Saturday, July 28, 2007

What I Read on My Summer Vacation

I’ve made short story reading a vacation tradition over the past few years, and I read about half of The Best American Short Stories 2005 in Denmark. My favorite of the volume was George Saunders’ “Bohemians.” I kind of hoped to surprise myself by prefering someone else’s story over Saunders', but no go. He really is funny and wonderful. In a miracle of cosmic generosity, you can actually read this story online! My second favorite was Charles D’Ambrosio’s “The Scheme of Things.” I also liked Tim Pratt’s “Hart and Boot,” Joy Williams’ grotestque “The Girls,” and Kelly Link’s “Stone Animals,” which was marvelous. I felt the Joyce Carol Oates story “The Cousins “ was underdeveloped, and the story “Until Gwen” by Dennis Lehane, besides the somewhat maudlin title, had a rather surprisingly cliché passage about how life is like a road, but otherwise it was a good story. Recommendation: Yes.

I also read Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, a WWII novel set in occupied France. I know the world went gaga for this book, and certainly it’s very good, but what makes it more interesting is that it’s written by a Jewish Ukrainian in France in 1941-42 whose project for a five-part novel is aborted by being deported to Auschwitz and murdered. The notes and correspondence at the end of the book definitely enhance the reading, interesting to writers, and very sad. Recommendation: Yes.

I also finished JM Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello. His novel Disgrace is among my favorites. Before I go on let me say that I did enjoy the book and the ideas kept my interest despite there not being much of a story. The relationships the protagonist has with her son and sister seem like they ought to be developed, but instead they’re mostly abandoned, the characters being used too transparently as instruments to play off Elizabeth Costello’s ideas and convictions. I found the second half of the book lost momentum. Still, Coetzee’s prose is among the best being written, and I admire him in this book for doing something different. Recommendation: if you like “idea” novels, yes. If you need a story to propel your reading, no.

In poetry I read Gerald Stern’s Everything is Burning. There are some excellent poems in the book, notably “The Law” and “Cigars,” but I admit that I got tired of the “I” of this book. There’s just too much celebration-of-me going on for my taste. It's not a Whitmanesque "I" celebration in which "I" am part of everything and it is part of me, rather one that isolates. Recommendation: skip in favor of Stern's selected poems This Time.


Valerie Loveland said...

Thanks for posting the Bohemians link. I never read it before, and it's wonderful!

SarahJane said...

glad to pass the word on that one.
and i've been thinking all day I like "Stone Animals" more than "The Scheme of Things." Both terrific stories.

Anonymous said...

I too recently read "Suite Francaise" and found it deeply moving and yet another example of the talents lost to the Holocaust.
Within the sub-genre of Holocaust fiction by women my favorite, for thirty years, remains the sadly out-of-print masterpiece "An Estate Of Memory" by Ilona karmel. I cannot understand how this exquisite tale of the affirmation of life under the most hideous circumstances has not become better known. Karmel and her sister Henia also have written "A Wall of Two", due in the fall but which I was given a reviewer's pre-pub copy of. It is a very beautiful collection of poems of resistance in Poland and in the camps, translated from the Polish and adapted by the marvellous Boston poet Fanny Howe. To anyone who cares about poetry and about this unspeakable chapter of history I would recommend it highly.

SarahJane said...

It was a terrific read.
May I say very "big western novel?"
Landscapes, characters, motivations, conflicts, war.

Nemirovsky's daughter Elizabeth also wrote a book I'm interested in reading - an imagined biography of her mother.
Thanks for the tip on Karmel. I'll look her up, and the poetry collection.


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