Thursday, July 12, 2012

Delta Wedding - Eudora Welty

This wound up on my reading list because of an intriguing post over on Evening All Afternoon

"I've been writing a lot lately about feminist musicologistSusan McClary and her ideas about the need for an alternative narrative practice. McClary goes in search of a mode of storytelling that does not dwell in a land of perpetual desire, of constant striving for a climax or resolution which, once achieved, spells the end of the story (the so-called "phallic" or "heroic" narrative arc), but that instead stresses pleasure over desire, that glories in what McClary calls a "voluptuous 'being-in-time' quality" - an examination of what we have and who we are, rather than what I want and who I would rather be."
which made me really curious to see what a novel without resolution would be like.

Delta Wedding is a week in the life of a large family in the Mississippi delta. One of the daughters is getting married and outlying family are coming for the wedding. There is very little plot. One of the characters, Laura McRaven, is 9 years old, has recently lost her mother, and is back for the wedding and quite possibly to stay permanently rather than living in a far away town with only her father. Another character, George, is dealing with the fact that his wife Robbie has just run away and it isn't entirely clear why, or whether she is going to come back. Then there's Dabney, the bride, who is marrying 'beneath' her, and it becomes obvious that she doesn't actually know Troy all that well, and that they don't actually spend much time together. The day after the wedding where several different groups head into town to run errands not realizing that it is Sunday and all the stores will be closed. So many little things which in an ordinary book would drive the typical big problem, increasing miscommunication, eventually leading to huge misunderstandings, and finally some sort of resolution.

Instead life goes on. Things which could lead to huge misunderstandings instead get resolved, often with very little effort because the people involved really do love one another and are very used to living together. Issues get sorted out, problems get solved at least temporarily, and life goes on. Laura gets invited to stay on the plantation with her aunt & uncle, and of course says yes (it is what she's expected to say after all), but then thinks to herself that she probably won't stay. But of course she is only nine, and her aunt will almost certainly convince her father to let her stay, and she will probably be quite happy there...and you can sort of see how she is going to wind up belonging in two places at once.

It is pretty fascinating. There are so many people and so much activity that there is very little privacy. Everyone is quite aware of what everyone else is doing, and yet it is easy to wander off on your own, and everyone definitely has their own private thoughts. It is a comfortable place where there are lots of adults to share the responsibilities for taking care of all the children, and yet there are so many different children that it won't be particularly easy to see when someone is having a problem but not being really noisy about it. There will be a lot of benign neglect along with any number of assumptions about what particular children want to be doing...which won't coincide with what they actually want. Especially with Laura. And yet the fact that she will have a place there, will belong to this family is likely going to be really good for her, even though she won't have the undivided attention that she might get living in town with her father.

I'm not really sure what I thought of this. It is beautifully written and was enjoyable to read once I got over trying to anticipate where the story was going (it wasn't going anywhere, it was just hanging out and enjoying the scenery). I read it up at the cottage, and was a little bit depressed from time to time...which might be because of the book, or the fact I wasn't sleeping all that well. I'm not sure I would read it again, and yet I am finding myself thinking quite a bit about it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Child of Fire - Harry Connolly

This was the subject of a Big Idea piece a while back, and the concept intrigued me. Also, the windbreaker. And it really didn't disappoint. This story is quick, fun, and different.

There were a few things which threw me off initially and almost made me put the book down without reading it. First of all, on the cover it says "A Twenty Palaces Novel" which made me think that it wasn't necessarily the first book in the series. Then, when you start reading, the main character makes many references to previous events - which is totally normal when you need to fill people in on the back story - but in such a way that it made me feel like there was definitely a previous book, and that I would probably be happier if I read that one first. It turns out this was the first novel published, but there is in fact a prequel...which I haven't read, but other people on the internet seem to think is worth reading. If my library had a copy, I would definitely get my hands on it, unfortunately this is the only book of Harry Connolly's they happen to have...and I enjoyed it enough that I'm seriously considering buying the whole series.

Ray Lilly has just gotten out of jail. He's been a car thief, he's killed his best friend, and now he's working for someone who hates him but who has for some reason agreed not to kill him (for the time being at least) and who has been instrumental in getting him out of jail, and he's flat broke. It turns out that he's actually a really good guy when you give him a chance. He really does want to save the world, and that makes him really quite lovable. He's definitely someone you want to have on your side.

The magic in this story is really interesting and fairly different from what I've seen other places. It isn't really well explained in the first book, largely because we're seeing the world through Ray's eyes, and while he would like to understand the magic a whole lot better, he doesn't actually know all that much about it. Yet. I'm really curious to find out what he's going to do next.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ship Breaker - Paolo Bacigalupi

This was the subject of a Big Idea post which I think is really worth reading before you read the book. This is not a cheerful, happy book, it is a modern-day post-apocalyptic survival story. This is the story of what happens after we run out of cheap oil, global warming sets in, and the oceans rise. And it is about the people who will have to be coping with these things - the kids.

It is beautifully written, and because it is a young adult story with kids as the protagonists, they aren't sitting around bemoaning the world as it used to be - they are simply living in their world. And even though they can see how things used to be, and can imagine things being better, they have never experienced the ease of our lives, and so they are just coping - living their lives as best they can.

I really do like what Bacigalupi has done here. It would be really easy to have all the kids be good guys, and all the adults be bad guys, but he doesn't do that. None of the kids are perfect, and even when Nailer sets out to save the life of the girl he finds trapped on the boat, he has very good reasons for doing so - both logical and emotional - and even then he often questions this decision. He could so easily let her die and keep everything he can salvage from her ship. Instead he is aiming for a life that he almost can't even imagine - sailing on one of the beautiful white-sailed ships he sees on the horizon. But the struggle to get there is more than most people would have the strength for. In the end he persists, and you get to see the possibility of the entire world becoming ever so slightly a better place - someone in a position of power (potentially) has finally seen what life is really like for the folks at the bottom of the heap. Life is certainly looking up for Nailer, and probably even for the community he grew up in, although the cost hasn't been cheap.

This is not a happy story, although being written for kids it is not nearly as bleak and depressing as The Windup-Girl, but it is a very satisfying adventure. I would definitely recommend it, but it is the sort of book you probably want to read before handing it off to a young teenager.