Thursday, January 26, 2012

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (+)

I received Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon as a Christmas gift from my father this year (or, I guess last year). It is the third of Ms. Morrison's novels I've read.  The others being The Bluest Eye (another Christmas gift from my father a couple of years ago) and Beloved. All of them have been fantastic books, but even so I was not prepared for Song of Solomon.

I am not worthy to this review book.  Seriously.

So what is it Song of Solomon?  Hmmm.


It's a coming of age story.  It's a dark family history.  It's an assassins' story.  It's a treasure hunt adventure. It's a search for meaning in life.  It's folk legend. It's a mystery. It's beautiful, and horrific at turns.  It's powerful, and gentle. I'm sure I missing more...

It is also assuredly Morrison's masterpiece (with apologies to the tomes I have yet to read).  When I reviewed Beloved, I mentioned that it wasn't an easy read.  It was difficult. Complex. But that in the end it was worth the work, because in the end the work was more powerful for it.  Song of Solomon is none of that, and for that reason I'm going hoist it up on the shoulders of Beloved.  It is every bit as beautiful in it's simpler style, and is as powerful as the more lauded Beloved.  Yet, it is just less work for the reader.  For at the very least, the same payoff. 

Milkman Dead is a young man born into a well-off black dysfunctional family with a violent past that would make Cormac McCarthy cringe.  His family situation is so 'off', than I couldn't do their dysfunction justice by trying to explain it.  Suffice to say, Milkman's dream is to leave the family behind.  The result being a cross country trip to search for gold...a treasure left behind by his family's violent past.  The irony being that as Milkman search for answers as to what happened to the gold.  He is drawn more and more into his family's story.

There is so much more to it than that attempt at a synopsis.  There's also his cousin Hagar, whom he has had an affair with for years.  When he finally calls it off, she goes insane and begins a monthly ritual of attempting to murder him.  There's Guitar, his best friend, a member of an assassin's group that kills innocent whites when a black person is killed by a white as retribution and to "balance things."  There's Pilate, his aunt, who has unknowingly carried around a bag of her murdered father's bones for decades.  I'm going to stop there...there are just too many fascinating, bizarre characters.  And like I said I'm not worthy.

This is the best book I've read in years.  As least since reading Lolita by Nabokov.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lit Blog Hop - To Cliff Notes or Not to Cliff Notes

Literary Blog Hop

Lit blog hop asks:

Do you like to supplement your reading with outside sources, like Sparknotes, academic articles, or other bloggers' reviews? Why or why not?

Number one, I don't even know what Sparknotes are. So that should be the first clue to this answer. I assume they are Cliffs Notes, essentially? And the answer to that part of the question is no. Why? Two reasons:

1) I'm cheap. I often buy my books (as cheaply as possible), and am not compelled to spend more on notes.

2) I'm not being tested on this stuff. And because I'm not being tested on this, I'd rather discover things on my own OR more than likely just remain oblivious. Either way is fine by me. BECAUSE I AM NOT BEING TESTED.

If I'm struggling with something in a book, I may (infrequently) do a search on the world wide internets to see if there's anything out there that can shed some light for me...ahem, Faulkner.

Finally, I don't necessarily seek out blog reviews about books I am reading, but I do keep tabs on about 20 blogs, and I often read a book because of someone's review (oddly a less than stellar review can push me to read a book, too). And just, in general, I enjoy reading others' blogs.

Monday, January 2, 2012

No Mercy - Lori Armstrong (-)

Wow, has it really been that long?  Ok, so over the holidays, I decided to go back to one of my comfort reads - a crime novel.  Without much idea of what to go for, I decided on the Shamus Award winner for Best Novel of 2011.  The Shamus Awards are PI centered novels, and I have a VERY soft spot for this sub-genre.  So anyway, that led me to purchase No Mercy by Lori Armstrong, a completely new author for me.

The book is about an Iraqi/Afghanistan soldier/sniper, Mercy Gunderson, on medical leave, who returns home in South Dakota just after the funeral of her father - a well respected Sheriff.  While home, shit starts to hit the fan in the normally peaceful town, as dead bodies start to pile up and many of them are found on the land of the Gunderson ranch...and appear to be tied to the dark cloud history that has always seemed to follow the Gundersons...indeed one of the bodies is Mercy's nephew.  If this all sound interesting to you, dear reader, I have bad news for you...

I am at a loss for how this book won any Best Novel award.  My problem was that I just didn't care...about any of it.  As is often the case in these situations, the blame lays on the shoulders of the main character. Mercy is an interesting concept for a character.  She is tied to the times.  Interesting to see a POV from a female soldier.  Also, she's dealing with post-traumatic stress...etc.  Not bad at all.  But somewhere when going from that scarecrow concept to actually breathing life into the character and animating Mercy...well let just say we're left with ratty clothes stuffed with hay.  She is tough as nail one scene...sensitive mush the next.  I understand the need for inner conflict, but wow this was bordering on multi-personality disorder...something I'm sure was not intended by the author.  And reading how Mercy went to putty every time she was around the new Sheriff, who replaced her father, was just the kind of stuff you find in a "penny dreadful".

So is there anything good to say about the novel?  The premises were good...I liked the concept of Mercy.  I like family dysfunction stories.  Plenty of that here.  I'm usually drawn to stories that explore Native American traditions/culture, etc.  A lot of the story centered on this.  So yeah, it looked like something for me. The execution just wasn't there.  I blame Mercy.

It took me about a WEEK to finish the last 30 pages of this book.  Maybe that is all that needed to be said about this one.