Dear Committee Members (book review)

Another book review from The Movie Snob.

Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher (2014).  I had a heck of a time getting a copy of this comic novel after reading a good review of it long, long ago.  First I prowled the used bookstores for months and never found it.  Eventually I gave up and ordered it on Amazon.  Doh!  The package never arrived.  More months passed.  I discovered the Amazon locker service and ordered it again.  Finally, I had it!  Amazingly enough, it was worth the wait.  The entire book consists of letters, emails, and the like written by a fellow named Jason Fitger over the course of a year.  He’s an English professor at a second-tier liberal-arts college, and after publishing one very successful novel many years ago he pretty much fizzled out as an author.  He vents his frustration (both professional and personal) in his letters, many of which are letters of recommendation for students.  I laughed out loud more than once at his splenetic utterances.  And I gave it to my sister and then my best friend from college, who are both college professors, and they both liked it.  Highly recommended.

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The Tiger’s Wife (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht (2011).  This novel made a decent splash when it came out.  Unfortunately, I read it during a rather turbulent time in my life, so I couldn’t pay it as much attention as I usually do the books I read.  Still, I liked it well enough.  The first-person narrator is a young female doctor in an unnamed Balkan country in the aftermath of the wars following the break-up of Yugoslavia.  Although some of the novel is set in the present day, a lot of it consists of stories about the narrator’s grandfather, also a doctor.  Some are stories about his childhood and others are about his adult life, particularly his several encounters with a mysterious figure called The Deathless Man.  The superstitions of the Balkan villagers are well and interestingly portrayed.  Definitely worth a read.

Lila (book review)

A new book review by The Movie Snob.

Lila, by Marilynne Robinson (2014).  This beautiful novel is the story of a character who appeared around the edges of Robinson’s last two novels, Gilead and Home.  Lila was born into impoverished and probably dire circumstances back in the early twentieth century.  We don’t know much about those circumstances because when she was very young (but just old enough to remember) she was stolen (rescued?) by a vagabond woman called Doll.  She grows up on the road with Doll, wandering around with other migrants and suffering through the lean years of the Depression.  We follow Lila’s story until she’s a grown woman, and we leave off shortly before the events of Gilead pick up.  Hers is a lonely and precarious existence, and Robinson convincingly portrays how someone raised in such conditions would think about the world.  It is a really sad book, but I loved it.

Crossing to Safety (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner (1987).  This one sat on my shelf for a while.  Although the blurb on the back cover told me it is “one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth centuries,” somehow I just wasn’t sold.  Now that I’ve finished it, I’m like . . . meh.  It’s about two married couples who become best friends in their young adulthood and stay friends, more or less, for the rest of their lives.  As a study of marriage and friendship, I suppose it is pretty good, although these folks are much better educated than most and consequently chew on their problems with a lot more eloquence than is the norm.  Personally, I didn’t find their story all that engrossing, but the writing is good.  For the great American novels of the twentieth century, stick with The Great Gatsby and All the King’s Men.  And Death Comes for the Archbishop.

A Gentleman in Moscow (book review)

Another book review from the so-called Movie Snob.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (2016).  I enjoyed Towles’s first novel, The Rules of Civility, and I enjoyed this one quite a bit too.  It’s about Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who has returned to Russia from abroad shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution.  In 1922, he gets hauled before a revolutionary tribunal and narrowly escapes execution.  Instead he is sentenced to permanent house arrest—at the fabulous Metropol Hotel where he has been staying.  The novel is the story of what happens to the Count after that.  The writing is always graceful, and the Count is a well-drawn and endlessly amusing character.  I found some parts of the story very moving, but others were maybe a shade too fairy-tale-like.  And I wasn’t quite satisfied with the ending.  But on the whole, I very much enjoyed the story and would recommend it to just about anyone.

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul (book review)

From the pen of The Movie Snob.

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis (2013).  This novel has its strong points, but the cover blurb from NPR calling it the first Great American Novel of the 21st century seems way overblown to me.  The book is divided into five major sections, and I thought the first two were the strongest.  In “Book One,” the protagonist is a human-rights lawyer who’s called upon to travel to Haiti and help investigate the murder of an American woman—a woman he briefly knew and was dazzled by a couple of years earlier.  Book Two is a harrowing look at a (different) woman and her young son trying to escape Croatia to safety at the tail end of World War II.  Book Three, which seemed the longest, is about a seventeen-year-old American girl living in Istanbul with her diplomat father.  It was pretty good.  I thought the last two books kind of went off the rails.  Anyway, I thought the writing was strong, but be warned that there’s a lot of sordid stuff in this tale.  And, as I mentioned, I didn’t care for the wrap-up.

The Big Green Tent (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Big Green Tent, by Ludmila Ulitskaya (2010; trans. 2015).  This is a big old novel about life in post-Stalinist Russia.  I liked it.  At first, the book is a cohesive story about three boys who befriend each other around the time of Stalin’s death in 1956 and the teacher who inspires them to love Russian literature.  But after a few chapters the novel gets fragmentary, jumping around in time and sometimes following other seemingly minor characters on long (but interesting) tangents.  Many of the characters are involved in one kind of dissent or another, and the danger of exposure, arrest, and imprisonment is always right around the corner.  I haven’t read that many Russian novels, but the characters in them always seem fascinatingly larger than life to me, especially in their passions and appetites.  I read this 500+ page novel in fits and starts over a few weeks, so I was often confused about who the various characters were, but I don’t think it diminished my enjoyment of the story very much.