These are micro-reviews I posted recently on the delightful Facebook readers’ group, First Edition, sponsored by the London Times.
Just finished The Wallcreeper, by Nell Zink, and enjoyed it thoroughly! It’s a bit farcical, but not so much that it becomes shallow, and it is by turns, and often simultaneously, witty, cynical, intentionally naive, full of perfect aperçues and allusions, sometimes poignant, and always spectacularly (though most times unobtrusively) well-written.
It mixes environmentalism, birdwatching (a wallcreeper is a type of bird), culture clashes, love, fidelity, adultery, bureaucracy, and even a dash of thoroughly unsentimental self-actualization, with an actual storyline.
I laughed a good bit while reading it–happy laughs.
The Goodreads synopsis does it no justice at all, but I hope I can recommend it fervently enough to send a few of you scurrying to bookstore, library, or keyboard to give it a try. A short little book, great fun, and even meaningful in an assiduously quirky way.
Just finished Haruki Murakami’s short story collection, Men without Women.
Overall very good: the stories were for the most part realistic and dealt mostly with loneliness and confusing relationships. The second-to-last, however, was a facile inversion of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and my impression of the last and title story is that it needed to be a bit longer; the rhythm was off. But a damned good collection. Not much of his trademark magical realism, if you’re looking for that, so be aware.
The book’s title was confusing: it clearly references an early collection of Hemingway’s stories, which bore the same title, but Murakami’s tales are (with the exception of the last two) clearly Chekhovian–one even references Chekhov directly. But that’s a quibble. If you like good short stories, it’s worth reading. Fine work well translated.
Just finished re-reading Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, and what a perfect little book it is! Written in a very restrained yet poetic style, full of nuance, and in the end sad yet unabashedly beautiful. It’s the story of a widow who asks her widower neighbor to keep her platonic company in the night (they are both around seventy), and how it plays out through the growth of their own feelings, the attitudes of the small-town folk around them, and the reactions of their children. (I won’t be more specific–no spoilers here!) I picked it up again in the library by accident, but although I realized I’d already read it before I finished the first paragraph, I remembered how good it is and kept on reading. Very short, but worthy.