Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: "Serena" by Ron Rash

Ron Rash's acclaimed novel Serena (2008) was a unique reading experience. I've been thinking about how to write this book review for a while now because of how mixed my feelings are about the whole of the novel. I liked it, however, there was a tension thrumming beneath the story the entire time that I felt was never fully realized. The amount of tension achieved with the use of symbolism, fatalism, mounting greed and obsession was all brought to a climax that didn't measure up to the painstakingly deliberate rising action. This is my opinion of course, and I'm sure there are many people who would disagree.

Serena takes place just after the stock market crash as the country dives deep into the Great Depression. The story is set in the mountains of Western North Carolina where Mr. Pemberton has just arrived with his new bride, Serena. The power couple intend to strip the mountains of its lumber and exploit the cheap labor of the locals and travelers who arrive in boxcars every day.

The story is told in alternating limited third person perspective, but none of those perspectives are those of the title character. Rash's decision to eliminate Serena's voice elevates her to more of a force that preys on and plagues the lives of the characters we do get to know. It's a bold choice. Is it entirely successful? I think that depends on the reader.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Show vs. Book: "Outlander: A Book Made Better"

I wanted to like this book. It came highly recommended and a couple of social media friends were astonished I'd never read it. When I finally started reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, I was actually very surprised at how difficult it was for me to feel engaged in the narrative. The story, the plot, is very interesting, but the actual narrative delivery fell woefully flat for me as a reader. I felt as though there was no tension in the text and no heightened emotion experienced by the narrator Claire Randall. I mean, the woman fell through a rock with mystical power and lands 200 years in the past and yet I didn't feel a thing from her emotionally...I didn't care.

I pushed myself to read this book, because I wanted to like it. It's well researched, and the actual history of the English dominion over Scotland and the rebellion that was to follow was appealing. I also enjoyed learning about Clan politics. Claire, who'd been a field nurse for Britain in WWII, has a knowledge of healing and herbal remedies, so I liked that aspect of the book as well. But I had a huge problem with Claire. Even though she'd had an interesting childhood traveling around with her archaeologist uncle, had been a nurse, was sexually aware and had fallen through time after witnessing an ancient Druid ceremony - I found her to be an incredibly one note character.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book Review "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr

This is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. When I say beautifully written, I am mainly focusing on the detail of the language. Every writer has a different style and a different writing process, but Doerr's attention to word choice in creating beautiful images is meticulous. For anyone who has gone through a writing workshop I will say it like this: Doerr took the scalpel to his writing and pared down the language for a clean and crisp delivery of description and metaphor like in poetry. It took Doerr ten years to write this book, and I felt that time and deliberation in every chosen word.

This type of literary lyricism isn't for every reader and neither is the cutting back in forth through time in the narrative. The third person present tense allows this kind of movement through time, but if a reader isn't paying close attention they may be thrown by unidentified shifts in the story's timeline.

The narrative is primarily told from the limited perspectives of two characters that are only children as WWII encroaches, and are teenagers when the war ends. Marie-Laure LeBlanc is the blind daughter of the locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. If you are familiar with WWII history, or perhaps The Monuments Men, then you may have heard that upon the Nazi invasion of France all of the precious works of art that define human culture throughout time were hunted down for inclusion in Hitler's own Fuhrermuseum that would be the pinnacle of all culture as he saw it. However, the French knew the German's were coming and they took certain precautions. Marie-Laure's father is part of the Museum of Natural History's contingency plan. So, upon the occupation of Paris, he and Marie-Laure flee the city and wind up with his WWI shell-shocked Uncle Etienne in the coastal town of Saint-Malo carrying something precious with them.