Monday, August 24, 2015

TINKERS by Paul Harding (fic)

This is a beautifully written little book which doesn't take long to read.  It is Harding's first novel and won the Pulitzer Prize.  He studied writing under Marilynne Robinson who is the author of "Gilead," and their writing styles are not dissimilar.

The story is about a man, George Washington Cosby who lies on his deathbed, and we are privy to his thoughts on the eight days he lies dying.  There is no real plot to the story, but it is rich in characterizations as he muses on the people who have touched his life.  Cosby was born in Maine to a poor backwoods family.  His father was the tinker of the title, an epileptic who travels on a shabby cart from farm to farm peddling a variety of wares.  This character is based on Harding's grandfather.  If you are familiar with the hardy old families of Maine, stoic and thrifty, you will recognize the characters you meet here.  Among the finely drawn characters in the book is an ageless Native American named "Sabbatis" who is described in beautiful detail who is understood and connected in an understated way with Howard, the father.

George comes of age in the novel and grows beyond his humble beginnings, he marries and has a family who are loving and attentive to him in his last days.  In life he was a clock repairer finding solace and comfort in the fine tuning of time.  We have been told Mainers are economical in their speech and George's final meeting with Howard takes place on Christmas 1953.  True to form, not much is said between the men, but much is felt.  Howard's final words could also belong to George as he departs life, and they provide a good ending to the novel.

I highly recommend this book for its beautiful prose and style.  While it is about the process of fading from life, it is not morbid or particularly sad.  Rather it is a stream of consciousness tracing various points in an ordinary man's life.

Monday, August 17, 2015

THE SON by Jo Nesbo (fic)

If you are a Jo Nesbo fan, then you don't need a review.  This book is as exciting as his others even if Harry Hole does not play a part in the story.  Gentle reader, you will find yourself rooting for a murderer named Sonny Lofthus, a dark character like all Nesbo's "heroes," a flawed character carrying around enough emotional baggage to supply an army.  Sonny is hunting down people he believes are betrayers of his father who was accused of being a corrupt cop.  In turn, Sonny is being hunted down by a cast of nefarious characters.  You know the drill, Nesbo gives us an exciting thriller which is impossible to put down, even if it is a highly implausible plot with diabolical twists and turns. Totally absorbing!

Monday, August 10, 2015

AN UNNECESSARY WOMAN by Rabih Alameddine (fic)

Almeddine has written a rich philosophical novel about a Lebanese woman who has lived in Beirut her whole life, a witness to all the wars that ancient and historical city has been through.  It sent me running to the Atlas and internet for photos and information about the city as it plays a large role in the life of our narrator who we know as Aaliya.  It is always tricky for a male author to have a woman speaking in the first person as his main character.  The author who does this best is Colm Toibin.  Despite this, Aaliya is an interesting character with a strong inner voice.

This is a novel where little happens outside of Aaliya's everyday life.  The action is all interior.  She is an only child of a mother who largely ignored her after Aaliya's father died at a young age.  The mother married again, and Aaliya has step-siblings, including a menacing boorish half-brother who desires Aaliya's larger West Beirut apartment for his family.  This is the cause of numerous family quarrels.  Aaliya states, "I would choose to die in my apartment rather than live without it."  And, she almost did die.  During the madness of the civil wars she slept with an AK47 by her side.  Her attachment to her apartment is her greatest comfort; it is home, her relief from the craziness of the world outside. It is an escape from the city, once beautiful, which has fallen apart and become tacky. She came by the apartment through an arranged marriage to a man for whom she felt nothing but contempt. They divorce and she is left the apartment in a building where only the women living there have a role in the story.  There are three of them who have a part in Aaliya's life.  Through the horrors that beset the city these women remained strong and caring of each other.  They move the story along to a day that will change Aaliya and her solitary life.

After the divorce, Aaliya found a job in a bookstore which motivated her desire to survive. Here she could lose herself in books and the company of the few readers who returned again and again.  The only two people who touch Aaliya as friends spend days browsing and reading while she works.  One, Ahmad, is a young man who eventually becomes a feared revolutionary, the other is Hannah who is like a sister to her.  Hannah is a woman who herself has an interesting and tragic history.

Aaliya is a gifted translator of books into Arabic.  She speaks a number of languages.  January 1st is an important date for her.  Each year she eagerly looks forward to the New Year when she will begin a new translation.  A great deal of thought goes into the choosing of this book. She has spent 72 years immersed in books and reading and has translated 37 books into Arabic.  These books, the fruits of her labor are stored in boxes in the unoccupied maid's room.

I enjoyed the character of Aaliya with her busy and complicated inner life.  The author inserts many many alusions to books and authors, perhaps too many literary digressions.  There are quotes from both known and unfamiliar authors.  Aaliya's favorites are Nabokov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Alice Monro. However, books and their authors are the companions of Aaliya's life and add to the reader's understanding of her character and solitary nature.