The Red Parts
Maggie Nelson, 2007
Pros: Maggie Nelson is a master of memoir, and this autobiography following the trial of her aunt’s murderer is a brilliant examination of violence, gender, loss, and voyeurism. Nelson gets uncomfortably close to the underside of our interest in true crime and pain, and asks the reader to consider what the re-telling of such stories means to both the subject and the object. A perfect extended lyric essay.
Cons: For fans of clarity, Nelson still plays coy with some aspects of her life, though not nearly as much as in, say, Bluets or other more self-focused writing where lyricism takes precedence over plain old information.
The Verdict: A great introduction to Nelson, if you’ve never read her work, and if you have then snap this one up immediately. This is writing at its finest.
Alice Hoffman, 2016
Pros: Alice Hoffman crafts a beautiful story about love, redemption, forgiveness, and friendship in this novel following the life of protagonist Shelby Richmond after a tragic car accident–with Shelby behind the wheel–kills her teenage best friend. Moving seamlessly through time and space, with New York City providing background color and grit, the novel asks readers to explore forgiveness and growth as Shelby learns to not only survive but thrive in the face of guilt and loneliness. Clear, lyric prose, a great cast of supporting characters, and a deft hand toward tragedy make this a compelling read.
Cons: Though the crux of the story is the loss of Shelby’s friend and her subsequent, all-consuming guilt, the friendship between the two girls remained mysterious to me, and felt like a curious and clunky omission. A heavy reliance on emotional shorthand (loving animals as a sign of goodheartedness does not make a character complex, only cliché) stretches the reader’s patience and leads to flattened characters. And while much of the story explores serendipity–faith–there were many plot points that leaned (at best) toward sentimentality and (at worst) toward unbelievability. Deus ex machina, anyone?
The Verdict: Good for a lazy afternoon, but not much more. This one was a disappointment, though I certainly won’t discount Hoffman’s entire body of work based on this single title. Readers with a higher tolerance for bittersweetness and pit bulls may have a better experience than I did.
Fates and Furies had been bouncing around my to-read list for a long time before I finally borrowed a copy to see what all the fuss was about. It was one of those books that suddenly hits literary circles and becomes all anyone can talk about; despite Groff’s previous publishing history—including the very excellent Arcadia and a short story collection with publication credits including The New Yorker and other Top Tier ™ journals—it was this latest novel that seemed to generate a new wave of interest in her work.
I wasn’t disappointed: I finished the book in one fell swoop, spending a whole Saturday wandering around different rooms in the house, book in hand, fighting the tension between immediate interest and increasing panic that soon enough I’d be finished and there would be no more book to read. And when I did finish reading, it was with the type of emotional reaction I rarely find in contemporary literature; without giving too much away, Fates and Furies broke my heart—I’ve never so badly wanted a book to end a different way.
Continue reading A Very Balanced Review: Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
I’ve been wanting to discuss one of my favorite books, A Little Life, for a while. I’d have no problem arguing I think this is easily one of the best books written in the last ten years, and it has a place of honor on my bookshelf (not that Yanagihara cares much about my book collection). But it’s difficult to say why this novel lives so large in my mind; it’s hard to define what type of story this is, or even how it works, and so it becomes difficult to name the precise feeling you experience reading it: overwhelming pathos, maybe, or a deep sense of communal human experience. So the way to begin writing about it may be as simply as possible: I read A Little Life about half a year ago, and the story remains just as moving and impressive in my mind tonight as on the day I finished the last page.
Continue reading A Very Balanced Review: A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara