Elvis Babbitt, who shares a name and birthday with the King of Rock & Roll, is the precocious and obsessive protagonist of Annie Hartnett’s Rabbit Cake. Elvis’s peculiar proclivities stem in part from her mother, a failed naturalist who settled for teaching in community college in Alabama. Mom herself harbors quite a bit of quirk. For one, she always makes her daughters, Elvis and Lizzie, rabbit-shaped cakes complete with raspberry blood for their birthdays. But that isn’t the only weird thing about Mom. Continue reading
I have read a lot of books this year (124 as of today), some of them amazing, some of them egregiously bad. These are my top five favorite novels I read this year.
On its surface, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a deeply disturbing story of a woman’s descent into madness. But don’t let the surface fool you. At its core, this novel is about the rules for femininity that confine Korean society. I highly recommend The Vegetarian by Han Kang. It’s astonishing (but tight!) prose and highly significant subject matter would make it the perfect book for readers of literary fiction and maybe even for book clubs that want to push the envelope and spark discussion. Read the rest of my review. Continue reading
Full of turmoil, love, loss, and pain, Lindsey Lee Johnson’s The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is a complex meditation on privilege and the crucible that is adolescence. Set in Mill Valley, California, at the real life Tamalpais High School, the story centers on a fledgling teacher, Molly Nicoll, as she discovers and comes to terms with the complex lives of her students and her role (or absence) in their evolution as people. With perspectives that alternate between Molly and the main group of her students, Johnson weaves a series of interconnected life stories that create a portrait not only of the idyllic Mill Valley, with its towering redwoods and foggy views of San Francisco Bay, she creates a portrait from the inside, from the multifaceted and often breaking hearts of the teenagers who are beginning their lives there. Continue reading
Margaret Atwood’s latest novel, Hag-Seed, the latest in Hogarth Shakespeare’s series of modern retellings, interprets The Tempest in a technique that layers contemplation, action, and exegesis.
This is the second of the Hogarth Shakespeare series that I have read, and so far, it is the strongest. However, The Tempest is probably one of Shakespeare’s plays that I know the least. That being said, I wasn’t comparing and contrasting the original versus the interpretation; and this version, more than anything, acts as an exegesis, a teaching text, of the original.
Set in a Canadian prison, the main character Felix Philips teaches literacy through theater, but his endeavor isn’t completely altruistic. In the beginning of the novel, Felix is the main director at the semi-famous Makeshewig Festival, but he’s going off the deep end. He takes too many directorial risks, and many of the people he works with want him out. This makes it all the easier for Tony, his highest underling in the theater company, to usurp his place as director and have him fired. Continue reading
Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt has been difficult for me to review. I finished it a few days ago, and since then, I’ve been ruminating on it.
In its essence, Cruel Beautiful World is a novel about family and love. But the horrible underside of humanity is afoot as well. Yes, it takes place during the same time as the Manson murders, but that isn’t the true specter that hangs over the characters’ psyches. The true roots of the novel’s conflict lie in the question: How well can we really know the ones we love?
The climax and denouement of Cruel Beautiful World answer this question two ways. Without giving you any spoilers, I’ll say that one represents the beautiful and one represents the cruel. Continue reading
The Ballroom, a novel by Anna Hope, is a book with a split personality. That is pretty ironic considering that it is set in an early 20th century mental hospital on the English moors. Truthfully, I was a bit wary of the subject matter at first. Many authors have a tendency to either romanticize or vilify people with mental illness. Although The Ballroom centers around a romance, the greatest accomplishment of the novel is that it does neither, instead portraying the characters as human being with thoughts, fears, and troubles just like anyone else. Hope also seeks to enlighten her readers with the lesser-known treatment of those who are mentally ill. To do this, Hope writes a doctor character who wishes to take part in the implementation of a eugenics program in England, starting with Sharston, the mental institution where the novel takes place. Continue reading
“It’s your body, you can treat it as you please. The only area where you’re free to do just as you like. And even that doesn’t turn out how you wanted,” (Kang 182).
On its surface, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a deeply disturbing story of a woman’s descent into madness. But don’t let the surface fool you. At its core, this novel is about the rules for femininity that confine Korean society.
While The Vegetarian is divided into three sections, each section centers on the main character, Yeong-hye. It is absolutely vital to the novel’s message that the story be told from outside points of view. The first two of these perspectives are male: Yeong-hye’s husband and Yeong-hye’s brother in law.
From her husband’s perspective, Yeong-hye’s first symptom of insanity is that she stops eating or cooking meat, in direct disobedience to her husband and father. This section comes to a head when her father tries to physically force Yeong-hye to eat meat. Yeong-hye resists, and in an act of defiance, she cuts herself with a knife.
Review of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
I’ve been waiting all year for a book to break my heart, and this is it. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood lives up to its title, showing life in all its light and darkness, all the pain and relief. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is a love story, but I wouldn’t call it a romance novel. It revolves around a girl named Wavonna Quinn, Wavy for short, and her love for Jesse Joe Kellen. This coming-of-age story spans thirteen years, through which Wavy deals with abuse from her parents and psychological trauma as well as the usual trappings of growing up, like school. Throughout these years, Kellen is her rock, her one constant. Sounds pretty standard, right?
I went into my reading of June by Miranda Beverly-Wittemore with excitement. The blurbs all touted its portrayal of Hollywood’s golden age. Murder, you say? Dark family secrets? All in a beautiful mansion that has fallen into disrepair? That’s totally in my wheelhouse, so I jumped on it as soon as I could. By now, I should know better than to go into a novel with so many expectations. Luckily, I wasn’t totally let down. Although June is far from being perfect, it ultimately delivers on its promises with a very satisfying end.
June switches between two years, 1955 and 2015. In 1955, a Hollywood movie crew has come to St. Jude, Ohio (which reminded me of Winesburg, Ohio, *shudder*), and June—the character, not the month in which both time periods stay—falls in love with a dashing Hollywood star, Jack Montgomery. Intrigue, murder, and blackmail all follow. It’s too bad that Beverly-Wittemore saves these until the last 3rd of the book. In the 2015 sections, Cassie Danvers, who has been living in her grandmother June’s decaying mansion since June’s death, receives word that she will inherit millions from Jack Montgomery, this famous Old Hollywood movie star who she has never met. Tate Montgomery, Jack’s starlet daughter, isn’t exactly keen on this idea. So Tate comes to Winesburg—I mean, St. Jude—to get Cassie to take a DNA test.