Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

16. A Thriller

This seems to be the it book of the season thus far: featured at B & N and a long wait at the library. A young woman, Rachel, rides the train every day. Rachel observes the same couple in the same house and concocts an idyllic story of their life together as her train rumbles by. Watching them consumes her. It is probably no coincidence that her former house is just 4 houses away, and she also watches it with longing and jealousy. Her former husband and his new wife and baby live there.

Slowly we realize that he left her because she was a sloppy angry drunk. She has lost her job and has no money and lives with a flat mate and gets drunk day after day.  It is through this drunken haze of self pity and loathing that she sees something unusual at the flat she has been watching.  She goes to check it out, and of course she is embroiled in a mystery. The wife is missing. Her ex and his new wife down the block hate her being around and create the perfect love triangle to keep the plot twisting.

It is a fascinating study of memory and loss and point of view.  Ms Hawkins debut novel is not only a compelling read, a thoughtful page turner, but it is a great twist on the genre.  The hero is likable and very fallible and it is great to see a female character in the role of drunken hero.  We hate her; we love her; we root for her.  Put yourself in the library queue, I guarantee your book group is going to read The Girl on the Train.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mean Little Deaf Queer: A Memoir by Terry Galloway

15. A Memoir

Following the recommendation of a reader on FB--I picked up this memoir at the library. Here is one of the thirst things that caught my eye:

"I feel intensely fond of the whole lot of lousy writing [memoir] that has found its way to print because I smell in those stinkers a fecund democracy. Every sort of half coherent loser is having his say. Maybe even mean little deaf queers like me."

So why do we like memoir so much?  I think that Galloway spells it out quite nicely. It is democratic. We let people any people tell their stories. Perhaps, some of them, might not be well told, but let people tell anyway. It is good for us.

The title pretty much spells out the book for you. She is deaf (from age 9) , gay and has a bit of an attitude. Her chosen profession is acting and she is from Texas. She is happily married to a wonderful woman and coming out was not a huge tragedy, but rather her parents loved and accepted her for who she was.

The memoir itself was well written.  There were many places in the narrative that took my breath away and a few not so much, but I loved understanding what life was like for someone deaf in the 60s and 70s.  The bulky non-working hearing aids and the inability to use a phone.  Also, what it was like for a deaf actor to find work and respect. All of it compelling.

I never really understood what the central tension of the memoir was supposed to be.  What did our hero need to resolve? Was it acceptance of her sexuality?  disability?  Her unusual career?  Ms Galloway came to find a niche for herself in disability theater. Her big aha momnet was not so much accepting that she was disabled but that her disability could lead her to performing with others who were disabled.  That the disabled deserved a place on the stage. The best scene in the book was when she was assigned (without being asked or knowing what she was doing) to a group of disabled people and told to do a performance workshop with them. She founded VSA the Texas Arts and Disability Organization.

Her conclusion is like mine--everyone has a story and everyone deserves the right to tell it and be heard. She concludes by telling some stories of her fellow disabled actors.

The epilogue is where she speaks most profoundly about sound and hearing.  She is given some digital hearing aids which vastly  improve the quality of her hearing. She describes the sudden onslaught of every day noises poetically. It made me yearn for the sound of my lawn mower. She writes "...from the day I realized I was going deaf, sound was my lost love."

And so it is a memoir to the absence of sound, the lost love,  and to all who lost their loves.  This is a worthy memoir.  Maybe not such bad writing but definitely one that belongs in the democracy of the stories.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

14.  A book you choose for the cover

Its just sitting there, propped up on every spare surface in Barnes and Nobles. It is a hardback book--always out of my price range. I notice it.  The next time I pick it up and look at it more closely. The cover is lavendar and one of the characters is named Violet. I could lick it.  I put it down.  It is a Young Adult (YA) book, a genre which until recently I have disregarded, but hey, those kids sometimes are interesting.  I used to be a kid. So why is B & N pushing this book so hard?

The thing I love about young adult books is no matter what the book or the subject matter, they are instantly relatable. High school is high school whether you went through it in the 70's or now. Teens are teens and the adults who try to deal with the teens haven't much changed. Well, there's screens now and texting, but it all pretty much works the same way.

This book is about the worst of the worst teen dramas: bullying, accidental death, and suicide. It is also a love story about two memorable characters Violet and Finch. The bonus in this read (and probably why Barnes and Nobles has this so prominently featured) is it takes place in my lovely state of Indiana. It features real cities and places and teen hang outs and all the kids are going to IU when they graduate. This is a story also about place. At first, I thought the author was making stuff up about Indiana--but they were real places and the author, Jennifer Niven, grew up in Indiana.

I recently learned that in the world of classifying books for publishers and bookstores that the reason a book is slotted into the YA genre is that the protagonist is a young adult him or herself. I wonder if that classification keeps people from crossing over?  Well, I'm glad I took a gamble on the lavender cover with the post-it notes. I enjoyed this book. I cared about the characters and enjoyed a unique window into modern high school life. I also appreciated that the book was not predictable. I kept expecting certain scenes to happen that did not so double bonus.  Young adult or not, I think there is something for everyone in here. I waited for this from the library for a long time so I know there are lots people clamoring to read it.  Perhaps other crossovers like me.