Books: What I’ve Read This October

Since my seasonal book review round-ups were getting pretty lengthy, and it was difficult to remember what I wanted to say about books I read three months ago, I’ve decided, for the last quarter of the year, to do things on a monthly basis. There will be fewer books, but I hope to be able to go a bit more in depth in my reviews. Here’s what I read this October:

Never Never Part 1

By: Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher

Never Never, part 1 is the first book in a trilogy of novellas. I believe it’s written by two indie authors who regularly work together and, judging from the book’s reviews on Amazon, have a massive following. I read it for my book club and would not have read it or even heard of it if not for that.

The very plot driven book centers on a high school aged couple, Charlie and Silas, who both lose their memory at the same time. Over the course of the day, they piece back together who they are and what their lives are.

Because this is part one of a three part series, it ends on a major cliffhanger. There’s a big reveal, and a character in peril, and then we’re supposed to buy book two to find out what happens next.

Although it was a quick, page turning (or whatever it is when you read on a Kindle) read, I was didn’t find the plot or the character development compelling enough to purchase and read the next book. If you’re a fan of a cliffhangers, mysteries, and teen romance, I’d recommend it. But, it wasn’t the book for me.

Lucky Alan and Other Short Stories

By: Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem is definitely one of my top five favorite writers, so I was thrilled to find his latest collection of short stories, Lucky Alan, on the library shelf. The book contains nine occasionally experiemental, occasionally absurd stories.

I think my favorite was “King of Sentences.” In it, two aspiring writers, who work at a bookshop and are very much that person, decide to track down their still-living favorite author. He’s none too thrilled to see them and ends up tricking them, leaving them naked and without recourse in a hotel room.

My least favorite is a story I’ve actually read a few times (it appeared in Harper’s many years ago – actually, most of these stories have been published somewhere or another before). “The Dreaming Jaw, the Salivating Ear” imagines a blog as a piece of land, complete with a blogger going to battle to protect her land, er blog. Creative and all that, but just doesn’t really do it for me.

 

Purity

By: Jonathan Franzen

(Warning: Spoilers. I guess.)

I was complaining to my friend the other day that it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll reach my goal of 50 books by the end of the year (I’m on #37 right now). “Well, you read big books,” she pointed out. And I guess that’s true, if you count Purity as a big book (it’s 563 pages in hardcover).

Where to even begin with Purity. It’s similar in structure to other Franzen novels, in that it’s divided into sections and each section focuses on one character. Pip, nee Purity, a recently graduated young woman, gets three sections. Andreas Wolf, a character who’s very similar to Julian Assange, gets one, Tom Aberrant, a journalist and Pip’s (unknown to her at first dad), gets one (written in 1st person), and Leila, Tom’s girlfriend, gets one.

One major character notably doesn’t get her own section and that is Penelope, nee Anabel, Tom’s former wife and Pip’s mother. Anabel is an artist, a feminist, and based on the book’s descriptions of her, mentally ill. She and Tom ultimately couldn’t live together. Anabel also couldn’t live with the fact that she’s heir to a fortune. She disappears, changing her name and giving birth to Pip, without telling Tom about their daughter.

There has been some criticism of Franzen’s treatment of Anabel, and perhaps of women in general (some of it thoughtful and nuanced, some of it that makes you wonder if people actually read Franzen’s books). While Pip is a well-developed young woman, perhaps the opposite of her mother, Anabel/Penelope is a dramatic, over-the-top feminist. She won’t let Tom pee standing up. She will only have sex on the three days when the moon is full each month. She can’t bear being the daughter of a billionaire. In creating her, Franzen conflates feminism with mental instability, and that has (rightly) pissed some people off.

But, Anabel and her flaws aside, the book is fantastic. Pip might be the character around which event revolve, but the action that gets the ball rolling and without which Pip would have never met Tom and found out about her background, is a murder in East Germany just before the wall fell.

Andreas Wolf, of the Sunlight Project, murders a young woman’s abusive stepfather. In covering up and destroying the evidence of the murder, he becomes a spokesperson for those against the Stasi, leading to his future career in charge of the Sunlight Project, an organization that, like its rival WikiLeaks, reveals top secret documents and information. While concealing the evidence of the murder, he gets help from Tom, who’s in East Germany with his dying mother.

Pip begins interning with Wolf and ends up in a weird (I’m going to say “icky”) sexual relationship with him. She then ends up in Denver, working with Tom’s investigative journalism outfit. All along, it turns out Wolf has been pulling the strings in an attempt to get revenge on his former accomplice.

Murder. Missing fathers. Mistaken identity. It all sounds so over-the-top, so mystery-film-noir-of-the-week. And yet. Purity ends up being a pretty good look at our world today. Beyond the murder and identity confusion, the heart of the story is Pip herself, a young woman who’s just trying to figure it all out.

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