Monday, January 19, 2015

January 2015 Reads (week three)

What a great week of reading! I finished five books and made progress with The Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzhko  (65 percent  through); but no progress with Tales from a Mountain Cave: Stories from Japan's Northeast by Hisashi Inoue (read one so far).

The finished Five:

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano, Mark Polizzotti (Translation)
Library book. My Review
Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami
Library book. Read for January In Japan. My review is here 

Sweetland by Michael Crummey
Library book.
Moses Sweetland is the solo holdout when the government depopulates the  Newfoundland island that has always been his home. His lonely existence is a continuing struggle to survive. Memories and hallucinations become his companions as he faces bad weather, dwindling supplies, and illness. The novel is nostalgic; witty; and, considering that it is the tale of a loner, full of interesting characters. Five stars.
Count for Canada Bingo  Governor General's Literary Award Nominee for Fiction (2014)

Let Me Be Frank With You (Frank Bascombe #4) by Richard Ford
Library Book.

The only other Richard Ford book I have read is Canada, which I liked very much. Let Me Be Frank With You is very different. It covers a short period in the life of sixty something year old Frank Bascombe. It's divided into four parts, each one could stand alone as a short story or novella.

Frank muses about his life, marriages, children, and acquaintances. He claims that in his retirement he doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do--then he proceeds to tell about four things he's doing that he really doesn't want to do. He has an uncomfortable meeting with a former associate whose house (which he bought from Frank) on the shore has been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Next, he lets a woman who used to live in the house Frank now lives in enter the house for a "look around" and he listens to her story (which he really doesn't want to hear). Then he visits his ex-wife who is in a retirement home suffering from Parkinson's disease. In the final chapter/story he visits a dying man-a former acquaintance that Frank never really liked.

All this is related with humor and wisdom (or not) and there are some likeable characters, but not too many and I'm not sure Frank is one of them. It's a fun read, but I'm uncertain about reading more Frank Bascombe books. I do want to try one of Ford's short story collections. I waver between four and five stars on this one, perhaps because I liked Canada better.

The Business of Naming Things by Michael Coffey
Uncorrected proof from Bellevue Literary Press through LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

This story collection was a great followup read after reading Richard Ford's Let Me Be Frank With You. The stories are set in northeastern United States and most deal with middle class men looking back on their lives and their relationships.

The opening story "Moon over Quabbin" and "I Thought You Were Dale" (the fourth story in the collection) have female protagonists. I found them good stories but a little less satisfactory than most of the other stories.

"The Newman Boys" about a teenager who makes friends with a handicapped neighbor boy is my favorite in this collection. The relationships and the contrasts between the two families are central in this coming of age story. This story had a somewhat disconcerting shift from the third person narrator to the first person, then back to the third person. It was odd; it worked for me but I wasn't sure why.

The answer came in the next story "Sons" about a sometime author. There is an authorial musing about whether to use first, second, or third person in writing a story. A bit of a digression from the story, but it was helpful to me as a reader in understanding how and why shifts of voice work.

"Sunlight," which concerns an interview with Harold Brodkey, worked for me even though I'm not a fan of Brodkey's work.

The final story "Finishing Ulysses" will probably come across as a nice literary pastiche for those who are readers of Joyce. Unfortunately, I got little out of it which isn't surprising since I never even started Ulysses.  I'll have to leave to someone else to evaluate this story.  I does make me want to pick up Ulysses and perhaps read a little just to see what Michael Coffey is doing here.

Overall, this is a fine collection with interesting characters, realistic relationships, and quality writing.

(note: Bellevue included a book from their back list, Tinkers [2009] by Paul Harding, as an extra.)

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