Saturday, December 10, 2005

Some novels really transport you elsewhere

and I've just finished reading a mesmerizingly good one, Fledgling by Octavia Butler. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but the writing and the sensibility and the characters made this book perfect to me; of course I am fond of books about vampires as well, but I don't think I've ever read such a thought-provoking and yet at the same time mesmerizingly readable use of the vampire premise. Highly recommended. (And it highlighted my dissatisfaction with the other light reading of the last couple days--I've got an awful cold, it has made me completely useless & my cough is doubtless keeping the neighbors entertained--Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner. I like Weiner--she's got a good presence on her blog, and I loved her first novel--but the later ones haven't measured up for me as a reader, and this one really got my goat. The narrator's pretty dreary and I'm just tired of reading novels that offer this kind of superficial treatment of the whole depressed formerly-career-woman-now-stay-at-home mother thing. No, their problems will not be solved--this is my problem with Ayelet Waldman's "Mommy-Track Mysteries" too--by stumbling into a whimsical and slightly satirical suburban murder mystery as a kind of unofficial investigator. Enough already with the mockery of the well-put-together mothers who feed their children organic milk, give the poor ladies a break. And also enough with the comic novels about the dreariness of having young children, I like my escapist reading really escapist! A book to read instead of this one, if you wanted one that covers some similar ground but with more seriousness [and more comedy], would be Fernanda Eberstadt's The Furies, which I loved, barring a few reservations about the needlessly melodramatic ending. I will keep on looking out for Weiner's new books, she's a far better writer than most, but this one was definitely a disappointment.)


  1. I completely agree about "Goodnight Nobody." I love Jennifer Weiner and really wanted to like this book, but Kate was definitely more annoying than likeable. Maybe it's because I move in different circles than the moms in the books, but I couldn't relate at all. I had some of the same feelings about "Little Earthquakes" - there wasn't exactly a mom like me to identify with. The ending of "Good night Nobody" was original, instead of the typical "kiss and make up, happily ever after," but most of the time I just wanted to yell at Kate to get her act together.

  2. Interesting thoughts on "Goodnight Nobody." I must confess that I have a soft spot for neurotic characters. For the most part, I enjoyed the book. What I didn't care for was the actual mystery itself, which was too pedestrian for my tastes (corrupt politicians and secret vocational identities in the suburbs? come on!). Further, I was bugged by what counted for fear in this book. But I actually enjoyed both Kate, the satirical "tough gal" dialogue and the book's observations about what women often sacrifice.

    As for "Fledgling," I suspect the fact that the tale is far more thought out than the usual vampire yarn (meaning the science, the various subcultures, the biology, et al.) is what you may be detecting.

  3. Andrea: Yes, something about the characterization didn't quite work for me. This will make me sound starchy, but seriously, if I was married to someone who did all of the things Kate does in this novel--I'm thinking specifically of the scene where she sneaks into her husband's office & reads his confidential files, then confronts his client with that information against his direct request, and also of the scene where her friend slips Ecstasy into a glass meant for the widower but it actually goes to Kate's mother instead--I would be absolutely furious and considering divorce! Neither of those things struck me as funny, just incredibly inappropriate and unethical!

    Ed: Yes, Fledgling's much better thought out than most; there are lots of very good vampire books, I'd say, but rarely does one have such a subtle ethical purpose as this. Very good stuff.

  4. I was disappointed by Fledgling, although I agree that it's much more thought out than most vampire books. But I was holding it up to the standard of Butler's other books, and thought it was much less complex and interesting.

    In any case, her death is a deep loss for literature.