Marie’s Reading: “French Exit: A Tragedy of Manners” by Patrick deWitt

51kVJ27KveL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_There’s something about this novel that reminds me of S.J. Perelman’s The Swiss Family Perelman and Westward Ha!.  It might be the deadpan absurdity, or the quirky characters, or the witty and sometimes twisty turns of phrase.  Probably all of that.

French Exit is about Frances, a wealthy woman in her sixties who is bankrupted after her husband’s death.  She and her deadbeat adult son Malcolm decide to move to Paris to live in a friend’s apartment.  They bring along their cat, Small Frank, and set out for Europe.

The characters are nuts in the best way, the way that recalls screwball 1930’s comedy.  Frances is absurd and not very nice at all, a wealthy beauty who truly enjoys running from “one brightly burning disaster to the next.”  Malcolm is next to useless, a sad and self-centered manchild who manages to evoke a little pity, given his parents.  And the cat is not just a cat–he’s the vessel for Frances’ late husband’s soul.  Once the family gets to Europe, even more oddballs are added to the mix as Frances plans her grand exit.

French Exit is a quick and entertaining novel full of sharp observations and wit, humor and depth, incredibly quirky characters and situations, and some surprising turns.

–Marie

 

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“Twin Peaks” Readalikes!

Did I tell you that I recently discovered David Lynch’s Twin Peaks?

Well, I did, and I love it.

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So when I saw this article today, I immediately thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”  Lincoln Michel over at Vice has put together a great list of books you might want to try if you enjoy Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks is weird and quirky, but sweet.  It’s scary, but funny.  It’s surreal and out there, but also grounded in small-town dynamics.  The tone is a tough one to capture.  Each of the books Michel picked fits some aspect of the show.  And goodness knows it’s got a plethora of plots, ideas, and characters in the mix, so lots of very different readalikes present themselves.

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One of my very favorites, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, is top of the list.  I’d suggest any Shirley Jackson if you enjoy Twin Peaks–her stuff is loaded with the macabre, the supernatural, and the weird, but always grounded in the everyday.  She also had a knack for quirky characters and humor, as well as a slightly foreboding tone underneath it all.

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Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy made the list, as did Duplex by Kathryn Davis and The Shining by Stephen King (all great choices).  I learned about quite a few books I’d never heard of before thanks to Michel’s article, and ones I definitely want to try (surrealist Leonora Carrington’s work, for a start).

Here’s the link to Weird Books You Should Read If You Like Twin PeaksGive it a look, if you’re a David Lynch and/or Twin Peaks fan!

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–Marie

(and thanks to PopSugar for the gifs!)

 

Marie’s Reading: “The First Book of Calamity Leek” by Paula Lichtarowicz

calamity leekThe First Book of Calamity Leek  by Paula Lichtarowicz opens with an attempted escape.

Truly, one of the girls who live in the Garden, protected by their dear Mother and Aunty, has tried to scale the Wall and get Outside.  Her cryptic words, when Calamity and her Sisters find her: “No Injuns.”

Thus we’re pulled headlong into the world of Calamity Leek.  She tells us all about Mother, who has rescued them from Outside, and Aunty, who is training them to be Weapons to go to war against the demonmales who dominate the world.  All of their knowledge of the world comes from Aunty’s Appendix and Showreel, which she shows them at regular intervals.  Calamity is treasured here, close to Aunty, loves her Sisters, and she believes in the divinity of Mother, and in their sacred mission.

Soon enough we learn that Calamity is telling us of a time gone by–in the present, she’s in an Outside hospital and has lost everything she’s known.  The book is the story of how she ended up there, and what happened to the Garden.

Calamity is a joy to follow.  She’s smart and brave and sure and proud, and completely loyal.  What’s heartbreaking is how these wonderful things about her have been used and abused by Aunty.  Calamity is strong, and she loves fiercely, but she’s also brainwashed.  It’s a heartbreaking combination.  Her voice and language are at once foreign and familiar, fitting for a girl who’s grown up in isolation.

References abound in this book, all springing from Aunty’s delusions and background (she’s a disfigured former actress).   A lot is left up to the reader to piece together, since we get the story from Calamity’s limited point of view.  It’s a bit of a puzzle, but easy enough to figure out when you’re on the outside looking in.

One blurb on the back of this book called it a mash-up of Margaret Atwood and Roald Dahl, and I was trying to figure out where the Dahl came from.  I’ve just now figured it out: all of the adults in this book are either completely insane and abusive or completely useless.  They’re tyrannical or they misunderstand.   It’s the kids making sense of their own world and beating the odds, and through the elevated craziness of Aunty and Mother’s little garden, it’s possible to see how completely off-kilter the adult world is, particularly to  children.

The First Book of Calamity Leek  is original, creative, and poignant.  It’s also funny and smart, chock-full of references and creative use of language.  I’ll go ahead and say this has been one of my favorite reads of the year so far.

For readalikes, I’d suggest Room by Emma Donoghue.  The story is narrated by a young boy who has grown up in the small room where his mother has been held captive.  It’s much more serious in tone and deals with consequences in the real world more deeply, but it also uses a unique point of view to deal with hard issues in a sideways sort of way.

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan might also appeal, for those who love how tough Calamity is.  The main character there is a wounded young woman who might have killed a police officer, and is put into a detention center called the Panopticon.  You can read my blog post about it here.

–Marie

 

Marie’s Reading: “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion

rosieThis is a fun, quirky romantic comedy.  I know “quirky” gets thrown around seemingly at random when it comes to romantic comedies, but here, it fits.  For one thing, our hero has Aspberger’s Syndrome (which, it seems, he is largely unaware of).  This trait, wonderfully portrayed and used to the utmost plot-wise, makes this story very entertaining a lot of fun, as well as quite sweet.

It also provides a great set-up: Don Tillman is a geneticist who wants to find a wife (acting under the logical assumption that there is someone for everyone, even one who believes himself incapable of love).  Dating, due to his Aspberger’s, really hasn’t worked out.  So the obvious solution is The Wife Project–an exhaustive questionnaire for prospective spouses to fill in.  If they don’t score highly enough, then they are not worth the time.  Then along comes Rosie.  She does terribly on the questionnaire, so there’s no rational chance that she’s a good match for Don.  So he feels just fine about using his expertise and ins with the DNA testing lab to help Rosie with her own personal project–finding her biological father.

From there, it has the ups and downs of every romantic comedy.  Misunderstandings, romantic moments, and fun dates spent surreptitiously collecting DNA samples.  Like all good rom-coms, this one comes out just the way you want and expect.  The sweet moments and the happy ending will please romance fans, the fish-out-of-water humor will amuse those who enjoyed book like The Silver-Linings Playbook.  It’s one of those  novels with fairly broad appeal for a general fiction reader.  Great character voices, a conversational and funny writing style, and a satisfying ending.  A really fun read!

–Marie