One of the great things about being in a book club is that one ends up being exposed — well, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming — to a different genre, a new point of view, a stretch of one’s reading universe.
I’m all for it. Except when I’m assigned a book that is actually, truly, seriously a different genre, a new point of view, a stretch of my reading universe;-) And I can’t always blame others, occasionally I will choose a misstep on my own. And since I always, always finish whatever book I begin reading (I am planning to studiously avoid these top ten longest novels ever written, by the way) I grimly carry on, no matter what.
These are not terrible books. They are just the books that did not appeal to me. You might like them!
First, the fizz:
The Code of the Woosters: Jeeves to the Rescue
by P.G. Wodehouse
Kindle, 263 pages
This one is so light and airy that I actually forgot to include it in last week’s list. I’ve always intended to get around to reading Wodehouse, especially since my Hollywood crush, Hugh Laurie, made a splash as Bertie Wooster in a 90’s television series long before he became Dr. House.
So I was game for this one when it was assigned, enthusiastic to finally meet Bertie and his man, Jeeves.
Let’s just say the enthusiasm dwindled a bit as I discovered the entire book was a series of pratfalls based on air-headed aristocrats vying for an eighteenth century cow creamer. It wasn’t my cup of cream but I recognize I might well be in the minority. Evelyn Waugh, who I greatly admire, was a huge fan of Wodehouse. The Queen Mother was said to keep his work by her bedside. So who am I to criticize? If you decide to dive in, just know there are eleven Jeeves novels and thirty-five short stories in all, so you’ll be absurdly – because they are truly absurd – busy for quite a while.
Now for the fizzles:
Broken for You
by Stephanie Kallos
Audiobook, 400 pages, narrated by Anna Fields
This novel gets rave reviews. It deals with serious subjects: loss, grief, family dysfunction and separation and Nazi atrocities. Seventy-five year old Margaret Hughes is grappling with a dire diagnosis when she embarks upon an unexpected life chapter with her unlikely new roommate Wanda. They become united in righting the wrongs of the past. Acknowledging brokenness and breaking things to heal brokenness is more or less the gist of it. Something about this book just did not work for me. I kept writing “embarrassingly theatrical” in my notes and, indeed, it turns out that Ms. Kallos, the author, is a former actress and voice coach. The story is ambitious and I found that the loose ends tied up just a bit too neatly. I might have been the only one in my book club to give it a thumbs down, though.
The Storyteller’s Secret: A Novel
by Sejal Badani
Audiobook, 399 pages, read by Siri Scott
Jaya is a first-generation East Indian American and she is at a painful crossroads in her life. The strain of several miscarriages have brought her marriage to a painful place of separation and she decides to seek out her family history in India as a form of escape and healing.
Sounds good on paper, right? And I will say that I learned some interesting things about Indian family and cultural customs from this book. My thumbs down was simply because it read a bit too much like a romance novel. Chai and chick lit, I guess.
The Winemaker’s Wife
by Kristen Harmel
Audiobook read by Robin Eller, Lisa Flanagan and Madeleine Maby
Another young woman at the end of a marriage, this one whisked off to Paris by her wealthy grandmother to unspool – you guessed it – long held family secrets. These secrets have lain long hidden in France’s Champagne region and deal in the dark details of the Nazi occupation. Fascinating subject. The novel shifts in time between the 1940’s and protagonist Liv Kent’s contemporary discoveries of that time. Only problem, a main character is an exasperating ninny. Also, it reads just a bit too much like a romance novel. Also, I had already read a really good non-fiction book about this time: Wine and War: The French, the Nazis and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure by Don Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup
Still and all, a few late-in-the-book plot twists provided interest and came close, but not quite close enough, to redeeming this read for me. Clearly it works for others – the book gets 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
I Know This Much is True: A Novel (P.S.)
by Wally Lamb
Kindle, 928 pages
Wally Lamb’s books are immensely popular. I didn’t love She’s Come Undone, but decided to give the author a second try. At more than 900 pages, this book is a commitment. Granted, reading Wally Lamb is not exactly like reading Proust – but for me it really did just go on and on.
Oprah popularized Lamb’s books via her book club and they are widely celebrated. I think the appeal might be that Lamb purportedly writes about real life for ordinary people. In this case, his house painter protagonist Dominick suffers from layers of childhood grief and struggles to care for his mentally disturbed twin brother. An interesting story within the story follows Dominick’s grandfather as he makes his way from Sicily to the United States.
Dominick is depressed and much of the book is, thus, depressing. For me, Lamb seems to be saying that life is cruel, people can be cruel, families can be cruel and all you can do is try to forgive. Real life, indeed. Maybe I’m just not ready for it.
Lamb reminds me a bit of a less hopeful Richard Russo (Empire Falls) and less gifted Richard Ford (The Lay of the Land) They all write books set on the Eastern Seaboard about men whose dreams have been disappointed and struggle to make peace with themselves and others. For me, Lamb is in third place behind the other two, but maybe a third novel of his will be the charm.
Next week it will be some non-fiction reads, as in thanks for the memoirs…