Reading Life


Friday, November 27, 2015

Eleanor : A Novel by Jason Gurley

Eleanor is one of the most intriguing works of fiction. Jason Gurley, the author, spent fifteen years writing the book. He self-published it before it was picked up by a mainstream publisher--Crown of Random House. 

Eleanor is a tour de force; At its heart is a brave fourteen-year-old girl who wants to change her family's tragic trajectory. Her grandmother, also named Eleanor, was deeply unhappy. Her unhappiness spread to her daughter and grandchildren.

What makes the work different is that its a ghost story unlike any other. After reading about the tragic history of the Witts, readers are confronted with a brand new reality--Mea and Efah. Who are these mysterious beings and how do they affect Eleanor and Jack?

Eleanor is filled with searing images. Readers can see the two protagonist jumping off Huffnagle Rock, hand in hand. They can see Eleanor falling and then disappearing. They can see Jack's grief after Eleanor is transported to an mysterious place--the Rift.

Eleanor, a teen-aged warrior, discovers the power to heroically change her present and her past by entering people's dreamscapes. She encounters a witch, a frosty environment, dinosaurs, and the plane responsible for her cousins' deaths. 

After researching the author, I've discovered why the novel seems so alive with vibrant images. Gurley devised Eleanor as a graphic novel as he attests in his blog,

Thank you to Library journal for sending me an advance reader's copy of Eleanor. What a fabulous read it has turned out to be!

Multnomah Best Reads of 2015

There are many good titles here:

H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff are two I can personally recommend. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

From Pulitzer-prize winning Adam Johnson, comes a collection of thought-provoking short stories.

"Nirvana," is a poignant story about a woman who can longer walk after contracting a rare disease. In this near future story, she draws comfort from a digital hologram of Kurt Cobain that her husband creates. 

"Hurricanes Anonymous" focuses upon a man taking care of his toddler son in the aftermath of Katrina. Though they live in a UPS truck, the man tries to do what is right but he's distracted by his new girlfriend, Cherelle.

"Interesting Facts" is written from the point-of-view of a sarcastic breast-cancer survivor. Cancer, she says, has taught her some "interesting facts;" namely, that she does not want her husband to date if she dies.

In "George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine," Johnson returns to a theme he addressed in "Orphan Master's Son"--totalitarian governments. Set in Germany, shortly after reunification, the story gives the views of a former East German warden of Hohenschonhausen who seems to miss the old days.

The eponymous "Fortune Smiles," is about an odd reversal. A North Korean man is taken against his will to South Korea by a friend. Missing his past life, Sun-ho tries to lift off in a homemade balloon near the border. 

This brilliant collection of short stories and National Book Award winner is not to be missed. 
Adam Johnson, wikipedia.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies is a portrait of a marriage--as viewed in turn by both participants. The novel is a tragic love story and yet its also more than that.

Lawrence Satterwaite, an unlikely artist, is the creative force in the marriage. His father is a rich, but unsophisticated Florida businessman who made a fortune bottling spring water. Later, Lotto would write a play Springs based on his life in Florida.

As a dramatist, Lotto takes people and events from his life and uses them as creative fodder. His wife is the "saint" who remains childless and suffers for his art. She is his siren, his Antigone, until it all goes terrible wrong.

The second half of the book, Mathilde's point-of-view, picks up the dramatic pace. Here we see the cracks in the marriage writ large.

Mathilde has made Lotto's life run smoothly. She has taken care of all the bills and menial details, and she has grown to resent Lotto's fame. Mathilde also hides a staggering quantity of secrets. The things Lotto didn't know about his wife "could sink an ocean liner."

Chollie, Lotto's long time friend, seeks retribution. When he exposes one of Mathilde's most shameful secrets, he unwittingly unleashes a tragedy.

Groff depicts complex characters who are pretentious--flawed, yet interesting. In the end, Fates and Furies is more than a portrait of a marriage. It's a portrait of the sacrifices a couple may need to undertake if one of them is to succeed as an artist.

Other novels about couples dealing with creative conflict: Liza Klaussmann's Villa America, Peter Nichol's The Rocks, Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins, or Richard Yates' The Revolutionary Road.

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