Alice Munro

You may have heard about the new movie, Hateship, Loveship starring Kristin Wigg. You may not have heard that  this movie is based on the 2001 short story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro. Some love the film and some don’t like it at all; you will have to decide for yourself. I haven’t seen the movie yet but, when I heard it was based on a story from an author I so admire and appreciate, I now have plans to go and see it very soon.

Alice Munro is a Canadian author best known for her short stories. She has been called "master of the contemporary short story". Munro was the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, and I can best describe her stories as “haunting”. The book I most recently read was Too Much Happiness. This book contains some of the darkest, most compelling and strangest stories I have read in a long time. These are stories that stick with you and will pop into your head even months after you read them. One of the stories in Too Much Happiness is titled “Free Radicals”, and is a story I cannot stop thinking about. A friend who has also read the book feels the same way; in fact, when we see each other all we have to do is mention “that Alice Munro story” and we know exactly what the other one is talking about. These are not stories you read and quickly forget; these stories are not quick reads, they are complex and show off the enduring quality of Alice Munro’s fiction. It takes a profoundly talented to author to write a story, especially a short story with limited pages and where every sentence counts, that will stay with you for months and months.

I strongly recommend Alice Munro as an author. Fans of short stories and literary psychological fiction will most likely love her books. See the new movie, read the book or read one of her other books and let us know what you think. Be prepared to be uncomfortable, disturbed, captivated and impressed all at once. Alice Munro’s most recent book is Dear Life.


Beyond The Goldfinch

Pulitzer Prize winner Donna Tartt can never be accused of flooding the market with hastily written thrillers; with 10 or more years between each of her three novels, all bestsellers, Tartt keeps readers waiting for her blend of densely plotted murder and vice and beautifully written prose.

The Goldfinch (audio) is the story of Theo Decker, a young man who loses his mother in a terrorist attack, setting into motion the next decade of his life, taking him from the privileged prep school life he has always known to a teenage Vegas wasteland to the seedy underbelly of the art and antiques world (via the Russian mob, no less). At almost 800 pages, the book is wonderful, and although the length is a little daunting, it really enables the reader to inhabit Theo’s world. It is a mad blend of love and loss, art and craft, crime and society, and if you’re on the waiting list for a library copy, hold tight – I think it’s worth it.

But in the meantime, (or in the aftermath) what can you read? I think most readers would be hard pressed to find a single title that hits on every aspect of the plot and tone of The Goldfinch, but here are a few to try:

David Copperfield or Great Expectations by Charles Dickens 
Most critics will note that that word “Dickensian” is a bit overused, but Tartt’s Baroque plotting, rich and varied characters, and epic story will call to mind Dickens himself.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Theo’s friend Boris, a philosophical and damaged boy with a Ukrainian accent that sings off the page, calls to mind Foer’s Alex, another Ukrainian with a love for America and the English language.

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Theo’s underhanded dealings are thrown into contrast by the high society world on the fringes of which he lives; Shipstead’s wedding drama inhabits the same tony world, encapsulated in a three day weekend.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
This historical romance set in feudal Japan echoes Tartt’s epic scope and multiple plotlines combined with stylish writing.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
A fellow Pulitzer Prize winner, the friendship of Theo and Boris finds kinship with Chabon’s heroes, Joseph and Sam.

Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art by Joshua Knelman
Knelman’s true life thriller introduces both sides of one of the largest black markets in the world – a criminal world that Theo inadvertently falls into.

The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegel
This new novel takes Rembrandt’s first major work, the Anatomy Lesson, viewed by Theo and his mother that last morning, and explores the world and the people around it over the course of a day. (still on order for OC Public Libraries 4/21/14, but you can place a hold)


Secondary Characters Take Center Stage

Writing a novel that features characters taken from a literary classic takes a fair amount of talent and courage.  The novel has to stand up to the inevitable comparison with the original classic, often a beloved book that has been re-read numerous times.  Three recent novels have tackled this challenge, and all three succeed rather well.

Havisham by Ronald Frame takes the reclusive Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and fills in the back-story of her early life.  Young Catherine Havisham is the daughter of a wealthy brewer.  Intelligent and strong of character, yet naive in many ways, she is sent to live with the Chadwyck family to obtain sophistication and an education.  When Catherine meets the dashing Mr. Compeyson, who has an unseemly interest in her money, the reader starts to foresee Miss Havisham’s fate: wandering the halls of a decaying mansion in a tattered wedding dress.

Longbourn by Jo Baker refers to the family home of the Bennet family in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  The main character is Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, who spends her time cooking, cleaning and emptying chamber pots for the oblivious Bennets who are preoccupied with parties and weddings. When not catering to the whims of the Bennets, Sarah struggles with loneliness and develops a romantic attachment with the mysterious footman, James Smith. Longbourn is a wonderful book, and made me look at Pride and Prejudice in a completely different light.

Finn by Jon Clinch is the story of Pap Finn, Huck’s father, who had only the briefest of scenes in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnFinn is a dark book full of poverty, violence and slavery.  A liar and a brute, and often drunk, Finn is not a likable character.  He’s also a racist who pursues black women.   However, as the reader learns about Finn’s life, a small core of humanity emerges, and a sliver of sympathy develops.  The complexities of this character make for an interesting read.

Havisham, Finn and Longbourn are enjoyable even if you haven’t read the original classics, though it does help to have a basic understanding of their story lines.  For those who have read the originals, these three books offer additional food-for-thought, and might prompt you to revisit the classics again. 


Divergent Read-a-likes

So lately in the library, everyone has been asking for books like Divergent.

Because of that, I'm going to advise that people re-read my earlier posts on Reboot by Amy Tintera and Enclave by Ann Aguirre, but I'm also going to add a few more.

Paolo Bacigalupi
Ship Breaker
Nailer has been working on the light crew stripping ships for as long as he can remember.  His dad works the heavy crew, but he tries to avoid him, and his mom’s no where to be found.  In Gulf Coast after the storms, your crew takes care of you, not your family.  When Nailer stumbles upon the find of a lifetime, a sweet little clipper ship, he has to decide if he’s going to save the pretty owner and listen to her promises of a better life or continue with what he’s always known.


Patrick Ness
Knife of Never Letting Go
Todd can’t wait until his birthday.  In another month, he’ll be a man.  According to what he’s been told, a month after he was born the indigenous people of the planet his folk colonized released a germ that killed all the women, some of the men, and caused everyone to hear everyone else’s thoughts.  Even the thoughts of animals are known now.  As the last child born, he’s now the last boy in Prentisstown, which is the last town on the planet.  While Todd and his dog Manchee are walking in the swamp, they stumble upon the impossible: a place of silence.  As Todd returns home, this thought slips out and the town learns about the oddity.  Todd is forced to run for his life and will eventually learn the dark secret of his town.

Caragh O'Brien
Gaia has finally completed her first solo birth as a midwife.  She rushes home to tell her mother only to find that she and her father has been taken inside the city.  Little does she realize that this is the beginning of her becoming a revolutionary and discovering the true secrets of why a certain number of children from outside are sacrificed or “ascended” to the city and what it means for the future.  And most of all, what became of her two brothers.

Caragh O'Brien
Gaia and her sister Maya have crossed the wasteland and made it to Sylum where her grandmother once ruled as matriarch.  Although the land is lush and green, it is not the safe haven she expected.  A society where men outnumber women 10 to 1, strict rules are in place that Gaia isn’t used to.  How can her ethical beliefs stand up against a community that seems to all agree?  And what can she do now that it has absorbed her sister and that she can no longer leave without dying since she has acclimatized?

Dan Wells
The youngest human on earth is 14.  No baby has lived since the Partial war.  With humans practically extinct, medic in training Kira has to find a way to help save the world.  To do this she risks her life and her freedom by venturing beyond the safe zone into the area where the Partials live.  Perhaps by capturing a living Partial, she’ll be able to find the cure to the dying babies.

Dan Wells
Kira Walker, member of the last enclave of humans left after the partials war, has discovered how to cure RM, the disease that has kept any human baby from surviving more than 10 days in the past 14 years.  Unfortunately, the only way to get it is to harvest it from a live Partial, bioengineered humans.  All partials are reaching their “expiration dates” and will be dead in two years.  Kira sets out on a quest with her Partial friend Samm to try and solve both problems.  Can she find the solution from the mysterious Trust before people from both the Enclave and the Partials decide to take matters into their own hands and go to war?

Moira Young
Blood Red Road
Saba and her brother Lugh are twins.  Inseparable since the day they were born.  When Lugh is kidnapped after their 18th birthday and their father killed, Saba is forced to leave their home and travel to Hopetown, where the detritus of the wasteland wash up.  Hopped up on chaal, the residents of Hopetown live for violence and the death of their gladiators.  How is Saba supposed to find her brother Lugh in this rough and tumble world when she’s never left their little homestead and she’s got her 9 year old sister Emmi tagging along?