Friday, October 30, 2015

In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark WoodIn a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware

Score one point for Ruth Ware for prompting me to think about this book in the middle of the night. In a Dark, Dark Wood is about Nora (formerly Lee), an antisocial, reserved writer in England, who is invited to a hen night (the UK version of a bachelorette party). The strange thing is she hasn't seen the bride for 10 years, since she was a teenager.

Bride Clare brings her "friends" from far and wide to a hidden-away, isolated glass house in the country where they drink heavily and have many an awkward conversation, especially since Nora and Claire fell out of friendship when they were teens.

And then someone is murdered, and Nora doesn't know whether she is the killer.

It's sinister, but not too grisly, and it's hard to care much about what happens to most of the characters. The characters, with the exception of Nina, were spoiled yuppies who thought the world revolved around them.

This was not bad for an airplane or beach read...but Nora annoyed the hell out of me. I don't have much sympathy for someone who cannot move on after a lost teenage love affair. Nora needed to get a life.

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

I debated whether to read Go Set a Watchman for quite some time, but finally curiosity got the best of me! It's worth reading if only to explore this progression of a writer and a book, as it preceded To Kill a Mockingbird.

What I liked about it:
  • Scout, or Jean Louise, is a grown woman. And she is a crusty, opinionated, and stubborn one at that.
  • As one reviewer noted, Go Set a Watchman is not the book we wanted about race...but it was the book we need. Others have said Atticus was always a racist.
  • The writing, at times, was beautiful...when it was not meandering.
  • It showed a slice of history, and perhaps a more realistic one, in the South during that era.
What I didn't like about it:
  • Oh, the meandering! Lee often goes off on various flashbacks, and I found myself questioning when we would get back to the main story. Not a good sign, and it reflects the need for the novel to be polished...which it was by the time To Kill a Mockingbird was published.
  • Some characters are mere shadows (Jem and Dill) of their evolved selves. I'm not sure why she even included them in this draft, as they appear only as memory fragments.
  • Many reviews discuss Atticus' racism while ignoring Jean Louise's own racism. Perhaps she wasn't as flawed as Atticus, but she was no saint. As "the book we need," it is a better representation of the south during this era than To Kill a Mockingbird, because it showed the many layers of racism. Yes, Atticus and Jean Louise's love interest Hank were worse, but Scout too was racist. Although Jean Louise was horrified by the KKK and its ilk, she was just as horrified by school segregation and interracial marriage.  
I'm glad I read it if only because I'm a curious reader and wanted to form my own opinion (similar to why I read Twilight). But it's easy to see why Harper Lee's first editor advised her to take a different tack. 

Ultimately, this book disappoints because Jean Louise is an old-school Southerner through and through, in spite of the higher hopes the reader might have in the beginning and middle of the novel. As Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times, "The difference is that Mockingbird suggested that we should have compassion for outsiders like Boo and Tom Robinson, while Watchman asks us to have understanding for a bigot named Atticus."

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

Here's one of the many values of book group for me: it makes me stick with novels that do not grab me immediately. Often, if I stick it out, they are worth it in the end. And so is the case with We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

The main character, Rosemary Cooke, was hard for me to relate to, especially at first. She is reserved, private, and distanced from her family because of a tragedy in her childhood. As the book moves along, we eventually learn what that life-changing tragedy was.

Without giving too much away about the story, this book exposed a lot of disturbing facts about the animal testing industry, specifically about chimpanzees and other primates. I learned a great deal about what humans have done to our evolutionary predecessors, and it's not pretty. This book made for great, thought-provoking discussions at book group. I definitely recommend it.