Saturday, January 2, 2021

Reviewlettes: Unpopular Opinions

So, one of the things 2020 has brought me unusually high number of books read.  Since I am a garbage blogger but still a blogger in my heart, I feel compelled to comment on all the books I read on the internet before I give them away.  This ends pretty poorly for me considering I reviewed all of maybe five books in 2020, so I'm pretty much just floating around on a wave of books I'm never likely to get around to reviewing.  By way of assuaging my guilt and perhaps letting a few books get out the door and on to their next adventure: reviewlettes!

I read The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue with unfairly high expectations since I count his The Stolen Child among my very favorite books.  Unfortunately, it did disappoint.  It tells the story of Jack Peter and his parents.  Jack Peter is on the spectrum and draws monsters that somehow manifest into real life.  Unsure about how to handle an increasingly violent Jack Peter who refuses to leave the house, his put-upon parents and best friend, Nick, are now harassed by all manner of things that go bump in the night.  It's eerie, and it has an interesting twist, but the characters often felt strange and wooden.  A subplot about a shipwreck seemed unnecessary and odd word choices kept jolting me out of the story.  All in all, the book felt like it was trying very hard to accomplish something, but the something is uncertain and the pieces just never quite added up.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
 by Kim Michele Richardson was a book club selection, and for once, I have the unpopular opinion on it.  Most of my book group loved it, but I was underwhelmed.  The Book Woman tells the story of Cussy Mary, a packhorse librarian in Kentucky during the Great Depression and also the last of the blue people of Kentucky, marked out as different by the strange blue hue of their skin.  This story had a lot of potential, and Cussy Mary is definitely a lovable character, but the story felt too shallow, electing to cover a fantastic range of topics instead of digging deep into one or two.  If it had only been about packhorse librarians and blue people, it might have been more satisfying  Instead it covered profound poverty, racism, educational failures, union sentiment, medical experimentation, unexpected love, being true to yourself, and more.  The book is riddled with tragedy, but I didn't know the characters well enough to be affected by it.  Richardson clearly did a lot of research into this time and place and the people who lived there and then.  Unfortunately, it felt like she was so attached to all of the research that nothing was left out and the book felt stretched thin.  Nonetheless, this book is well-loved, so I might just be the odd one out on this one.

is the first book I've ready by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and.....I didn't really like it.  Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, a couple in Nigeria whose happily ever after is dismantled when the two have very different immigration experiences, Ifemelu to the United States and Obinze, illegally, to the UK.  As Ifemelu plans her return to Nigeria and imagines being reunited with Obinze, the story unpacks their histories.  I think this book is Important with a capital I, but as storytelling goes, it fell flat.  I appreciated the many insights into our ingrained white American biases presented within the framework of Ifemelu's blog and experience.  Much of this was very eye opening.  I appreciated, objectively, the high quality of the writing.  My biggest problem with the book may have been that I just didn't like Ifemelu.  Her social circles in the U.S., both white and black, were irritatingly pretentious.  Her self-destructive tendencies were aggravating.  I grew weary of the story not seeming so much a story as a message I was supposed to be getting.  I think there's a good non-fiction book hiding in this fictional narrative, and I wish that had been the focus.  I look forward to reading other books by this author, but this one didn't quite work for me.