Friday, February 23, 2007

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

I have read quite a few of Bohjalian's novels and I liked all but one, Before You Know Kindness, because I didn't like any of the characters.

The Double Bind on the other hand was wonderful. It had a nice blend of characters, good and bad, and a mystery that sucked me right in. It has a major connection to The Great Gatsby making me want to go back and reread that greatest of American novels. In fact I think I am going to suggest that my bookgroup read Fitzgerald one month and Bohjalian the next because I think the discussion would be great.

A little about the book, but not enough to spoil it: Laurel is a young woman who was deeply damaged by a visious attack by two crazed men when she is out biking on a back road in Vermont. She saves herself by clinging to the bike, but is still injured and the attack has long term affects on her life. She never bikes again, she dates older men, she kind of drops out of her peer society and focuses all of her energy on her photography and her job with BEDS, a homeless shelter where she feels safe and as if she is giving back to the community.

When a homeless man named Bobby dies, of old age, it is discovered he has a cache of photographs that he presumably took and that were the most important thing in the world to him. Laurel's boss asks her to work with the photos and maybe curate a showing to both honor Bobby and to raise money for BEDS.

Laurel become fascenated with the photos and soon realizes that they have a connection to her own life including a photo of herself on a bike on a backroad, very possibly on the day she was attacked. She becomes compelled to solve the mystery of Bobby and possibly of herself.

That is the setup. I hope I have made it sound as good as it is. Bohjalian is a beautiful writer. He puts the reader right in the head of his character and lets you feel what she feels. As early as it is in the year, I have a feeling this one will go on my best of 2007 list. Get it, read it, and let me know what you thought.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Things Kept, Things Left Behind

Jim Tomlinson's short fiction is amazing. That is why he won The Iowa Short Fiction Award for Things Kept, Things Left Behind.

These stories are about people that will have you saying, Oh, I know someone just like that. They are ordinary people and they are not even put into extraordinary situations, just trying to get by in their daily lives, be it dealing with a divorce or dealing with a parent who can't pay her taxes.

One thing that I found wonderful about these stories is Jim's sense of place. He uses just the perfect details to put you right there next to the characters. In the last story in the book he talks about starlings and grackles filling the trees around the home of a couple who are breaking up their household and divorcing. You can just hear the cacophony of the birds settling in to roost for the night and know that the people almost feel as if the birds are talking about them and mocking them.

Impressive work.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I had four books going at once as I am wont to do, and this one floated to the top as the cream of the crop. A wonderful gothic ghost story with plenty of twists and turns to keep you thinking and just when you're sure you know whats really going on, Setterfield throws another wrench in the works.

One of the main characters in this novel is a writer, Vida Winter, and the other is a reader/writer/bookseller, Margaret Lea. I found both of these women's discussions of reading and stories and writing to be quite compelling. At one point Winter poses Lea a question, if all the books in the world were on a conveyer belt, moving toward a fire pit and controlled by one man, and you were alone with him in the room and had a gun, would you stop him? No one else need ever know. There goes all of Bronte, there goes all of Dickens, Twain, Shakespeare? Is one life worth all of the literature of the world? What is too precious to lose? What is the worth of story in our lives? To some people more, to some people less, but the question is an interesting one.

I was very taken with this book and I think it would make a great bookgroup selection. This one is worth moving to the top of the to be read pile.