Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Best of 2007, Part II: Fiction

Not a great reading year for me. People always  tease that you might lose your interest in sex after having kids, but it was my drive for fiction that diminished with each child. I got my groove back during the summer, and then didn't read any other novel for months.  It's a difficult balancing act for me---with a good book, I can easily disappear for a few days, which doesn't really work when kiddos are looking to you not only for meals and structure, but to be present. At the same time, I know I am a happier and saner mom when I get time to read and escape a bit.

Nonfiction and short stories have been my compromise, but I miss great novels.

13777373_2  Best novel of the year: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

He has become one of my favorite authors, with Angle of Repose one of my all-time favorite novels now. While that novel is greater in scale and ambitions, its flaws are greater as well. At first I was slightly disappointed in Crossing to Safety's smaller scale, but what it does, it does perfectly. It does not try to contain whole lives, whole families, or whole landscapes in the way Repose does. Its focus is on the marriages of two couples, and their friendships with each other.

Even in the novel, Larry asks, "How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?" This is not an Irving novel; it has none of the bed-hopping or the betrayals one expects in a novel centered around four people. Instead Stegner makes a book one wants to read by creating characters as real as the people closest to you, and examining the demands and gifts of relationships. No other novel that I've read has so accurately portrayed the potential for both a heaven and a hell within a marriage.

One of my favorite passages: "I didn't know myself well, and still don't. But I did know, and know now, the few people I loved and trusted. My feelings for them is one part of me I have never quarreled with, even though my relations with them have more than once been abrasive."

Honorable Mentions:

0140435387_01_lzzzzzzz Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy; I loved and hated this novel. Sue made me crazy, and men who allow women to treat them that way make me crazier. The worst is that Jude would often describe exactly what drives Sue, show that he knew exactly what she was doing, and yet, still do whatever she bid. And then Jude, indulging in his dreams again, while his family stands homeless in the rain. Yet, I was engaged enough to be enraged and did care about these people. Until it became melodrama..."Done because we are too menny" --oy vey.

Overall, there were many lines, paragraphs and ideas that made me flip to the front to confirm it was published in the late 1800s. I can only imagine the urgency and boldness one felt reading it when it first appeared.

41qsnf53val The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; A fast, enjoyable read set in Chicago that has a unique spin on the whole notion of time-travel. I preferred the first third, dealing with Henry's visits to Clare's childhood. I found their marriage scenes much less developed, and intriguing aspects of the dynamic Niffenegger sets up unexplored. Several supporting characters are flat or stereotypes. What has stayed with me though is the dilemma Clare faces, having already fallen in love with the mature Henry, when she meets him as an immature man. She's in love with who he isn't...yet.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; This has been waiting patiently on my412esm0qcl  shelf for years. I know people who love it, and others who hate it, so I was reluctant to begin. Yes, it is extremely repetitive, yes, it isn't necessarily original, and no, it doesn't deserve all the comparisons to The Little Prince. I don't understand how any American woman can read it and not be shocked that he hadn't returned for Fatima, "his true love", before going to the roots of the tree.

That said, repetition may be exactly what's needed when the message is to follow your dreams. The aspect I liked least were all the omens (such a subjective temptation), and my favorite was his dialogue with his heart. Love this passage:

"My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer," the boy told the alchemist...

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."

Up Next...Part III: Nonfiction

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