summer reading

One of the first novels I read this summer was Aryn Kyle's The God of Animals, a book left for me by my neighbor on my doorstep, dog-eared and much loved, and I could see why. There's a slightly disturbing quality to this novel. The writing is quietly beautiful, not overly showy or lyrical, but with moments that seem almost cinematic. Perhaps the novel is slightly disturbing because it's about normal people, in all their fucked-up-ness and in all their beauty. It's a pragmatic tale, in a sense, because one doesn't finish it loving or hating humanity. Rather, I bow down to how beautifully humanity can be portrayed.
I tried and tried and tried, but Le Divorce by Diane Johnson is just not my thing. Ironically, I chose this novel because I'd heard stellar things about how it was written, and that's precisely why I just couldn't finish it. Although I still might, eventually. But the narrator seems to be endlessly telling and telling and telling about her life in Paris. It's like listening to an endless techno track with the same beat with no hook, no drop. I just couldn't get into it. Not that this is a bad book, by any means. It just didn't ever grab me.
 Oh, Isabel Allende! When I think of writers I love, her name is one of the first that comes to mind. While I did like House of Spirits better, Eva Luna is almost as wonderful, as magical, as rich in narratives and lyrical language. When reading Allende, one steps into a magical world rich in spices, aromas, ghosts, warriors, love, and all with a political backdrop both ominous and hopeful. She deserves her spot in the cannon of great magical realists of South American literature.
This novel perhaps tops them all, with its staggeringly beautiful, lyrical writing juxtaposed next to the street jargon and slang of the two narrators (and the way Diaz makes the vernacular lyrical). But the language isn't its only beauty. His protagonist, Oscar, defies cultural stereotypes, fitting more neatly into the stereotype of the white nerd, except that he's Dominican, not white. These race issues are explored through the characters' varying definitions of what it means to be Dominican. And all of this told in the shadow, the curse, the fuku of Trujillo. This novel, an epic family narrative, is about the victims and survivors of Trujillo, the scar of Trujillo, and the beauty and pain of being a Dominican, whether still at home or part of the diaspora. In part, it's a novel about finding peace within oneself and it's also a novel about returning home.
This carefully written novel is about the fall of the British empire, the descent of the old families of influence and rise of the middle class and the building of the suburbs. It reminded me quite a bit of Remains of the Day for that reason, and it depicted the psychological and physical decline of these upper class characters. Therefore, this novel deserves more credit than being merely brushed aside as a spooky story. But it also is a spooky, gothic story (reminding me a bit of Poe and Hawthorne), bone-chillingly spooky at times, and a bit of a mystery that the reader has to solve for herself in the end. For Waters leaves many clues, but she presents no firm resolutions for her readers. However, the clues point to a rather surprising answer to the riddle that jars the reader in one of those delicious ways that remind us why we love a good story.


  1. good for you doing all this interesting summer reading! i love magical realism too--i have the fondest memory of reading marquez in a swimming pool in belize last summer. sadly i haven't made much time to read this summer, especially in the last month. last night i saw this blog post *and* got an email that my library card needs to be renewed...the universe is sending me signals.

  2. i had a lot of time to read while sitting on the beach with the waves at my feet...pure bliss! when home, i'm often busy with other projects and distractions, so sustained reading can be difficult to accomplish for sure. i too love marquez! i would love to re-read 100 years of solitude with a group of friends to discuss, because i probably missed out on a lot on my first reading.