her newest “art’ project is to live as her mother lived when she was in her 20s. That’s the version of S that Lady meets, not the Esther who graduated from college in Berkeley. Trouble is, S’s mom is an alcoholic. Well that’s one of the troubles.

Lady’s got mother troubles of her own, and has cut off communications with her mom, a wealthy, but difficult woman. Lady’s also dealing with the question of whether or not she’s a good mom (she’s probably not, sorry, it had to be said).

There’s a lot going on in Woman No. 17. It’s heavy on the art critique and commentary without being too heavy handed about it. It’s got a lot to say about motherhood and being a woman and life imitating art, or maybe art imitating life. And through all that, it remains a really fun, enjoyable read.

Book Review: The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

“The Glorious Heresies” opens with a bang (quite literally) and doesn’t let up from there. Maureen Phelan thwacks an intruder over the head, killing him. She’s left to call on her son, Jimmy, to get rid of the body.

From there, the novel introduces us to a variety of other characters, all of whom have some connection to the body and/or Jimmy. The man Jimmy hires to dispose of the corpse recognizes the body. Ryan, the son of the man who gets rid of the body, is introduced to and sells drugs to Georgie, the dead man’s girlfriend. Georgie, desperate to find out what happens, go around asking too many questions, putting her own life at risk.

Set in Cork, Ireland, as it struggles to recover from the 2008 crash, the novel jumps from character to character. It often leaps forward years in time. It’s fast moving, engaging, and heart breaking. Georgie, Ryan, Jimmy and Maureen all have various levels of suffering and dismay in their lives. Maureen was separated from Jimmy when he was a baby because she was an unwed mother. In at attempt to flee her life as a sex worker and drug addict, Georgie joins a weird cult, only to have the members of the cult treat her just as poorly as those on the outside. Ryan takes the fall for his drug dealer boss, landing in jail and pretty much destroying his chance of getting out of a life of crime.

No matter what, it seems every thing goes wrong for the characters. Some of it’s their fault, but most of it is due to their crappy circumstances. The novel’s strength is that it doesn’t pass judgment on the characters or push us to feel deep levels of pity for them. Instead, it’s downright funny at times, even as it’s pointing out the troubles in the world.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my  honest review*

Book Review: How to Pack

How to Pack

How to Pack by Hitha Palepu

We all probably have at least one experience that made us realize we needed to be better at packing and planning for a trip. Here’s mine: I was in 5th grade and my class was going for a three day camping trip. We were responsible for carrying our stuff from the bus to the cabins, including sleeping bags and luggage. I knew this. And yet, I still overpacked. All I remember is dragging my very heavy, floral print duffel bag and this awful sleeping bag, which managed to come unrolled, to the cabin, wishing I had packed less.

Who even knows what I packed for that trip or why it was so heavy. But probably, had I read a copy of “How to Pack” by Hitha Palepu beforehand, I would have packed a lot lighter. Not brought that silly, very large and heavy duffel bag.

Live and learn.

“How to Pack” is a quick read that’s full of useful information. It covers how to pick what to bring, how many of each item you’ll want to bring, and how to put things together. It doesn’t seek to answer the age old question “roll or fold?” but instead gives you points and tips for using each, as well as handy diagrams of how to either roll or fold your clothing. The book discusses different suitcase styles and sizes and when you might want to bring one style on your trip versus a different style.

If you’re a chronic overpacker or disorganized packer, the book will really help you get it together and fit what you need for a multi-day (and even multi-city) trip in one carry-on.

That all said, I’m not sure this book is for everyone. I’ve grown a lot since my 5th grade camping days and a lot of the info in the book was old hat for me. It’s also mostly targeted at a female audience, or at least at an audience who would be thinking of bringing dresses, jewelry and cosmetics on a trip.

As an added bonus, the book has a few blank packing lists at the back, which you can use not only to plan what you’ll bring on your next trip, but also what outfits you’ll wear and when.

** I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. **

Shopping: Madewell’s Finch Flats

Madewell’s Finch Flats

After several months of not really buying anything (!), I recently fell moderately in love with Madewell’s Finch Flats, in the willow green color. These are so unpractical, I told myself. They’re light green suede; they’ll be ruined the second I wear them outdoors.

You can get protective spray for suede, one of my friends pointed out.

Indeed, I can. So I ordered them, in my usual size 10, when they were 15 % off.

And…they were too big.

Let’s pause here and reflect on how that never happens. I’m usually struggling to cram my feet into ballet flats. But these were very loose, even with socks on. Without socks, I had about a half inch of space between the heel of my foot and the heel of the shoe.

Madewell does make these in a 9.5, which is a rarity, but I’m on the fence/too lazy to exchange them for that half size down, since the shoes are online only.

Another issue, the toe cap was short enough that, without socks on (and these do look funny with socks, by the way), you can see the spaces between my toes. Toe cleavage, I think they call it, but that’s a disgusting term. Anyway, it’s weird to see the spaces between your toes in shoes. I’d rather that not happen.

And one more issue – there’s no cushion in the sole of the shoe. I think I’m spoiled by Banana’s memory foam ballet flats (RIP) or by the very cushy soles of my Nisolo loafers, but I just can’t do with that any padding at all.

So, in sum: Madewell’s Finch Flats are pretty, nicely made, but run big and aren’t for me.

Book Review: Mexico by Josh Barkan

Mexico by Josh Barkan

Mexico by Josh Barkan

Josh Barkan’s Mexico is a collection of short stories, most of which are told from the point-of-view of outsiders, people living in Mexico who are not from Mexico. The point of view of the characters gives each story in the book a sort of voyeuristic feel and an outsider’s perspective.

Although the characters from story to story have no obvious connection to each other, what unites them all is violence. In the opening story,”The Chef and El Chapo,” El Chapo walks into a restaurant and demands that the chef make him a delicious meal. The chef, fearful of what El Chapo can do if he doesn’t succeed in preparing something amazing, decides that what El Chapo needs to eat is blood, but not just any blood, the blood of a young, innocent person.

In “The Sharpshooter,” a US army sniper has to make the decision to shoot his friend, a fellow soldier, who’s secretly working with the drug lords. In “The Plastic Surgeon,” a drug lord asks a surgeon to perform extreme plastic surgery on him, essentially transforming him into someone else. The patient dies on the table and the surgeon is left wondering if that was intentional.

The flip scripts a bit in “Escape From Mexico,” which is told not from the perspective of an US citizen in Mexico but from the point of view of a man who immigrated to the US from Mexico as a young boy, fleeing from the gang that sliced his arm open with a machete.

Although the stories in “Mexico” were entertaining and quick reading, there was a sameness to each narrator. The experiences of the characters were similar. Each person is somehow touched by the cartels and the violence connected to the drug wars. But there was just too much of a sameness to each voice, a similarity to each story that made me wonder why an entire book of stories was needed when it seemed like one would suffice.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs

Amaro

Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs

*I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review*

For Christmas last year, my partner and I decided to go to Vedge, a fancy vegan restaurant in town, for dinner, instead of giving each other physical gifts. It was at Vedge that I had Cynar, a digestif made from 13 herbs and botanicals (among them artichokes), for the first time.

The drink was both challenging and delightful and I became hooked on the concept of amaro, herbal, bitter liquors designed to be drunk at the end of the meal to help with digestion. So it was a real delight to get to read through Brad Thomas Parsons’ Amaro, which is both a love letter to and a primer on the wide world of bitters.

First off, let’s define what amaro or a digestif is. Although in the US, we might classify Campari and the like in the same group as Cynar and other amari, Parsons points out that those beverages are technically not classified as amaro in Italy, as they are typically consumed before a meal. Amaro is reserved for the big, heavy bitter drinks, like my friend Cynar, that you drink afterwards.

Along with a section on apertivo, there’s an entire section of fernet, a specific type of amaro that I really have no plans on trying soon. There’s also a section devoted to new world amaro, including a number of beverages created in the US, and lots of stories about bitter bars and amaro-devoted bartenders throughout.

Parsons really did his research here, visiting the manufacturers of some of the more well known amari, trying to wheedle the secret recipes and formulas (and there are a lot of secret formulas) out of the owners. But to no avail. Only a few people will get to know what goes into some of these beverages, ever. And I think that’s OK.

So far, I’ve enjoyed Amaro purely for the information Parsons provides. I haven’t yet had a chance to try any of the cocktail recipes included, although there are some classics, such as the Negroni. One recipe that I’m particularly intrigued by features Amaro Montenegro and orange soda. Although there are a few drinks featuring my beloved cynar, I think I’ll probably pass on making those (they contain bourbon or rye, and I’m just not a fan) and will continue to enjoy it my favorite way: straight up, with nothing added.

Book Review: David Bowie Retrospective and Coloring Book

David Bowie changed my life. I think I would be a very different person, not just in terms of my musical tastes, but also in terms of my politics and belief systems, had I not found Bowie’s music and read a biography about him during high school. So I was happy to have the opportunity to review Mel Elliot’s David Bowie Retrospective and Coloring Book.

The coloring book doesn’t just have images of Bowie’s most iconic looks (and a few lesser known looks, such as from his early days and later years). It also includes a bit of biographical information about him and his work.

The only trouble is that the content is thin at best and the pictures aren’t so great. For one thing, the book is on the small side, about 8 inches square. So the pictures are pretty small. For another, they’re not that detailed. I’m not really into the whole adult coloring book trend, and I got this book purely because I am a Bowie fan. But this is just disappointing as a coloring book because there’s really not that much to color.

While I appreciate the text that accompanies the images in the book, I feel it really leaves you wanting more. The author provides details about who designed some of Bowie’s costumes, and comments on his stylistic choices throughout the years, but the text doesn’t really do much to give you a full in-depth understanding of who Bowie was and why his alter egos and musical choices throughout the year matters.

Well, you  might argue, if the David Bowie Retrospective is for real fans, then just a blurb or two of text should suffice, since they already know all the details. But I’d almost rather that book have more or better images and less text than a few half-hearted images (seriously, there’s one picture that’s just a pair of brogues) and mediocre text.

Although it’s a disappointment as a coloring book, there is one way that I’ve found to enjoy the book. That’s using the images as transfers for embroidery. I copied one of the pictures onto fabric transfer paper and have been working on stitching up Bowie as Aladdin Sane.

David Bowie Retrospective and Coloring Book

All in all, I get the sense that the book was created as a way to cash in on fans’ sadness at Bowie’s death. That’s cynical, I know, but it’s the only way to explain why the book is just so lackluster when nothing about Bowie was.

*I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review*

Books I Read In October and November 2016

It’s play reading season for me, so I didn’t get to read as many published books as usual. Here’s what I read in October and November, including Hagseed, the Night Manager, and the Language Hoax.

The Night Manager by John Le Carré

Yes, I read the Night Manager because I watched the mini series on AMC. Since the novel was written in the early 1990s and the TV series was set in present day, I was curious to see what had been updated or changed from the book.

I can’t really say I enjoyed reading The Night Manager and there were a lot of  times when I considered abandoning the book. Le Carre’s language is … let’s just say it’s pretty flowery. Despite the fact that the novel was a thriller, it had a really slow pace.

Was it different from the TV show? Yeah, it was, a lot. The night manager of the title was the same, and the main bad guy was the same. But the chief spy, who’s a woman on TV, was a dude in the book. A sign of the times, I guess? The ending was a lot different too, and after seeing the televised version, I felt that the book’s ending was a let down.

Would I feel the same had I not seen the mini series? Maybe. I probably wouldn’t have picked up the book if I hadn’t seen the show, so there’s that.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

After the mild disappointment of the Night Manager, I enjoyed The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo more than I thought I would. I have a few problems with Amy Schumer’s comedy –mainly her approach to race issues and her insistance on describing herself as fat. But her memoir goes beyond her comedic persona, offering a glimpse at who she is as a person.

It’s also fairly funny while it discusses some pretty dark stuff. In one part, she describes her tendancy to black out when drinking. As part of the chapter, she recounts a relatively recent event, during which she took Ambien after drinking. She ended up eating butter “like it was guacamole” while her horrified boyfriend looked on.

I think people have a tendancy to conflate who Schumer is as a person with the characters she creates for TV and her movie. The book is a reminder that they are not one and the same, and that there’s more to Amy Schumer than her comedy.

Hagseed

Hagseed by Margaret Atwood

Hagseed is Margaret Atwood’s re-telling of the Tempest. Instead of simply adapting the story of Shakespeare’s play, Atwood creates a sort of story within the play. After being ousted from his role as artistic director at a theater festival, Felix finds himself living in exile in some hovel somewhere in Canada and teaching drama at a local prison. A highlight of the prisoner’s lives in the annual Shakespearean production they put on. In an interesting twist, the same people who fired Felix now have plans to shutter his prison literacy program. Felix comes up with a plan to get his revenge and convince the men to keep the program going.

Before he was fired, Felix had plans for a great production of the Tempest at the festival. Those plans were shelved, but not forgotten. Now, at the prison, he sees a chance to bring his plan for the Tempest to life, while seeking revenge on the people who fired him.

The fact that Felix is producing the Tempest while the plot of the play also parallels his life makes Hagseed a particularly fun read. It’s much more than just a straight-up adaptation or retelling. It presents the original work while also imitating and riffing on that work. There’s a lot of room for failure in that premise (I initially thought it would be very cheesy). But, Atwood pulls it off. She makes Felix a character you both feel for and feel annoyed by. Instead of simply rehashing the plot, she turns it into something else entirely.

*I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review*

The Language Hoax by John McWhorter

I took a linguistics course on Coursera recently and McWhorter’s The Language Hoax was one of the recommended, but not required readings. I’ve read other books by McWhorter and find him to be a fun read. The Language Hoax was no different.

It’s an argument against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which argues that people’s language shapes their culture. Although it’s a problematic hypothesis that leads to people occasionally making broad and inaccurate statements such as “_____ language has no color for green, thus ____ people don’t see green!” or “____ has simple grammar. Thus, ____ people are simple!,” the hypothesis has lived on. It’s often mentioned in the media (they mentioned in the movie Arrival) in a way that’s overly simplified.

McWhorter argues that it’s not language that shapes culture but rather, if anything culture that shapes language. Or more likely, a series a random of events that form language and have nothing to do with cultural preferences or the intellectual abilities of one people over another.

Take, for example, the use of the definite article. Not every language uses “the.” Does that mean languages without “the” have no sense of definiteness? Or that people who speak those languages can’t pick out one specific object from a group? No, probably not.

At the end of the book, McWhorter stresses that despite our cultural differences, we can look at language to find out what makes people more the same than different.

Shopping: MM LaFleur Bento Box Review 2.0

Nearly a year ago, I ordered my first Bento Box from MM LaFleur, a company that specializes in clothing and personal styling for “professional women.” The Bento box concept is similar to how other personal styling services work. You fill out a survey, they send you clothes that might fit you based on your answers. In my review of my first Bento Box, I noted that I kept one item, the Graham kimono. I had a similar experience this time around, and ended up keeping one of the items in my box.

The Bento Box Request

When you Re-bento, you can make specific requests to your stylist. I’ve been wanting to try the Foster pants, but given my track record with pants, was nervous about purchasing them and having to return them. I figured getting a pair in my Bento would be the ideal option. If they worked, great, if not, no worries, back they’d go. I left a note with my order requesting the pants.

MM LaFleur’s newest collection has a number of dresses in an amazing deep, forest green color. Since green is my favorite color, I asked my stylist to include a few of their new dresses in that color.

The Bento Box Arrives

My box arrived a day before my requested date (10/5, it got here on the 4th). When I opened it up it contained:

mm lafleur bento box review - foster pant in black

Bento Box: Foster Pant

So let’s start my Bento Box review with the Foster pant. The description on the website said that the pants ran small, so I asked for a size 8. My first reaction when pulling them out of the box was, well, I’m not going to fit into those.

I did, but just barely. I had to suck in to pull the waist closed and I’m standing with my legs slightly apart in the photo, because I couldn’t really bring them together due to the tightness of the pants. Not a good look and definitely not how I would want to go about my day.

The fabric of the Foster pant was also a bit of a surprise. I was expecting a soft and stretchy ponte, since they are described as feeling like yoga pants, but these were a woven cotton-blend fabric. They were stiffer than expected, which didn’t go well with the overall tightness.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t keep them.

bento box review mm lafleur davis top

Bento Box: Davis Top

I was pleasantly surprised to get the Davis top in my Bento. I’d seen in on the website and thought it looked interesting, but wouldn’t have ordered it for myself, especially in the yellow-orange watercolor print.

The top fits close up in the bust, but then loosens up over your waist and hips. It’s lined, so it’s a really sturdy feeling shirt.  I like the overlap on the front, but ended up returning it for two reasons. One I’m not super into the yellow-orange pattern. Two, it was $210, which I think it just a bit too much for a top, although it is made in NYC.

Bento box review Aditi 2.0 dress

Bento Box: Aditi 2.0 Dress

Let’s move on to the dresses. I love the shape and color of the Aditi 2.0 dress. But this style doesn’t work on me. This is a size 6, and there are a lot of bumps and rolls in the dress because of its close fit. Some of those bumps are me, some are the dress.

Maybe it’d be worth trying in an 8, but this was just way too tight for me to wear.

Bento box mm lafleur lydia dress

Bento Box: Lydia Dress

I debated for a couple of days over whether to keep the Lydia or not. Arguments in favor of the dress: great color, interesting twisty part at the shoulder, soft, comfortable fabric. Arguments against the dress: weird fit, dry clean only.

I ended up sending it back, because it was loose at the waist and very tight at the hips (this was a size 8). Also, I dunno, I just don’t want another dry clean only dress.

bento box mm lafleur woolf jardigan

Bento Box: Woolf Jardigan

Last, but not least, the one piece I did keep. The Woolf Jardigan (that’s jacket + cardigan) is a slightly longer version of the St. Ambroeus jardigan (which I also own). It was love at first wear. From the minute I pulled on the Woolf, I knew I was going to keep it, even though I really, really don’t need another jacket.

The Woolf works well as both a blazer and a comfy cardigan. I always feel a bit dowdy in cardigans, but not in the Woolf. It also has split seams on the side, which give it a more flattering shape and look. It looks OK worn with pants, but I find it’s most flattering worn over a dress.

So there you have it. My second Bento Box. All in all, I find getting a Bento a fun experience and will probably do it again. I think specifically asking for items or giving your stylist a clue about what you like and don’t like, helps make the Bento experience more useful, rather than hoping and praying your stylist gets it right.

Book Reviews: What I Read in September 2016

Another month’s gone by! Check out the book reviews for what I read in September:

How Not to Travel the World by Lauren Juliff

I feel pretty conflicted about How Not to Travel the World by Lauren Juliff. A memoir of the year the author spent traveling around (through parts of Europe and Asia, spending a lot of time in Thailand), the book really lives up to its name. Juliff starts her big round-the-world trip off by nearly missing her flight to Croatia. Once she gets to the airport, she struggles at check-in because she doesn’t know what a “checked bag” is. When she finally gets past security, instead of dashing to her flight (she’s late, after all), she dawdles in the bookshop. From there, she has mishap after mishap, some of which are brought on by her complete lack of common sense, others of which (like nearly experiencing a tsunami in Thailand) are just due to bad luck or bad timing.

Yeah, so the book is basically what not to do when traveling 101. My main struggle with it was it didn’t feel that believable. “Really, you’re in your 20s, you live in London and you don’t know what checked luggage is?” That sort of thing. I get that the writer had lots of anxiety and that traveling around and breaking out of her shell was a struggle for her, but the whole “I didn’t realize” schtick gets old pretty quickly.

It was a quick read, and Juliff’s a pretty engaging writer, but after more than 300 pages of “oops!” I’d had enough. Small annoyances aside, the book did make me want to travel to Thailand. So I guess it didn’t entirely fail as a travel memoir, since it did incite some wanderlust.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Years ago, this guy I was going out with gave me a copy of the The Secret History by Donna Tartt, because I was a classics major. I broke up with the guy and never read the book.

Then, a few years ago, I read the Goldfinch and really liked it. So, I figured it was time to revisit the Secret History. Creepy ex boyfriend’s copy was long gone, so I picked one up at the library. I’m really glad I finally read it.

Set at a fictional liberal arts college in Vermont, the book is narrated by Richard, a transfer student from the West Coast. Since he studied ancient Greek at his old school, Richard decides to study it at his new college. The thing is, the classics students at Hampden are few (there are just five) and admission to the program is closely regulated by Julien, an eccentric professor.

Rumors swirl about the school about Julien and his students — that they worship the devil, for instance, but Richard is undeterred. He convinces Julien to accept him into the program and quickly becomes part of the group.

The Secret History is a murder mystery, but a murder mystery that’s been flipped. The murder opens the book, the next 500 or so pages are spent learning why the murder happened and the consequences of it.

More than a thriller, though, the novel takes a look at the effects of privilge on a group of young students. All five of the classics majors, save for Richard, come from cushy backgrounds. Most of them have inheritances to rely on and families to support them. No matter the consequences of their actions, there’s the sense that they will be fine.

Richard doesn’t have that same assurance. He’s cut off from his family (in part by choice, in part not). He has no financial cushion. Although he’s part of the action (he is there at the murder), he’s also outside of it, standing aside the narrator, retelling the story many years later.

When the major consequence of the murder happens, Richard is the one who stands to lose the most, since he lacks that familiar support. Yet, he’s the only who ends up pressing on with his studies, earning a degree. The novel is as much a commentary on the damage having too much wealth can do as it is on the damage of having a single professor be the sole influence over you in college.

book reviews

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

About a year ago, I saw Kazuo Ishiguro at the Free Library, when The Buried Giant had just come out. He mentioned that he had meant for The Remains of the Day to be a comedy, but few people saw it that way. I don’t know if his saying that influenced my reading of the book, but I did find it quite funny. And tragic. But also fairly funny.

James Stevens served as a butler for Lord Darlington for three decades. Now, Darlington is dead and the great house has been purchased by an American. Stevens, ever the proper butler, wonders often is he should be bantering with his new boss, since the boss is American, and don’t Americans like banter? His uncertainty and his attempts at banter are quite hilarious.

Around this time, Steven gets a letter from a former coworker, Miss Kenton, who was once a housekeeper there, but then got married and left. She seems unhappy in her letter, so Stevens gets the idea that he’ll drive out to her and see if she wants to come back and work at the house, which now has a limited staff.

Over the course of his multi-day drive across the country, he reminiscinces about his past at Darlington Hall. His remembrances about Miss Kenton are tinged with the suggestion that he was attracted to her, and she to him, but that his inaction was what led to her to go off and marry someone else. Stevens also begins to question his many decades of devotion to Darlington, who it is revealed in the flashbacks, might not have been such a great guy.

It’s not just Stevens’ love life that suffers because of his sense of propriety and his refusal to act in any way but as an exemplary butler. His relationship with his father also suffers. In one memory, Stevens leaves his father on his deathbed because he feels he needs to fufill  his duties for the day. His father dies and Stevens has no chance to say good-bye.

So, a funny book at times. But also a deeply heartbreaking book about a life lived under so much constraint that you might argue it wasn’t a life lived at all.

 

fates and furies book review

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies closely examines the marriage between Lancelot (“Lotto”), a successful playwright and former struggling actor and Mathilde, his wife. It’s divided into two parts, the first of which (Fates) focuses on Lancelot/Lotto. The second part (Fury) is all about Mathilde.

The pair meet in college and get married pretty quickly. Everyone thinks they’ll get divorced, but the years gone on and they don’t. It looks as though Mathilde is the quiet wife, supporting her husband while he pursues an acting career, standing by his side after he makes sit as a playwright. But there’s much more to it than that and the second part of the book rips off the facade of the first part, unveiling Mathilde and giving more of an explanation for the couple’s relationship. It’s not so much telling the story of a marriage from two different people’s point of view. It’s telling two different stories that happen to contain the same people and events that take place at the same time.

It’s not so much the story of Fates and Furies that made it such a good read. It’s Groff’s style. The words tumble on the page. We’re shown brief, terrible glimpses of the character’s past and future, all in one breath. It’s a beautifully written book, probably one of the most stylistically engaging novels I’ve read in a long time.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

*I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review*

One day, Yeong-Hye stops eating meat. She’s been having terrible dreams about murder and violence, so she gives up meat.

But it’s not as if she simply goes vegan. She stops eating most foods and wastes away. Her behavior changes too, unsettling her husband and family. At a family dinner one day, things reach a tipping point and Yeong-Hye ends up in the hospital.

Although Yeong-Hye is the title character, The Vegetarian is told from everyone’s perspective but hers. There are some brief descriptions of her violent dreams, from her own point of view, in the first part of the book, but otherwise, the action is narrated by her husband. The second part of the book is from the POV of her brother-in-law and the final part is from her sister’s point of view.

The Vegetarian is some sort of terrifying parable. When Yeong-Hye finally tries to assert herself, by first becoming vegetarian and by doing other considerably more shocking things later on, her family’s reaction is first to force her to eat meat and later to lock her up. No one gets what is going on with her. The response is either to abandon her, to take advantage of her or to have her actions call into question everything that a character once believed or thought important.

The premise of the novel might feel so strange and foreign to us that it can be easy to dismiss it. I think it’s more important not to try to define the “meaning” of the story or to really analyze what it all means, especially the ending. My first inclination was to think, oh clearly, this is a woman throwing off the shackles of society. But there’s more to it than that. Yeong-Hye isn’t just rejecting the expectations placed on her by society. She’s throwing off the expectation that she is even a human, and that is what ultimately terrifies her family and others around her.