Tag: General Fiction

by Barbara Kingsolver

In rural Appalachia, the story of a boy who’s always down on his luck, but keeps trying to make the best of it. Damon (soon nicknamed Demon) doesn’t get a good start in life, at all. Teenage drug-addicted mother, deceased father, abusive step-father. Living in poverty and soon shunted around between dysfunctional (not to mention exploitative) foster homes. He’s surrounded by people both good and bad. He and some friends seem to make poor choices simply because their options are so few. What looks like bad choices to others, might simply be better than the worse ones easier to reach in front of them. So I though. Midway through this book things are looking a bit up for Demon- he finally gets into a better home and starts exploring some talents that could lead to a future. Then a football accident ruins his knee and drags his life down. An operation is a months-long wait that turns into never. He succumbs to addictive painkillers- so gradually you hardly see it happening. Slides into all kinds of bad situations. Somehow you keep rooting for this character. He seems good at heart, deep down. Maybe it’s the humor? I have to say, this book took me by surprise. I felt like this author wrote a young male voice pretty well- crude jokes, foul language and all- sometimes it had me cringing a bit, more times admiring. I’ve read all over the place that this novel is a patterened after David Copperfield but I haven’t read that so can’t compare. However the voice and circumstances reminded me of several others- The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. What it did not remind me of, was Kingsolver’s other books. This one is so different. I’m not sure if I actually liked it? as in, would I avidly read it again. So much of the story was just dismal things happening. It really kept me turning the pages, though.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
560 pages, 2022

Volume 2

by W. Somerset Maugham

I really enjoyed these short stories- except for the ones I skipped! More on that in a moment. My opinion of Somerset Maugham’s writing remains the same: his characters are interesting, the setup slow but detailed and deliberate, the endings often leave you wondering something or chuckling at an irony, very satisfying either way. Most have some shrewd observations on human nature. All very well-written. I’d like to find the other half of this collection, but now think I’ll probably get some overlap, as the fourth volume of collected stories I read earlier, was from a different compliation.

The stories in this book were set in England, a few about individuals who travelled abroad, some sounded like the narrator was Maugham himself- staying in a hotel, or talking to someone on a train journey. Often the first few pages would tell how he met someone, and then that someone would relate the interesting story about a friend or acquaintance. They are stories of relationships, of people living in a manner that defies their social class or expectations, of characters that are happy when everyone expects them to be miserable, or unhappy in what look like perfect circumstances from the outside. There’s a story about a popular female writer, all highbrow and artistic, who subtly snubs her quiet husband in the background- but in the end it turns out he does what he likes and is the better for it. Another is about a young man whose wealthy family has educated him to take a position in politics, but all he wants to do is be a professional pianist. There’s an apparently contentedly married woman who writes a very popular book of poetry, the husband is befuddled by it because he doesn’t understand poetry, but when he finally reads it to see what all the fuss is about, realizes it’s telling the story of an affair his wife had. In another, an important man in government is troubled by dreams where he’s in terribly embarrassing situations, and then the next day something always occurs which convinces him another person knows of the embarrassment- was it real? or just coincidence? My favorite was probably the story of the vicar who couldn’t read or write- in fact I re-told it (in much simplified form) to my husband on a drive.

The stories I skipped- a half dozen in the middle of the book- are probably the ones that would interest other readers most. They were all about a character named Ashenden, who is a spy. A quiet, aloof man who does his assignments never really knowing how the information he gathers relates to the larger picture. Each story is about some incident or mission he goes on. I read the first two in here, realized that espionage (for some reason I can never explain) actually bores me, and started skipping them- it only takes half a page to realize it’s an Ashenden story. I did read in entirety the one where he’s in a sanatorium recovering his health, more about the other patients around him and their relationships, than it is about himself actually.

Borrowed from my brother-in-law.

Rating: 4/5
518 pages, 1951

by Murray Bail

A widowed father moves to a large ranch in Australia where he plants hundreds of eucalyptus trees on his land (there are 700 distinct species, I had no idea!) He’s pretty much obsessed with the trees. His daughter grows up into a beautiful young woman, admired by many in town but kept secluded on the ranch. The father announces that he will give his daughter in marriage to the man who can correctly name every tree on his property. Many come with little success- they’re really just there hoping to catch a glimpse of the daughter. Then a man arrives who is a eucalyptus specialist himself; he methodically walks the land with the father, naming tree after tree, in no hurry but looks easily able to finish the task. The daughter watches with growing apprehension- she’d thought nobody would ever be able to name all the trees. She falls into silence and despondency. Meanwhile, another man appears on the property, just sitting under a tree. He starts to show up every day, finding the daughter where she’s walking under the eucalypts, and he casually tells her stories. Odd little stories that don’t really have endings. They catch her interest and she seeks out his company day after day, while all the while becoming more dismayed that the other man will win her hand.

This whole novel feels like a parable. It has a dreamy air of magical realism, though really there are no magical elements, maybe a few slightly surreal things happen in the stories that are told. In some parts the style definitely reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Márquez. I thought at first I wouldn’t like this book- it feels like the characters are all held at arm’s length, you never really sink into anything as a reader. The storyline flits back and forth through the multitude of smaller stories- rather like the incomplete shade cast by a eucalyptus, I suppose. I was going to ditch it after the first few chapters but kept going and became more intrigued to see how it ends. It’s one I think worth a re-read someday. There is plenty of information on the eucalyptus trees themselves in the pages, the characteristics of their leaves, what type of soil the different species like, the strength of their timber and its uses, etc. Readers not much interested in plants might find this tedious, but I kind of liked it. Rather similar to how factual chapters about whales are woven through the Moby Dick narrative, another book I was surprised to like. Though many years in the past, now.

Rating: 3/5
264 pages, 1998

More opinions: The Black Sheep Dances
anyone else?

by Jonathan Evison

Don’t remember how this one came to my attention. Another audiobook to fill space in my head while I’m doing chores- but for a while there I thought I’d made a mistake. Put off by the frequent use of the f-word. And some of the crude humor- not by the main character, but one or two of his um, negatively opinionated friends. I was going to stop before even through the first cd, but kept listening, and somehow this started to grow on me. In the end I was glad I heard the whole thing, it gets much better further on and I even liked the ending. I appreciated what it was trying to say. But I also get why lots of people have protested this book, because yeah, it made me uncomfortable at several points.

Story (apparently semi-autobiographical) is about a half-latino guy from a poor neighborhood in Washington State. (This made the environs of the novel very familiar to me, but also so very different- a whole other side of the place I knew, a reverse reality I was never very aware of). Mike Muñoz is 22 but still lives with his mother, his older mentally disabled brother, and a tenant who at first lives in the backyard shed but then moves into the house. They’re always struggling to make ends meet. Mike has a job with a landscaping crew, he’s proud of making very tidy clean edges and aspires to be a topiary artist. Gets sick of the low pay and degrading way clients treat him- looses his job after refusing to clean up after someone’s dog. Drifts around looking for new employment, nothing works out. One old acquaintance has a big scheme with no real plan. Then an old high school friend ropes him into preparing properties for resale in a wealthy neighborhood, and he starts rubbing shoulders with different kind of folks- but pretty soon realizes he doesn’t like where that’s going.

And there’s the annoyance that this old high school friend won’t admit to something that happened when they were kids. This is what people are all upset about. There’s a scene from the past mentioned briefly in the book (and referred to a few times afterwards in the narrative) where Mike and the other guy, as ten-year-old kids, handled each other’s privates. No it was not actually pedophilia (as some people are saying in negative reviews). The disturbing thing is that Mike wants to discuss what happened in the past, but the other guy won’t admit it even occurred. Meanwhile, Mike is halfheartedly trying to impress a girl he admires, and finds stress relief at the library. I loved reading about the books he was reading. And his growing friendship with the substitute library guy Andrew, who’s also an activist in his spare time.

Mike and Andrew gradually become more than friends, and by the end of the book he realizes what he’d been denying to himself all along- he’s gay. His mother knew, apparently, his friends are less shocked than he’d expected. Yes there’s a scene where Mike finally spends the night at Andrew’s house, it stops short of being too detailed about their intimacy. No graphic descriptions. You’re mostly aware that Mike has come to realize something about himself, has found a place where he feels both respected and encouraged, has found someone he admires and enjoys being around- in spite of Andrew’s flaws. I felt this was a very honest portrayal about someone’s ordinary life that went through a bunch of crap and then started to become something better.

By the end of the book, Mike has gone from working for barely minimum wage, to feeling walked all over by rich people, to being in his own little company and actually getting to sculpt hedges in people’s front yards. Having appreciation for the good work he does, expanding his artistic talent, finding a better understanding with his family too. I admit there’s plenty of incidents in this book that made me cringe, others had me laughing out loud. I really could have done without all the f-words personally. But I found the musings on social inequalities, environmentalism and the like rather refreshing- he points out so many times that things like eating organic don’t matter to the poor, if they can just barely afford to eat a sandwich at all. There’s more, but I have to stop writing or this post will get way too long.

It’s really unfortunate that this book has the exact same title as a middle-grade Gary Paulsen novel (which has no objectionable content).

Audiobook, voice is P.J. Ochlan, 8.5 hours listening time. Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
320 pages, 2018

the Story of a Boy

by Richard Jeffries

Marvelous (but also disturbing) book from the 1800’s- others have described it as something like Tom Sawyer or Lord of the Flies and I heartily agree. It also reminded me a lot of Ernest Thompson Seton’s Two Little Savages. Bevis is the son of a landowner in rural England- and he pretty much runs around doing whatever he pleases. When the story opens, it drives straight into his efforts to build a raft out of odds and ends- I was baffled for a few pages wondering who this kid was, where he lived, what the heck he was doing, but then caught up in his unwavering intent to find items that would work to make what he wanted- because I’m a bit like that myself, when building something or other for the garden. After making the raft he goes on to rig a little (and very awkward it sounds) sailboat, he and his friend carve a boomerang, make a matchlock gun (!!), practice with bows and arrows, shoot targets with their various weapons, learn how to swim, roam around hunting rabbits and birds with their dog, stage a battle with a bunch of other boys- taking sides and planning strategies the whole nine yards, and so on and on and on.

The part I remember best is middle to the end, where Bevis and his friend Mark build a camp on an island in a lake near home, lie to their parents that they’re at someone else’s house for a visit, and live rough for a week or so. They fish, hunt small game, make pitiful attempts at cooking over a fire (with supplies filched from home like flour, potatoes, matches etc), construct a sundial, track animals pretending everything is exotic- the other kids trying to find their secret place are ‘savages’, the rabbits are ‘kangaroos’ the wood doves are ‘parrots’ you get the idea. They have to solve a little mystery of what is coming into their camp when they’re away stealing food, and another about what animal makes a wave just under the water’s surface (I thought it would be the otter but it was a type of diving bird). I was very sad when they shot the otter. It really is a story from a different time- the kids live in casual abundance- the pages are swarming with beautiful descriptions of nature, lush plant growth, myraid small wild things- which the boys delight in tracking, chasing and killing. They shoot birds for their feathers with no remorse, and are really proud of the otter skin. When they finally go home everyone praises their accomplishments and the father teaches them how to improve their shooting skills (this went on for way too many pages in my opinion). I was rather fascinated by the descriptions of sailing, though. Amazed at how ingenious the kids were at making things from observation and experiment alone. Appalled at how often they beat and kicked their dog to make it behave, and how they ignored the abject poverty the workmen’s children lived in, right alongside them on the farm but their suffering unseen.

It’s lively, full of adventure, boy’s squabbles and petty cruelties, and the richness of nature. I found it a compelling read, even though some things bothered me.

Some quotes I marked- the boys’ explanation of hindsight: “That’s just the thing”, said Bevis. “You sail forty thousand miles to find a thing, and when you get there you can see you left it at home.”

Their surprise at seeing a yellowed fern leaf, where they were sure it was an animal in the grass: when intent on one subject the mind is ready to construe everything as relating to it, and disallows the plain evidence of the senses.

The father’s appraisal of how important it was for them to learn things by experience:

He considered it best that they should teach themselves, and find out little by little where they were wrong.  Besides which he knew that the greatest pleasure is always obtained from inferior and incomplete instruments. Present a perfect yacht, a beautiful horse, a fine gun, or anything complete to a beginner, and the edge of his enjoyment is dulled with too speedy possession. The best way to learn to ride is on a rough pony, to sail in an open ill-built boat, because by encountering difficulties the learner comes to understand and appreciate the perfect instrument, and to wield it with fifty times more power than if he had been born to the purple.

I have a copy of this book on my e-reader (it was a pleasure!)

Rating: 3/5
465 pages, 1882

by Laura Zigman

This book is about a middle aged woman whose writing career has taken a nosedive. She and her husband are estranged but still living in the same house (they can’t afford to divorce yet), her teenage son barely talks to her anymore, her finances are in trouble, she’s still recovering from the loss of her parents while her best friend is battling cancer. It’s a lot. Fraught with a sense of loss and unease, she starts carrying around the family dog in a baby sling, finding comfort and reassurance in its constant presence. People comment on this- when they find out the dog isn’t injured or suffering itself from anxiety, they turn judgmental (one group at a dog park even accuses her of animal abuse). It’s all written in a very lighthearted, wry style. I read the first few chapters with interest and amusement, but then found I didn’t care much to pick it up again. Skipped and skimmed through several more chapters before giving up. I just didn’t find the characters relatable, although their circumstances certainly could happen to anyone. The strangeness of the Montessori school (surely it’s exaggerated?) and the weird houseguests who dress up as large puppets all the time, baffled me. I also puzzled over conversations constantly: do people actually talk like this to each other? Am I the one struggling to make a connection here? Feels like it, but I have to shrug and move on. This one’s obviously not for me. Not sure why, as it certainly resonated with plenty other readers.

Rating: Abandoned
288 pages, 2020

More opinions: Sam Still Reading
anyone else?

by Oliver La Farge

Set in the year 1915, in the Navajo nation. Laughing Boy is a young man attending a large gathering where there are dances, horse races, trading and gambling. He’s excited to compete with his favorite pony and make some good trades, but something momentous happens when Slim Girl catches his eye. He’s fascinated by her bold behavior, when she speaks to him directly (something a proper girl would never do) and on impulse, they decide soon after to run off and get married. Laughing Boy hears rumors from others and faces criticism from his family about Slim Girl- she’s bad they say. She’s not a proper Navajo. He doesn’t understand what they’re talking about. Slim Girl had been taken away by the Americans when she was a little girl, sent to a boarding school where her language and culture were forbidden (to put it mildly). She is full of bitterness against the Americans and desperately wants to rejoin The People. She sees her union with Laughing Boy as a way back in, and for a time, this seems to work. They set up a little household together on the outskirts of a small dusty American town, where Slim Girl has a job she doesn’t want to leave, quite yet. I was surprised after closing the final pages, to think back and realize how much Slim Girl reminded me of Scarlett in some aspects! She wanted security, wanted to earn and save up money so she and Laughing Boy could return with wealth to live among the Navajo among respect and admiration. Unfortunately, her means to that goal were also her undoing.

There were many parts of this story I really enjoyed. Reading of this young couple’s determination to flaunt the norms- Laughing Boy ignoring all the whispers about his wife and refusing to believe any ill of her, certain they were wrong and that he could make a happy home. Slim Girl’s stubborn desire to learn skills that were taken for granted by other Navajo women and she struggled with- mainly weaving, but other things as well. Their joy in each other, and the complications that arose when doubts crept into their relationship, becoming a gap they struggled to repair. The one thing I felt dubious about was the casual mention of Slim Girl’s years in the boarding school. While it was obvious she was somewhat traumatized and turned callous by that experience, I felt like it could have been dealt with in much greater depth. Perhaps it was written this way though, because most of the story is told from Laughing Boy’s perspective, and he never really understood what an impact that experience had on her.

This book won a Pulitzer in 1930. Sadly, it’s one of those that I feel dismayed about, when looking up more info after I’m done reading. The author is not Native American, he wrote from outside the culture, though he spent several years working in Navajo territory, and admired them greatly. But it sounds like he got a lot of it wrong: American Indians in Children’s Literature. Regardless, I still think it’s a good story, I’m just disappointed it’s got false portrayals. (And I would really like to know what aspects of the culture were inaccurate here, but I haven’t done the info digging to find out yet).

Rating: 4/5
302 pages, 1929

More opinions:
The Blue Bookcase
Musings
anyone else?

by Gail Honeyman

I really liked this book, and read it fairly quickly, although as some readers point out, it does have questionable inconsistencies. I didn’t really notice them while I was reading though, as I felt engrossed in the character’s viewpoint, interested to find out what had happened to her, and what her future would turn into. Rather like in Convenience Store Woman, the main character here is an eccentric who doesn’t fit into social norms. The comparison ends there, though. While I felt pretty sure that Keiko Furukura was autistic, this story is written as if the character’s oddities are due to her upbringing. I’m not sure if the author meant for her to have a mental illness or cognitive difference that her misfortunes exacerbated, or if she was suggesting that trauma was the main cause. Simply put: Eleanor is odd. She speaks formally, has rigid habits, avoids social gatherings, has huge gaps in her understanding of popular culture, and doesn’t recognize when others are making jokes at her expense. She’s fairly good at her office job and keeps telling herself that everything is just fine.

But it’s not. Eleanor is avoiding thinking about her painful past- and doesn’t want to discuss it when others bring things up or ask questions. She only happens to meet her co-worker Raymond from IT when he comes to fix her computer one day, and by chance they’re both outside when an elderly man collapses on the street and needs emergency assistance. They help the stranger, visit him in the hospital together, later start meeting for lunch, gradually become friends- and things start to change in Eleanor’s life. She wants to learn how to fit in, to maintain a facade of normalcy if she can, but her attempts are often downright funny and awkward. And her stress and fear when memories of the past arise, make the reader very sad. I’m glad this book didn’t dwell on the horrific incidents of her childhood. Too many stories about abused children go into a lot of detail that’s difficult to read. This story instead, is about what happened to an adult who survived, how it affected her adult life, and how she tried to change things, with the help of some kind people who looked past her weirdness and turned out to be good friends.

It moves really quickly through some aspects of her recovery, and I wouldn’t have minded the story being longer to give that more of a proper timeframe. I did think the whole scenario of Eleanor fixating on a performing musician as a love interest who would solve all her problems, very strange. It didn’t make sense to me until much later in the book, why she would have that kind of unrealistic, almost obsessive crush on a stranger. On the other hand, I really loved the inclusion of a cat in the story, who shows up near the end. It made me smile so much.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
328 pages, 2017

translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori

by Sayaka Murata

I really liked this book. I was surprised how short it was, so concise. I didn’t get far when I immediately agreed with the conclusion of many other readers: the main character, Keiko Furukura, appears to be on the autism spectrum. She’s always struggled with social interactions and her behavior as a child often drew concern and criticism from other parents. She sees her actions as perfectly logical, and doesn’t understand why her family wants to “cure” her. At eighteen, she gets a job in a convenience store that seems to fit her perfectly. She likes the order in the store, the clearly laid-out rules for tasks and what to say to customers. She’s pleased to have a place where she knows exactly what to do and how to fit in. Even parrots the phrases and inflections of others around her, and sneaks peeks at brand names on her female co-workers’ clothing tags, to figure out casual wear. She’s relatively happy working there, for over a decade.

But family and friends from school- all grown now and with their own husbands and children, ask her uncomfortable questions when they visit together. When will she get a real job? or a boyfriend? Keiko doesn’t understand why she needs those things. She has no interest in relationships with men. But she feels that this is another area where she needs to fit in, or be further ostracized. So she takes in a rather shiftless fellow as a border- thinking the appearance of having a man in her life will satisfy others. At first this seems to work out. But then things start changing in her life, more expectations are thrown at her, and her neatly ordered life is no longer so tidy.

So glad I read this one. It made me laugh and think and I only wish it had been longer. Not only did it present a from-the-inside look at one woman’s quiet and nonconforming lifestyle (why shouldn’t she keep her routine and job, even though others looked down on it?), but one of the other characters seemed to be Hikikomori, I don’t know if he was supposed to be one, but he reminded me of them.

I’m reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine next, which seems to have a similar kind of misfit character. Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
164 pages, 2016

by Abigail Ulman

Short stories, about young women- teenagers, or early twenties. All of them, far as I could tell, immigrants or students here in the US from abroad. I picked this one at random because the catalog said it was set in San Francisco, though some are in other places- Philadelphia, New York- in one story we’re never told where the girls are, because they don’t know themselves. I don’t quite know how to describe these. They felt very real and present- texting and smart phones, gender issues, human trafficking- and yet reminded me acutely of what it was like to be young, to be a university student, even though my experience in San Francisco was not like this (I didn’t go to clubs and bars, was never part of the dating scene, ha). I’m trying to figure out why these stories affected me so- sticking in my mind even though I found some of them distasteful (when described sex in too much detail). They depict girls and young women who are shallow, thoughtless, and make bad decisions- and yet they’re also victims of a system, of society and expectations and boredom. They can show streaks of kindness, or sudden insightful moments that seem beyond their years. In brief:

“Jewish History”- In history class students are asked to share experiences from Holocaust survivors in their families. Anya (from Russia) doesn’t have a story to tell. Then at home her parents remark on how she should appreciate what she’s got, as they went without and suffered for so many years, before they could emigrate. So next day Anya tells about the hard time her family went through (including her mother’s miscarriage), but is shut down in class- her story of suffering doesn’t count, it’s from the wrong era.

“Chagall’s Wife”- Sascha unexpectedly runs into her middle-aged teacher outside of school- sees him in a cafe and approaches to say hello. They end up spending the entire afternoon together- viewing art in a museum, going to a movie theater- and in the end, the reader suspects something else might happen, as he invites her to “go somewhere else”.

“The Withdrawl Method”- Claire finds out she’s pregnant, even though she thought she and her boyfriend were being careful. She bounces around between different casual friends- sharing her plan to get an abortion- and their responses are so varied. Flippant, cautionary, dismissive, angsty. She temporarily latches onto a different guy- met totally at random- he’s very levelheaded and kind about it, but seems a little confused by her. (I didn’t really get the point of this one).

“Warm-Ups”- four young Russian gymnasts are chosen to go with their coach to a conference in America, where they will perform to show off the skills he’s promoting. It seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, and Vera begs her parents to let her go- expenses are covered! But when they finally get there- barely able to speak or read English- she and the other pre-teen girls end up locked in a room that they suspect isn’t a hotel, and their coach has disappeared in a different taxi.

“Same Old Same As”- Ramona’s in therapy after suffering a bad injury from a space heater that caught fire and burned her leg. She tells the therapist about a moment when her step-father helped her out of the bath during her recovery care, and how uncomfortable it made her feel, and then starts describing the incident to others as sexual abuse. The story gets spread around school, she’s shocked at the amount of attention she gets, and other girls start sharing their stories with her- of men touching them inappropriately, or flashers, boys who casually convinced them to do things they didn’t really want to (sometimes in front of others), a cousin of a friend who was date raped, etc. She realizes that her experience was not unique- but also that hers wasn’t as serious? and then things escalate when a friend’s parent reports Ramona’s incident to the school- she finds herself at a meeting to determine if they should call child protection services.

“The Pretty One”- This girl is suddenly captivated by a guy she sees in a club. She finds out his name, his friends, where he works, and convinces him to date her. Even though they have nothing in common, she forces herself into his group of friends, his interests, etc- trying so hard to make it work when it’s obvious it never will.

“Head to Toe”- Two friends start to feel uninterested in all the usual parties, girl drama and shopping sprees. They ask their parents to take them back to a horse camp they’d been to as kids together. They’re put in a cabin with three younger girls- nine and ten-year-olds (which is a huge age difference when you’re fourteen). They enjoy riding the horses, and snub the younger girls until find them fighting and in tears after a game of “telling secrets.” The older girls smooth things over in what I thought was a very thoughtful manner, but later when they’re relating it to their own friends back home, they are completely dismissive and then fall right back into the party scene. I liked this one, until the end of it.

“Plus One”- I didn’t get this. At all. Girl has been writing a blog forever, gets an offer on a book deal. Has trouble writing and starts to feel terrified of the deadline. So she decides to get pregnant so she’ll have an excuse not to work. She convinces a friend- who is gay of all things- to be the father- and then has the baby, against everyone’s advice to stop this awful plan. And then her whole life changes when the baby arrives. The ending relieved me (I was worried it would take a different turn) but also left me wondering: why?

“Your Charm Won’t Help You Here”- Foreign student from London who’s been living in San Francisco, is travelling back there after a vacation somewhere else, and gets detained at the airport by homeland security. They don’t tell her much but it becomes apparent she’s overstayed her time as a student and is suspected of trying to actually immigrate. She spends hours being questioned (in a maddeningly circular conversation) and then is detained overnight in jail with a Russian woman who is even more confused than she is. Returned to the airport the following morning, not sure where she’s going to end up, the whole thing baffling, stressful, frightening and surreal.

I’m leaving out so many details- these were like little snippets of life, and they interlaced in a loose manner- a character from one story would refer to someone in another- as if they knew each other outside these pages. I kind of want to read some of them over again, even though there were parts that made me uncomfortable. I did feel like some of the stories dropped off suddenly- did Sascha go with her teacher home to his apartment? was the ending of “Warm-Ups” really heading where I thought it was?- but I suspect the author did that to maintain a sense of tension, which I surely felt.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
354 pages, 2015

More opinions: Books Are My Favorite and Best
anyone else?

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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