Sunday, September 18, 2011

Just Shelved

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of the better Best American collections I've read. There weren't any stories I disliked, though as usual, some were far more memorable than others. Here are the gold star stories:

E.L. Doctorow's "A House on the Plains"--So creepy and well-done in its incremental reveal of disturbing information. Pitch perfect voice.

Melissa Hardy's "The Heifer"--Not as striking as some of the others, but great prose and a bit of comedy, too.

Alice Mattison's "In Case We're Separated"--A more traditional relationship story, but very well-done, with a poignant ending.

Jill McCorkle's "Billy Goats"--Worth a read for the communal narration.

Alice Munro's "Family Furnishings"--Of course. And extra intriguing for its glimpse into autobiographical details of this master's life. The finest story of the collection, in my opinion.

The stories by Akhil Sharma, Mary Yukari Waters, and Tom McNeal--all excellent family stories. Quite different from one another, but I enjoyed all three.

Jim Shepard's "Love and Hydrogen"--Sent me straight to Google afterwards to read up on the Hindenburg disaster. Probably my second favorite of the collection. How does he do it?! He enters the past and makes it new, fantastical, and wonderfully human. No small feat when one chooses to write about already word-saturated events.

Also liked Arthur Miller and Leonard Michaels' stories. So, actually, I suppose I'd recommend almost all of the stories.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Just Shelved

Justine (The Alexandria Quartet, #1)Justine by Lawrence Durrell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Like a banana going soft on your counter, smelling overwhelmingly--cloyingly--of itself, there seems to be something too intense about the prose in Justine, too intense about the destructive love affair it desultorily describes and discards.

I had to throw out the banana. I couldn't finish it.

If that sounds vaguely phallic to you, then I see I've hit the right tone for Durrell's prose. It's a shame, because I can honestly say that his writing in Prospero's Cell--a magical travelogue/sketch diary about the isle of Corfu--was some of the best I have ever read. Just incandescent. The prose here, however, feels bloated. I suppose it mirrors its subject somewhat: Alexandria. Can a city be bloated? Perhaps with trash and tragedy and poverty--the Alexandria inhabited by Justine and the narrator.

Read until you reach the famous line about cities taking on a new meaning once you love someone within the city. Then, honestly, you don't have to continue.

(I may actually pick Justine up again, since it does provide an interesting version of the metafictional novel. It wasn't right for me this time around, however.)

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