Kevin Wilson – The Family Fang

Family Fang

 

If The Family Fang should be adapted for a film, I can only imagine Wes Anderson directing it*. This novel has a lot of charm and is equally quirky and fun.

The Fangs are performance artists. They live for creating art that shocks and changes people’s lives. However as their children grow older they are tired of being used to shock people and leave their parents.

After a decade or so both children return to their parents due to some mishaps in their lives. At that moment their parents pull off the greatest art related performance of their lives and it’s up to their children to participate.

The novel’s main question is about art – how far should one go for creating art? what makes good art? what is the state of art in the US today? Wilson manages to pose these questions and dress them up as a charming tour de force. At times this is funny and sometimes oddly tragic but it is a highly entertaining read and should not be ignored.

*UPDATE – it has been adapted by Jason Bateman

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Lauren Groff – Florida

Florida

While I was reading Lauren Groff’s short story collection Florida, Animal Collective’s single Floridada kept going round my brain constantly:

(contains flashing images)

The track itself is a love letter to Florida, albeit in a surreal fashion and, to a certain extent Groff’s book has the same M.O. as all 11 stories present Florida in a surprisingly positive way.

The Florida of Groff is a place with swamps, suburbs and strange people. One thing which is also interesting that 3 of the stories are about Florida natives going to France in an attempt to escape their homeland and yet these people end up returning to Florida. I guess it has a strong pull.

As I have stated many times, short stories tend to be a mixed bag for me but here all eleven are winners. Groff’s writing is superb and she captures her characters eccentricities or their bizarre situations perfectly. There are laugh out loud moments with some parts that were odd and some even creepy.  Everyone who will read this collection will definitely get something out of it.

My personal highlights were At the Round’s Earth’s Imagined Corners, a story about the son of a herpetologist. Dogs Go Wolf, a tale that reinvents feral children stories and the concluding story, Yport, which is an absolute masterpiece. Honestly only Groff can write a story about Floridians emigrating to France due to a love for Guy du Maupassant, it’s also a clever allegory about relationships.

With these stories Groff manages to realistically portray a place that is pictured as a country of sunshine, beaches and oranges. Although this is a land of alligators and snakes Groff does not give the impression that Florida is a place to avoid, rather one that has hidden depths.

Many thanks to Heinemann for providing a copy of Florida in exchange for an honest review. 

Mid Year Round Up: 5 Fave Books from the Last Six Months.

So we’ve reached the mid point of the year. This can only mean another book list (hurrah). Here’s five books that I REALLY enjoyed from January to mid June.

5.Charlotte Wood – The Natural Way of Things

TNWOT

A group of women find themselves imprisoned and of brutal ways to survive. Gritty. Dark.Unrelenting. Review here: Charlotte Wood – The Natural Way of Things

4.Xan Brooks – The Clocks in this House all Tell Different Times

Clocks

If you are bored of War stories, then read this one. Xan Brooks’debut novel focuses on the psychological effects of the first World War on society. Sometimes horrific, sometimes fantastical, controversial at times. Trust me, every moment is a surprise. Review here: Xan Brooks – The Clocks in this House all tell Different Times

3.Leni Zumas – Red Clocks

Red Clocks

U.S. : the future. Abortion is made illegal and the rules of adoption will change. Red Clocks then zooms in on the lives of five women and how they deal with these laws. This multi-generational dystopian tale is complex, clever yet readable. Review here: Leni Zumas – Red Clocks

2.David Whitehouse – The Long Forgotten

Long Forgotten

When a black box recorder is discovered in a whale, which sets of a chain of events spanning decades, all are linked with a flower. Readers of this blog know that I’ma sucker for books with a Tarantinoesque structure and The Long Forgotten does it really well. Review here: David Whitehouse – The Long Forgotten

1.Patty Yumi Cottrell – Sorry to Disrupt the Peace

STDTP

Helen, an adopted Korean girl who is living a bohemian lifestyle receives a call saying that her brother has committed suicide. Thus prompting her to return to her adopted parents house and investigate the causes of her brother’s actions. Along the way she discovers attitudes towards ethnic minorities. Other than the plot, the charm of the book lies within the quirky narration of Helen and her perverse habits (all I’ll say is, towels) Despite the seriousness of the novel, there are quite a few chuckle worthy moments. A must read. Review here: Patty Yumi Cottrell – Sorry to Disrupt the Peace

Laurie Canciani – The Insomnia Museum

TIM

Believe the accolades for The Insomnia Museum. It is indeed an original piece of work, with a unique voice narrating it. In some places it surprises and in others it shocks. It is simultaneously a coming of age tale and a symbolic story about escapism.

This all done through, Anna, a 17 year old who has been trapped inside her house for a long time. Her father collects junk and tries to fix it. Anna herself knows that there is an outside world but she is not allowed to explore and coupled with the fact that she is illiterate, thus her only way to cope is to fix junk and watch a videotape of  The Wizard of OZ endlessly, which she stops at the same spot (the bit where Dorothy is about to return to Kansas)

On hearing the news of her missing mother’s death, Anna’s father dies and she is picked up by a man called Lucky and they head off to his house. At this point this is where the novel takes off as then Anna undergoes the trials and tribulations of experiencing the outside world. Mostly the focus is on her relationship with Lucky’s wayward son Matthew.

As such I found The Insomnia Museum interesting, sure there are similar plots like Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days and to a certain extent Emma Donaghue’s Room but The Insomnia Museum is the more intense novel. Sometimes I did feel that the writing meandered but it is an unusual reading experience.

Ultimately The Insomnia Museum is a weird little cultish novel that stands out, despite its faults. It is a one of a kind sort of novel that crops up now and then.

Many Thanks to Head of Zeus for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Tayari Jones – An American Marriage

AAM

If you couldn’t guess from the book’s title, Tayari Jones’ fourth book deal with relationships, with marriage as the central theme. However the main question Jones’ posits is not how a couple maintain their marriage but rather when does a marriage become invalid? and if marriage is a sign of true love.

Unfortunately a problem that I encounter with these types of books is that the novel does descend into melodrama due to the fact that the plot takes a deep look into relationships. In the novel the three main protagonists are Roy, his wife Celestial and Roy’s best friend Andre. Between them lies a complicated triangle of secrets.

From the start of the book we are given Roy’s character straight away. He loves Celestial and yet he flirts with other women and keeps things hidden from Celestial. At this point of the book it is his background. However Roy does think that despite his misgivings Celestial should always be the dutiful wife.

To a certain extent Celestial behaves the way Roy likes it. The main difference is that she is honest and has explained her background problems to Roy straight away.

The problems start when Roy is sentenced to prison and Celestial starts to question the validity of her marriage, this is cleverly done through a series of letters between Roy and Celestial. Eventually she starts to realise that her feelings are directed towards Andre, the person who introduced Roy to Celestial. The couple are engaged behind Roy’s back.

When Roy returns he expects Celestial to continue acting like the good wife, to worship him, stay complacent but she rebels and the truth comes out leading each couple to make a choice. Stay together or divorce.

As I said earlier there’s a melodrama factor when one has a plot like this and there are some soap opera moments but on the whole Tayari Jones manages to convey the deep and complicated feelings a couple have for each other and the end result is an investigation on the true meaning of marriage and it’s binding factor. It also is an exploration of African American culture, especially where food is concerned and I personally haven’t read many books which emphasise black culture so there were times I had to research some terms. Thankfully the book never goes into predictability, due to some red herrings. Strangely An American Marriage is a quick read, despite the heavy subject matter. Although I did like the novel and would recommend it, I also have to admit that it was a book that I admired and found interesting, rather than a novel that was absorbing. As such there’s nothing bad with that.

Many thanks to Oneworld for providing a copy of An American Marriage in exchange for an honest review.

Track of the Week

Every Wednesday I will post one track that I am playing constantly. It may be something old or brand new.

This week it is Haley Heynderickz – Oom Sha La La

 

 

This track hits all points that I like in a song. There are quirky observant lyrics and certain amount of spontaneity. I especially like the totally random shouting of  the phrase ‘I need to start a garden’ towards the end. It’s a jaunty folk song that will put a smile on your face.

 

 

 

Mohsin Hamid – Exit West

Exit West

Exit West is a novel I admire more than actually like. Without a doubt it is clever. Although the story is about attitudes towards migrants, Hamid goes a step further and adds a magical realist element by allowing migrants to pass to other countries through magical doors which crop up. The book also is about a young couple trying to survive their war torn country and then when the couple find a doorway they try to survive adapting to their country’s traditions.

As the couple are coping, their relationship develops as well. Hamid manages to integrate this love story without becoming overly melodramatic. In fact the whole book itself is tasteful yet manages to drive the point that, essentially, we are all migrants in some way or another. Definitely a prescient novel.

There’s a lot to dwell on, but the thing that ruined the book is Hamid’s writing style. I felt that Exist West read like a badly translated novel. Although there isn’t cliched dialogue (thank goodness), the writing style is dull. Both the characters Saaed and Nadia had a ton of potential but the flat prose renders them into one dimensional characters. With such a rich plot, it is disappointing to see that the style doesn’t really match. However I am thinking about Exit West and the strength of the themes and how they do reflect 21st century society so there is some merit I guess.