Here, as promised, is what I read besides the group selection in the last month or so:
1. The Memory of Running by Ron McClarty
Promotional materials for the book compare the protagonist, Smithy Ide, to Holden Caulfield and Yossorian. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would recommend this one who has a soft spot for highly flawed heroes. Smithy Ide begins the novel as an alcoholic, chain smoking, obese man in his forties with no close friends and a dead-end job. I personally have a soft spot for anyone leading a grand and glorious life of failure, I must say, but I really liked Smithy and felt empathy almost instantly because he is not at all self-pitying; his life has simply turned out as it has. He learns first of the deaths of his parents, then of the death of his sister, Bethany, long tormented by a psychiatric disorder. Smithy finds his old bike and sets of on a quest that will lead him from the East to the California funeral parlor where his sister’s remains are being kept. Along the way, his tales from childhood are charming and touching. As is often the case in novels about quests and rites of passage, Smithy sheds some of his old habits and becomes a much better version of himself, encountering someone or something leading to his enlightenment at every stop. My only quarrel with the book, in fact, is that Smithy’s journey doesn’t quite meet my standards for believability. His transformation seems a bit too complete, his overall growth experience seems to involve far less pain than I’d expect him to endure under the circumstances, and his luck and the level of sheer frequency with which he encounters someone helpful or something intriguing along the way seems a bit too high. But my expectations of believability have often been labeled a bit high, and I’m particularly hard on happy endings in this regard.
Yet another love-it-or-hate-it book. If you generally like the main genres and conventions at play in this text–flawed protagonists and rites of passage/on-the-road quests/journeys of self-actualization, you’ll probably enjoy this one, as I mostly did. If this kind of thing drives you up the wall, as it does many readers, then you and this book really need to stay far away from each other.
2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
First off, thanks to a few newcomers who recommended this book to me at our last meeting. I am very enthusiastic in saying this one gets my highest recommendation for practically anyone in the group to enjoy. Thank you. I am sorry I missed it before and about as pleased as I get on new books to have now read it.
The only negative thing I would say about this book is that because it is eerily realistic in its descriptions of the mundane facts of human existence, there are a few moments that could set the stomach a little woozy. Yes, 500+ pages read, and only that small nit for the picking.
One of those few books that made me wish that I had the depth of insight and writing skill that the author exhibits without ever bothering to consider whether I could. I couldn’t. Usually, when someone says a book is funny, I can see where he/she gets that idea, and I nod at the appropriate places, I think. But on this one, I laughed out loud numerous times and sort of sat there dissecting the reason I was laughing because I was impressed by how cleverly crafted the humor was. This book also moved me to tears at a few points. Yet I didn’t feel as if I had been yanked hither and thither by some emotional chain as I sometimes do.
Oh, what’s it about? The plot lines are clear and well-crafted, but somehow it never occurs to me to mention what it’s “about” when recommending it to others, which I’ve done several times since I finished it just this past week. But anyway, it’s about an elderly couple, Alfred, whose health is declining because of Parkinson’s (and the portrayal of this process proves quite thought-provoking) and Enid, who wants to have one last Christmas with her husband and three adult children at her home in Midwestern St. Jude. As the book returns at various points to Enid’s wish, (and thus has just enough plot structure but nothing so heavy to render the text one of those “page-turners” I end up reading hungrily to find out “what happens” but also end up finishing quickly with little attention to anything besides the plot) we get to know her three adult children. Okay, “dysfunctional” may be the first word that comes to mind when I think about Gary, Chip, and Denise as a group, but for the novel’s merit, this is really a good thing–all three are very well-rounded and likeable (although the likeable part may be just me, but even with the one I found the least compelling, Gary, I was amused rather than annoyed mostly. And/or the novel got me to think about what makes people with certain types of personalitities tick) characters.
And just one last time: this one gets my highest recommendation. It will probably be longer than I would like before I can say that again about another novel. One of the best books I’ve read in quite some time.
And one again, that’s all from me. What are you all reading that you think the rest of us should or shouldn’t be? Let us know in your comments.