Marie’s Reading…

I’ve fallen behind on my review schedule!  I decided to compile the three new novels I’ve read into one post rather than do complete reviews with readalikes for each one.

If you’d like some readalike ideas (or have any to share!) feel free to leave a comment or send an email.

Here are the three new books I’ve read recently:

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

I’m usually a bit leery about novels that interpret real-life historical figures.  Actually, I’m also leery about novels that interpret fictional characters.  There’s always room for argument about presentation of character, interpretation of events, and presentation of relationships.  There’s also always room for a lot of argument about whether a characterization seems true to life.

I think Benjamin presents a believable account and interpretation of the life of Lavinia Warren Stratton.  Her Author’s Note is worth a read to get an idea of her inspiration and intent.  The style of the book grew on me–it’s meant to be Stratton writing down her memoirs after the death of her husband, the famous General Tom Thumb.  Vinnie as a character also grew on me, as did her relationship with P.T. Barnum.   This story works as an historical novel, with great research and atmosphere (the writing style helps quite a bit with said atmosphere), though there’s something strangely contemporary about it.  Perhaps it’s how open and self-aware Vinnie is in some ways, as though she’s writing in a journal rather than for an audience–somehow that approach seems quite modern in our age of tell-all memoirs.  Still, it doesn’t distract from the reality of the story, and might actually help broaden the appeal of the book.  I also like how Benjamin includes a list of resources that she found helpful while doing her research–if anything, this is a novel that makes you want to learn more!

We the Animals by Justin Torres

This is a brutal little book.  It’s a coming of age story and a tale of family and brotherhood.   Every word counts–readers who love language and poetry will appreciate the way Torres uses word choice and imagery here.  The effect is visceral, a story you feel and experience on several levels.  Masculinity, family, and poverty are big themes, but not in a “problem novel” way–they seem almost incidental.

If you go to NPR you can hear Justin Torres speaking about his book.  Hearing this interview on the way to work one morning prompted me to read the novel, and it might do the same for you.  You can find it here:

“Fiery ode to boyhood.”  What a good way to phrase it.

And, finally:

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

What happens after the Rapture?  What if it wasn’t the Rapture at all?  That’s the set-up for Perrotta’s latest novel.  One day millions of people simply disappear, all over the world, people of all faiths and backgrounds.  The Leftovers focuses on one family and how they deal with the aftermath of The Day.

This story isn’t really what I was expecting, but I ended up being drawn in.  At first the breeziness and matter-of-factness of the prose threw me, as well as the straight-forwardness of the story.  After reflecting I realized that that’s the whole point–life did continue for these characters, and the questions the story addresses involve how (and to what extent) their lives go on.

This is a very character-driven and relationship-driven story, and what plot there is seems a bit of an afterthought.  The meat of this novel, and its power, is in its ordinariness.  Perrotta delivers a family-centered novel with an unusual premise, and the open-ended finish works well.



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