#CBR7 Review #48: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

I’m trying to work my way through certain authors, and Cormac McCarthy has definitely been on that list. After reading Blood Meridian this year, I decided to go with something a little less..visceral. Thankfully, All the Pretty Horses is a gorgeous, melancholy book that does not get gross.

John Grady Cole is sixteen years old, when the ranch he has lived on passes out of his inheritance upon his grandfather’s death. He and his best friend, Lacey Rawlins, determine to make their way south out of Texas into Mexico, so they can find some work. While on their way, they are followed by a young teenager who claims the name Jimmy Blevins and is riding a fine bay horse, much too fine for an adolescent runaway. This friendship with Blevins will come to haunt the young men, though they don’t realize it. When they become separated, John Grady and Rawlins travel further south, where they come to work for a ranch. Here, John Grady falls in love with his employer’s daughter, Alejandra, a romance that will set up the conflict of the novel.

I was surprised at the beauty and eloquence of the novel, something I had not come to associate with Cormac McCarthy’s style. Perhaps it was the fact that I’d started with some of the bleaker and more unforgiving novels (including No Country for Old Men, which is such a good novel, but oh, so scary). Or perhaps it was that the characters felt really well-rounded and complex. Either way, I’d have to say that this was definitely enjoyable to read, and I would continue the Border Trilogy (though I hear it gets intense again).

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#CBR7 Review #47: The Spell by Alan Hollinghurst

Alan Hollinghurst is one of the authors who featured in my dissertation, so I’ve been trying to work my way through all his novels. The Line of Beauty was the text in my second chapter, then I read The Stranger’s Child and The Swimming-Pool Library in summer 2012. I read The Folding Star last year for CBR6, and was not a super huge fan of it. The Spell is the last of Hollinghurst’s books I hadn’t read, so I decided to “collect” another author.

You could say that The Spell sort of takes a page out of Jane Austen’s book. If Jane Austen were a gay man in an era of sexual possibility and trying to juggle three love affairs at one time. You have four major characters, all of whom connect in interesting ways: there’s Robin, a late-40s architect who still has a handsome body; Justin, a 30-something wannabe actor who is in a long-term relationship with Robin and making a home with him in the countryside; Alex, Justin’s ex-boyfriend still pining after Justin but agreeing to be a house guest in the country for a few weeks; and then there’s Danny, Robin’s charismatic but wildly unpredictable son, who captures the fancy of all the men around him.

It’s quite intriguing and makes an interesting commentary on the drug culture and materialism that surrounded gay Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. While I’d still classify The Line of Beauty and The Stranger’s Child as my favorites, I still think this novel is worth a read–the party scene is quite a hoot, in its own right.

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#CBR7 Review #46: Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

Ever since I found out that Tiny Cooper was getting his own musical I COULD NOT STOP freaking out for sheer delight. Tiny Cooper is the very large, very gay young man who is (let’s be honest) the real hero of John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson (which I adored). Tiny has the effervescence you wish every best friend could bring to your life, and I could not soak him up enough. I was wondering how the musical itself would translate to its own book, but I needn’t have worried.

Hold Me Closer, is the name of the musical which Tiny writes, directs and produces for the high school in the novel. You actually get to read all the songs and stage directions. Even better, Tiny begins with his life as a baby up to high school, where his relationships and breakups are on full display. Of course, the songs to the musical are provided, with full lyrics and stage directions, and boy, are they DELIGHTFUL and hilarious. I found myself making up tunes to the lyrics and singing them inside my head. [Seriously, can we get this made? Like yesterday?] What really ties the book together are Tiny’s stage directions and asides in the script. You get a sense of who he is as a character, and it’s even more endearing and sweet. He’s not perfect–in fact, the play helps him work out anxieties of his own and that just makes him all the more likeable.

I was glad to see David Levithan pursue Tiny Cooper, and I really hope we get to see more of him in the future.

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#CBR7 Review #45: Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym

Last year, I devoured the absolutely scrumptious Jane and Prudence for CBR6. It was like high tea–a savory sandwich, a course of strawberries, and cream, and a tart but juicy lemon dessert. [On a sidenote, I’ve definitely NOT been fantasizing about planning my next tea party. Not at all.]  I’ve decided that this spring/summer needs to be dedicated to a Barbara Pym binge, because she is a delicious writer, and I need something delightful in my life–I read a lot of heavy literary fiction, and her wit brings some levity to my life.

Crampton Hodnet, while published much later than some of the other novels, is actually a precursor to Jane and Prudence. Miss Morrow and Miss Doggett are two of the primary characters in the novel, and while they play a minor role in Jane and Prudence, you sort of understand where their character arcs coincide in that novel. In Crampton Hodnet, we see Miss Morrow as a 30-something spinster, while her companion, Miss Doggett, has taken in an attractive red-haired curate. At the same time, MIss Doggett’s married nephew, who is a lecturer at the University, has become entangled with his pretty young student and a comedy of errors ensues. It’s all quite funny and gossipy and you wonder how it’s all going to sort out.

Pym is great at unravelling human folly, but she does so in a way that’s not too mean or too petty. Rather, you feel for people even as you laugh at their foolishness a bit. And I’m okay with a bit of gentle poking of fun, so long as it’s not too nasty.

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#CBR7 Review #44: The Illusion of Separateness by Simon van Booy

It’s a little difficult juggling book clubs sometimes, but my grad student book club is infinitely easier, because we only meet about 3 times in the school year. This time, my friend K suggested The Illusion of Separateness, and since it had received good reviews–including from her–we all agreed it would be a good pick.

This is a novel told in vignettes, veering between 2010 and 1945, when John Bray goes to France to fight in World War II and Danny, a successful film director, tries to find his kindly and disfigured elderly neighbor, to a blind young woman named Amelia. The stories are all connected, though in a much more explicit way than in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The story goes back and forth in time, connecting all the pieces for the reader, until the mystery resolves somewhat at the end.

Simon van Booy is a very good writer, but I confess to finding myself rather disappointed in The Illusion of Separateness. First, I should probably admit: had I read this *before* Anthony Doerr’s splendid masterpiece, All the Light We Cannot See, I probably would have liked this novel more. But in comparison to the richness of Doerr’s prose and narrative, this felt rushed and slightly cheapened. The novel is fascinating at the very end, but is so tacked on that I felt the lack of development in the story. I was prepared to like this story, and really, I thought it was just okay. There were also some plot points I found very predictable, and I was not delighted by that. I would definitely seek out something else by Simon van Booy, though. His style is eloquent and engaging.

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#CBR7 Review #43: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

The Chancellor and I were trying to decide how we heard of this novel. Eventually, we agreed that we saw it at Barnes and Noble as part of a Black History Month display, and then he’d added it on Goodreads, which meant *I* added it on Goodreads. Man, we’re book dorks. Anyway, it’s been part of a ginormous library stack that I didn’t have time to get to till this afternoon. Did I mention that one of the perks of becoming doctor in the middle of the semester is that suddenly I have a LOT of reading time now? I polished this book off in an afternoon.

Here’s the premise: Matt Miller has just lost his mom. He can’t seem to cope by slipping into his old high school routine, and his father has turned to alcohol. A lot of alcohol. A chance encounter at the local fast-food joint, the Cluck Hut, lands Matt a job at the funeral home, where he chooses to wear a black suit to look more professional. As he’s grappling with his mother’s death and his father’s disconnection, he begins to forge connections of his own, particularly with a charismatic and mysterious young woman whose constitution is stronger and tougher than his.

I liked this novel, especially the authenticity of Matt’s narrative voice. It’s an endearing story, and I really rooted for him as a character. What kept this from being a higher-rated novel was that it just felt a bit too neatly tied up at the end. Having previously read Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, I felt this suffered a bit in plot resolution. It was good, but kind of saccharine, which made the whole experience decent, rather than amazing. I still recommend this book, especially for high school students.

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#CBR7 Review #42: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

House Made of Dawn is considered to be N. Scott Momaday’s best work (and it was granted a Pulitzer), so I thought that after my interesting experience with The Ancient Child, it might be best to go to his most acclaimed work.

This is a hard novel to recap, because it relies so heavily on images and ideas than on narrative, plot, and character. But I’ll do the best I can: the story loosely revolves around an elderly Kiowa man, Francisco, and his grandson, Abel. The story is split into two time periods: first, 1945, and then 1952. Francisco is drawn to his heritage and his lands, and he still uses horses as main transportation. Abel is drawn to the old way of life, particularly since he has been raised by Francisco, but his participation in a war, plus the changing landscape around him threatens to tear his identity in two. He slides into despair and alcoholism, as he attempts to reconcile the pieces of his life.

Like I said, this novel is reliant upon images rather than on narrative. You’d think that it would be a difficult book to read, and in many circumstances, it is. You have to read carefully, or you might miss the fact that Abel fought in WWII (I think? or perhaps Korea? That part was not super clear to me), or that Francisco is the defiant man described in writings that the local priest, Father Olguin, has found. But Abel’s plight becomes that much more sympathetic, because you can clearly picture the depths to which his soul is torn. It’s a compelling novel, though not an easy read. I do recommend it, though I’ll say that Sherman Alexie’s style is more my speed.

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