Monday, December 4, 2017

Review: East of Eden

East of Eden East of Eden by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've reread this book every couple of years, and each time it adds back a little bit of that color to life that I didn't realize was starting to drain. Steinbeck writes in a way that clearly cuts against our contemporary novels, so often grounded in realism to the point of banality in trying to be "truthful." Steinbeck writes with enough richness that his characters can be analysed on end, yes, because they are symbols. They are more than human, but not just superficially so. Steinbeck elevates symbolism and aesthetic to a higher level. I don't read his stories so much as wrap myself up in them, immersing myself in his world. I remember the first time I went to California after reading a Steinbeck novel, and the hillsides seemed to whisper to me in a way they never before had.

Like the bible from which it draws so much, the interpretation of this novel will change over time. I for one found Cathy to be one of the most compelling characters of the novel. She ostensibly lacked depth, because that is how her creator (Steinbeck) viewed her and made her. It was only natural that she was cynical, because Steinbeck seemed to create her in a sense of cynicism. But with a more modern interpretation, she was a strong-willed, independent character who didn't want to obey society's rules, and was willing to experiment with the suppressed desires of people, most obviously sex. She was the perfect foil to Adam-he saw things as he wanted to see them, and she saw things as they are.

As an Asian American, I won't go into my love of the character Lee in too much detail. Suffice to say, his comments to the effect of "sometimes to make people listen, you have to tell them what they want to hear" resonated with me the first time I read this, and each time after. Nothing is what it appears on the surface in a Steinbeck novel. Every detail in this lengthy story is important, and in a sense the novel is that realistic in that we come to make certain assumptions about the characters and the story that are ultimately turned on their head. In the end, though, all the pieces in the narrative just fit together. The novel may as well be called "Life."

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Review: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an excellent weekend or vacation read. Beautifully written, and emotionally compelling while I was listening to it. I found myself rooting for some characters, hoping certain things would or wouldn't happen, and pulled in all the directions that I would want to be (even if I didn't *want* to be) to keep me going to the end. The challenge here is that, I had a sense that I had heard this story before. The most intriguing character of the story, Mia, the starving artist and single parent, is also the most opaque. Some readers here seem to argue that Ng writes to much in Mia's favor, but I actually read it more as somewhat of a hesitancy to commit to a full analysis of Mia, for better or for worse.

Ultimately, as beautifully as the writing is, I don't see this as a story that will linger in my thoughts long after it has ended. The characters trode very familiar territory. The exception to this might be the case involving a child's adoption. Here I felt quite strongly that there was more debate that could have been explored, but was not, in order to keep the Shaker families squarely in the roles that were created for them. I did not seem to feel the sympathy for (being opaque to avoid spoilers) some characters in the trial that the author did, particularly given the past choices of the character, and how easily that should have come up in the trial as a source of skepticism of the plaintiff.

Still, because the story was so artfully crafted, I leaned toward four stars. Definitely worth a read.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Review: Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hated it. Every moment.

But the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.

I hated the author's unwavering commitment to love as art. I hated his ability to make these two characters into impossible, yet fully believable and realized characters. Like magic, literature only works if you believe in it, I suppose. I hated those little things that made me pause the audiobook from time to time to whisper, "For goodness sake, get over it, Elio." I hated how the author found ways to avoid melodrama, yet kept me listening to the very end. I hated how Armie Hammer read the novel like he was telling me about his own life, and grabbing me by the shoulders and pulling me in to whisper into my ear.

At times I wondered if the 17-year-old Elio was really a credible character. But then I realized he reminded me of all those friends of mine of whom I was once so dismissive, back in high school. The ones who would talk to me about Proust while I was trying to do derivatives. I wondered, as I read this, do straight people feel as pandered to when they read Jane Eyre as I do right now reading Call Me By Your Name?

I couldn't put it down until I finished it, and like a past romance that on the surface I wish had never happened, I wouldn't change a thing.

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