D’s Loquacious Late Summer 2010 Reads

Labour Day has just passed … the weather is starting to cool … but that doesn’t mean summer’s completely over!

Apologies for not writing anything much lately, but it might have been the dog days of summer that rendered me lathargic.

But I wasn’t totally lazy! In between trying my best to have a social life – as low-key as it’s been – and grinning and bearing it at work, I managed to cover a bit of ground in the reading department. These aren’t specifically summer reads, but here are the latest books I decided to tackle:

A Mercy, Toni Morrison

This one was a random pick from the library (and an unexpected one for me, as someone who’s read various novels by Morrison and come away more ambivalent then when I start them).

A slim novel at 167 pages, A Mercy brings to life the atmosphere in the early days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade through a motley crew of characters.

Each “chapter” slips back and forth in time, into individual voices: Jacob Vaark, a trader; his wife Rebekka, a ordered bride in exile from her homeland because of her family’s religious beliefs; Florens, the little girl bought by Jacob in a trade to settle a debt (which, incidentally, saves her from the cruel Portuguese master); Lina, their American-Indian servant whose dark story of which we only see the briefest of glimpses; Sorrow, the crazy, tormented soul whose early life started at sea … and in the very end, the voice of Florens’ mother.

It’s hard for me to have a definitive opinion on this book. I like the style in which the book was written, and the way in which Morrison plays with the timeline to weave the story together. But with a lot of her books, I always find that touch of strangeness, of the other, that leaves me confused, and having to go back a couple of pages to re-read things, just to make sure I’m following along.

Luckily, A Mercy was less confusing than a couple of past novels I’ve read. But I’d be lying if I said I completely understood the things not necessarily put in writing.

The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews

FINALLY, after visiting this book in the library, I made the commitment and got my hands on Toews’ most recent novel. I have to say that I actually liked this one better than A Complicated Kindness. The Flying Troutmans has a sort of Little Miss Sunshine quality to it, although the purpose of the quest is completely different.

The plot: Twenty-eight-year-old Hattie, on the outs with her boyfriend in Paris, gets a call from her 11-year-old niece, Thebes. Her mother Min – Hattie’s sister – is in a deep depression and Thebes needs Hattie to step in to help her and her older brother Logan. When Hattie arrives and sees the state of things, that’s when the journey – both physically and figuratively – begins for the dysfunctional Troutmans, and for Hattie herself.

The Flying Troutmans is simultaneously off-beat, awkward, funny and sad. It’s also a good exercise in trying to translate the teenage mind into print … as well as that of the awkward twenty-something.

I really like Toews’ writing style, and the way she’s composed her characters. The Troutmans may be fictional, but given all the wacky stories and people I hear about these days, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are people out there like the Troutmans, in real life. I say, give this one a go and determine for yourself.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Set in the Great Depression and World War II, Ian McEwen’s novel centres around the wealthy Tallis family – specifically 13-year-old Briony and her older sister Cecilia. What seems like a sleepy novel at first, quickly picks starts to pick up the pace, when Briony is witness to two incidents involving Cecilia and Robbie Turner – the servant’s son, whose education was subsidized by Briony and Cecilia’s father. Young Briony lets her imagination run rampant, with lasting consequences she spends the rest of her life paying for.

Overall, I liked this book. It’s my first McEwan novel, and one I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I wasn’t bowled over, mainly because of how long things took to pick up. I appreciated the descriptions of the sprawling Tallis manor and such, but it was a little bit much after a while. Once I got to the meat of the story – the point at which Briony lets her imagination (and snap judgements because of her lack of understanding of what she sees) – and everything after, that’s when things piqued my interest as a reader and I could use my own imagination to turn McEwan’s prose into my own images.

Atonement also had a couple of small twists in the latter part of the book, which I didn’t expect – a good quality in a novel, obviously. The only downside? Since I didn’t read this book before the movie adaptation came out a couple of years back, I had the hardest time picturing anyone but Keira Knightley as Cecilia the entire time. But if you can get over that, you should try and tackle this, if you haven’t already.

Okay, that’s all for now, kids. I’ll post more again soon.

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