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RidgewayGirl Reads in 2017 -- Part Two

This is a continuation of the topic RidgewayGirl Reads in 2017 -- Part One.

Club Read 2017

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Edited: Yesterday, 4:48pm Top

It's the second quarter of the year already!

And so to begin:

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, like his fellow artists of a certain age (he was born in 1880), fought in WWI only to see his life's work declared degenerate when the Nazis rose to power. Over 600 of his paintings were destroyed by the Nazis and in 1938 he committed suicide.

Kirchner used and reused his canvases. He would paint over earlier paintings or restretch the canvas so that he could paint on the back of an earlier painting.

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Edited: Yesterday, 9:37am Top

The Lists

Books by Year of Publication

1998 The Public Prosecutor by Jef Geeraerts
2002 My Lover's Lover by Maggie O'Farrell
2004 Rapture Culture by Amy Johnson Frykholm
2008 The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
2009 American Rust by Philipp Meyer
2010 True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies
2012 You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane
2013 Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue
War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
2014 Human Acts by Han Kang
Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit
2015 An Atlas of Countries that Don't Exist by Nick Middleton
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
High Dive by Jonathan Lee
The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
2016 All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis
An American in Moscow by Amor Towles
Autumn by Ali Smith
The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer
Black Wave by Michelle Tea
The Break by Katherena Vermette
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien
The Fall Guy by James Lasdun
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
How to Survive a Plague by David France
Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
Mister Monkey by Francine Prose
Moonglow by Michael Chabon
Night School by Lee Child
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel
Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
Transit by Rachel Cusk
The Trespasser by Tana French
True Crime Addict by James Renner
Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald
Version Control by Dexter Palmer
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
2017 The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
Ill Will by Dan Chaon
The Long Drop by Denise Mina
The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
A Separation by Katie Kitamura
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Apr 6, 9:34am Top

And there it is. A new and shiny thread ready to be cluttered with books and comments of various kinds.

Apr 6, 9:40am Top

Very interesting artist at the top of your thread. It is so sad to think of everything lost.

Apr 6, 9:56am Top

Colleen, there was so much art lost. The world would be so much richer had it survived. And German Expressionism would be as well-known and lauded as French Impressionism.

Here's another by him.

Apr 6, 11:12am Top

Hi! Love your shiny new thread, with new pictures and lists...all that a fellow bookworm could want :-)

Apr 6, 4:26pm Top

Oh dear. I just read your thoughts on Sudden Death in your previous thread and then somehow I seem to have ordered it!

Love the image in >9 RidgewayGirl:

Apr 6, 5:16pm Top

Hi, citygirl! What did you think about Homegoing?

SL, I will be eager to read your thoughts on it. And Kirchner is one of my favorites. I'm still mad about so many of his painting being destroyed.

Apr 7, 10:12am Top

It was pretty devastating. Beautifully written in that style that seems so natural, but some brutal truths within. I think it's an important book.

Apr 7, 12:08pm Top

>13 citygirl: I'm eager to see what Gyasi writes next.

Apr 9, 11:17am Top

Pachinko is a multi-generational story of a Korean family, from their modest farm on an island, through their move to Japan at the start of WWII and on into the 1980s. Min Jin Lee explores how Koreans living in Japan are treated, even after they have been their for generations and how it affects both them and Japanese society. Her descriptions of life in Japan during WWII were especially vivid. Sunja and Isaac move from Korea to Japan when he takes the post of a minister to a protestant Christian congregation, a difficult and dangerous position as any lack of conformity is considered treasonous. The struggles of the generations who came of age after the war do feel less weighty than those of their parents, but they still faced life in a country that was prejudiced against them and barred them from many kinds of employment, leading the family into the world of pachinko parlors, a world where the yakuza (Japanese gangsters) control many of the gambling dens and a world that isn't entirely respectable, although it is lucrative.

Pachinko was an interesting book to read. The author kept things moving and the history she recounted was largely unfamiliar. She was clearly writing for a western audience, and she took pains to explain historical events. My only complaint about the book is one that wouldn't be an issue for many readers; Lee keeps the secondary characters uncomplicated, and often the primary characters as well. They aren't complexly drawn. Admittedly, in a novel that has such a large cast of characters and which covers so much time, this is difficult to do.

Apr 12, 1:03pm Top

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien is a multi-generational novel about the Chinese Cultural Revolution and afterwards that puts all other multi-generational novels to shame. It's really good, combining wonderful and vibrant character studies with excellent writing and story structure. Thien deserves all the praise she's received for this book.

Marie is a girl living Vancouver, Canada, with her mother, her father having returned to China and committed suicide, when they are joined by Ai-ming, a college student fleeing China in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square. She leaves them to go to the US in hopes of being granted asylum and Marie never sees her again. In adulthood, Marie undertakes a search for Ai-ming, who may have returned to China. As her search goes on, the story is told of how Ai-ming and Marie's family were connected and goes further back to the story of Ai-ming's parents and grandparents, as they survive WWII, Mao's reign as dictator and on into the turmoil of Tiananmen Square.

It's a lot of history, and a quantity of characters, but Thien juggles the storylines adeptly and makes each character from Big Mother Knife to Marie herself, vivid and complex. This is a novel well worth reading. Also, it's a page-turner.

Apr 13, 12:15am Top

>9 RidgewayGirl: I have never even heard of Kirchner, what a shame. Love these two pictures. Did any of his work survive WWII and are they to be seen somewhere?

Apr 13, 10:40am Top

Barbara, yes, a number did survive and are able to be seen in museums, mainly in Germany, although there are paintings on view in museums in New York and Davos, Switzerland. I don't know what's over in your corner of Europe, but it wouldn't surprise me to find a Kirchner tucked into some corner of an art museum in Brussels or Amsterdam.

I know this one hangs in the Pinothek der Moderne in Munich.

Edited: Apr 13, 4:59pm Top

It is beautiful. I am going to Google and find out more about him. Thank you for bringing him to my attention.

And an update some minutes later: Nacktes Mädchen hinter Vorhang (Fränzi) hangs in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, practically my neighbour. Tomorrow I have a day off from work so will go and have a look!

Apr 17, 1:52pm Top

Barbara, what did you think? And among the many things I miss about Munich, that easy access to the best of the art world is near the top of my list.

Apr 17, 1:52pm Top

Woman No. 17 is Lady, a wealthy woman, separated from her husband, with two sons, one a toddler and one beginning college. She hires S as a nanny for her younger son, so that she can work on the book she's writing about her relationship with her older son, Seth, who is mute. S is adrift after the end of a relationship and determined to live her life as an art project.

There's a feeling of unease throughout the novel that Edan Lepucki executed really well. This isn't a crime story, or even a novel where a lot happens, but rather a close look at motherhood from the point of view of two women who both had very flawed and difficult relationships with their own mothers, one of whom is figuring out motherhood for herself. Halfway through, I found myself buying a copy of her first novel, which is to say, Woman No. 17 is worth reading, especially if you like character studies and fine writing.

Apr 17, 3:08pm Top

>21 RidgewayGirl: That looks interesting, thanks for putting it on my radar.

Apr 17, 4:17pm Top

>20 RidgewayGirl: Do you know this work of his, Kay? It is beautiful, this nude girl, looking so shy and self-conscious. Thank you again for bringing Kirchner up.

Apr 17, 4:51pm Top

That painting in your op is striking. The three reviews, of Lee, Thien and Lepucki, are terrific.

I finished and reviewed the Gyasi. Probably I didn't like it as much as you did, but I did really enjoy it quite a bit.

Apr 19, 2:37pm Top

Jennifer, I'd be interested in finding out what you think about it.

Barbara, I've never seen it in person, but I've seen other Kirchner nudes and they are fascinating. I'm so glad you like his work.

Thanks, Daniel. I've been very lucky and happy with my reading so far this year. Giving up the idea that I should read certain books and allowing myself to read what I want has been a good decision for me.

Apr 19, 2:38pm Top

I like short stories. When they're done well, they pack a novel's punch into a a few dozen pages. Or, to belabor the point, they're like potent shots of whisky, to the novel's tankard of beer. Sometimes a short story does nothing more than perfectly depict a moment or a mood, and sometimes they're weird and discombobulating, like Kelly Link's collection, Get in Trouble. Link draws easy comparisons to George Saunders and Heather O'Neill, but she's her own off-beat thing.

Link sets the reader down in the middle of only superficially normal settings and tells a story, leaving the reader to figure out on the fly how the world Link is writing about is different from the one we're used to, even as her characters do ordinary things like sit on a hillside with a lover, prepare for a hurricane, or go to meet someone at a hotel. Link's stories occupy worlds where fairy tales are factual elements of daily life, superheroes do things like play chess in the park and attend conventions, and Florida has become, as we all knew it would, weirder than everywhere else.

As in any collection, some stories work better than others, but each contained a novel's worth of ideas. I'm still thinking about several of the stories. The opening story, The Summer People provides a perfect introduction to Link's off-kilter and brilliant mind.

Apr 19, 6:11pm Top

Hope you're enjoying American Rust as much as I did.

Apr 19, 9:25pm Top

>26 RidgewayGirl: that Florida bit, it sounds like nonfiction. Should we read Saunders, O'Neill, or Link...if we had choose one?

Apr 19, 10:10pm Top

Alison, I may be. It's very good.

Daniel, I'd recommend Tenth of December by George Saunders to you. I think you might like him. In any case, he's easier than Pynchon.

Apr 23, 12:59pm Top

David France's book, How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS isn't a carefully balanced account of the work done to find ways to treat AIDS. It also isn't balanced geographically or emotionally. David France moved to New York city in the early eighties, looking for a place where he would find acceptance and be allowed to be himself. Instead, he entered the epicenter of a horrific epidemic at its beginning and remained through to its ending. So while How to Survive a Plague tries to be balanced and journalistic in its approach, the real human feelings, along with the chaos and frantic need to find any source of hope shines through this account of the New York gay community during the AIDS crisis.

Going through the crisis chronologically, the story is told with all of the physical and emotional turmoil intact. As people struggled, even to find out what was going on, what this new disease was, as the government and American society reacted with a callous disregard at best, and an unseemly schadenfreude at worst, the men at the center were frightened for both themselves and their loved ones. Out of that, rose groups willing to do what they could to find answers, to care for the afflicted and to find ways of compelling the NIH and pharmaceutical companies to get anything that might help to market. And these groups were often at loggerheads with each other, with one group fighting for one thing and another fighting with equal fervor for the opposite. France does a good job of reflecting those conflicts in his writing and his own experiences during this time are recounted along with those of the other members of New York's gay community.

I learned a huge amount from this book. And while it's length is daunting, and arguments could be made for tightening up the story, the way it was written, with each meeting of each group detailed, along with the inter-personal conflicts and resolutions carefully recounted, that very approach deepened my immersion in the subject. And while the focus stays fixed on the fight for a cure, and how that was achieved, what remains in my mind are the heart-breaking and utterly common stories that France includes like the one of one partner last seeing his longtime life companion at the doors of the emergency room, as hospitals routinely barred entry to the partners of people with AIDS.

Apr 23, 2:34pm Top

We moved out of NYC just before anyone knew what was going on, but because we had many friends and colleagues in NYC and London, we became somewhat enmeshed in the situation. It ravaged the theatre community (my husband is an actor) and other arts communities.

Apr 23, 10:04pm Top

Jane, I can't even imagine. I knew three men who died and I was a teenager living in Arizona.

Apr 24, 5:12pm Top

You've made me want to read Do Not Say We have Nothing. Luckily it's available at BPL as a Kindle ebook ...... Just sayin'

Apr 25, 7:32pm Top

>15 RidgewayGirl: Good to see your opinion of Pachinko. I've been curious about that book for a while as I enjoyed the author's previous book. It sounds like Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a book I need to check out too.

Apr 26, 12:06pm Top

>33 auntmarge64: Do Not Say We Have Nothing is one of the best books I've read this year. It really is very good. I hope you get to it soon!

Gary, I was running into Pachinko everywhere, including Costco. I can see why - it's an excellent, mainstream novel that looks at a culture (Koreans living in Japan) that most Westerners know nothing about.

Apr 26, 12:06pm Top

With her first book, After You'd Gone, Maggie O'Farrell won my goodwill forever. She a writer who writes well, and has an ability to bring her characters to life, they don't exist idly on a page. Her novels are hard to characterize, they're somewhat lighter than most literary fiction, but they're lacking in any adherence to formula and tend to explore what loss does to a person in some way or another.

So This Must be the Place fits right in with her usual novels. In it, Daniel meets Claudette and they get married, but both of them have complicated pasts that they never fully dealt with. Daniel has children from a previous marriage, as well as romantic relationships that ended badly, while Claudette left behind a long-term relationship and a successful career that she fled from, leaving with her son early one morning and hiding out in the most rural corner of Ireland she can find. They're both not very good at trust or relationships.

It's in the telling that this novel runs aground. O'Farrell has a great story to tell, but since she gives the background of and center stage to so many secondary characters, from the children to a woman met on a holiday excursion, the story is so fractured it's hard to see the marriage at the center of the novel. Time is spent on both Daniel and Claudette, and on their relationships with the many people they were involved with at different stages of their lives,but little light is shone on their marriage, so that while I was interested in both Daniel and Claudette individually, I never saw why their marriage was important to either of them. In some writers' hands this approach of never showing the center of a novel directly can work, but here it just means that the book feels like it would have worked better as a series of unrelated short stories.

Apr 29, 9:10am Top

A Gentleman in Moscow is the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who in 1922, was escorted to the doors of the Metropol hotel, where he had been staying, and told he'd be arrested if he left the building. Rostov was a member of the aristocracy, and should have been summarily shot, but a certain event meant that the government was unwilling to shoot him. And so he existed as a non-person, able to live in quite a bit more comfort than his countrymen, but stranded in the limbo of house arrest.

But living in a protected place, outside of the turmoil of life in the Soviet Union during the first half of the last century, didn't mean he was outside of life. The Metropol remained the premier hotel in the city, and was visited by government bigwigs, foreigners and celebrities alike. The two restaurants saw people from every walk of life and Rostov would eventually end up as a member of staff.

Amor Towles is a skilled writer, and one who has clearly taken the time to construct a solid novel. The book is well paced and the characters are wonderfully written. Alexander Rostov is a charming man and this book exudes charm and warmth. Which is really all I have to say in criticism; like his old university roommate points out when he visits Rostov after the end of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), by being incarcerated, Rostov ended up being luckier than all of his friends and associates. A Gentleman in Moscow provides a nicely buffered version of the history of the Soviet Union, free of the fears, struggles to survive and uncertainties faced by everyone else. Avoiding the Politburo is presented as a series of amusing escapades. I was charmed by this novel, although by the end, all tension was absent as I knew that all would be well, just like it had all turned out well in every other adventure undertaken by the Count. Still, this is escapist, comfort reading of the highest quality, written by an author who knows what he's doing.

Apr 29, 12:27pm Top

I just won Woman No. 17 in the ER program - looking forward to reading it!

Apr 29, 12:49pm Top

Jennifer, I look forward to finding out what you think of it.

May 12, 11:20am Top

It astonishes me that American Rust is Philipp Meyer's first published novel. It's not so much that the story is gripping or that he's captured the atmosphere of a place; plenty of debut novels have done this, but that the pacing is perfectly timed, the characters fully realized and the book ends exactly where it should.

The story begins with Isaac English leaving his rural Pennsylvania home with the intention of riding the rails to California. He stops by to say good-bye to his best friend, Poe, a high school baseball star who never left and who lives in a trailer with his mother. They walk awhile together, and when they meet some other men when they take shelter in an abandoned building, violence ensues. American Rust deals with the aftermath of that crime and it's impact on the families involved. Mostly though, it's about a time and a place. Isaac and Poe live in a community that had made its living off of steel manufacturing, and with the mills closed, the towns in the county are sinking into poverty.

My father read American Rust, and said that it perfectly summed up the place he grew up. Given the amount of attention being paid to places like this one, American Rust is as timely today as it was when it was written almost a decade ago.

May 12, 5:14pm Top

True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies is a novel about a self-destructive young woman. The unnamed protagonist is an intensely self-involved and unstable woman who becomes involved with a man she meets in the benefits office where she works. It's a terrible relationship with a dangerous man, and both her parents and her best friend are unable to keep her from seeing him. Her behavior becomes increasingly erratic as the novel progresses and it's clear that she's even less in control of herself than her exterior behavior indicates.

This isn't a book for everyone. Told from inside the head of the protagonist, the novel is disturbing and, as her behavior and thought patterns become less and less reasonable, the reader is forced to endure her disequilibrium right along with her. The writing is good and the author's willingness to dive into dark places was impressive.

May 15, 3:58am Top

Thanks for that great review of How to Survive a Plague, Kay. I bought a copy of it last month, and I'll read it soon.

May 15, 1:46pm Top

Darryl, I'll be interested in your thoughts about How to Survive a Plague, especially since you'll be reading from the viewpoint of a health professional.

May 15, 1:46pm Top

I began reading Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta armed only with the knowledge that a person whose taste in books is similar to mine made an off-hand comment about it being very good. The title gave me the expectation of the book being a collection of short stories, which was only the first surprising thing about this novel. I didn't even read the dust jacket until the book turned abruptly from being one story into being a very different one, and I think I was lucky in approaching Innocents and Others in complete ignorance about it.

Innocents and Others centers on Meadow, a driven young filmmaker, who has a strong friendship with Carrie, another filmmaker. As their lives progress from high school to adulthood, their friendship shifts in the way of adult friends whose lives have moved in different directions. But more than friendship, this book is about filmmaking and a passion for films and how they are made, with both women pursuing different visions in that art form. There's a lot of the detail of how films are made, the history of film and detailed accounts of each of Meadow's documentary films. It was fascinating, and I ended up looking up some of her topics to learn more.

I suspect that Innocents and Others would not appeal to everyone. It's an emotionally raw novel that is nonetheless written in a distancing way and the details of film-making may not prove fascinating for all readers. I loved this book, with its unapologetic focus on female friendship and the complexities of relationships.

May 16, 4:57pm Top

I really like Mhairi McFarlane's light novels and You Had Me at Hello was no exception. The story doesn't always hold together perfectly, but McFarlane write with a humorous touch and her characters are intelligent and likable. The story follows Rachel, a reporter with a local paper in Manchester, who had a best friend while in university, but they parted ways after graduation. Now Ben has moved to Manchester and they rekindle their friendship. Rachel likes her job and is training a new court reporter, who may be less scrupulous than Rachel.

This is a fun, escapist novel about intelligent, likable people. Rachel is fun to spend time with, she loves her job, if not all her co-workers, and her friends are written as actual people who have more to do than be foils and sounding boards for Rachel. And the plot, slight though it was, moved along at a pleasant pace. I need to remember to read books like this one more often.

May 16, 7:08pm Top

Innocents and Others sounds intriguing. I really like novels about professions and crafts I know little about.

May 19, 1:12pm Top

Jane, when it's done well, a book full of passion for a profession I know little about is wonderful. And this was beautifully done - a lot of detail but all in service to moving the story forward.

May 19, 1:12pm Top

This book! If I were allowed to do so, I'd give the first half of Alex Marwood's crime novel, The Wicked Girls, an enthusiastic five stars. Marwood started with a bang, with the story of two pre-adolescent girls who were convicted of a murder and, years later, given new identities after their release, to protect them as their case was a famous one. The novel begins with the adult lives of the two women, although the reader doesn't know which adult was which child as both stories unfold.

In the present day, there are a series of murders of young women in the holiday seaside town of Whitmouth. Both women are tangential to the crime; Amber works as a cleaner in the amusement park where one body is found and Kirsty is a freelance reporter, sent to cover the story. As their paths begin to circle, the story tightens.

I read the first half of the book sure that I'd found another author as brilliant as Tana French. Then, as the story unfolded, it became more predictable, so that the third quarter of the book slipped back to a three and a half star read. I was still interested, but the plot started to fall into predictability. And the last quarter of the book was a generous two star read; the writing and the characters lost their nuance and vivacity and became rote, predictable and something that would not surprise anyone. I'm still surprised that a novel that was so good could change so completely, as though the first half had been written by a different person than the second half.

May 19, 3:21pm Top

Did you know that Anne Perry is one of the girls whose story is told in the movie Heavenly Creatures? I haven't been able to read her since I learned that.

May 19, 5:22pm Top

I'm sorry to hear that Wicked Girls didn't pass muster. I had heard about it somewhere, and it sounded interesting. Now, I'm not rushing to get to it.

May 19, 5:44pm Top

citygirl, I knew that, but I haven't read any Anne Perry, although you'd think it would make my ghoulish mind want to read her immediately. I've always had the impression she wrote mysteries that approached the cozy.

Colleen, the first half is fantastic. Unfortunately, it's impossible to leave a crime novel halfway through. I'll give Marwood another go, based on that first half, but only one more chance.

May 21, 8:29am Top

No, not cozies. Some of the murders are positively gruesome, which makes the whole thing worse.

Actually Wicked Girls still sounds interesting to me. I may not seek it out, but if it comes my way I'll give it a shot.

May 21, 11:44am Top

citygirl, I may have to read one then, except there are so many new and interesting books being published and I'm currently mostly reading brand new titles. And Marwood's worth trying. I've got another book now as I want to see if she developed on the promise of the beginning of The Wicked Girls or if she's chasing the bestseller market by simplifying her characters and making her plots more predictable.

Edited: May 23, 2:25pm Top

May 23, 2:37pm Top

There's no way that I can write anything that accurately sums up my reaction to Elizabeth Strout's new book, Anything is Possible. In form, it's most closely related to Olive Kitteridge, being a collection of closely related short stories about people from Amgash, the small town where the protagonist of Strout's previous novel, My Name is Lucy Barton grew up. Amgash is a struggling agricultural community, whose residents work as high school guidance counselors, janitors, nurse's aides and housewives. Those who leave enjoy broader prospects, but are nonetheless shaped by the town they grew up in. Lucy Barton's existence hangs over the town; she's a success story, but the residents are ashamed of how she and her family were ostracized and of the bleak poverty that clung to them.

Each story stands on its own, but is made richer by being situated with other stories about the same place, with central characters from one story being mentioned in another. I'm a sucker for the interconnected short story format, and I'm a fan of Strout's understated but fine writing, but I'm pretty sure this book is very, very good.

May 23, 4:06pm Top

>55 RidgewayGirl: I really enjoyed Olive Kitteridge, so I've added this one to the wishlist.

May 23, 5:29pm Top

>54 RidgewayGirl: I like that. Thanks for sharing.

May 24, 6:55pm Top

Colleen, I look forward to finding out what you think of it, but it is excellent.

Thanks, Alison.

May 24, 6:56pm Top

Back during the Tournament of Books, people kept mentioning how much more they'd loved Human Acts than The Vegetarian. I was sure that something was wrong with them. Now that I've read Human Acts, I have to concede that they had a point. While The Vegetarian was a weird, off-balance tour de force, Human Acts is more so.

In May, 1980, a student-led uprising in Gwangju, South Korea was violently quashed by authorities. Over 600 people were killed by government forces, and many more imprisoned. In Human Acts, Han Kang looks at the repercussions of that event in a series of inter-connected short stories, beginning with the story of a student searching for the body of a friend, and continuing with the stories of a protester who was imprisoned and tortured, an editor with a small publishing company who is punished for working with a specific translator, a young woman who grew up in a house which had previously held someone killed in the uprising and even a boy killed by government forces.

This book is astonishing, both in the brilliance of the structure and writing, and in the power of the story being told. Han Kang chose not to begin the story with the uprising itself, but with its tragic aftermath. And she repeatedly hammers the real human suffering home to the reader. While this isn't a cheerful book, it is an important and compelling one.

May 27, 9:06am Top

Ghachar Ghochar is a slender novella about a family in India who once struggled to get by but sudden business success has catapulted them into wealth, a state of affairs that is not altogether positive. Vivek Shanbhag's tale is charming, but with dark undertones and comparisons to Chekov's short stories are not without merit. There's a lightness to the writing, here gorgeously translated by Srinath Perur, that makes the book a delight to read. It had me hooked from the opening description of the narrator's favorite café. The book is very short, but there's a lot packed into its pages.

May 31, 9:30am Top

Dustin Tillman is a psychologist and a widower with two sons. When he was thirteen, in the early eighties, his adopted brother murdered his parents and his aunt and uncle. Dustin's testimony helped put him in prison and the case was notorious at the time, when the Satanic Panic was in full swing. Now he discovers that his brother is being released from prison. At the same time, he's spending more of his time with one of his patients, an ex-cop who is obsessed with what he sees as a series of serial killings of drunk college students.

Dustin's younger son is adrift. He was supposed to have begun college classes, but he never made it to a single class, using the tuition money for drugs and hanging out with his high school friend Rabbit, and Rabbit's dying mother. Since his mother's death, his father hasn't noticed anything and so when an uncle he hadn't known he had gets in touch, Aaron is eager to get to know him.

Ill Will is an odd and brilliant book. Dan Chaon plays around with structure and language in a way that made me very happy. The two central crime stories twine around each other and Chaon allows each story to feel both plausible and like a weird conspiracy theory. Like the two primary narrators, the reader is left with many questions as the book progresses. The ending has me utterly confused, and I'm still trying to figure out what was and wasn't true. Chaon is clearly an author who is comfortable making the reader pay attention and drawn conclusions without any hand-holding. I generally like an ambiguous ending, but in this case I'm looking for someone to explain it all to me.

May 31, 1:16pm Top

Verrrrry intriguing.

Jun 1, 1:42pm Top

Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips took me weeks to read. It's not an overly long book, the author writes well, and the story is a fascinating one, but Forsyth county is just a hundred miles from my home and a quick two hour drive away. It could just as easily have happened here.

Forsyth county lies just outside of Atlanta, Georgia and Patrick Phillips moved there with his family in the 1980s, when the county still didn't allow non-white people to live, or even pass through there. In 1987, his family went to march with Civil Rights campaigners seeking to integrate the county, but when the busloads of peaceful marchers were turned back by crowds of Forsyth county residents, Phillips and his family had to have the police escort them home. Then Phillips left for university and his hometown became just a colorful topic of conversation.

Years later, he has written a book about how in 1912, after one woman is discovered in bed with a black man and another is discovered murdered in the woods, angry mobs drove all African Americans from the county. And they and their descendants kept Forsyth county free of anyone not seen as white until the 1990s. Phillips is rigorous in his research and the story he tells is shocking and difficult to read about, but is tremendously important -- it's essential reading given how recently the county was integrated and how the attitudes still exist today.

Jun 1, 7:03pm Top

Yeah, I heard about this one on NPR. Fascinating and horrifying. *shudder* We vacationed in Forsyth County in the early 00s. I kept expecting people to act weird, but they didn't.

Jun 2, 9:02am Top

>61 RidgewayGirl: Great review. Guess I'll need that one.

Jun 2, 4:31pm Top

citygirl, yeah once the bigots lost, the county could become a bedroom community of Atlanta and coincidentally a lot wealthier and a little diverse.

Barbara, I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Jun 3, 2:37pm Top

A married couple have separated, but agreed to keep their marital status quiet for a while, when the husband disappears while in Greece. Sent by her mother-in-law, who still believes them to be together, the unnamed narrator of A Separation checks in to a room at the resort hotel in an isolated area to look for her husband.

A Separation reminded me a lot of Rachel Cusk's Outline series, with its detached tone and how the narrator is content to keenly observe what is going on around her. She's in an odd position, being viewed as the wife of the absent man, but having been apart for six months, she's moved on with her life.

There is a crime in this novel, but this is not a crime novel, or a thriller, but a quiet examination of relationships and how a change in one relationship affects other relationships. Katie Kitamura's writing is clear and lovely and does much to enhance the meditative feel of this novel.

Jun 3, 5:06pm Top

>54 RidgewayGirl: Wiki tells me that Good Bones is a very popular poem and I can understand why.

Enjoying your excellent reviews.

Jun 3, 5:22pm Top

Thanks, Bas.

Jun 6, 5:46pm Top

To anyone who read Ottessa Moshfegh's excellent and distasteful noir, Eileen, her new collection of short stories, Homesick for Another World, follows much of the same ground, being full of creepy, repulsive and lonely people interacting with other repulsive characters. It rarely ends well.

But a short story collection isn't the best platform for her writing. Most of the stories would do very well set apart from the others, but all together, they form an unrelenting repetition of misery that becomes less effective when read one after the other, although I did try to only read one story a day. In the form of a novel, an off-putting character creates an effective atmosphere of unpleasantness that is a great deal of fun to read. In a series of short stories, with each main character as creepy as the last, the effectiveness is reduced.

That said, the story called Mr. Wu encapsulated Moshfegh's style perfectly. In it, a shy older man wonders how to approach a neighbor, a woman he has fallen in love with from afar. As he tries to work up the courage and to find the right approach, the reader slowly realizes how terrible it would be for this relationship to blossom.

Jun 7, 3:49pm Top

Enjoying all your excellent reviews. My wishlist has ballooned!

Jun 7, 4:05pm Top

It's only fair, Vivienne, considering what your thread does to mine.

Jun 8, 11:13pm Top

>70 RidgewayGirl: I don't know, though. At least they were slightly different horribly unpleasant people in each story. I'm not sure I could quite face up to the thought of reading an entire novel about any of them, myself.

Jun 9, 8:36am Top

Betty, Eileen was about one horribly unpleasant person and I loved that book so much. I do know that I'll be reading whatever Moshfegh writes next.

Jun 9, 6:28pm Top

Lurking and enjoying your reviews :)

Jun 9, 7:10pm Top

>74 RidgewayGirl: That almost tempts me to read Eileen. But despite the fact that I very much admire Moshfegh's writing, I'm not sure I'm up for it.

Edited: Jun 9, 9:03pm Top

Betty, there's an incident with frozen vomit that I'm still thinking about.

Lovely to have you here, Alison.

Jun 13, 4:14pm Top

Author Stefan Hertmans was given his grandfather's diaries but it took him several years to get around to reading them. With War and Turpentine he has taken his memories, his family's memories and the diaries and written a novel about his grandfathers' life. The book is divided into two themes, that of painting (turpentine) and WWI (war). His grandfather, Urbain, was a keen amateur painter, carefully copying various classical paintings. His own father had been a church painter, restoring paintings and frescos in religious buildings around Ghent and further afield. A love of art in general and of classical painting in particular bookended his life.

Urbain was a young man when WWI started and Belgium was a battlefield. This part of the book is taken directly from Urbain's diaries, which he wrote some years after the war had ended. This part of the book has a very different feel than the rest. Urbain was either a brilliant and prescient soldier, surrounded by less able men, or he thought he was a brilliant soldier surrounded by idiots. In any case, he was injured numerous times and spent one convalescence in England, before returning to the battlefield.

War and Turpentine is a picture of Belgium that no longer exists, and is a character study of a man who was both ordinary and unique. I found the parts about his childhood and what being poor meant at a time before government assistance and social safety nets to be both fascinating and sobering.

Jun 14, 9:35pm Top

>61 RidgewayGirl: I had the same puzzled reaction to Ill Will that you did I think. I wrote about my questions in a very spoilerish review over on my thread.

Enjoyed your reviews as always.

Jun 15, 9:15am Top

arubabookwoman, I skipped your review at the time because I was planning to read Ill Will, but I went back and read it now. The ending has me scratching my head. I have a high tolerance for unresolved endings, but this takes that to an extreme. Next month, The Morning News (https://themorningnews.org) Rooster Summer Reading Challenge is reading Ill Will and discussing it. I'm eager to find out what different readers think about it, especially the two authors hosting the read.

Jun 19, 6:02pm Top

Universal Harvester was an odd book that sucked me right into it. John Darnielle has written a sort of horror story about Jeremy, who is working as an assistant manager at a video rental store when a few of the tapes appear with odd and frightening insertions in the middle of the VHS tapes. Looking more closely, the location of these clips is a farmhouse not to far from the small town of Nevada, Iowa.

The horror in this book is subtle, and is effective for most of the book. It's a masterclass in creating a feel of rising dread. Whether that creepiness is maintained as the origin of the clips is unveiled is debatable. Universal Harvester does succeed unreservedly in portraying a specific time and place and Darnielle's writing is never gets in the way of the story he's telling.

Jun 22, 3:16pm Top

With The Long Drop, Denise Mina has changed directions somewhat. Mina has taken what is known about Peter Manuel, a serial killer who killed the family of William Watt in 1956, and a night these two men spent drinking together.

After Watt's family was murdered, Watt was arrested and spent time in prison. He ended up trying to find the murderer himself, to clear his name. Manuel agrees to meet with him and promises he has information. So begins Mina's tale of a night two very different men spent drinking together in the bars of Glasgow, and as the evening progresses, Mina takes the reader both back to the time of the murders and forward to the eventual trial of Peter Manuel.

If you didn't already think Mina was a masterful writer, this novel will convince you. Mina tells a compelling story, gives life to the characters, writes 1950s Glasgow into soot-encrusted life and even adds a touch of humor to the mix. Mina's made a name for herself writing tough, flawed women and here she shows she can write about anything and make it sing.

Jun 22, 4:40pm Top

>82 RidgewayGirl: you definitely hit me with a BB on this one.

Jun 23, 2:22pm Top

Hopelessly behind, but happy to see what you're up to. You seem to be cruising along. War and Turpentine has a lot of appeal (I swear I've read a review elsewhere in CR). Interesting about Mina and The Long Drop. if i read/(when I read?) mysteries...

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