The Interestings (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Court.

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer (2013).  I enjoyed this novel about a group of teenagers who become friends at an artsy summer camp in the early 1970s and mostly manage to stay friends as they grow up and experience adulthood.  The central character is Julie Jacobson, an awkward girl from an undistinguished background who is nevertheless adopted by a gang of cool kids.  Rechristened “Jules,” our protagonist is intoxicated by her new friends and spends most of the rest of the book yearning to recapture those adolescent summers—and being a little envious of the seemingly awesome lives two of her friends make for themselves afterwards.  Having recently been a fortysomething myself, I was perhaps naturally inclined to warm to the book’s themes of growing up and dealing with the pressures of adulthood, family, responsibility, loss, and mortality.

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The Devil and Webster (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

The Devil and Webster, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (2017).  I thought I would like this recent novel more than I did.  It’s about Naomi Roth, the president of a small, exclusive, and very liberal New England college called Webster.  She’s a former 60s radical herself, so she’s fine with it when a bunch of students start camping out on the main campus lawn to protest the college’s decision to deny tenure to a popular (African-American) professor.  Unfortunately, the college denied the fellow tenure because it discovered he had committed some serious plagiarism; unfortunately for President Roth, the college’s strict confidentiality rules preclude her from telling the students anything about the tenure process or decision at all.  So the school year goes on, and the protest—led by a charismatic young Palestinian student—threatens to balloon out of control.  Making matters worse, President Roth’s own daughter is a Webster student and very much a part of the protest.  The story is entertaining enough, but I didn’t find the ending very satisfying—it somehow left me wanting more.

Trieste (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Trieste, by Daša Drndić (2012).  Drndić is a Croatian novelist and playwright, and this is a powerful and unusual novel about the Holocaust.  The central character is Haya Tedeschi, an assimilated Jew who lives most of her life in a town on the fluid border between Italy and what eventually becomes Yugoslavia.  She turns 20 during World War II, and she has an affair with a handsome German officer who is stationed nearby for part of the war.  But the novel’s focus doesn’t really stay on her all that much; Drndić stuffs the novel with facts and digressions about World War II and the Holocaust, biographical sketches of various Nazis, and testimony from Holocaust survivors.  She indicts the many bystanders who knew what was happening to the Jews passing through their cities and towns in railroad cars and did nothing.  She indicts the Catholic Church for baptizing Jewish babies to save them from the Nazis but then refusing to return them to their parents after the war.  There’s a lot of information about a secret Nazi project to increase the “Aryan race” by kidnaping promising-looking babies and then adopting them out to good German families.  And near the end, Drndić instructs us about how 5,000 Norwegian women who had liaisons with Nazis during the war were sent to work camps after the war, and many of their babies were adopted out and subjected to all sorts of abuse.  Anni-Frid Lyngstad of ABBA was the daughter of such a liaison (although her mother moved to Sweden in 1946 and they avoided the abuse)!  It is a powerful and disturbing book.

The Mountain of Kept Memory (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Mountain of Kept Memory, by Rachel Neumeier (2016).  My cousin Rachel has written another winning fantasy novel.  This one centers on a brother and sister, Gulien and Oressa Madalin.  They are the children of Osir Madalin, the remote and ruthless king of Carastind.  But the kingdom is beset by enemies, and it seems that Osir has lost the support of the Kieba—a mysterious sorceress who lives in a mountain far to the east and who formerly aided Carastind in times of need.  Osir seems disinclined to try to heal the rift, so Gulien and Oressa—who are young adults but sheltered and inexperienced in the ways of the world—take it upon themselves to seek the Kieba’s aid.  This is an exciting tale, and Neumeier keeps the reader guessing about some of the main characters’ true intentions and agendas.  Highly recommended for lovers of fantasy and magic!

Commonwealth (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett (2016).  A more descriptive title for this recent novel might be “Divorce American Style,” but maybe that didn’t have quite the same ring to it.  I was thoroughly engrossed by it.  In the first chapter we meet two families, one headed by a cop named “Fix” Keating and the other by a prosecutor named Bert Cousins.  Bert meets Fix’s beautiful wife Beverly at a party after the baptism of Fix and Beverly’s baby girl Franny, and things go from there.  After the opening chapter, the other chapter bounce around quite a bit chronologically (over several decades) as we see how the Keating and Cousins kids (six in all) fare after their parents’ bad behavior throws them all together.  I enjoyed the writing and the story, and I highly recommend it if it sounds like it might be your cup of tea.

Acceptance (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer (2014).  Well, I thought this final volume of The Southern Reach Trilogy was a bit of a letdown.  The first two books (reviewed here and here) were pretty entertaining, in a mysterious and slightly creepy way.  In the near future, some strange, possibly alien, presence has set up shop on Earth (in an area that sounds like Florida).  Scientific expeditions occasionally go into the zone, known as Area X, but they don’t always come back.  Readers expecting all the weird goings-on around Area X to be explained in Acceptance are bound to be disappointed.  There are hints and flickers of explanations, and there’s lots of backstory fleshing out some of the characters we already met in the first two books, but I didn’t find the “resolution” of the trilogy particularly satisfying.  Oh well, the destination wasn’t great, but the journey wasn’t bad.  And the first book in the series, Annihilation, is being made into a movie starring Natalie Portman as The Biologist.  Check out its IMDB page.

Love & Friendship (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, by Whit Stillman (2016).  Director Whit Stillman has written a novelization of his recent movie Love & Friendship, starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny.  (Although I never read it, he did the same for his movie The Last Days of Disco, also starring Beckinsale and Sevigny.)  I can’t say the novel really adds much to the film, but it is an adequate and enjoyable enough retelling of the schemes and machinations of the unscrupulous Lady Susan.  The novel’s narrator is Lady Susan’s nephew, who desperately attempts to make his aunt look like a victim of slander instead of the schemer she so clearly was.  As an added bonus, Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan is included in the appendix, so you can see the bones that Stillman built his movie and novel out of.  The package is enjoyable enough, but it’s nothing to get too excited about.