Continuing my record of books I read while on blogging break. If you want to chat about any of these, please comment! (There are mostly taken from my Goodreads account because I did manage to make notes there in September.)
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim: The central mystery in this book is ingeniously structured, with one revelation following after another so that I had to keep reading so see how it all shook out. But each character’s actions feel engineered to bring about these events, both those that led up to the tragedy and those that led up to the resolution. Many of the nuances around complex issues (mostly involving immigration, disability, and parenting) are presented, which is great, but it felt too tidy somehow, as if the characters are created as representatives of particular points of view on complex issues, rather than themselves being robust, interesting, complex people in their own right. I cared a lot less about them as people than I did about just seeing what was going to happen.
Spring by Ali Smith: In general, I don’t have a lot of patience these days for books that are mostly showcases for great writing without much plot. Ali Smith is an exception, though. I just love the way she writes about our current moment and the ways people are grappling with it. This didn’t punch me in the gut the way Autumn did, but I liked it more than I did Winter, which didn’t make much of an impression on me. It wasn’t entirely clear to me what some of the characters, especially the magical Florence, were up to, but it doesn’t feel like a book where everything is supposed to be clear.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: This story about a mixed-race (Chinese and white) family dealing with the sudden disappearance of the favorite daughter is compelling and highly emotional. But the emotional beats are too obvious to make it a great book. There’s just no subtlety to the storytelling. But, given my preference for straightforward storytelling these days, I was pretty happy to read this, even if it wasn’t entirely satisfying.
Lanny by Max Porter: It took me a while to get interested in this. The first half, which is mostly setting the scene and establishing characters, went on longer than necessary, and I began to worry that there would be little more to the book than Lanny’s oddness and characters’ reactions to it. And a whole book just like that would have been too much. But the book makes two big shifts along the way that kept me interested. Porter’s style works with the possibly magical nature of the plot, but I wouldn’t have wanted this to be any longer than it was.
Daisy Jones and the Six by Tara Jenkins Reid: I enjoy oral histories, so a whole novel that’s a made up oral history was extremely appealing to me, and I ended up enjoying this quite a lot. I especially enjoyed seeing the characters contradict each other. The story itself doesn’t offer any huge surprises, but I appreciated that it didn’t go for the most melodramatic and soapy storyline, choosing instead to focus on commitment and the different forms love takes. There is a bit of a gimmick toward the end that, to me, didn’t add anything to the story. And the supposedly brilliant song lyrics, interspersed throughout the book and collected at the end, didn’t impress me much. Maybe it would have been better to have left more of them to the imagination.
Everything Everything by Nicole Yoon: This was an entertaining, quick read. I especially enjoyed the way Yoon incorporated Maddy’s journal entries, emails, IMs, drawings, etc. It’s the kind of storytelling I frequently enjoy and it’s done well here. I had some minor issues with the premise early on, but most of those were resolved as the story went on; however, the resolution had the effect of also resolving the book’s central problem in a way that felt like a cheat designed to avoid the central problem of the book.
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich: Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite writers, and I enjoyed this book about Father Damien Modeste. Father Damien is a priest to the Ojibwe, but he was born and woman and adopted his male persona almost by chance. Erdrich does some interesting things with gender here, using both male and female pronouns for Father Damien, depending on the moment and the priest’s state of mind. But Father Damien’s gender really isn’t the focus of the book. Instead, its the relationship the priest forms with the people and how they shape him. I was a little too fatigued when I read this to pick up all all the nuances, but that just gives me reason to revisit it someday.
The Wall by John Lanchester: This was an entertaining but not especially complex book about a world where borders are carefully monitored after a climate disaster (or series of disasters) has made resources scarce. The main character is, like everyone of his generation, assigned to serve as a guard on the wall, which is a tough life, but a temporary one. Despite it being about a Wall, it doesn’t particularly say much that’s new or revelatory about our current moment. People on both sides of the wall are people. Life is hard in a crisis. Etc. It is, however, a pretty decent adventure story, and I liked it on that level.
The Institute by Stephen King: More reliable entertainment from Stephen King. This book is about a group of kids who have telekinetic and telepathic powers are imprisoned in an institute where they are fed and housed and forced to undergo a bunch of tests until they are eventually taken to the “Back Half,” never to return. Luke, the central character, doesn’t have a lot of power, but he’s super-smart, and it’s fun to watch him work out what’s happening and develop a plan. There are some over-the-top moments along the way, but this was still sufficiently entertaining and often extremely suspenseful.