Monthly Archives: June 2021

All about Grace

Grace book cover

Grace by T. Greenwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grace is a novel about a family coming apart at the scenes and a store clerk who’s perhaps the only one who perceives it. The opening is harrowing and brilliantly done. I don’t believe in putting spoilers in reviews, but go ahead and sample this book online to read the beginning and see if you can put it down.

T. Greenwood has an uncanny ability to make you sympathize with every character in this book, even if you don’t like them. But what I appreciated most about it was its structure and how the lives of the characters are so tightly woven together. Greenwood rotates between perspectives and always seems to jump in an out in at the exact time that will keep you turning the pages. You feel almost as if you’re reading an action story and not a saga about the intricacies of family relationships.

The main thing I could criticize about this novel is how the problems are piled on–also like an action novel, it’s packed with complications. One person has a hoarding disorder, the next has crippling restless leg syndrome, another a compulsive stealing problem. Things are also wrapped up neatly and a little too coincidentally, much of it tied together through the name Grace.

That said, while these things broke the spell for me a little bit, they didn’t bother me much as I was reading, and I found this an absorbing and rewarding novel.

A visit from people you’d rather not spend any time with

Book cover for A Visit From The Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a series of connected stories centered around a record company executive and his assistant. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and is something of a work of writing bravado, shifting between characters and jumping back and forth in time. Jennifer Egan has a sure hand, and I particularly appreciated the moments she jumped far forward in time to tell you what happens to people in the future.

I found little else to like in this book, though, and wound up skimming and skipping ahead when I was a bit more than halfway through. I just didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, and didn’t feel there were really any insights into human nature other than that self-destructive people tend to, well, destruct. Time goes on and beats you up as you age. Okay, I get it.

I know some people love this kind of thing, but stories that are mostly about people who feel sorry for themselves just don’t hold my attention. I would try another book by Egan because she does create vivid characters and write well, but I just didn’t want to spend any more time with these people.

What to take from a pandemic

Station Eleven book cover

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Station Eleven is about a pandemic flu that wipes out most of the world’s population, but it’s very much a literary novel. Much of the focus is on a group of nomadic actors and musicians called The Traveling Symphony, and its theme is about the place of the arts in our lives and how they help to give people meaning.

This was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Some critics criticized how Emily St. John Mandel skipped over the devastation itself, not focusing more on the immediate pain of it. I had no problem with that as a reader, since I’ve read and seen this type of scenario a thousand times before; there’s nothing new to do in that realm. I thought the author handled it deftly, giving a chilling sense of how quickly the world changes without indulging in grotesque description. I found it very effective overall.

This is definitely a bit of a fantasy in its positive focus about a global calamity, but I found that it got under my skin in all the good ways, making me think of it long after I’d finished. By depicting all that is lost, Mandel managed to make me look with fresh eyes on what we have now, a great accomplishment to pull on a jaded reader like me. Maybe part of that is living through the current pandemic, but while this came out in 2014, it still seems fresh. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.