Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Few Quick Book Reviews

Sweet Ruin by Cathi Hanauer

When I saw the pink cover of Sweet Ruin in the bookstore, I vowed not to read it, but there it was on the library New Books shelf one week, and somehow it ended up in the book bag. It's about a suburban New Jersey (ex-Manhattan) mom who is still devastated by the death of her newborn second child and only comes back to herself via an affair with a younger man. The main question I had after I read it was whether Hanauer was devastated that Ayelet Waldman's dead baby book and Eliza Minot's suburban New Jersey (ex-Manhattan) mom book came out before hers. Sweet Ruin is an easy read, but pretty predictable (of course in the mom's moment of passion, her daughter faces great peril...).

Easter Rising by Michael Patrick MacDonald

Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up from Under is a fascinating addendum to All Souls. When I finished All Souls, I wondered about MacDonald himself--he is strangely absent, especially emotionally, from the family and neighborhood narrative he recounts. Easter Rising explains why. As the rest of his family was embroiled in Southie, the alienated MacDonald escaped to early punk Boston, then New York, and eventually, post-punk, to Ireland where he regained his cultural identification. Though Easter Rising is not as coherent and forceful a book as All Souls, and I'm curious as to whether it could stand on its own, since it refers frequently to the events of All Souls without ever fully explicating them, it tells a fascinating tale, especially for a reader who was living a life that in some ways paralleled MacDonald's. What's really fascinating, though, is how completely absent this experience is from All Souls. I'm wondering whether MacDonald's next book will work the same terrain once more, for what's clearly absent from both books is love and sex, and I'm guessing (hard to find confirmation on the Internet) that the other fundamental issue for MacDonald is sexuality.

Lessons in Taxidermy by Bee Lavender

I am almost as obsessed with Bee Lavender as I am with Ayelet (see above), except that my obsession with Ayelet stems from an aghast indentification, while my obsession with Lavender stems from a fascinated (slightly put off) disindentification and, to be honest, some degree of envy. There aren't a lot of lives I'd trade for my own, but I might just choose to be a glamorous Europe-based writer, rather than a Town working mom. I always knew that Lavender had health issues, but they didn't seem enough reason not to want to be her. Then I read Lessons in Taxidermy, her brief and piercing memoir of her childhood illnesses and how she became the adult she is now. Wow. I think I'm fine with being me. I feel like I've seen the words "totally original" thrown around about this book, and I wouldn't go that far. Reading it, I thought of Dorothy Allison (working class roots, strong mother), Lucy Grealy (childhood illness, though with a very different ending), and--sorry I keep beating this drum, but I just have to--Michael Patrick MacDonald (class awareness, activism). Still, Lessons in Taxidermy is completely gripping in its own way. I read it in a day, sneaking chapters when I went into the bedroom to put on my sneakers or get dressed after a shower. Powerful, thoughtful, and a window into a horrifying experience and a fascinating person.

The takeaway? No need to read Sweet Ruin, if you can find anything better, which you probably can. Read All Souls first, and then see if you want to read Easter Rising. Lessons in Taxidermy? I say read it, but beware that it is not a fun read.

No comments: