Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: "Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver

Title: Flight Behavior
AuthorBarbara Kingsolver
Date Published: June 4, 2013
Pages: 464 Pages

How I Heard About It: TLC Book Tours and the publisher kindly provided an advance reader's copy for review in hardback.

Two Sentence Summary: Dellarobia Turnbow, a 28 year old mother of two and farmer's wife, has begun to feel an overwhelming urge to escape her increasingly narrow Appalachian life. Just as she is about to throw in the towel, to seek out upheaval for the sake of mere change, she discovers an environmental anomaly (part miracle, part bleak omen of a failing planet) that unleashes a flurry of media attention, scientific investigations, and unavoidable insight into her community and herself.

"She was embarrassed to invite these people into her house, that was the long and short of it.  A man living in a motor vehicle, the others maybe rooming next to a meth lab, but still Dellarobia couldn't bear how they would see her life. Like the country-music diner they called "vile." If these kids didn't know a zipper could be replaced, they surely had not seen the likes of her Corelle plates and stained carpet and pillow strewn rooms.  

Her every possession was either unbreakable, or broken."

Things I Think: For innumerable reasons, this novel is going to be one of the best books of 2013.  Prolific writer Barbara Kingsolver (author of 7 other novels, 3 nonfiction books, and even a collection of poetry) has certainly lived up to her reputation as an iconic literary figure of our era. 

From a personal perspective, I was immediately attached to the story because it is one to which I can relate. Dellarobia and I are the same age, and I have spent a great deal of time in the environment in which she exists. The beauty of rural, Appalachian foothill communities, coupled with the stifling lack of diversity and opportunity, is a juxtaposition with which I am both familiar and have occasionally struggled. Kingsolver's capability to illuminate the geographic location is no surprise, as she herself was raised in rural Kentucky. Her ability to write with the voice of a 28 year old "woman of today" was absolutely impressive to me; the author has proven, both within this one book and over the arc of her writing career, that she can convincingly adopt specific lexicons to create realism in her characters. 

There is a beautiful undercurrent of spirituality that runs throughout the novel.  Admittedly, I often shy away from "spiritual quest" narratives, but in this case, it evolves with masterful delicacy.  Dellarobia's increasing involvement in a natural phenomenon on her family's property is a gateway into a much larger consciousness, both ecological and humanitarian.  The escape she needed from her established path arrives, though in a form she would have never anticipated: millions of monarch butterflies, heralding the undeniable arrival of climate change on our planet.  

This is a book I was sad to finish. Thank goodness there is such a vast Kingsolver catalogue which I can continue to explore. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review & Giveaway: "Our Love Could Light the World" by Anne Leigh Parrish

Title: Our Love Could Light the World
Author: Anne Leigh Parrish 
Publisher: She Writes Press
Date Published: June 3, 2013
Pages: 202 pages

How I Heard About It: TLC Book Tours and the publisher kindly provided an advance reader's copy for review and a giveaway copy, in ebook format! 

Two Sentence Summary: In 12 interlocking short stories, Parrish introduces us to the Dugans, an incredibly dysfunctional family that goes off the skids when matriarch Lavinia leaves to marry a rich local (also her former boss).  Each piece turns the lens on a different character in this complicated passel, granting an intimate perspective on the machinery of one struggling family.

Things I Think: Holy wow. Anne Leigh Parrish is an incredibly talented storyteller and this collection is no exception. I know I've been talking a lot about character development in my last few posts, and "Our Love Could Light the World" is an epic example of three-dimensional, believable humans whose motivations and choices are consistently linked.

One of my favorite characters is the Dugan's oldest daughter, Angie. We see her growth from a disillusioned, gothy teenager to a caring, independent woman whose job as a social worker suits her sensitivities and intuitions perfectly.  Perhaps because she is the oldest, her relationships with parents Potter and Lavinia come to the forefront several times, and we see her become a source of comfort and even protection for her father (who struggles with alcoholism, depression, loneliness, and an undying love for Lavinia even after she has left him for her rich boss).  

The family undergoes one ordeal after another, from unexpected pregnancies to torched homes; broken relationships and surprisingly forged internal bonds that come in their wake. The collection twists and turns like a Rubik's Cube, constantly breaking previously established patterns and simultaneously building new alignments. As the stories of Parrish's characters tumble around one another and interlock, the reader is quietly and charismatically delivered insights into loyalty, love, survival.  The fact that the author is not heavy-handed with any type of moral makes the message she delivers all the more impactful: You may not have chosen your family, but they're the only one you've got. 

I have one copy of this book to give to a reader. Comment on the post to let me know you'd like to enter, and I will randomly select a winner one week from today. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: "The Wonder Bread Summer" by Jessica Anya Blau

Title: The Wonder Bread Summer
Author: Jessica Anya Blau
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date Published: May 28, 2013
Pages: 288 pages

How I Heard About It: TLC Book Tours and the publisher kindly provided an advance reader's copy for review, in conjunction with Jessica Anya Blau's online tour. 

Two Sentence Summary: Berkeley college student Allie finds herself in a bind when she steals a Wonder Bread bag full of uncut cocaine from her skeezy boss Jonah, who owes her a great deal of money, so that she can pay her tuition.  When Jonah sicks his thug crew on Allie, she flees to Los Angeles to track down her absentee parents and finds herself in a series of increasingly unfortunate events.

You can find more info here, here and here.

Jessica Anya Blau
Things I Think: There is a whole lot going on here in terms of plot. Stolen drugs, Billy Idol backstage hook-ups, giant birds falling out of the sky, lousy friends and lousier parents, a coke-addicted paraplegic porn mogul overdosing in the back of a van... There is certainly an entertainment quality in the rapid turnover of (literally) unbelievable events that transpire. 

This unbelievability, however, is what lessened the impact of "The Wonder Bread Summer." I don't mean unbelievable in the Coleridge-ian sense, in that I was "unable to suspend my disbelief." I "suspended" all through the first few chapters, let myself ride the chaotic waves the author set in motion. But the wildness of the plot, the sheer randomness of the characters' behavior, so drives the book that it overwhelmed any opportunity for me to connect to the characters. 

I think I would have enjoyed this more had there been more three dimensionality to the humans about which Blau writes. Allie could be a fascinating protagonist, were we granted a bit more insight into her choices, her interior monologue. As it is, I have trouble understanding how a girl that is solidly characterized as rather tame and pretty responsible so rapidly veers into a drug-snatching hot mess that has sex with Billy Idol backstage on a whim. Again, not totally out of the realm of possibilities, but as a reader I need to see how and why a huge transition like this occurs. 

I'm sure this book will find an accepting audience; after all, it is chaotic with the potential to be shocking. I went into this with high (pun intended) hopes for a unique view of 1970s California and some substance to go with the flash, and sadly did not find it.