Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are two skills I admire most in the authors I read: the ability to write thoughtful, beautiful prose and the ability to write a page turner. The odd thing is these skills work against each other. Beautiful prose slows or even stops readers, while well crafted, functional prose, along with a unique, fascinating combination of plot and characters pushes readers forward, demanding their attention even when they're exhausted and worried about getting up for work the next day.

Anthony Marra's skill with language is evident on every page in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Here's an example:

...the absence isn’t immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the past, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it.

As with all Marra's quotes, this is my favorite until I read the next one.

The plot covers the brutality of the Second Chechen War, with some reflection on the First Chechen War. I know surprisingly little about wars in which the USA wasn't a participant, so the subject matter was riveting. And the complex characters care about each other in a desperate manner that seems to fit a war zone. There is plenty of sacrifice mixed with fear and hatred, enough to produce a number of excellent, interrelated, emotional subplots.

It's not a page turner, but I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

FaithfulFaithful by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I'm looking for something interesting to read and I'm not in the mood to experiment, I often turn to Alice Hoffman, one of my favorite writers. She's written over thirty books and the ones I've read have all been good (The River King, The Red Garden, The Third Angel, and, The Dovekeepers). Faithful is another example of well developed characters set in an interesting plot.

Shelby Richmond and her best friend, Helene, are in a car accident just before they are to graduate from high school. The weather was bad, with icy roads they should have avoided, but Helene insisted and Shelby, who was driving, gave in. After the accident, Helene was left comatose and Shelby is wracked with guilt.

“People say if you face your worst fear, the rest is easy, but those are people who are afraid of rattlesnakes or enclosed spaces, not of themselves and the horrible things they've done.”

The story is about Shelby's path after that life changing event, but more than that, it is about her relationships with the people who help her along the way.

My favorite character is Ben Mink, a classmate of Shelby's who suffers with the more common insecurities of teenagers. While in school, he felt like a dork, but was enamored of both Shelby and Helene. After the accident, he became Shelby's friend/drug dealer, with an emphasis on the first of those two roles. It is fascinating to watch him grow over time and to see how he helps Shelby deal with her issues.

I had an issue with the way Hoffman chose to end the book. Without discussing specifics, I will say she seemed determined to avoid making the novel ending too pat. Although there was something going on throughout the story that pointed toward the ending Hoffman chose, it wasn't fully developed and felt as if it had come out of nowhere (deus ex machina). But this was minor, considering the overall beauty of the book.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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