It’s been an incredibly busy summer so far. I’ve been working with some great new clients and will be sharing more of my creative work in the future. As always, I still carve out time to read as much as I can and try to stay on top of what’s new in the publishing world. Here are some of the books I checked out in the past few months.
Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeyemi
My first experience with Oyeyemi. For such a young writer (younger than me, anyway), she’s definitely got the hang of staying productive—not to mention staying consistent in her critical successes. In 2013, Granta called her one of the Best Young British Novelists.
The writing in Boy, Snow, Bird is clean and engaging, but I found the book a bit disorienting. It’s hard for me to narrow down the source of this. I think it’s something to do with characters’ physical movements through scenes and environments, as if some crucial details are missing that would make the flow a lot smoother.
Oyeyemi may be doing this on purpose (I’d have to read more of her to know that). There’s a stark contrast between how the narrative unfolds when we’re inside a characters’ mind and when we’re following them through the world. Because of this, I’m lukewarm on the book.
Loitering: New & Collected Essays
by Charles D’Ambrosio
I’ve read some of D’Ambrosio’s short stories before in The Dead Fish Museum, so I didn’t really need to hear much hype before I was convinced to check out this collection of essays. That said, I was definitely pushed over the edge by Philip Lopate’s glowing review of the book.
And yet, there’s something missing here. It’s definitely not the quality of writing—D’Ambrosio is solid, if a little too busy, on the page. He’s at his best when his sentence construction is more straightforward, which isn’t often enough. There are a couple of essays that really shine (“This is Living”, “Salinger and Sobs”) and others that just make you feel sad for the depth of D’Ambrosio’s personal struggles over the years. This book just doesn’t add up to anything that’s worthy of pushing on your friends.
I could totally see individual pieces showing up on reading lists for creative nonfiction courses, but as a whole, these essays are the kind of work that you read one time or when you’re required to, not because you’re in any great need for the experience they offer.
The Days of Abandonment
by Elena Ferrante
Who can possibly avoid Ferrante’s name lately? She’s verging on becoming a publishing phenomenon, and that’s partly due to her refusal to engage with media (a tactic she has remained committed to since the beginning of her publishing career). Ferrante is a kind of enigma in today’s world, and that’s pretty much why I was interested in checking out her work.
While it’s the author’s Neapolitan novels that have received the most buzz, The Days of Abandonment is the book that caught my eye. It feels like it was written in a burst of anxious rage. I’m a slow reader, but this took no time at all.
The basic gist is that a late-30s woman is abandoned by her husband and left to raise their two kids on her own. However, it’s not the daily chores of life that wear her down, but her self-destructive nature. She is her own worst enemy and we follow her down the rabbit hole of second-guesses and self-doubt. The narrative is pretty simple, structurally speaking, but the book is unlike any other that I’ve read recently.
The Elementary Particles
by Michel Houellebecq
I’m constantly wondering whether I like Houellebecq as a novelist or just like watching a car crash occur on nearly every page of his books. He makes me cringe whenever he writes about women-as-objects—something he does often—but he’s also a novelist with some big ideas. It’s a very hard balance for me as a reader.
In The Elementary Particles, the majority of the misogynism is bound within the perspective of a damaged character—and that somehow makes it more palatable, since it’s easier to find a character repulsive and continue reading rather than openly suspecting the novelist himself is a monster. (Not that any of that absolves Houellebecq.)
As a writer of “big ideas,” there are many on offer here—though most will be familiar to anyone who has read Houellebecq’s later books, The Possibility of an Island and The Map and the Territory (both of which are superior). It can be pretty slow going in some sections. That’s because Houellebecq is guilty of using scenes between characters as an opportunity for pontificating in long droning thoughts. People in this book don’t engage with each other on a meaningful level… though that may be the very point he’s trying to make.