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Jamesland by Michelle Huneven
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Jamesland (2004)

by Michelle Huneven

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Two hard-luck cases make good and live happily ever after. Huneven can really write setting, but her characters can get bogged down at times (one in particular suffers from a bit of genteel ecumenical effluvium). ( )
  KidSisyphus | Apr 5, 2013 |
It’s hard for me to put into words why I liked this novel so much. At first, I found the two primary characters-both souls adrift without much of a purpose in life-thoroughly unlikeable. They seemed so self-absorbed, so consumed with the meaningless trivialities of their own lives, so unpleasant to and suspicious of everyone around them. But then Hunevan cleverly brings on a foil, in the character of a female Unitarian minister who can’t connect with her congregation. She befriends both these losers and through her eyes, we begin to see these people differently, and we begin to like them. The charm of the novel is that the two character begin to feel the same way, and we get to observe their slow, subtle-but in the end, miraculous-change. ( )
  sturlington | Oct 27, 2011 |
I think some books are victims of our expectations. This book is one of them for me. I picked up this book based on the recommendation of a fellow bookseller who said he secretly divided the world into two groups: people who loved Jamesland and those who did not. A bold statement, to say the least, so when I went into the book, I expected to either have a transcendent experience, or, well, hate it. This book was neither of these things for me. It was a nice book. A really, really, really nice book. It's very well written, has well-drawn characters, and delivers that holy grail of literary fiction--a happy ending. Was it a transformative experience? No. But I liked it. I would recommend it to others. But having had it put so high on a pedestal by an acquaintance, I couldn't help but be disappointed in the end, which is a little sad.

The one concrete thing I will say about the book itself is that I'm not sure I fully believed the final plot developments (i.e., the happy ending). I wanted to, out of allegiance to the characters of whom I'd grown fond, but I didn't quite trust it. Which is interesting, considering the themes of this book, which is essentially about religion and belief, but without any grand conversions. Really, the characters don't learn how to believe, but how to live. I'm just not sure I completely believed how they got there. ( )
  RachelWeaver | Dec 11, 2009 |
Jamesland is a marvelous book. The prose is delicious, the story and characters are compelling, and the representation of William James' philosophy is dead-on. This isn't a book about Freud's great-great-great-granddaughter, who might be in therapy trying to figure out what the horns of a deer symbolize. This isn't a book about a physic or a medium, getting messages from the dead through deer. It's about a woman whose ancestor is William James, and who has an unusual set of experiences. With deer.

The way Alice assimilates the experiences and changes the path of her life is pure James. Whether the deer are real is irrelevant; what matters is the consequences the experiences have on Alice's life. What a fun way to illustrate the Pragmatic Test! ( )
  bexaplex | Aug 18, 2009 |
I don't think I've gotten such pleasure from a book about everyday people doing everyday things since Anna Quindlen's Blessings. It's a difficult book to summarize. This brilliantly written book is full of dysfunctional individuals, but unlike so much contemporary fiction, it focuses not so much on the dysfunctional behavior as on how these isolated individuals learn in the course of the novel to function almost as a supportive family, or in the words often thought by probably the most dysfunctional of them, "how do people live in this world?" One of the characters is a Unitarian/Universalist minister, and her struggles confirm many of my biases about UUs], but I'm pretty sure that's not a reason I liked it. In fact, as with the dysfunction of the individual characters, the author focuses more on the redemptive work the congregation (and especially its minister) accomplishes in the lives of the mostly irreligious or even antireligious main characters than on the congregation's dysfunctions. Besides, their dysfunctions are hardly unique to UUs & could mostly be found as readily in Presbyterian or other congregations. It's a unique book with unique characters, but don't expect a fast-paced story! Just sit back and enjoy the characters & their amusing efforts to come to terms with life. ( )
1 vote mbergman | Nov 9, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375713131, Paperback)

Jamesland, the buoyant second novel by Michelle Huneven, critically acclaimed author of Round Rock, is a witty, sophisticated, and deeply humane comedy of unlikely redemption.

When thirty-three-year-old Alice Black discovers a deer in her dining room after fighting with her boyfriend, she wonders if she’s going crazy. Pete Ross, forty-six, knows he’s crazy. He’s wrecked his marriage, slashed his wrists, and done time in a psychiatric institution, and now he's being cared for by his mother, who’s a nun. Forty-five-year-old Helen Harland, a spirited Unitarian Universalist minister, is being driven crazy by her hostile church administration. Living in Los Feliz, California, the three meet at Helen’s Wednesday midweek services. Though initially incompatible, the sheer force of Helen’s idiosyncratic ministering (her “variety show of religious experience”)–paired with Alice’s illustrious ancestor William James–proves to be a catalyst for friendship and a kind of transcendence. Generous and compassionate, Michelle Huneven delivers a joyful new novel about love, faith, and a few wayward souls waiting for life to begin.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:37 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"How do people live in this world? is a question that seems to hover, alongside the Hollywood sign, over the neighborhood of Los Feliz. Certainly Pete Ross wonders as much, his run as a successful chef, husband, and father having imploded so spectacularly as to land him back in the fraught care of his mother. Similarly, Alice Black's life - hinging as it does on a married boyfriend - is yet pending, and Helen Harland's ministry has thus far failed to enchant her new congregants. Meanwhile, at the retirement home down the street, Alice's aunt Kate lives in a world whose more vivid presence is her distinguished ancestor William James." "Each of them, then, is trying to divine who or what is both missing and essential. They encounter one another - and several significant others besides - at Helen's midweek service, and amidst the quotidian tumult their particular desires gradually dovetail in a quest not just for romance and friendship but also for deeper meaning in what one of them calls "the variety show of religious experience.""--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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