Sunday, January 11, 2009

Catching up from 2008. Ann Patchett, Toni Morrison, and David Guterson

To make up for the lack of reviews posted in December of 2008, I'm going to list a few books that I've been reading, all novels with titles of one word --not counting initial articles. Starting with:

Patchett, Ann. Run. NY: Harper, 2007
Burling Library PS3566.A7756 R86 2007 (currently Smith Memorial)

Patchett explores the complexity of family relationships and explodes the idea of the nuclear family as we think about it in American culture. Tip and Teddy Doyle, African-American boys, are adopted into a Irish-Catholic political family. Their adopted mother dies when they are still quite young, but not too young for them to be devastated at losing her. Their uncle is a Catholic priest, their father a prominent politician disgraced by the misdeeds of his oldest son (his biological son). The bereived father throws himself into raising the two youngest with hopes that they will enter into politics. Meanwhile, their biological mother and her daughter, actually the biological daughter of her best friend who died when her daughter was still an infant, has lived close enough to the family to keep an eye on the well being of her two sons. As the novel progresses, they are all thrown together and the experiences that result have life changing impacts on each of the characters. A noteworthy detail, apparently something the novelest actually saw and that provided some of the inspiration for her novel, is when one of the characters notices a sign in the the window of a college dorm room that says Obama 2012.

Morrison, Toni. A Mercy. NY: Knopf, 2008

Burling 3rd Floor PS3563.O8749 M47 2008

As usual, Morrison draws her readers right into another world. This time, her novel is set in colonial America during a time of the expansion of the slave trade. Florens is taken from her mother, a slave in the palacial estate of a Spanish plantation owner, as payment toward the plantation owner's festering debt with Jacob, an Anglo-Dutch trader. Jacob is opposed to owning slaves, but takes Florens because she is about the age of the daughter he and his wife just lost. Florens is raised by Lina, a servant in Jacob's household, herself abducted from her homeland in Africa. Sorrow, another child taken on by Jacob (but not purchased), wanders around freely and is pregnant with her second child. Other characters include two white men, who through various tricks and deceptions are permanently indentured, and a free African, a blacksmith who comes to help Jacob build a magnificent house. All of the characters have suffered great loss, whether it is the loss of their freedom and home, the loss of a parent, the loss of children, or the loss of a spouse or lover, the suffering is overwhelming. Some characters are able to find their way through suffering, but others cannot.

Guterson, David. The Other. NY: Knopf, 2008
Burling Library PS3557.U846 O75 2008 (currently Smith Memorial)

Two boys, growing up in Seattle, meet haphazardly on the high school track field, and become close as they hike through the forests and mountainous regions of the Pacific Northwest together. After college, the narrator, Neill Countryman, marries and becomes a high school English teacher. His friend, John Williams, always seeking the most extreme route, decides to live a life of complete seclusion without hypocrisy. The novel opens with the news of Williams' death and Countryman's inheritance of Williams' vast wealth.

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