Martin Dressler: Overview

Martin Dressler coveruh…huh.

Tl; Dr

A Dreiser-esque bildungsroman makes sense until about 80% of the way through, at which point it turns abruptly into a completely different novel written by R.L. Stine. At least, it’s what I imagine a Goosebumps to be like. I was always too chicken to read them.

That’s not a great summary.

Martin Dressler is an entrepreneur. We watch him grow from childhood, get his first job, and climb to heights no one could have predicted. He builds an empire of hotels, which ends spectacularly–in more ways than one.

Writing Style

I will say, the writer is consistent throughout. As I said in a previous post, he writes very much in the style of Theodore Dreiser. You’re really immersed in the world and mind of the characters, but it’s heavy on the facts and light on emotive elements. I love the style. It’s vivid in the way a good expose in Rolling Stone is vivid. And towards the end, even though the story goes full-on bat poop, the writing is the same. It’s just that, now, someone’s writing a good expose on a a circus-themed nightmare he had.


Martin is the main character, and he’s not likeable. You root for him anyway, because he’s a visionary. He also does some admirable things. His ambition causes him to aim high, and it’s hard not to cheer as he refuses to sell his ideas short. He ignores prejudices of his age and has a competent woman as his closest business confidant. But he’s unfaithful and a bully and entitled and, at the end, melodramatic.

Martin’s wife is also insufferable. She reminds me of Linton from Wuthering Heights–frail, waifish, self absorbed. I will say she isn’t whiny, though. Just a total waste of oxygen. Anyone around her has no choice but to make their lives about her or suffer the consequences. Now, you know I don’t mind unlikable characters, as long as they’re interesting. This one is not. And things end ridiculously with this character. Absolutely absurdly.

Anyway, characters are not the selling point of this book. The story is. Well, 80% of the story is. I don’t even know what the last 20% of this book was.


I loved reading about the beginning of Martin’s life. As a bellboy, he notices details like the texture of luggage and the shine of brass, and the way he describes the bustle and brightness of the lobby is entrancing.

It was also great to watch Martin’s empire grow. You get to see the nuts and bolts of how he used new marketing techniques and how he found people with complementary skill sets.

There are good things about this book. I enjoyed reading it. UNTIL.

FWIW (My Opinion)

What in god’s name was this author doing. <– That was rhetorical.

The shift from a grounded, great-documentary-style to this starkly contrasting horror fantasy at the end was so utterly bizarre that I felt like my head was spinning, Exorcism-style (which would have been in place with this ending). Let me explain.

You’re just reading a story where Martin is building more and more experimental hotels, imagining whole villages underground with stores and themed activities and–kind of like one of the more over-the-top cruise ships, frankly. And then, all of a sudden, everything is totally out of control. But not in a way that feels like plot continuation. More like a way that feels like the author had a mental breakdown.

I won’t throw a spoiler out there, but Martin’s wife does something in contrast to every non-fantastic thing this book stood for until this point. After this, we’ll further see that all bets are off for realism. The new hotel Martin builds is like a freak show combined with a brothel combined with a nonstop pagan ritual. It’s like you’re in the casinos in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas after taking everything potent in the suitcase and having it go very badly for you–in other words, totally incongruous with the rest of the novel. The switch happens without warning, for the most part. I was turning pages in total disbelief that this was the same book.

I cannot understand for the life of me what the idea was here. I mean, I read a bit about Millhauser, and it sounds like he was indeed trying to transition into the fantastic, but gradually and elegantly. That transition was about as gradual and elegant as slamming into a brick wall at 70 miles an hour. I’d say the ending is unsatisfying, but it didn’t even feel like I was the conclusion of the same story.

Guys, hard pass. Too bad. It was good reading until things went nuts.

Hyperion: Overview


Cover of Hyperion by Dan SimmonsBlog post subjects over the last four years will show that science fiction hasn’t historically been my jam. I read much of Jules Verne’s works over the years, and the husband and I were putzing through the Stranger in a Strange Land audiobook. (We stopped because there was a glitch in the app we were using, and we never picked it back up–no knock on the book, really.) But that’s about where my sci-fi journey ends.

We bought Hyperion on Audible because it was a favorite of my husband’s when he was younger. The way he described it was intriguing–an involved, imaginative system of future worlds imagined by author Dan Simmons, conveyed through the personal stories of pilgrims off to see the world’s creepiest deity: the Shrike. So into the car speakers it went.

Tl;dr Synopsis

With a war that may destroy humanity on the horizon, seven people are summoned to go on a pilgrimage to see the Shrike, a giant, walking Ginsu knife set who probably didn’t get very many hugs as a child, what with the being made of sharpness and all. (Just kidding. The Shrike was probably never a child. It was never innocent.) To pass the nights on the way to see this metal nightmare, the pilgrims decide to tell their stories. Most of the book consists of the personal stories, and each pilgrim has a strange, usually sad connection to the world of Hyperion and this uber-terrifying Lord of Slicing and Dicing.

Writing Style

You know, the writing (other than the obnoxious use of ellipses as throat clearing) is way better that I would have thought. This is terrible of me, but I assume books that are very plot/action-centric will be designed with writing quality taking a backseat to various happenings–that, at best, writing will not get in the way of the plot. But the writing style of Hyperion was consistently elegant and creative, I thought. The dialogue could be over the top, especially in the beginning when the author was trying to establish the different personalities of the seven pilgrims. But to be fair, that’s a really hard thing to do: introduce seven characters and expect your reader to keep them straight. It was when Simmons wrote the lines for the poet that he went most over the top, but I also found the poet’s lines were the ones that most often the showcased what Simmons could do with the written word. I also think Simmons is a well-rounded reader himself. His many references to classic and contemporary lit weren’t lost on me. Much of Hyperion revolves around John Keats, and I thought that was a nice touch. Simmons’ writing did his references justice.


The characters won’t be your life-changing new best friends, but they’re decently developed and seldom cliche. All are quite serious, with the possible exception of the poet. I was quite pleased with the woman character being second on the list of most capable fighters on the quest and that Simmons made her of a stocky, muscular race.  Some of the characters are obnoxious–the poet is bawdy and full of cursing. And while the scholar is in possession of a heartbreaking story, there’s a current of pretentiousness and self-importance that runs just under the surface of all that he says. But overall, I think Simmons did a pretty good job with the people who populate his book.


I personally found the very first story the most moving (and the most horrifying). The poet’s story is fascinating as well, and so much understanding of the Shrike, the history of Hyperion, and why things are the way they are come in his chapter. The last story is a little male-gaze-y (please, make sure I’m always up-to-the-moment on the texture of the female character’s breasts), but it becomes very moving at the end. It’s also a familiar story. The cruelties of colonization is a song being played on repeat throughout history, and I think Simmons would argue that it will continue playing as long as humanity is around.

Who Should Read this Book

I don’t think you have to be a sci-fi fan to love this book. It’s a fabulous choice if you’re looking for an “escape novel,” one you’d read every night to take a break from your own life. It isn’t exactly uplifting, but reading it was a great experience.

For What It’s Worth (A.K.A. My Opinion)

I just adored some things about this book. One: there’s a skillfully executed mimicking of The Canterbury Tales‘s structure. Two: I thought the in medias res intro left enough to imagination but not so much that it was too confusing. Related: the way each story filled in blanks bit by bit was quite satisfying. It was generally a great device for story creation. I’m having trouble thinking of anyone who’s done this in the same way. The mini-stories themselves are all very involving and inventive.

As you saw, I have a few bones to pick with the book. But it’s really very few. As few bones as you’d have attached to your skin after the Shrike fillets you.


Interpreter of Maladies: Overview

Interpreter of Maladies CoverI’ve actually had Interpreter of Maladies on my bookshelf since it was published. I think maybe my grandmother gave it to me right when it came out. The cover is very familiar to me, but I’d never read it until now. My loss.

This will be short, but don’t take it as a knock on the book. It’s good. It’s no Crime and Punishmentof course. But I liked reading it.

Tl; Dr

This is a easy, quick read. It’s series of short stories that focus on the intersection of Indian and American culture. Many stories are about marriage and the comforts found in reminders of home.

Writing Style

Though the book is vivid at times, it’s mostly subdued and quiet. The first story, about a couple who has experienced a recent miscarriage, was the most haunting for me. But many of the stories had the same echoing resonance as this first one, kind of clanging around in my head after they’ve concluded.

Lahiri’s style is indistinct to me, but that’s not really a criticism. Her writing does not get in the way of the stories. She conveys them with ease, without including the distractions more amateur writers will throw in. She is a teller of interesting tales, and while her style is elegant and serious, it is also not the kind of voice you would recognize if you read something she wrote.


There aren’t a lot of characters that stand out to me. It’s hard to develop deep characters in a short story, and I think only the most masterful of short story magicians (ah, Karen Russell!) can do such a thing. There are some unusual and interesting folks that you’ll meet in Interpreter of Maladies: the observant interpreter himself; Bibi Haldar, the outcast old-maid-in-the-making; and eccentric Twinkle, who so obliviously leaves her husband feeling alone in the marriage. But I had to really think about it to remember characters that I thought stood out. It’s the stories that stick with you.


I kind of think that these are nicely ordered from fantastic to medium to good, story-wise. The biggest snoozers in the middle, and the first three stories are especially gorgeous.

Story one, “A Temporary Matter,” is the pinnacle of Interpreter of Maladies, to me. The couple’s sorrow and emptiness is heartbreaking, though not as heartbreaking as their hope, if that makes sense.

“When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine,” the second story, is about a child whose family has a visitor that treats her with kindness. Over time, she realizes that he has his own family far away and she could never serve as a replacement for his flesh and blood. It’s piquant and sweet.

The eponymous story, story three, is about a translator turned tour guide. For just a moment, he becomes wrapped up in a family’s life as he drives them around India. But in the midst of the trip, he sees to the heart of the family’s dysfunction.

These three stories especially are worth reading, though I also have a soft spot for “This Blessed House” and “The Third and Final Continent” as well.

FWIW (My Opinion)

Most stories contained in Interpreter of Maladies are sad ones, tinged with homesickness, showing characters reaching out to the place of their roots. There is lots of cooking and lots of market shopping in the books, and there are many ways that the characters feel caught between two cultures, even if they can’t articulate what they’re feeling. I thought it was a great read. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something short, especially if they have interest in Indian culture. It isn’t lighthearted, that’s for certain. But most good lit isn’t.

Aaaaand Updates!

Moving on…lord, I’m trying to read The Stranger. It is going badly.

The Pulitzers came out recently, and I figured I had a bit of catching up to do (plus I missed one when I was skipping through the early 2000-aughts). So I snagged The Stranger, winner of 2016’s prize, thinking I’d take a detour for a more recent bearer of the gold seal. I don’t know if I can make it. It is utterly uninvolving.

Also, the husband and I are audiobook-reading Dan Simmon’s sci-fi opus Hyperion. That is going way better. I’m thrilled with the imagination of this author. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. But more on that later.



Empire Falls: Overview

A Twitter user with the handle @writing_class tweeted this picture:


That’s a perfect way to describe how I’ve been feeling about everything I’ve been reading lately, Empire Falls by Richard Russo being no exception.

Tl;Dr Synopsis

In Empire Falls, a mild-mannered but frustrated Boomer protagonist watches his life fading away. He wonders how to reach for more than running a diner in the small, fading town he never really left, full of people he grew up with. Over the course of the book, he begins to understand things about his past and how people in the town may be more strangely interconnected than he first suspected, and he sees that he will have to fight to give his daughter something better.

Writing Style

Russo’s style is dry. You won’t get a lot of editorializing from the author, certainly. But that’s not necessarily a knock. The thoughts and speech and actions of the characters are what move the book, and the author does a really great job of letting the conversations sculpt the characters instead of their stories or the author’s description. His style’s ancestor is Hemingway, and a more recent comparison I’d make is to Elizabeth Strout. The main thing that sets him apart is humor. Russo is funny, in a serious way. This shows up right near the beginning of the book:

Whiting men, all of whom seemed to be born with sound business sense, each invariably gravitated, like moths to a flame, toward the one woman in the world who would regard making them utterly miserable as her life’s noble endeavor, a woman who would remain bound to her husband with the same grim tenacity that bound nuns to the suffering Christ.

And the characters he’s really poured love into (those will be obvious when you read the book) are immensely snarky. They’re passive aggressive and get walked all over, but it’s great when they talk back. It’s another way he puts humor into the book.

This story moves very slowly, and Russo is a quiet writer. Much like his characters, you have to listen up to hear him.


Empire Falls CoverMiles Roby and his daughter Tick are the previously mentioned characters the author loves. Really, nearly everyone else in the book is perfectly hateable. Janine, Miles’ ex-wife, is vapid and childish, though it’s sometimes easy to take her side when you see what she’s been handed. Her fiancee (who likes to call himself the Silver Fox) is a preening boar. Jimmy Minty, the town cop, is close to pure evil–a result of crippling insecurity and a never-ending persecution complex. Ug, and Miles’ father Max is just insufferable. He’s so pathetic and obnoxious that it almost makes it hard to get through the book. Luckily, Miles and Tick are there to quietly hate on everyone under their breath for our amusement.

In this fading, formerly industrial world located in rural Maine, there’s still a Rockefeller figure that owns half the town. She, too, is pretty evil, but she’s very fun to read. Clever, jaded, and sharp as a tack, this old queen of Empire Falls plays puppetmaster throughout most of the story. The plot involving her, Miles’ mother, and the old mill-running family is the real draw of the book, but there are a number of good things happening throughout. There’s a strand that follows Janine and one that follows Tick at school. There’s of course the day-to-day for Miles, though that’s hardly interesting. And maybe that’s the point.

The pulse behind all the characters in the book is that they feel trapped in a town that’s dying and the’re powerless to do anything except watch minute after minute go by, everything always decaying–fast enough to depress you but so slow enough to be boring. That’s what molds all the characters into who they are.

If they made Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” into a book, Empire Falls would be it.


Miles retells a story from his childhood, when he and his mother went to Martha’s Vineyard and she met someone that made her blossom. The vacation, as told from the child’s perspective, reveals so much–including Miles’ fascination with the place as an adult. It’s really beautifully written, and I can vividly remember much of that chapter because it was told in a way that was so memorable.

Who Should Read the Book

Not everyone. As I said, the book is slow. The characters are largely infuriating and not at all a joy to experience. Even Miles is a frustrating character to read. It’s hard not to want to shake him.

But despite all this, I loved Empire Falls. I think a lot could be said for the symbolism of the river that the powerful family in the book tries to reroute–so much of what makes Empire Falls tick is how fate and free will plays a part in the characters’ lives. There’s a great discussion to be had there, and if I were better at blogging more frequently, I’d love to have started it.

The people who will enjoy this are people who like minimalist style and slow-moving plots. Think slightly faster than The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is a long book with lots going on but a base plot that could be boiled down to a sentence. It’s a subtle book, minus the kick-you-in-the-face climax. Deep thinkers and introverts will connect. People who like a lot of zest and action will absolutely not. And that’s okay.

FWIW (My Opinion)

This was a sensitive, sad piece with a lot of complexity and just the right amount of straight-faced humor to not make things too maudlin.  I really enjoyed some of the more undercover strings running through the text. This puppy could really come alive for people through discussion and analysis.

Have fun getting “Peter Frampton Comes Alive” out of your head now. Wait, here.

Piano Man!

Start humming. That’s really the song you should leave Empire Falls with.

Middlesex: Overview

CaptureBy way of introduction, I’ll say this: the first thing I did upon finishing Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex was buy another book by Jeffrey Eugenides. I mean, the instant I closed the book, that was the very next thing I did.

Tl;Dr Synopsis

An intersex male-identifying protagonist describes a family history from his grandparents up to the present, featuring his current life events.

Wow, I can’t believe that long, winding, beautiful book can be summed up in a single sentence.

Writing Style

Eugenides is funny and easy to read. Yet there’s a literary voice and knowledge of device that differentiates his book from a comedian’s journal. He combines the ancient with the modern (which, incidentally, is a huge theme in the book) by using turns of phrase found in the literature of Greek antiquity to describe his story. And his writing packs a punch right from the beginning. He starts with “I was born twice.” (What!? So good!)

Here’s the introductory sentence in its entirety:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

Now this is the way to start a book.

Eugenides had something going on in Middlesex that I at first wanted to call a giant hole in his writing abilities, and that was the treatment of a first-person perspective as omniscient. If you can’t quite recall all the terms from your junior high reading courses, that just means that he was writing as an “I” but saying things an “I” couldn’t possibly know–what other characters were thinking, exact conversations that were had while he was in the womb. But he addressed this in the most interesting way. He portrayed himself as actually being the mutation lying dormant in the bodies that came before him, allowing him to be present at all previous events through ancestors. This suits the novel so well, since so much identity comes to him through not just his Greek heritage and family values, but also the gene that makes him who he is.

–And now, a quick break for who he is–

Here’s a quick rundown of the non-cis-gender identities, as best I know. (This was probably the best source I found.) I needed a primer, so maybe you do, too. Please, anyone, correct me if you find these to be wrong, and I’ll update.

Transgender–Umbrella term for those who don’t feel the gender identity assigned to them at birth reflects who they really are. (See Caitlyn Jenner, or better yet, read the awesome letter from Lilly Wachowski of The Matrix fame)

Transsexual–sometimes used to describe a transgender person that has chosen to make biological changes via hormone therapy or surgery. The term is becoming passe and is, frankly, a little personally invasive.

Transvestite–Ye olde term for a transgender person that meant “cross-dresser”: considered offensive today.

Intersex–Formerly “hermaphrodite” (a etymologically misleading word not really used anymore), this means that a person was born with ambiguous anatomy. Cal from Middlesex is intersex. When born, he appeared to his half-blind doctor to fully female and was raised as such. A closer look would have shown some anatomy to be atypical, and he carried an XY chromosome pair–the set used to classify humans as male.  See here for more detail, or just read the book. The narrator is very open about what’s going on.

Note: none of these things have anything to do with what gender an individual is attracted to. That’s something else entirely.

–End break–

Another thing that really makes the writing in this engaging is that the author communicates so well about things that not many people understand. The description of Cal growing up and trying to understand bodies and attraction and identity brings to life a kind of struggle many people could never imagine. I couldn’t.

Eugenides also puts within reach the kind of things that happen slowly and are therefore hard to pinpoint: the development of superstition, the attitudes toward race, the slow decay of love. I feel like I look around at the people around me sometimes and think, “How did you even get to this place?” But after reading Middlesex, I don’t know…it’s just seems easier to understand things that happen even around me, outside of the book’s scope. 


Cal is a beautiful, empathetic narrator. He’s the perfect person to tell the story of the family. He does so with such humor and compassion, and you never quite forget that it’s him talking, but he never takes you out of the story. Cal himself builds up to his own life–he doesn’t become a major part of the action until the end–but you feel very much as if it’s him telling you a story the whole way through.

Desdemona and Lefty are fleshed out characters that live full lives, though their marriage is kind of sad and their stories are a bit tragic. I don’t know that either is exactly likable, but you feel like you know them and their struggles, especially Desdemona’s old world superstition and Lefty’s pull away from Desdemona and toward the excitements he remembers from youth.

Cal’s parents are less remarkable. Their courtship is, well, interesting. But neither character really seems developed. The mother is especially unmemorable, and if it weren’t for Milton’s notable racism, he wouldn’t stand out, either. The section that focuses on them is the lowlight of the book.


The magic of this book is that it deals with so many issues at once without becoming lecture soup. I mean, gender identity, immigration, Greek culture, family dynamics, racism, religion, war, incest–it’s all covered. But none of it is sermonizing. It’s all just part of the story.

My favorite two parts were near the beginning, with Lefty and Desdemona growing up, and near the end, when Callie spends her days with who she calls “the object.” Both parts left me enraptured. The middle of the book is a little bloaty, but nothing that didn’t stop me from going straight for the next book. (I picked up the Virgin Suicides, which is so far wonderfully written but lacks the humor of Middlesex.)

Who Should Read the Book

This is hard. I want to say everyone will like it, but that’s probably naive of me. If you like coming-of-age stories or stories about families, this will probably tickle you. If you like feeling like someone you know is telling you a story when you read a book, this may be up your alley. But if you like fast-moving, action heavy plots, this isn’t probably your speed. It’s long and, at times, slow going.

You will probably know whether or not you like the book in the first few pages. The writing style is clearly established early on, and the type of characters you’ll meet are met quickly.

FWIW (My Opinion)

This was a very bright spot in my Pulitzer journey. I loved the whole experience of reading Middlesex. It’s pretty clear to me that this won the Pulitzer because of its treatment of social issues (being born different, issues of prejudice), it doesn’t hurt that the writing is fantastically entertaining and entirely pleasing.

March: Overview

51I8X5w-eeL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgIf you were once a child and are female, someone probably gave you Little Women at some point. Whether you read it or not is another thing.

I read it. But I also read every word on cereal boxes as I crunched away at breakfast and was consequently the only eight-year-old to be familiar with terms like “butylated hydroxyanisole” and “red #40.”

I’m much more picky about my books (and my cereal) these days. It’s hard for me to remember Little Women, but if it’s anything like March, it was probably so-so, and it was certainly not Pulitzer-worthy. But let me explain.

Tl;dr Synopsis

“Tl;dr” is a pretty good summary of how you should approach this book. No, I’m sorry, it really isn’t that bad. I’ll get more objective for you.

Here’s some necessary background: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and their mother Marmee were the heroes of the book Little Women, written by 19th century author Louisa May Alcott. Largely absent from the picture is the father’s experience. He went off to take part in the Civil War and returned when Beth fell ill.

March is meant to be an expansion on Little Women, telling the story of that father. It alternates between (a.) documenting his rather brutal and traumatizing experience as a radically abolitionist chaplain in the army and (b.) sharing background material from his younger years. It also includes letters to his wife, which describe mostly the changing of the seasons and the physical surroundings, pointedly leaving out the gruesomeness of the war. The book is written in the first person, from March’s point of view. Except when it switches to Marmee’s point of view, which happens near the end for a few chapters. Yep. Lots of narrative-technique fidgeting going on here.

Sorry, back to objective.

The main themes of the book are war and slavery, with a bit of family sprinkled in.

Writing Style

Here is where I have the most praise for the author. Mid-19th century literature is what I grew up reading (you know, when I wasn’t busy with nutrition labels), and the style of writing feels like home to me. Usually when a contemporary writer tries to mimic the tone of this time period, it’s groan-inducing. But Geraldine Brooks, author of March, did a splendid job of affecting the tone of an 1860s writer. She either grew up on the stuff too, or she did a great job studying the phrasing of the time period.

But tone isn’t exactly the same as language, though naturally word choice is essential to tone. The language surrounding the issue of slavery and race relations didn’t ring authentic. Even the most vehement of abolitionists of the Civil War era would have used different words than were used here. Now, that’s forgivable. No one wants their book to be taken out of context, and if Brooks had decided to be more true to the time, her book could easily be taken not as a period piece but instead as a offensive book written in the 2000s by an ignorant white lady. But I think the word choice here, while judicious, was the tip of the iceberg. There’s a problem with the novel that runs deeper.


The main character, the patriarch of the March family, is not believable. He can talk the 1860s talk, but he’s clearly a character plucked from 2007 and placed into the time period, modern (educated) sentiments about equality/race and all. It’s as if he’s lived in an absolute vacuum. The treatment of African Americans as “other” never ceases to astound him, even after seeing it over and over. It’s absurd.

Certainly, the nature of the cruelty shown toward an entire race would have shocked insulated people in the north at that time. But no one was going to be surprised that slaves were treated differently than white people. I mean, it’s the sad truth that you can’t even expect that African Americans will be treated with equality today, except for in the most progressive circles.

I don’t want to go into it too much, but feel free to read yourself and see what you think. March expresses ideas that are totally not in keeping with the time, all while being continually shocked when people didn’t feel the same or couldn’t see what he saw. It just isn’t accurate. More than that, it isn’t imaginative to just take what any civilized, modern-day person would think a turn it into the basis for the hero of a Civil War novel.


It’s not just him that’s the problem with Brooks’ character writing. She threw in Thoreau and Emerson, for reasons explained at the end: Alcott’s own family was close with the Thoreaus and Emersons. But these giants of American history seemed tossed in as an afterthought, having little to do with the actual book. These historical figures also seemed to be written in with the goal of making them come alive to the reader, and this intention (and not the coordinating desired result) comes through with every word. I can just imagine the author thinking “I am a fiction writer! I shall reveal to the reader not a crusty figure from a textbook but a person with flashing eyes (every amateur fiction writer’s favorite, along with “flowing tresses”) and quirky mannerisms!” ~Holds pen high above paper, descends with flourish.~

All right. I’m being very hard on this book. It wasn’t that bad. I finished it.


I liked reading about Rev. March growing up. The first third or so of the book is the best part.

Though I wasn’t crazy about the Emerson and Thoreau characters, John Brown entered the story in an interesting way. I thought that character was pretty well written, and if you know the Little Women backstory about losing a fortune, this was a great integration with the plot.

Who Should Read the Book

If you’re a fan of British writing of this time period and you’re not quite as familiar with American history or don’t mind a little leeway with it, this isn’t a bad book. The writing style is true, and most people probably won’t have as much of an issue with the book as I did, since I know myself to be cantankerous and amazingly picky. Oh, and if you love Little Women, this is probably a great addition to your library. It will be fun for you to see how Brooks filled in some missing pieces.

For What It’s Worth (My Opinion)

The intention behind the book was good, and I’ve largely focused on my complaints. So here’s the positive stuff. I think it portrayed the attitude of most toward slaves and abolitionists quite accurately. It even threw in some of the more nuanced issues, such as why slave owners viewed reading and writing as dangerous. And it certainly portrayed the atrocities of war and slavery in a way that was accurate–upsettingly so. It’s just that March himself, you should know, isn’t really a reflection of the time. Not from what I’ve read, anyway.

I wouldn’t read anything else from Brooks, personally. I just can’t forgive the flaws in the book’s namesake character. The book wasn’t awful, but there are too many other things out there.

Sorry for the absence. I’ve got some more things in the pipeline, including a “looking forward to 2016 books” post, and, appropriately, a post on the pains of content creation.

The Road: Overview


Post-apocalyptic tales, zombie movies—even the Party Rock Anthem video—none of it is my thing.

Also, you know what’s not on my list of characteristics of good writing? Speaking in fragments, letting fly endless streams of invented portmanteaus, and showing signs of a deep, weirdly personal revulsion for the comma.

With The Road, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I don’t really like stories like this. It doesn’t matter that McCarthy makes up all his own rules about the construction of an English sentence. That’s because The Road is above personal taste and grammar rules.

Tl;dr Synopsis

An unnamed father and young son are travelling by foot through a cold and barren landscape. At first, all you know is that the father doesn’t want to be seen, which seems a little paranoid, given the desolation. But soon, it becomes clear why they need to stay hidden and why they’re never safe in one spot for too long. In an event that’s never really described, the whole continent (and the whole world, the father assumes) has burned. The years after the disaster have required that the small population of remaining humans fight to survive. The struggle has brought out the worst in some.

The winters have become too harsh, and the father’s vague goal is to get him and his son south to a more sustainable climate. But what will they do once they get there? You share the feelings they must have: there’s an uneasy hope that maybe it will be some improbable paradise of safety. But you don’t want to think about that too much, since what certainly lies in wait is death, one way or another.

The Road chronicles a few months of this pair’s journey. Along the way, you experience all the moments of desperation and horror and soaring relief that accompanies them.

Writing Style

First off, know that McCarthy speaks in fragments. There is no careful crafting of complex sentences, no adherence to anything like rules. Words go on paper, and he’s done. But where as I felt like editing the bejeezus out of the last author I read like this (Junot Diaz), I think putting a hand on McCarthy’s prose would be a mortal sin. You do not touch this man’s writing. It would be like trying to add a vanishing point to a Picasso or something—sure, it would make more visual sense, but you’re messing with the inventiveness of the art.  McCarthy, despite disregarding the rules of written communication, communicates beautifully. His writing is never confusing or unclear, and it’s inventive. His unusual twists on standard English do him a great service, in fact. It’s difficult to make devices like simile and metaphor not sound cliche, no matter how inventive the actual comparisons are. But this syntactical defamiliarization throws the reader off-game enough for McCarthy to use these devices without fear.

No one will accuse him of being a man of too few words, though that’s not to say the writing is simplistic. If you like Hemingway’s style, you will love McCarthy. He never tells us what his pair of protagonists are feeling, only what they say, do, and think. You’re left to fill in the emotional blanks yourself, and boy, do you. You live inside the characters.

I think one of the most moving scenes is when the two finally come upon the ocean. They had been trying to get to the shore for weeks, and you almost feel as much anticipation as they do. For what, you don’t know. You’ve just been living in their bleak world with them, looking forward to anything different that might be awaiting them, starving for some kind of hope. When they come upon the ocean, it’s gray, not blue. The sea is “shifting heavily like a slowly heaving vat of slag and then the gray squall line of ash.” The father apologizes that the ocean is not blue. The boy says, “That’s okay.” Then he insists on going swimming, despite the cold. When he comes out, he’s weeping. When the father asks what’s wrong, the boy says nothing. End scene.

You don’t have to describe the emotions, the disappointment of it all. Just what McCarthy says is enough to rip your heart out. Adding any more would be a sin. It’s minimalism at its most perfect.

That’s McCarthy’s best skill, I think. As a reader, you’re extremely active in the story. He carefully places his blanks, never leaving out so much information that you’re frustrated, but always making you do the work of walking with his characters. I think that’s a kind of respect for your audience.


You’re very much thrown in medias res into the two character’s lives, so you must form a picture of who they are from what you see of them now, not who they have been. The boy and the man are very different, though you understand why. The man is jaded and always on guard. He is the boy’s protector, and he takes that role very seriously. That causes problems between him and the boy. The son is empathetic and is willing to take risks to make human connections with others. But since that will endanger him, the man overrules all his son’s overtures to make friends with the few people they encounter who may not be savages.

Both the man and the boy are characters you understand, and though the focus of the book appears to be on the journey, it’s largely about what the situation is doing to the characters and their dynamic with one another.


I’m not going to give it away, but there’s one shining moment of delight and relief in this book where you can almost feel your whole body relax. Straits were dire, and all of a sudden, a miracle.

At the same time, you understand when McCarthy tells us the man hates the luck. The father had accepted death was coming, and he was looking forward to the relief it would bring. He could have finally rested. Now, it was clear he was meant to keep fighting, and it was almost painful to switch back into that mode.

So, yeah, I guess the highlight is kind of depressing. This is why I don’t really like doomsday scenario books. It’s worth the experience in this case, though.

Who Should Read this Book

A beach read this is not. (Unless you’re like me and like to read Beloved while sipping a daiquiri on a cruise.)

But you’ve got to read it, just to watch McCarthy work. It’s an amazing experience. You absolutely go with these characters on the journey, and it’s nearly impossible to put down.

But, I don’t know…if you’re particularly empathetic (which I am, for what it’s worth) or feeling low these days, you might want to pick the right time in your life to read it. No judgement if that time isn’t now. The book is heavy.

For What It’s Worth (A.K.A. My Opinion)

I’m shocked that I loved this. Like I said in the beginning, it does not have the makings of a book I would even finish. The minimalist prose and the bleak apoco-scape are not on my list of favorite things. But it’s a beautiful, haunting experience, and I give so much props to McCarthy for crafting such a thing. The Picasso reference wasn’t thrown out casually. I feel like this author is an artist.

I’ll tell you what else. Taking a hot shower and feeling your hair dry all fluffy, curling up under a down comforter, throwing a delightful spinach/goat cheese/raspberry vinaigrette salad into your face—none of it will ever feel as good as it does after you finish The Road. Every little luxury in my life I appreciate now as privilege. Considering the season, it might be an appropriate thing. I don’t know the last time I’ve been so thankful for what I have.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Overview

51wOaYkRSfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve got several bones to pick with Mr. Junot Diaz about the title of his 2008 Pulitzer winner.

1. A spoiler in the title? Really?

2. I’m not sure “wondrous” is the word I’d use. All things considered, “cursed” is more appropriate.

3. You need a comma. But more about that (and how I’m wrong while being technically right) in a bit.

Tl;dr Synopsis


Writing Style

No, just kidding. I’ll actually give you a Tl:dr.

Tl;dr Synopsis

This book is about much more than Oscar De Leon, though it begins with him and ends with him. Each chapter is a vignette that serves as a puzzle piece. Through it, the story of the De Leon family and their horrifying multigenerational battle with the Fuku come together.

The Fuku was a curse believed to be a brought upon the Dominican Republic by Trujillo, a fearsome (and historically real) dictator in the 20s, 30s, and 40s. And while the author is quick to point out when Dominicans are being superstitious, it’s hard to believe Oscar’s family is just dealing with a few decades of bad luck.

You don’t learn of the initial source-Fuku (“Poor Abelard,” indeed) until a good way into the book, but you’re so distracted by all the stories in between that it doesn’t matter. There’s the story of obese, awkward Oscar and the roommate who wants to help him get it together. There’s the story of Beli, who is easy to hate until you realize she’s perhaps the biggest victim of all. And then there’s Lola, who we find out at the end is the reason the book is written. It’s the narrator’s love for her that causes him to try to counteract the curse by writing down the De Leon story.

Writing Style

Diaz is somewhat difficult to read, though perhaps that’s a failing of mine. If you’ve ever tried to read a Zora Neale Hurston book and plow through the literary attempts to record speech patterns of southern black folks, you’ll have an idea of the difficulty I’m talking about. First, there’s tons of jargon (or, in this case, Spanish). Second, there’s very little concern for grammar or propriety. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is filled with fragments, comma splices, improper capitalization, and speech not offset by quotation marks. That’s why I said maybe it’s a failing of mine. That’s kind of the stuff I focus on for work, and it’s my fault if I can’t look past it. I mean, I looked at the title and didn’t process much except, “huh, wonder who let that missing comma slip by.” If I were Diaz’s editor, I would have spent a year on this book. But I think I may be in the wrong for that. There’s certainly places where his first-draft-feeling book could have benefited from some editing for the sake of clarity. But I have to realize some editor somewhere made a choice to consider these things part of Diaz’s (or the narrator’s, anyway) voice. At times like these, I wonder how to not let myself as a person get in the way of me blogging for others’ sake.

Anyway, I’d sum up the writing style as casual. There’s a lot of strong language and personality in the writing. Those who liked The Catcher in the Rye in high school will probably also like this book. The voices are similar, though the story is less narrator-centered. (And this story is much better than bratty Caulfield’s.) However, if the thing you liked about The Catcher in the Rye was that it’s short, well, this isn’t for you–Oscar is pretty epic.

Also, be prepared to have you current knowledge of Spanish be taken to the next level. You will be able to, ahem, express yourself more fully once you’re done with this one.


The narrator is the best character, especially when you find out who he is. He’s got a distinct voice, but it doesn’t take you out of the story when he tells you what other characters are thinking and feeling. I think it’s to be understood that the narrator is taking a stab at what they’re going through, but Diaz does a good job of never making you feel confused about perspective. There aren’t constant reminders that your narrator is unreliable, and he so seldom inserts himself into the plot that it’s pretty easy to get lost in the story without being jarred out of it.

Oscar is a morose perpetual virgin who loves games and comic books and science fiction. He is an irredeemable dork, and not in the ironic, hipster way. His life is a major part of the book, but the book is about many others, as well. Lola is his headstrong, beautiful sister who’s there for Oscar whenever she’s needed. Beli is his wretch of a mother, so commanding and so scarred, both literally and psychologically. Yunior is his roommate, who tries and fails to encourage Oscar to be healthy and/or cool. When he fails, Yunior writes him off for as long as he can, but there’s something about Oscar won’t let Yunior’s forget about him. There’s a strong-willed grandmother, a great uncle who struggles to keep his family from the reach of Trujillo, and lots more. They are easy to read about, and they’re believable, though I don’t really find anyone remarkable. Maybe that’s a good thing. We do see how the different characters evolve, but this book is story-driven, not character driven,


I really loved the chapter about Oscar and his roommate. I also really loved the ending. It was clear that the book was building to something with Oscar, and when it happened, it seemed right. It made sense. By the way, “it” is him dying. Normally I’d feel bad about telling you that, but, again, the title is a spoiler.

At the time, I was a little annoyed when it kept going after the closure we got with Oscar. it felt a bit like that last Lord of the Rings movie, just fading from one closing scene to the next, ad-seeming-infinitum. But now that I’ve gotten to the very end, I know exactly why it was there. It’s awesome.

Who Should Read this Book

I think that if you like historical fiction, interesting cultural pieces, or, again, The Catcher in the Rye, you will dig this book. It was a good story, and many times, it was a page-turner. It was also quite raw. Oscar is whatever the polar opposite of poetry is. If you like elegant prose or you’re squeamish about vulgarity, this probably isn’t your jam.

For What It’s Worth (A.K.A. My Opinion)

I can see why this won the prize. It’s a fascinating glimpse into Dominican culture and some of the awful things that happened there. In a lot of ways, this book deals with human rights violations, and I appreciate the light that it sheds. Junot Diaz is in the news a lot lately after criticizing the actions of Dominican Republic’s government, with the blowback of being stripped of awards back home. He’s an active advocate for the disenfranchised, and that shows in Oscar.

While I’m not squeamish (see above) or addicted to Victorian-style pomp and circumstance in language (see also above), this wasn’t my favorite. I respect it; I even like it. But it didn’t capture me quite the way other books have. I probably wouldn’t read something of Diaz’s again unless it was strongly recommended to me. I have too many other possible reads and only one life in which to read them. But this will be some people’s favorite book, and I understand why. To each his/her own.

Purity: Overview

I’ve been waiting for this.

Tl;dr Synopsis

This story is about lives coming together and ripping apart, but it’s done in a calculated way that builds to a crescendo and…well, kind of ends on a crescendo.

We’re introduced to Pip Tyler, a young girl with a lot of student debt and daddy issues. Andreas Wolf is a German Julian Assange, except he’s super cute and less rapey. Well, publically. Privately, he’s a troubled narcissist with mommy issues. Pip and Andreas come together and rip apart.

Andreas falls wholeheartedly, frighteningly in love with a teenage girl, and that teenage girl can’t ever get over the terrible thing they did out of desperation. Their lives come together and rip apart.

Tom Aberant and Anabel Laird (a journalist and an artist/psychotic mess, respectively) meet in college. Like being electrocuted, they’re locked together by a seemingly unbreakable force, both being psychologically fried to a crisp, until the current abates long enough for their lives to rip apart.

There’s little Purity airtime given to Tom and Andreas’s relationship. Their lives come together and rip apart in a matter of days. Then again, much later—this time for only one day—there’s another coming together and ripping apart. But I think this relationship might be the most important one in the book.

There is a plot to this story, but (1) to tell it here would fill this post with spoilers, and this is not a book I want to spoil for you, and (2) I think that this ebb and flow of relationships and the nature of how people come together and tear apart is the real heart of the story.

Writing Style

Franzen writes with clarity and frankness. He is an extremely accessible writer, but that’s not what makes him remarkable. What’s really incredible is how he keeps it accessible without sacrificing intelligence. Sometimes his passages take on a “literary” or “psychological” affect in a way that seems stilted, but that’s really the only complaint I have about the writing style. It is wonderfully modern, page-turn-y, and easy to read, but it’s also full of inventive simile and heart-gripping insight. I feel like this is best exemplified by passages, so let me throw some at you.

Right on one of the first pages, Franzen tosses out an analogy that’s perfect. Pip understands that she can get away with nearly anything, as far as her mother is concerned, because “she was like a bank too big in her mother’s economy to fail.” Pip’s mother (who, by the way, reads the news “for the small daily pleasure of being appalled by the world”) is just one character that demonstrates Franzen’s fascination with mothers and children. I suspect he’d been reading a good amount of Freud during the creation of this book because ol’ Sigmund is everywhere in Purity. It’s worth an entire separate post. Anyway, Pip’s mother is like Andreas’s mother, which is to say they are inevitably creators of victims. It’s discussed in this passage (and close your eyes if you don’t like profanity):

An accident of brain development stacked the deck against children: the mother had two or three years to fuck with your head before your hippocampus began recording lasting memories…you couldn’t remember a single word of what you or she had said before your hippocampus kicked into gear.

This is what I mean about Franzen being easy to read but never lacking intelligence.


Franzen’s character niche is “people totally out of control.” If they’re torn or distressed or confused or flailing, Franzen is all about them. You know who he really doesn’t do? Healthy, sane people with a complete sense of self. Maybe that’s what he’s trying to get at. None of us are.

Commentary aside, Franzen’s characters are almost always conflicted and, consequently, readers are almost always sympathetic. We’re in the heads of all the characters, and it’s hard not to feel for them, even if they’re the self-absorbed borderline Andreas or the self-martyred basket case Anabel. How they struggle, every one.

These characters are complex, and Franzen goes the extra mile by showing us how they got there. They aren’t always likeable, but you feel like you really see them for who they are, and it’s hard not to be invested in them.

That being said, some of the characters are totally ridiculous. Anabel, for example, is so over the top that it’s hard to see her as real. But I’ll just say this: I am a very character-centric reader, and this small complaint did not stop me from loving every second of this book.


Oh, it’s so hard to choose between the endless highlights.

  • Any of the more innocent, pure-hearted interactions Andreas has with the only two women (no, neither his mother) he truly loves more than himself
  • The passages that follow Leila on her interviews in Texas
  • Andreas’s childhood, though the experience is not entirely pleasant
  • Pip’s time in South America

Really, most of the book is a highlight. I have a hard time going through Tom’s narrative, just because it’s such a long time of waiting for him to escape. You always sense it coming and are frustrated when page after page go by without any action. I also found Andreas’s relationship with Annagret after pining after her for years to be immensely unsatisfying, including the description of why it couldn’t work.

Who Should Read this Book

Everyone. I would recommend the book to absolutely anyone.*

*Except maybe those in the literary community who are predisposed to vehemently hating the overdog without leaving room for nuance in their opinion. Or, you know what, maybe you’re not and still won’t like it. Google Purity and check out the polarized titles on the first page. No, you know what, let me do it for you.



Sycophants and haters. Everyone seems to be one or the other

For What It’s Worth (A.K.A. My Opinion)

Out of all the books I’ve read in the last month, this is the one that has haunted my dreams and made dreamscapes out my days. It’s like I’m lovesick. It’s taken me to another world, and it’s a world I haven’t been able to leave.

Let me be clear—Purity is not without its flaws (and I’m going to tackle the main flaw in a future post). Let me also be clear about this, though. Its flaws do nothing to stand in the way of how much I loved this book, loved the experience of reading the book, and love remembering the book.

And that’s really the difference between how I’ve felt about the other books I’ve been reading lately, even maybe in the last year. I’ve admired the craftsmanship of other books. I’ve been entertained and charmed and filled with respect. But I just flat out LOVE Purity. It hits something deep inside of me—the part that likes to get lost in stories and be swept up by the romance of a narrative completely separate from your own life, the part that likes to completely lose myself in a magnetic world that runs deep.

Olive Kitteridge: Overview

Nothing like a two-week jaunt, especially with a few transatlantic flights thrown it, to give you the chance to catch up on some reading. I polished off three books on my beautiful trip to France, the first being Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (which I talk about here). The second book I polished off is part of my Pulitzer journey: Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, winner of the 2009 literature prize.

Coincidentally, a few days after finishing it, I saw that a show of the same name was taking the Emmys by storm. I had no idea they had made it into a show. Has anyone seen it? Opinions? (And what’s up with them making a show from A Visit From the Goon Squad? I’m over here tapping my foot, staring at my watch…)

Anyway, if they keep to the book at all, it’s bound to be a wonderful show. Olive Kitteridge was a sober, minimalist book, but don’t let that keep you away. It’s excellent in every way.

Tl;dr Synopsis


Speaking of A Visit From the Goon Squad, Olive Kitteridge is hybrid novel and series of short stories in which every chapter is tied to the last one via characters, without strict regard to chronology or continuity. But that’s really where similarities between the two Pulitzer winners end.

Olive Kitteridge takes place in a small Maine town, focusing on the residents there. It’s a beautiful book full of snapshots. Each chapter is a snippet of a life. You’ll encounter recurring characters in the chapters, especially Olive herself; she is involved in some way in nearly all of the stories. You’ll, in some ways, follow Olive from middle age to her twilight years and watch how she deals with the disappointments of everyday life. (Hint: with grizzle.) In other ways, you’ll just watch pieces of the townsfolks’ lives pass you by. You’ll be plopped in the middle of their story and in some ways be left to wonder how they got to where they were before you met them and what will happen to them later. That information usually never comes, but Strout manages to make this lack of information okay by resolving each chapter in a satisfying way.

Strout captures the essence of a rural small town perfectly. This seems like a book set oddly in the past, as if the town is still stuck in the thirties even as it’s clear that at least some of the book takes place post-9/11. When teenagers Tim and Nina storm on the scene with their phones and parties and modern vernacular, it seems as if they are aliens from the future come to throw the book completely out of whack, which is exactly how I imagine every person in the Maine town would feel about such people. These are simple folks who live simple lives, and the appropriately simple writing emphasizes that. Yet Strout still deals with the complexity of the human experience–depression, disappointment, humiliation, and even sometimes joy–without short-changing it in Olive Kitteridge.

Writing Style

Olive Kitteridge, as I said above, is quite somber. It takes a bare-minimalist, Hemingway-like approach to writing that really works for Strout. (Can I say, too, how many wonderful women writers they’re awarding Pulitzers to?) The author does a great job of showing and not telling. Melissa Bank from NPR says it well when she says, “The writing is so perfect you don’t even notice it…it’s less like reading a story than experiencing it firsthand.”

A short example is from one of the times we first meet Olive. A couple is over for dinner, and the very sweet, somewhat dopey, and rather abused Henry Kitteridge knocks something over at the table and Olive berates him in a way that makes you cringe for the houseguests. Strout knows she doesn’t have to say anything about how awkward anyone there felt. You can just feel it from the events alone, and there’s the added bonus of starting to see what it’s like to be around Olive.

I think one of the key examples of the simplicity of the story is later on, on the day of Olive’s son’s wedding. Olive has made herself a dress from scratch for the occasion–a bright print dress that she’s very pleased with. She looks at it several times with pride. Then, later, when she’s tired and goes to her son’s bedroom to lie down, she overhears her new daughter-in-law and other girls talking about how embarrassed for Olive they were that she could wear the dress in public. The author doesn’t do what many other authors might: talk about Olive’s anger or her self-loathing or sadness, or even something as subtle as heat rising to Olive’s face. Instead, the author stays fairly far out of the narrative other than to describe Olive’s delicious act of taking a permanent marker, finding one of the daughter-in-law’s cream sweaters near the bottom of a folded pile, and putting a bold mark across it, and folding it back into the pile. That’s pretty much all you get, and it’s more than enough.

Olive Kitteridge deals head-on with a lot of tragedy and loneliness, but it’s written in the least sentimental way possible. It lends the book a rawness and authenticity that’s striking. This is a book that stays with you, and it doesn’t use any cheap tactics to burrow its way into your heart.


The sheer number of characters you meet is rather daunting. Check the Wikipedia list. I count 94. You only hear about many of them once, though, and there isn’t a lot of pressure to remember them or confusion when they come back into the picture. It’s your own, personal little Easter egg if you remember, for instance, that the Daisy who nurses anorexic Nina is the same Daisy that Henry Kitteridge greats at church in the beginning of the novel. It’s a lot like how you can watch a random Law and Order episode and it really doesn’t matter much if you’ve been keeping up with the personal lives of the detectives. (Unless, of course, it’s SVU, which has devolved into a bit of a soap opera. Today’s blog post is turning into “Amanda’s Thoughts: T.V. Edition.” I’ll try to get back on track.)

The characters are all individuals. No one is going to be confused with the other, and you get the feeling that all 94 of these people are fully-formed individuals that the author has fleshed out before writing the novel. It’s amazing.

The characters are not necessarily likable. They waver back and forth. I changed my mind every chapter about how I felt about the Kitteridges. Sometimes I thought Henry was so sweet, sometimes I thought he was an absolute idiot, then I would feel bad about that and think he was sweet again. It’s really a lot how real relationships go, with a kind of ebb and flow to how you feel about the person as both of you grow and change and have interactions.   


You know, I found the first chapter to be a little jarring. There’s a serious feeling of being dropped out of a plane into the middle of a story, and you feel a little bit like someone may have torn out the first few pages of your book and you’re missing something. But looking back, I think the first chapter was my favorite. Olive sure isn’t cast in a good light in the beginning, but that first chapter is full of wonderful nostalgia and human connection and longing and remembrance. Oh, and you’ll learn more about Olive and feel for her later. The things she says in the beginning come from a place that you’ll understand, and you’ll be given the freedom to respect her, I think. See, I’m talking about these people like they’re real. They feel real.

Another highlight is all the chapters that portray people in love. Look for the chapter on Daisy and Harmon, for instance. There’s some sadness in it, but I mostly think it’s a beautifully hopeful chapter. There aren’t many of those, but the ones that exist are an experience akin to stuffing your face with Noodles & Co.’s mac and cheese. They feel indulgent and comforting. The book closes on that kind of note, and it’s pretty great.

Who Should Read this Book

I hate to say this because this book really is a masterpiece. But I don’t think it’s for everyone. It’s heavy. There are few moments of happiness in Olive Kitteridge, and the ones that exist are tinged with something undefinable that makes your heart ache. I think this is undercover one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. I say undercover because it isn’t like the reader’s constantly dealing with death after death after brutal heartbreak, etc. Olive Kitteridge mostly just deals with insidious disappointments that quietly accumulate day by day. When faced with it like this, in digestible book format, forced to acknowledge it over a few sittings, it’s hard not to feel like life itself isn’t something quite sad altogether.

So. If you’re a beach-reader who prefers lighthearted stuff and mainly uses books as a happy escape (no judgement here on that), this book might not be for you.

But if you’re okay with heavier stuff, it’s worth it to experience the craft of this book. The writing is executed in a way that stuns me. Strout does everything right. If I were teaching creative writing, which I am utterly unqualified to do, this book would be on my required reading list. It’s an example of writing at its best. And, despite the sadness, I really loved reading it. The book is gorgeous.

For What It’s Worth (A.K.A. My Opinion)

Wow, I think I already got it all out of my system.

If you can, you should at least try to read this. The writing stands in a category by itself, and the stories are gripping. It’s an experience that I think you should have, if it suits you.