Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove - Susan Gregg Gilmore

the  improper life of bezellia grove
susan gregg gilmore
c. 2010
256 pages
completed 5/9/2011

read for: i want more challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Apparently among those who consider their social standing some measure of importance, I am to be admired for I am one of the view Nashvillians who can claim with infallible certainty that a blood relative had lived in this town since its inception.

Bezellia Grove is the last in a long line of first born daughters named for their pioneering ancestor who picked up her dead husband's musket in order to fight off the attacking Chickamauga tribe (though the accuracy of the story is debatable). Growing up in an affluent and wealthy family, Bezellia's life should be breezy and idyllic. But as her mother descends into alcoholism, her father becomes more and more distant, and her younger sister enters her teens still making mud pies and clinging to her doll Baby Stella, Bezellia's life is anything but. She finds herself drawn to the family she creates from the African American help, Maizelle the family cook and Nathaniel the driver. Her life takes a turn when she develops a friendship with Nathaniel's son Samuel and Bezellia is introduced to 60s Tennessee racism first hand.

While I have to admit I enjoyed Gilmore's first novel Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen better, I still really enjoyed Bezellia. Southern lit like this can sometimes be dismissed as merely fluff, but she tackles some heavy topics like alcoholism and racism and inter-racial relationships in a very realistic and non sugar coated or fantastical way. I found the inclusion on some not-so-nice remarks from Bezellia's cousin, who was all for Bezellia's crush on Samuel, to be more telling of the blatant racism than any of Mrs. Grove's hysteric outburst. Mrs. Grove is portrayed throughout much of the book as a somewhat larger than life villain (before we come to see her as more complex) so it's kind of accepted that of course someone like that would be racist. But Bezellia's cousin is supposed to be a good character, someone on Bezellia and Samuel's side. For her to make those comments shows how deeply rooted the racism was.

I did find some fault (maybe that's the wrong word??) in the characterization of Maizelle and Nathaniel. In my opinion, I viewed them as a little too...perfect? Against the villainy of Mrs. Grove they were almost angelic in their long suffering and unconditional love for Bezellia and her sister. I thought they were a little too influenced by Mamie or Uncle Tom stereotypes (Maizelle a little more than Nathaniel) in their devotion to Bezellia. It wasn't super blatant or anything, just something that I picked up on. Samuel, on the other hand, was an entirely different matter, a well rounded character and equal to Bezellia.

As for the ending, I was somewhat torn. The hopeless romantic in me wished Samuel and Bezellia could have taken on the world, but the historian in me was more satisfied that they didn't.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Slow Man - JM Coetzee

slow man
jm coetzee
c. 2005
263 pages (189 pages read)
stopped reading 4/30/2011

read for: tbr challenge

*may contain spoilers*

The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle.

After being hit by a car while out riding a bicycle, Paul must relearn how to live and get around as an amputee, dependent on others. He refuses to entertain the idea of a prosthetic limb, opting instead to remain on crutches. Due to a lack of family, Paul is assigned a nurse to look him, Marijana, a Croation mother of three. Paul forms an attachment to Marijana and her children, but she is a married woman. Paul has to decide what, if anything, he wants to do. Helping him along is Elizabeth, an eccentric author who takes up residence in Paul's flat. Though Paul and Elizabeth have never met before this time, she seems to have more stake in Paul's action than would be expected.

Sadly, I didn't finish this book, so I don't know how Paul and Marijana's story ended. I have no idea if they got together (though I hope they didn't).

For the first third of the book, I was really enjoying it. It was a simple story, an older amputee falling in love with his younger and very married nurse. Their story was good. The developing relationship between Paul and Marijana's children was good. The confrontation between Paul and Marijana's husband was good. I was even amused by the fact that I had a hard time not pronouncing Marijana's name as marijuana. All good.

And then Elizabeth was introduced.

The introduction of Elizabeth completely changed the course of the book. Instead of a simple story of a man and his somewhat inappropriate love for his nurse, the book changed suddenly into a work of meta-fiction. Elizabeth was not only a character of the book, she was the author. She was pulling the strings, prodding Paul to act. Elizabeth interacts with Paul but he's not really a real person, he's one of her characters.

It's entirely possible I could have gotten behind this had the book held this meta theme from the beginning. But once I've gone through 100 pages invested in the relationship between patient and nurse, it's hard to shift focus to such a radically different relationship between author and character. I don't like when there is such a drastic shift in theme and focus.

I very much enjoyed the voice of the author which is why it took me so long to make the decision to abandon the book. I feel I should continue looking into JM Coetzee, but this book just turned out not to be for me.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

One Amazing Thing - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

one amazing thing
chitra banerjee divakaruni
c. 2009
220 pages
completed 4/13/2011

read for: south asian challenge

*may contain spoilers*

When the first rumble came, no one in the visa office, down in the  basement of the Indian consulate, thought anything of it.

Expecting an ordinary day with nothing more than a few inconveniences, several people have gathered at an Indian consulate in American. Each are preoccupied with their own lives and give little notice to each other as they wait to finish getting visas. Their lives quickly come together, however, when they are hit by an earthquake and become trapped in the basement of the consulate. As their situation becomes more and more dire, the companions, with little else to pass the time, tell each other their stories.

It hadn't happened in a while, but I read this book in only two days. Maybe not such a feat for others (as the book is only 220 pages) but I tend to read annoyingly slow. But I found this extremely hard to put down. I've been pretty unmotivated lately, either to read much or blog or even read other people's blogs, but I'm trying to get all three back on track.

I read this about a month ago, so the review may be a little lacking or disjointed, so I'm sorry.

I always find it especially enjoyable when I feel a personal connection to what I'm reading, especially if that personal connection is something somewhat arbitrary. Like when I'm reading a historical fiction novel and they happen to be discussing an aspect of history that I just learned about in one of my classes or something like that. In this book, I noticed pretty early on in their time together, that the group stuck in the consulate were going through the five stages of team building. When I served in AmeriCorps, we ended up having to talk about team building all the time, and we'd do all those ridiculous games and exercises to make sure we had smooth running teams. It's one of those things that is important to do, but everyone kind of hates doing it so you have to kind of make fun of it. I spent two years in AmeriCorps and we talked about team building (or I guess were lectured about team building) all the time. So it was kind of funny for me to read this and make note of when they transitioned into the next stage. For anyone interested the five stages are forming (when you first meet), storming (when everyone is fighting), norming (when the team starts to understand how everyone else works), performing (when you're able to work at the team's utmost potential), and celebrating (when the job's all done). I wish they could have come up with a rhyming word for the fifth stage.

I found myself enthralled with the stories told by the group of trapped people. Just as I like certain members of the group more than others (I'm looking at you, Mr. Pritchett. You were super annoying), I liked certain stories more than  others. I particularly enjoyed the stories set in India. I had no idea there was such a history of Chinese emigration to India and subsequent racism against them. I really enjoyed Mangalam and Malathi's stories of being almost forced to come to America. The Pritchett's stories both left me a little cold, however.

The only major issue I had with the book was the end, and part of that is just my own personal preference. I don't enjoy ambiguous resolutions, and we're left not knowing if the group is rescued and survives (for my part, I'm apparently a Debbie Downer because I don't think they did). And also, I don't think I totally got the ending of Uma's story, the deal with whether or not the aurora was real. I didn't realize that was questionable until she said she lied to Jeri. Maybe I should re-read the last chapter and see if I have any divine revelations.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

By the end of May...

And now we've gotten to the point when writing up what needs to be read each month to keep on track is just laughable. Sad that I only made it four months before my challenges spiraled out of control.

To be Read by the End of May
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
Against Nature - Jori-Karl Huysmans
Mirror Mirror - Gregory Maguire
La Mort d'Arthur - Thomas Mallory
The In-Between Life of Vikram Lall - MG Vassanji
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove - Susan Gregg Gilmore
The Liar's Club - Mary Karr
Amsterdam - Ian McEwan
Brother Cadfael's Penance - Ellis Peters
I Will Repay - Baroness Emmuska Orczy

I often find it difficult to read FIVE books in a month. I really think I'm going to get anywhere with TEN???? Ha!

To be read...

Other People We Married - Emma Straub
The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead - Paul Elwork
The Uncoupling - Meg Wolitzer
The Midnight Palace - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Exponential Apocalypse - Eirik Gumeny
The Last Brother - Nathacha Appanah
Mermaid - Carolyn Turgeon
The Beauty of Humanity Movement - Camilla Gibb
The Lover's Dictionary - David Levithan
The Beloved Dead - Tony Hays (3rd in a series)

9 new books and 1 new series. Not too much this month around...