Monday 9 April 2012

Deliberately Sad Books

On the recommendation of Jenners at Life With Books I went to the library and found a copy of 'Every Last One' by Anna Quindlen. I picked it up Wednesday morning (there being no overtime available I had a nice three day midweek break) and finished it before bedtime. The story is a portrait of ordinary (for US novels read affluent middle class) family life destroyed by an act of violence. There seems to be an unspoken pact amongst bloggy reviewers that you don't reveal what the event is, so I will abide by it, though as you creep towards the middle of the book it becomes plain what is going to happen. There is nothing very clever or distinctive about her writing but it just flows so nicely. I liked the characters and the details of their live enamoured them to me, and I did identify with the mother as she shares all her joys and concerns of watching her children grow up. Her reactions and behaviour after the event are authentic and believable. The trouble I have is the feeling of being emotionally manipulated, that the purpose of the book is to make me feel sad. I do not get an intellectual response, it does not provoke thoughts, it merely provokes tears. But it was one of those nice 'resilience of the human spirit' kind of books, an undemanding and enjoyable quick read.

So I went upstairs and told Creature what I had been reading and she handed me this: 'Looking for Alaska' by John Green, that her friend Tom had given her for Christmas. Now this one is much less bashful about it's tear-jerking nature ... the chapters are entitled 'One hundred and thirty six days before', and so on, in a count down, so you know as soon as you open the book that something really bad is going to happen. It is about a bunch of teenagers at a somewhat offbeat private school, where they spend their time trying to avoid being caught doing the three things that will get them expelled (smoking, drinking and having sex). Again it was well written with the teenage voices all very credible (sometimes teenage talking can feel stilted when written by adults).
Found myself laughing uproariously several times during the first half, particularly when the Colonel makes up cheerleader chants to taunt their opponents at the basketball game (he is maintaining his record of being thrown out of every single game): "Cornbread! he screamed. Chicken! the crowd responded. Rice! Peas! And then all together: WE'VE GOT HIGHER S.A.T.s. Hip Hip Hip Hooray! the Colonel cried. YOU'LL BE WORKING FOR US SOME DAY!"
Also loved the line when Pudge (aka Miles) asks Alaska about her book collection:
"I am going to read them all. I call it my Life's Library. Every summer since I was little, I've gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read. But there's so much to do: cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on. I'll have more time for reading when I'm old and boring." (p.28)
It's very 'teenage'. As is, "A deep fried bean burrito, the burfriedo proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that frying always improves a food." (p.31)
And, "So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane." (p.109)
All in all a most enjoyable book. It's about the teenage friendships, the adults in their life are all in the background, not relevant to the big picture. It was less intense than 'Every Last One', and I felt more like an observer, as an adult reader, but again the impact and reactions of the characters felt real.

1 comment:

  1. I love love love Looking for Alaska. All of John Green's other books are on my wishlist :-)


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