A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – the book that everybody is (was, actually, I’m just late to the party – side note: I am always late to the party, or early. I have been known to show up on the wrong day to the party. I mis-read invitations constantly. If you invite me to something, please forgive me when I show up at the wrong time or wrong day, just send me home and tell me when to come back) talking about. Pulitzer Prize winner. I struggle here with what to say about this…novel? Not exactly. It’s a collection of vignettes that are linked together by characters whose stories touch each other at different moments in time. Time is the goon. The characters’ lives are visited by the goon squad, which sounds much more menacing that it actually turns out to be. Egan’s imagination is extraordinary – worth the price of admission to behold. Her writing is tight. Her characters are compelling. But. The characters I started to get my hooks into were snatched away too quickly and often replaced, as I was hustled into the next vignette, with one or two I didn’t care enough about. Sometimes those characters reappeared in a different time or place, sometimes they didn’t. So, a resounding yes for skill and interest and a yeah, I get it, but I’m not doing back flips otherwise.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout could not be more different than A Visit from the Goon Squad except that it’s also very similar. Which is the kind of thesis statement that my students used get hollered at for writing. Vignettes, almost sketches really, that each could stand alone as a short story but together weave into a complete novel depicting a life in a small Maine village. I’m not doing it justice, any of it. The characters, the writing, the mood, the tone, the atmosphere. Just read it.
All Souls by Christine Schutt – a friend at work gave this book to me, without saying much about it. Other than the fact that I still can’t figure out what the title had to do with anything, I loved it. It was AGAIN, a novel of parts. Students in a swank private, girls’ day school in Manhattan take turns as narrators of this story. And if you doubt that 17 and 18 year old girls in this setting are this sophisticated and this jaded and this calculating and this world-weary, you are wrong. They have been since I was in boarding school, and I can only imagine that they are more so, now. And their mothers are this scary, too. Prepare to be startled by the content, not horrified, but edified, and charmed by the writing, which is poetic, but not cloying.
An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town by David Farley – I mentioned this at the beginning of the summer and got a lovely note from the author. 1. I love travel narratives. 2. I love hearing about the goofy undertakings that people get excited about. 3. I love it when people have the stones to follow through on these things. 4. I am always impressed when people find a way to make a living while having adventures. 5. This book is about Jesus’s penis. 6. This town is full of crazy people. 7. What’s not to love about this? This book has all the makings of a perfect summer read. 8. I wanted to hear more about the food. 9. I am still, a month after I finished the book, freaking out because Farley didn’t do what I feel VERY STRONGLY – note obnoxious use of all caps – he needed to do, aided by camo makeup, black caps, rubber soled shoes, flashlights, and a crowbar at the end of the book. I am not explaining it because if you read it you will know what I mean. David Farley, if you are reading this and you did do it, I want an email and I want to know what you found ASAP.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – This is the best book I’ve read all year. My mother gave me this book ages ago and it was sitting next to my bed taunting me. Everyone kept asking, “Have you read Cutting for Stone?” and I say, “No, but I hear it’s really good.” And then my friend Carly borrowed it for book club and read it in a week and loved it and gave it back to me, and I had just finished another book, so I just started it, and then didn’t put it down until I was finished. I inhaled it. I’m not even sure how to describe what it’s “about.” I learned a great deal while reading this book. I had very strong feelings about the characters. There were two places where I was moved to tears. I was heavily invested in understanding why certain events unfolded the way they did and when I learned what had happened I understood the characters’ motivations entirely because Verghese had created such thorough and realistic and complex histories for everybody. Just brilliant.
We had a July Wednesday Spaghetti. It was a little hurried because we wanted to make sure to get it in there before our dear, dear friends moved away to Connecticut, a fact that is such a strange grown-up reality. Their move is for so many reasons obviously the right choice for their family, and yet it is so hard for them to go, and hard for the people here who love them to let them go. Blech.
Other than that, the extent of my hostessing is happening right now; there are some extra kids in the house playing with legos and a train set and they’ll probably go outside in the yard in a while and run around. I might make some grilled cheese sandwiches in a while. I am still wearing pajamas. Ta da.