Thursday, August 5, 2010

Back to Ann Patchett

I’m having a little trouble with the Dara Horn book The World to Come. It may be a little too dense/intense even for me. I’ve just gotten to a part where a character is about to have a Vietnam War experience, and since I know that later in life this character is missing part of his leg and he is currently intact in his pre-war incarnation, I suspect that something unpleasant and probably gruesome lies dead-ahead. And so I put the book aside for a bit and looked for something else. I’ve already finished White Apples and I enjoyed it. Some thematic & stylistic overlap with The Ghost in Love but enough good new stuff to keep me happy and interested through to the happy ending.

Then the copy of The Magician’s Assistant I had requested from the library arrived so I figured this was as good a time as any to take the next step in my Ann Patchett read-‘em-all project. Her books also are easy-entry – you’re pulled right in and along, at least I am – and enjoyable reading. First of all, she’s a very good storyteller. I know I say plot is overrated, but good storytelling is important and a valuable skill that I greatly respect (and don’t yet know if I have) and not to be underestimated in my snobby search for what I deem to be “literary.”

I do think Patchett also writes beautifully, uses words beautifully. Her books have long passages that are woven in between the story elements where she explores a particular idea and I never resent these forays, never feel like they’re taking me away from the story like I do with some books. These pieces always feel seamlessly integrated and interesting and beautifully-expressed and I’m always right there with her for as long as she goes on any particular journey or tangent. There’s one in this book while the main character, Sabine (the magician’s assistant) is driving from one place to another and Patchett does this page-plus riff on why Sabine loves living in Los Angeles, and it’s just a beautiful tribute to the city and so well-expressed. (There are more but now I can’t find them. I usually mark up my books but I’m reading a library copy and I didn’t want to make too much of a mess of it. Should have kept some Post-its nearby!)

There’s another quote in the book I love where one character, a woman in her 40s who is the mother of two sons (like me), is discussing how her mother worries about her. It’s a comment that rings very true for me!
“She worries about me too much, though. I don’t like that. I have to worry about the boys and worry about myself, and then I have to worry about the fact that I make my mother worry. Wears me out.”

And another line from the book that perfectly describes how my mind works (and why I’m so stressed!):
“Sabine made lists, things to buy, things to make, things to practice. All day long the list propelled her forward. When she went to bed at night her mind would reel through all she had forgotten, all the things there hadn’t been time for.”

More to come once I’ve finished The Magician’s Assistant!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More Jonathan Carroll

I requested a few more Jonathan Carroll books from the library – the ones that the cover copy mentioned as those that had gotten the most acclaim: The Wooden Sea and White Apples. Once I looked at a few more of his books I realized that the themes I discovered in The Ghost in Love were typical Jonathan Carroll themes, and that his books are full of people who come back from the dead, unusual otherworldly characters, and other fantastic elements, all of which I like very much because they’re very creative (although I wonder if I would get tired of them after a few books). I immediately started reading White Apples. His works are very easy to get into – a few sentences and you’re hooked because they grab you with clever dialogue and interesting scenarios and just fly along. So now I’m reading White Apples and Dara Horn’s The World to Come simultaneously, which is a very odd combination. And yet strangely enough, I keep finding parallels. The Horn book has a lot of connections to Jewish folklore and it frequently refers to babies in the womb and what happens to them just before they are born, how an angel comes and shows them the whole life they are about to live and then slaps them so they forget it (and that is why babies are born crying) – this fits right in with Carroll’s characters who seem to go back and forth between life and death. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever before read two books at once in quite this way, going back and forth between them within a short period of time, and it’s odd how they mix together – makes for much interesting creative foment!