Veronica by Mary Gaitskill.

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If you want to read something fast and exciting, don’t try to read this book. I’m conscious to say anything bad about the novel that might put-off a suspecting reader, because I love this book.  Alison and Veronica meet in the year of the glamorous 80’s era in New York. Alison is a young model trying to escape the wreck of her blossoming career and Veronica – the eccentric, critic, fashionable middle-aged office worker- her friend. Over the next twenty-years their friendship blooms and encompasses tenderness, sacrifice, love and death. Narratives from the present to past and the other way that creates a timeless depth and comparison to an era we can only knew if that is where we belong.

I love everything about the 80’s. Being born in the year of 1987, I guess I can feel for the era through its music. Unconsciously hearing something from that year over the radio as a kid that even though I don’t really recall hearing something (and having no specific memory about it), places and everyday actions –like taking a bath- sometimes makes it utterly recognizable, asking myself ‘when did I heard that song?’. Why did I tell you this one? The book makes me think. And reminisce.

Well anyway, the novel is somehow nostalgic for my taste that I began to like it. Gaitskill’s prose here is like a multi-colored yarn. Connected in one piece but different and none the less have connections that I have to remind myself the point of view is from two different timelines. I also never find myself confuse because I was so attached with her narratives. The writing is edgy, there is violence but it’s not pretentious, describing things around with a keen observation for the macabre but in a poetic way. It doesn’t have the ‘what will happen next’ feel to it but you continue to read the story anyway. Basically it doesn’t have a plot to start with, but somehow the thought of questioning the novel’s drive is really not needed here. Gaiskill presents the reader nothing but leaves the reader questioning without hoping for an answer and feeling satisfied without having something. It is a feeling with a word I really cannot describe. I can call this novel ‘to each his own’ type since I would agree if someone hates it. But it has some pleasure I don’t know what to call. It resides within beauty and ugly. Maybe you reading it would have a name for it. It is also like an art, viewed in many different interpretations. Like what gift Allison got from Veronica.

The novel is a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction. A New York Times Review Best Book of the Year and a finalist for both Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Opening Sentence: When I was young, my mother read me a story about a wicked little girl.

Ending Sentence: I will be full of gratitude and joy.

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Nightbook by William Kotzwinkle.

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Sometimes I wonder how something outrageous makes literature a bit more interesting as in life. In Kotzwinkle’s Nightbook, a combination of ideas from ancient Greece with modern subjectivities often confronts me with shocking possibilities. I mainly remember sexual aspects of this book, which I have not read lately, but I remember a few parts of it from years ago.

Reading Kotzwinkle’s Night Book is fast, insightful, weird and eccentric. My first attempt on reading this sort of novella makes my forehead furrow and leaves me with confusion enough for me to ask myself the question of reading it or not. Having no idea of the constantly shifting point of view and narrative makes me feel irritable about it. The second try makes me hope that it would become interesting as I first hate it and in the end, it thus leaves me utterly satisfied. The novel is about a combination of ideas and folklores from ancient Greek using themes which are more familiar in any of us living in this present day.  Although its acceptance in every society is not much clear as it is before. Themes mainly of pleasures like incest, bestiality, voyeurism, homosexuality, masturbation, transvestism, sadism, masochism and the likes. Kotzwinkle’s prose assures you that he is a brilliant writer even though with such themes that he carefully analyzes with sensitivity and connecting it with our lives. The writing which I predict to be confusing for the first time somehow makes me fall flat while I read, unexpectedly making me stop to savor on how well accomplished he constructs the story leaving me with wide admiration.

There is no question that Kotzwinkle -as the blurbs on the back cover of my paperback copy- is one of the few interesting and insightful of writers. It is not arguable to call this novella erotica but I have to stop myself for the brand’s connotation, for in here, indeed he makes erotica to be of literary use. And I would probably read anything from him to experience once again what I’ve savor just from reading this small and witty masterpiece.

Opening Sentence: “Did you ever eat a girl?” she asked quietly.

Ending Sentence:  “I can’t use it.”

Final Payments by Mary Gordon.

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Mary Gordon’s Final Payments is one of the few novels I’ve encountered that shock me just after reading what its plot is all about. It doesn’t just caught my attention –not that the plot is something capable of shocking- but also makes me nod in recognition in reasons I would just keep for myself.

Isabel Moore, the novel’s protagonist is suddenly launched into life after the death of her father whom she took care for eleven years. Being twenty-nine and is stripped of the idea what to do with her life now that she is alone at first thrilled her. It offers her something new, something exciting and took it as if accepting a new adventure. Indeed, having a new life to live is such an exciting experience. Like changing identity, leaving the past and being free from it. Deciding on things she knew herself we’re the best ideas and decisions. A journey with no hints and clues but with her two girl-friends, a priest and her father’s friends and an old lady -that for a time serves as a housemaid for Isabel and her father- to seek help and lean on to. But it is also a terrifying one for Isabel, having no experience at all on something for her to land on a decent job, experiencing things she should have experienced long before when she was still young and active. What decisions in life she has come through somehow manages her to assess herself and ask if she is living in the right way. But before she starts a new, Isabel decides to pay the final payments just before going through what life has left for her.

What I could mostly say about Mary Gordon’s prose here in her debut novel is how she constructs the whole story. I didn’t notice something special about her sentences but when you start to gather them in whole, constructing images in your mind, reading every page is a delight. Every voice of Ms. Gordon’s characters’ makes you care for them that I sometimes doubt the protagonist, even hate Isabel for doing something and its effects on people around her. It is as if you’re caught between two people you care for and doesn’t have an idea on whose side will you choose. The novel also makes me conscious of Isabel’s decision as to what will happen to her. And nearly at the end of the novel, one of Isabel’s virtues really caught me of guard for it is one of the most original and humane acts I’ve ever read, that I doubt it being perform in real life.

Published in 1978 to great acclaim, Final Payments capability to moved and inspire, its effect and power is still recognizable in my opinion as it is first received and almost 35 years has passed before I encounter the novel. I recommend this one with my warm heart.

Opening Sentence: My father’s funeral was full of priest.

Ending Sentence: There was a great deal I wanted to say.

 

Setting Free the Bears by John Irving.

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I don’t remember if I’ve stated in one of my book reviews that John Irving is one of my most favorite writers in the long list of the authors I read. Having established his literary career after the publication of his fourth novel, the phenomenal The World According to Garp in 1978, one starts to get interested in his earlier masterpieces. Setting Free The Bears has this simple but interesting and original premise, to set free the animals in an Austrian zoo. I fondly remember having visited a local zoo in which I wonder what would happen if all the animals are released from their cages around the city. Well, that one is an obvious catastrophe, and catastrophe and tragedy is Mr. Irving’s forte.

The novel is consists of three parts which is such a long read for a plot that just contains of plans to release the animals. The first part is somehow difficult to read for Irving’s descriptions of actions which consists of riding a motorcycle and his feel for the passing environment, however things starts to pull through just before the first part ended, it is also in this part of the story that I got to feel the author I know from his later works for the feeling of sentimentality that nearly put tears in my eyes. Reading the second part was such a painful experience for me. To make it short, it is the narrator Hannes friend, Siggy’s life history, and the journey through it I didn’t find enjoyable. It bores me that I really want to get to the third part to know what really happens. I know I may miss something but I guess the novel will be much more readable without the second part. Reading this part of the story feels like climbing some brick wall decorated with barbwires that is required to climb just to get through to the other side of the wall. Having said all of that, there are parts that catch my attention, not scenes in particular but simple sentences in which it requires the reader to pause for a while to absorb its beauty.

The third part obviously concludes it all that the humor and tragedy (Irving’s trademark) inside of it somehow tends to look like it’s late for it to happen. Maybe cutting the second part and combining the remaining two would make the novel more enjoyable, but it would not make of a novel with lesser pages isn’t it?  Although the feeling of reading something short (and took a lot of time to finish) lingers about the reader once he’s done reading.

It is really hard for me to rate the novel and I don’t really want to be biased just because he’s my favorite author. But I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this one for what it really is unlike most of his later works. It is to say that if you’re new to Irving, do not attempt to start reading on this one, try his other novels like A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp. In doing this, reading something that is not enjoyable from Irving is understandable. And besides it is his first novel is it?

The Japanese version of Setting Free The Bears is translated by the renowned Japanese author, Haruki Murakami.

Opening Sentence: I could find him every noon, sitting on a bench in the Rathaus Park with a small, fat bag of hothouse radishes in his lap and a bottle of beer in one hand.

Ending Sentence: For sure, I expect to hear great things of the Rare Spectacled Bears.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.

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If you’ve ever watched the famous film before reading the original material, I guess you’ll have a hard time changing McMurphy’s appearance and think of Jack Nicholson’s performance as you read through the pages of the novel. I considered myself lucky for reading the novel before I get to watch the highly acclaimed movie. Although the experience is the same -for I am aware of the movie and saw a few clips about it doesn’t offer much consolation on removing Mr. Nicholson’s image as of the protagonist. He has this outstanding performance as if the character is based on what he can do. But I didn’t go over as to wish being born at the time of the novels’ publication.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a wicked parable that is set in a mental ward. The novel starts to run as it chronicles the collision between its troublesome, happy-go-lucky and brusque protagonist, Randle Patrick McMurphy and gruesome and menacingly evil (at least for what the patients describe her as such) Nurse Ratched. The novel is narrated by someone (I would not spoil it for you) and not by the novel’s protagonist. Although what mainly occurs is generally focused on McMurphy. At times I find narrator contemptible sometimes annoying for all of his/her actions but wins my affections as I neared the end. Mr. McMurphy’s admission on the mental institute is highly doubted by doctors, thinking the man is sane and continues to brush with the law, much preferred to be committed in a mental asylum than force to work with hard labor.

McMurphy’s actions continuously challenge the nurse’s policy within the ward. Turning the nurse’s rule that makes an opposition in things he wants to happen into a wild and crazy rebellion which always results to a shattering result. Of course, the latter was just performing her duties and what would a sane person opposed as to what is to be implemented? And not to mention the things to be implemented for are for the good of the patients. It also explores confusion on things what to be raise without anyone being harmed, but in doing this the success is doubtable. Yes, the characters are a bunch of lunatics and it’s somehow hard to believe what they see and tell. The narrator is one of them of course, what happened in what he/she sees in his/her eyes might be influenced by prejudiced in life. What takes place might be one of the products of his/her playful imagination. What happened maybe does not really happen at all. But it’s just a maybe.

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest established itself as a modern classic after its publication. The author carefully illustrates things far beyond someone’s control. We humans act upon something raised on us, whether to protect ourselves or to protect our attacker. And who knows, maybe he’s not really attacking. Oh well, it’s like an individual versus an establishment. McMurphy’s fate is what might just be the fate for people who opposes on something implemented, and the narrator with the entire ruckus around him/her at least act’s on something he/she thinks is the right thing to do. The novel deserves my highest recommendation.

The novel is an international bestseller in the 60’s nd is turned into a highly successful film in 1975. The film also gathers a huge amount of praises and winning awards both for its actors and actresses performances.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is also listed as one of the 1001 List of Books You Must Read before You Die.

Let me share some of my favorite scenes from the movie. ^_^

Rabbit, Run by John Updike.

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My first book from Updike is his second novel Rabbit, Run; the first from his tetra logy of Rabbit novels. I don’t know if I’ve said this before but I loved to read about things in which I know I wouldn’t particularly possess in life, if you know what I mean. Rabbit or Harry Angstrom is a high-school basketball star in which on an impulse deserts his alcoholic wife and two-year old son. For he believes he is on the right path and running away from them is his only salvation. Basically, John Updike’s novel can be summed up in just three parts (which of course I wouldn’t carelessly divulge). But this realization comes up to the reader just after the book is closed. Although Rabbit’s stubbornness might irritate the reader, what he believes is a realization some of us at one time of our lives considered, our pride. Since he is a price possession in high school as a basketball player, does he really deserve this kind of treatment from his family? If not, he then starts to find a way to make his life better thus bears the title, Rabbit, Run.

Updike also triumphantly makes the unlikeable likeable, by making some of his character shares their side of the story making them not at what the reader perceives them as delinquent and stubborn. Like in real life, one’s actions are not really what make a person.

The time I first read the novel, I was utterly fascinated by Updike’s prose. It is something I never encountered before and at times I have to stop to absorb its depth and beauty. Written in 1960 and still at a young age (same as the 28 year old Rabbit), I’m sure at the time that Updike is much ahead to his contemporaries, and now considered as one of the greatest American writers. It is also such a skill for Updike in making the novel not to have a dated feel.

The novel’s conclusion is really unexpected. I myself roots for a more satisfying ending hoping it to have a moral conclusion, or at least for Rabbit to have salvation and reconciliation with what everybody perceives as his wrong doing. In turn, it is something rather of a cliffhanger and I guess if I was born earlier before the novel’s publication in 1960, waiting for eleven years to come to finally know what happened on the sequel (Rabbit Redux, 1971) will seem eternity to me. Rabbit, Run is listed on The List of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

Rabbit, Run was made into a film in 1970 with a catchy tag-line for its poster that reads “3 months ago Rabbit Angstrom ran out to buy his wife cigarettes. He hasn’t come home yet.”. Time Magazine also  included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch.

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From one of my favorite British authors, Iris Murdoch unravels the many guises of love and how it results to different types of violence us human beings are capable of. A Severed Head, Murdoch’s fifth novels starts with Martin Lynch-Gibbon enjoying a lazy afternoon together with his mistress Georgie, in her apartment as he ponders his life. Committing adultery for Martin doesn’t necessarily mean his love for Antonia -his wife- lessens. As he goes home after a wonderful conversation with Georgie, Antonia reveals a hideous confession concerning their relationship that makes Martin run for Antonia. Thus begin the start of a dizzying and the most tangled and entertaining of all relationships in modern fiction.

Decisions, hatred, revenge and the lack of self-control and other sobering things makes this novel seem depressing.  But with Murdoch’s skill and observations it still manages to make the story highly entertaining and thought-provoking. It also contains one of the most profound conversations concerning human relationships, its stupidities and why doing nothing causes trouble and doing something makes the matter worse.  With these realizations, I had somehow had the glimpse of what is right and what is wrong. For with any situation, incorporating of reasoning especially of psychoanalysis makes things normal and seems acceptable.

Murdoch entertainingly illustrates the era of the 1960’s revolution in values and sexual ethics. It is filled with a number of characters and the task of remembering them is quite easy for they are all uniquely illustrated and profoundly constructed. Filled with violence and surprise, melodrama and tragedy, her prose with poetic touch and quotable dialogue, Murdoch’s A Severed Head makes its contemporaries with the same theme seem uninteresting.  ‘Are we all that vulnerable and is subject to temptation?’ is the question that continuously pops out of my head as I read through.

This is listed as one of my personal favorite from the author and one of my most favorite novels.

The novel is included on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read before You Die. The novel is also made into a 1970 film with the same title and Iris Murdoch also adapted her book for the stage in 1963 that runs for a total of 1,073 performances.

Opening Sentence:  ‘You’re sure she doesn’t know,’ said Georgie.

Ending Sentence: ‘So must you, my dear!’

The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice.

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Christopher Rice second masterpiece following his phenomenal debut gothic novel (A Density of Soul) comes a tale of murder and homoeroticism surrounding Atherton University. One of its respected professors Dr. Eric Eberman is devastated when his wife is discovered under the icy Atherton River. Speculations of suicide or another case of a clumsy accident caused by too much alcohol erupt around the small university. Randall Stone, one of Professor Eberman’s students comes to suspect that Mrs. Eberman’s death was not accidental. More questions arises together with a scandal that Professor Eberman has been sleeping with one of his male students thus makes it easier for others to suspect him about his wife’s suicide or so they say. Randall’s suspicion of what happened subsequently involves him through tremendous acts of violence and trouble.

What I liked about the novel is its capability to picture in me a scene flesh-out from the screen like I’m just watching some sort of gothic drama set in a school campus. Of course the environment and the believable feel of the scene had to do with Rice’s prose and it is not doubtful that he is indeed a talented writer especially with this being just his second novel and written at a young age. My paperback copy of the novel has 532 pages, of course it can be a lot but I don’t recall having to force myself to keep on reading just to finish what I’ve started. I can’t really state that the novel was plotless -since negative reviews concerning the novel comes from this ground- nor I can say it is not meaty enough, for I feel that while the story continues to unravel, we have the sense of who the culprit is, and is of course to be revealed at the last parts. And before the climax, the author unravels each of his character -and just in these parts I think I was a bit disappointed- for some of them are well introduced and learning that there’s nothing more about them makes up for the let down.

All in all, The Snow Garden is an accomplished novel from a talented author. The novel’s homoerotic undertones make it much more appealing and entertaining. Not a direct kind of entertainment but enjoyable as a whole. The novel’s theme has a tendency to aim a particular audience; but Rice still manages to makes it universal. I highly admired the sensibility of his poetic prose and the skill of how he paints his words (like his mother, Anne).

It is not uncommon for someone to attribute’s Christopher Rice success as a writer to his mother’s fame, I am sure he is influenced by her but just of her writing a novel. For in my opinion, Christopher Rice is possessed with such talent that we will not associate to anything if her mother’s not famous.

I am a long time fan of Anne Rice, but you should also try reading the works of his son, Christopher. I recommend this particular novel next to his highly enjoyable debut, A Density of Souls.

Opening Sentence:  Groping at the icy tree trunks and pushing branches from his face, he followed the sound of water flowing against ice until it brought him to the edge of Inverness Creek.

Ending Sentence: She held it there until she was no longer stanching an open wound, just protecting a gift from the sudden gusts of wind that drove life skyward to the branches overhead.

Vox by Nicholson Baker.

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Vox is a highly entertaining novel from the highly observant author Nicholson Baker. If you’re familiar on how his first novel The Mezzanine was just about an office employer’s lunch expedition to buy new shoe laces, you’ll have an idea how  this brilliant author makes a premise that sounds a bit thin and boring and makes it highly entertaining and informative.

Vox is about a 165-page length conversation about Jim and Abby, who meets over the phone when they both dial one of those enticing advertisements in an adult magazine. Two lonely people late one night inspired to call for a sex phone line and hoping to find connection with someone. Of course they start to interest each other and starts to share erotic stories (some are fictional, some experienced) and after a time -although all of this happens in just a span of a night- begins to develop a sort of friendship.

Asking questions and marveling at what each other’s surroundings and clothing like “What hand are you holding the phone with?”  “What are you doing with your right hand?” and the realization on the strangeness and wonders of technology, the telephone in particular and how it could bring two people together without seeing each other and possibly never going to meet in their lifetime. Of course it could be dated for we now have the internet, but that realization over the telephone I could consider as magical.

The whole story is entirely written in dialogues and has a few ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ to orient us on who the speaker is. As I read, I’ve come to ask on how these two individuals keep on talking without being tired and how are they much able to talk for hours since I am sure conversations like these has its higher rates compared to the much plain calls, but all of my questions are answered after a time it pops-up in my head.  And the author’s observation about the things we usually don’t bother to observe are really clever. I can say that a dark room but those little stereo lights on stereo sets are pretty nostalgic.

And if the following questions I’m going to ask rings a bell, it is enough for me to convince you to read this particular title.

Have you ever imagine while talking to someone, wanted to travel through the phone to the place on other line? Yes?

Asking or asked to describe the picture on your window? Hmm?

What time it is there? The weather?

Although the first part of their conversation talks of nothing but erotic stories that has a tendency to tire some readers for the two to get into it, Baker writes form the heart. For as we near the climax of the novel –climax too for the characters- I felt somewhat sad because things like a long conversation have to end and the exchanging of their numbers makes it bearable and thus serves as a possibility for them to converse again.

Vox is a funny and highly entertaining novel that needs to be read in one sitting from one of the cleverest and observant writers I’m glad to come to.

Opening Sentence: “What are you wearing?” he asked.

Ending Sentence: They hang up.