Monday, December 08, 2014

Vacation Reads Roundup II

I went on another vacation, which means it's time for another vacation reads roundup! This time it's kind of an eclectic group of novels. I finished two in November (Middlesex, Through the Narrow Gate) and three in December (The Talented Mr. Ripley, What Alice Forgot, The Vacationers).

Middlesex was one of the books on my reading list for the year. I really liked The Marriage Plot and loved The Virgin Suicides, so I figured I should read his most well known novel. I enjoyed it, though not as much as The Virgin Suicides. I probably would have enjoyed this more if it focused more on Cal's story and didn't have the extensive family saga backstory, which felt like it could have been chopped way down and still gotten the themes across. (I mentioned this to Ian and he brought up Desdemona working at the Temple as a great example.) When Cal hits adolescence, though, the novel starts firing on all cylinders: the story, the intensity of first love, the beautiful writing. Glad I stuck it out.

Through the Narrow Gate is a nun memoir so come on, you know I'm all over that.  An interesting counterpoint to my beloved In This House of Brede. I kept thinking she wouldn't have become disenchanted with the nun life if she'd been at Brede Abbey instead. But an interesting exploration of how religious life stifled her intellect, and how she ultimately resolved the conflict. Enjoyed this enough to keep it rather than leave it behind at a Costa Rican hotel, which was my original plan.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is another classic that I thought might make for a fun vacation read. It has an unreliable narrator although it's told in third person omniscient, which was a change of pace. Ripley is extremely sexually repressed and sociopathic, so his brain is an interesting place to visit.  Actually, he seems like a cousin of Charles Kinbote. (I wonder, especially given Highsmith's own bisexuality, if this novel is less problematic than Pale Fire from a Queer Criticism point of view. Gay = evil, or repressive society = evil? Maybe I need to delve into some academic journals.) (Tangent over.) A nice tense read, super creepy, with an excellent anti-hero.

What Alice Forgot had such a great conceit that I had to read it: a woman hits her head and loses 10 years of memory. She remembers being self-effacing, pregnant and madly in love with her husband, hits her head, and suddenly she's a power mom of three in the middle of an ugly divorce. The way it unfolds (with bits and pieces of memory coming back to her as she works things out, makes incorrect guesses, gets to know her kids, observes how much her loved ones have changed and tries to figure out why) works really well. And Alice is such a likeable character who is easy to root for. A classic airplane read, but far above average. Recommended if you like the genre!

Finally, I read The Vacationers by Emma Straub, which I'd originally downloaded for my last vacation where my phone broke. I think this was one of those buzzy novels that I heard about in EW and other places. This novel is great. It's about a wealthy New York family that travels to Mallorca: two parents, a grown son and college-age daughter, the son's girlfriend, and a gay couple who is friends of the family. They all have their own agendas and alliances and secrets, and the perspective moves smoothly in and out of the minds of each of the core characters. Yes, a great vacation read, and also an excellent piece of literary fiction. Highly recommended.

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Blogger BC said...

I should read Middlesex. I listened to it on audio, and I liked it quite a lot, but the narrator sounds a little like Patton Oswalt and that is just not a guy you want reading adolescent sexual exploration out loud to you. I am shuddering all over again right now.

Love Ripley. Hated the movie. Like, hated it so much I got up and left because I realized that I was ruining my own day. I don't think it was bad; I think I just didn't want to be surrounded by all those terrible people for two hours.

(I love it when you update here.)

10:01 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

I thought I remembered you liking Middlesex. I agree, Patton Oswalt would be a terrible choice for a narrator. Shudder.

I barely remember the movie, but reading the book made me want to see it again. I don't mind them being terrible! Maybe don't want to watch the murdering all over again though.

(I love it when you comment!)

10:24 AM  
Blogger BC said...

I liked Middlesex, but I *loved* The Virgin Suicides. I should read that one again.

11:52 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

That one is absolutely the best. If I don't quit teaching forever, I'd love to teach that one day. And show the movie which I also love. But not as much as the novel. The amazing amazing novel.

11:57 AM  

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