Sunday, July 29, 2018

DREAMS OF FALLING by Karen White (A Review)

About the Book

Karen White
Published on June 5, 2018 by Berkley Books
Hardcover, 416 pages
Women's Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery

My Review

    Quintessential "Karen White": Three childhood friends growing up together, weathering storms of all kinds side by side and yet keeping secrets from each other. Juvenile dreams going west and a wish granted at the tragic price of loss and grief. A young woman who, for the first time in her life, pays attention to her past and to the people who have been loving her all along despite her antics. A family heirloom (a 19th century rice plantation and its neoclassical mansion) hiding more secrets than its charred walls will ever be able to reveal even if they could talk...

     "Secrets can be used for subterfuge. But secrets kept out of love are different. In their own way, they keep us sane. They tell us that love isn't about doubt, but believing in spite of it." 

    Dreams Of Falling doesn't go off the beaten and successful path of Karen White's signature storytelling, a distinguished narrative blend that embraces all the core themes of unadulterated women's fiction (the complex nature of family and friendship bonds, an odd mixture of happiness and grief, all the wonderful and sometimes complicated, messy ways love shows up in our lives), a strong Southern flair, and a sensibility finely tuned to mystery plots. 

    White delivers a novel awash in forgiveness dealt out in spite of betrayal and brimming with secrets alternately covered and exposed by waves of memories and flashbacks: the story is, in fact, narrated by three different POVs and spans over a period of sixty years. For this reason, the narrative frame demands a constant shift of attention between the 1950s events, plots/subplots unfolding in the present time (2010), and a relatively recent past (2001). And although this writing technique can trigger anticipation, increase suspense, and offer a few edge-of-your-seat thrills, it may also deter readers who are not partial to dual timelines and multiple perspectives. My issue was rather with one of the female lead characters, (Larkin sounds too immature for her twenty-seven years), but I understand that the author has intentionally painted her in such a way, as the scarred product and recipient of everybody else's emotional traumas and misconceptions. My interest in the story was nonetheless unwaveringly fueled throughout its entire 416 pages. 
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

From the Cover...

    From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night the Lights Went Out comes an exquisite new novel about best friends, family ties and the love that can both strengthen and break those bonds.

    It's been nine years since Larkin fled Georgetown, South Carolina, vowing never to go back. But when she finds out that her mother has disappeared, she knows she has no choice but to return to the place that she both loves and dreads--and to the family and friends who never stopped wishing for her to come home. Ivy, Larkin's  
mother, is discovered in the burned-out wreckage of her family's ancestral rice plantation, badly injured and unconscious. No one knows why Ivy was there, but as Larkin digs for answers, she uncovers secrets kept for nearly 50 years. Secrets that lead back to the past, to the friendship between three girls on the brink of womanhood who swore that they would be friends forever, but who found that vow tested in heartbreaking ways.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

FEEL FREE: Essays By Zadie Smith (A Review)

About the Book

Zadie Smith
Published on February 6, 2018 by Penguin Press
Hardcover, 452 pages
Essays, Non-fiction

My Review

    " can't fight for a freedom you've forgotten how to identify. To the reader still curious about freedom I offer these essays—to be used, changed, dismantled, destroyed or ignored as necessary!"—Zadie Smith

    I enjoyed this collection of essays: Smith weaves all kinds of themes into its fabric (from the wry and yet poignant portrait of a generation, Generation Why?, lost in the hedonistic values of the social network to the elegiac tones of Love In The Gardens), but my favorite moments are the diaristic ones (The Shadows Of Ideas, Find Your Beach, Joy) and those where she narrows her scope down to a more autobiographical and self-revealing narrative.
    Above all others, I loved the retrospective lucidity, emotional intelligence, and lyricism of "The Bathroom", a touching family portrait reminiscent of that time of her childhood when her family raised from an impoverished background to the British "lower middle class", a change of social status that brought a great sense of liberation to the Smith family, but came also at the high price of self-sacrifice and nearly self-obliteration of at least one of her parents. Echoes of her signature themes (family, multiculturalism, race, social displacement, search for identity) reverberate across the essay with that exquisite harmony of social satire and compassionate remembrance that is so typical of her writing. The acquisition of a larger home (not quite a mansion, and yet a maisonette with four bedrooms and two bathrooms) was, in the 80s, one of the points of pride of the "unlovable lower middle class", and a spare room or an extra toilet represented for the Smiths the passage to a higher social status, a notion somewhat bemusing nowadays to some, but a milestone sort of achievement for a family that was not exactly enjoying the contentment and freedoms of the British bourgeoisie.

    "When I think of my parents it's often with some guilt: that I did the things they never got to do, and I did them on their watch, using their time, as if they were themselves just that—timekeepers—and not separate people living out the evershortening time of their own existence. [...] no matter how many rooms you have, and however many books and movies and songs declaim the wholesome beauty of family life, the truth is "the family" is always an event of some violence. It's only years later, in that retrospective swirl, that you work out who was hurt, in what way, and how badly."

    As the author herself claims in her forward, essays about one person's experience have, by their very nature, not a leg to stand on. In Feel Free, though, the intimate tone of Zadie Smith's memoires and the insightfulness of her social commentaries imbue this collection (earnest musings on matter of culture and politics) with erudite authority and soulful humanity: "I'm a sentimental humanist. I believe art is here to help, even if the help is painful—especially then." 
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

From the Cover...

From Zadie Smith, one of the most beloved authors of her generation, a new collection of essays 

Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world's preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its own right.

Arranged into five sections--In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free--this new collection poses questions we immediately recognize. What is The Social Network--and Facebook itself--really about? "It's a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore." Why do we love libraries? "Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay." What will we tell our granddaughters about our collective failure to address global warming? "So I might say to her, look: the thing you have to appreciate is that we'd just been through a century of relativism and deconstruction, in which we were informed that most of our fondest-held principles were either uncertain or simple wishful thinking, and in many areas of our lives we had already been asked to accept that nothing is essential and everything changes--and this had taken the fight out of us somewhat."

Gathering in one place for the first time previously unpublished work, as well as already classic essays, such as, "Joy," and, "Find Your Beach," Feel Free offers a survey of important recent events in culture and politics, as well as Smith's own life. Equally at home in the world of good books and bad politics, Brooklyn-born rappers and the work of Swiss novelists, she is by turns wry, heartfelt, indignant, and incisive--and never any less than perfect company. This is literary journalism at its zenith.