I love Ann Patchett but had a hard time getting into this. In fact, by the time I met with my book club to discuss it, I was only half way through! I finished it two days after that and wondered if it was actually better to read the book after some spoiler-filled discussion. I’m not sure why this book felt a little flat. The premise was great. A mother of three grown daughters, telling the story of how she once dated a famous actor and how she ended up living on a cherry farm. The present day takes place during the pandemic and has a heaviness you would expect when it feels like the world is ending. Nothing so terrible happens in the past. I describe it as A Star is Born, only in reverse.
The Secret History
Half way through this book I realized I may have read it before! It was written in 1992, way before one of my favorite books of all time, Tartt’s The Goldfinch. The Secret History felt like it was more of a freshman effort. It did have some meaty content. Self-indulgent college kids living privileged lives yet being neglected by their parents. A worship of academia and resulting disconnect from reality. But then much of the book was devoted to explaining how even the best of people are capable of heinous acts and its unraveling of the mind.
The Covenant of Water
This was the second of the book club picks. It was long. Ultimately I didn’t love it. I even abandoned it at one point but curiosity forced me to finish it. I did like that it was set in India and chronicled much its history. I like the many female characters and multi-generational drama that unfolded. Some of the writing was artful and lyric, but some of it felt dry, and the style and tone seemed mismatched. Some horrible things happen, some of them to children and it was hard to read that.
Oh boy. So much good stuff in this. And I have a thing for trees, so, yes. But much of it left me feeling that the world was ending which was so devastating that I couldn’t finish it. It would seem people either love this book or hate it.
Art Is Life: Icons and Iconoclasts, Visionaries and Vigilantes, and Flashes of Hope in the Night
My fellow art student/best friend/sister gave this to me as a gift. I loved the introductory essay in this book of art critiques. It was some of the best writing I’ve ever read. Art is Life. It is everything. And it’s ridiculous. And I couldn’t live without it. And so, so, so much more. I still haven’t finished the book but thought I’d include it here.
You know how I said I’d never join a book club? Well, I joined a book club. And I like it. This was the first book we read. Hello Beautiful is a a modern day Little Women that explores so many relatable challenges — mother/daughter conflict, sibling rivalry, family secrets. On the surface, it just seemed like family drama, but this book had a slow burn. It wasn’t until I’d finished it that I realized how sneaky it actually was. The symbolism and deeper meanings only became completely clear when I heard others share their impressions and their personal related experiences. It gave me a lot to think about. Like about how few people really love us for who we are, about how painful, debilitating, and misunderstood depression is, about how amazing forgiveness is. A solid read.
Cloud Cuckoo Land
The author of All the Light We Cannot See did not disappoint in this epic story inside a story inside a story. It was everything I wanted: rich, wordy transcendent descriptions, layered characters, time-hopping, mythology, history lessons, fantasy, and science fiction. Oh my gosh. It was so gripping. There are a multitude of protagonists defined by their time and life stories, all threaded together in a common fantastical tale: Cloud Cuckoo Land, a place you only get to by transfiguring yourself into a bird. The absolute best book of the year.
The Vanishing Half
Identical twins who run away from home at 16 and then are separated from each other when one decides to pass as white, inventing an entirely new life. I was drawn into the historical fiction aspects of living in the south in the 1950s, where races, and their various shades, are segregated and subjected to to harsh criticism and judgement. The characters are all beautifully drawn and delineated, revealing their pain, motives and secrets that keep them isolated and are then ultimately revealed. The construct of race as well as gender identity are so artfully explored. I found myself fully sympathetic to each flawed woman and her relationships with the others.