It is a tribute to Ms. Mandel’s skill as a writer (previous book, the brilliant Station Eleven) that a story about a Ponzi scheme in the economic collapse of 2009 can be both compelling and engaging. It is the psychology of fascinating inter-related characters that is so intriguing: the willingness to seize an opportunity, willful disbelief of reality (if it is too good to be true ..) because of delusions regarding wealth, the simultaneous paradox of knowing and not knowing. There is the enigmatic character of Vincent as a mysterious woman at the centre of the story. And there are hallucinatory ghosts in a spirit world. The story unfolds in a non-linear fashion but all loose ends are linked by the end of the book. Simply put, a great read.
A sweeping saga of four generations of the Greenwood family, told more or less backwards from 2038 to 1908. What is most interesting in the story-telling is that the Greenwood family is a construct. Two orphans are raised as “brothers’ but have no biological ties; a “daughter” is rescued and adopted into the family under mysterious conditions. Even the name Greenwood is an artificial construct, a name arbitrarily applied to the two (unrelated) orphans. The story has a strong ecological focus, from the dirty-thirties to a global ecological disaster called the withering in 2028. Very strong character, a vivid description of place – highly recommended.
Trigger warning: this a disturbing story about sexual abuse, an inappropriate and illegal relationship between a 42-year old teacher at a high school and a 15-year old female student. After a year, the young girl lies; she states that accusations of an inappropriate relationship are a fabrication by her and so she is expelled. Thus the teacher is not revealed as a manipulative pedophile because the young girl, a naive child really, protects him; she believes that the teacher loves her and that everything done to her was consensual. And when she turns 18, she re-initiates a relationship that proceeds on and off for 15 years! This is a complex telling of complicated relationships. Be prepared for some tough reading – the emotions are presented graphically and honestly. Given these warnings, this book should be required reading in this #MeToo era.
A gritty contemporary story: a woman and her 8-year old son flee cartel violence in Acapulco with the goal of a new life in the USA. What follows is a perilous journey with some heart-breaking violence, theft and sexual assault, tempered by some extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion. This book has been controversial because of criticisms of cultural appropriation and stereotypical presentations of the largely Mexican characters. My limited frame of reference does not permit me to judge this issue. In my opinion, Ms. Cummins has a voice that deserves to be heard; others can judge the truthfulness and veracity of her story.
A re-read of a biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon. This is a heavily researched book, sometimes with too many asides in parenthesis plus footnotes. But the saving grace is this completeness, commentary on the specific social context; the contrasting lives of these three very different artists are presented brilliantly along with the social history of the times. The best and most detailed part of the book is their ascent to fame in the 1960s. Their personal stories with complicated relationships are presented with insightful commentary. A great read for anyone nostalgic for the ’60s or for anyone who is curious about these revolutionary times (a comments from someone who CAN remember the ‘60s).
Note: Because the COVID-19 pandemic has closed the Calgary Public Library I have gone back to my personal book collections to read early Margaret Atwood, books that I have somehow never taken the time to read.
Simply put, this is a brilliant book, one of Atwood’s best. Three women (Tony, Charis and Roz) are each linked to Zenia, a brilliant and beautiful woman who is manipulative and ruthless. Over three decades, Zenia exerts considerable damage by creating really toxic relationships, but all three women remain in thrall, under a spell, beguiled. Even though Zenia’s lies and cons become obvious she somehow retains their sympathy while betraying their trust and treating male partners as loot. Fantastic story-telling.
Elaine, a middle-aged painter who lives in Vancouver, returns to Toronto (where she grew up) for a retrospective show of her paintings. This causes her to reminisce about her life. The entire book is great but for me, the first 1/3 is perfect. Atwood wonderfully captures the relationships between 8- to 10-year-olds, alternating between friendships and toxic competitions. School with corporal punishments and skipping grades, shopping and shoplifting things at Woolworths. And how children acquire (mis)information in an era when parental communication was non-existent. Another gem.
This is another literary prize book with some inspired comic events like joining Brownies as a child. The core of the story is about split identities; Joan was fat as a child and then transforms Ito a slim attractive version of herself. Jean also writes “Costume Gothic” books (aka Harlequin Romances) under a pseudonym. Many examples of this writing are included: Redmond is described as having rapacious lips, thinks that “he’d become tired of the extravagance of his wife Felicia: of her figure that spread like crabgrass, her hair that spread like fire, her mind that spread like pubic lice”! Wow. In contrast to this florid prose, Atwood’s classic phrasings like “the joy of self-righteous recrimination” are a joy to read. Joan even acquires another identity as a serious author of poetry so her personality is split further. And there are ill-fated relationships with men and blackmail. This book is a delightful pleasure to read.