Tuesday, July 08, 2008

James Taylor in Contemporary Fiction

I'm not quite sure why the last two novels I read featured James Taylor, but they both did, though they have very little else in common.

Genevieve, you were right: the first James-Taylor-featuring novel was Marisa De Los Santos' Belong to Me. I was having a bad reading period, either abandoning books or reading them and regretting it. The best thing to do when having a bad reading period is to obey Jenny. Actually, the best thing to do in general is probably to obey Jenny, but it is a particularly good idea to obey Jenny when it comes to matters literary, especially when she knows you and your tastes. At any rate, Jenny suggested Marisa De Los Santos and Joshilyn Jackson. I did not love the Jackson novel I started of the three I took out of the library, and then it was time to return the books, so maybe some other time. But I completely enjoyed Belong to Me: it was really an ideal read of the...what is it that I love? Ah yes, contemporary women's literary realism. Engaging characters, plot, location; good writing; a bit of maudlin melodrama, but not so much as to turn one off: really, I fear that I will damn this novel with faint praise, because it's hard to put my finger on why it was so enjoyable, I think perhaps because it was just so competent in the best sense of the word, which sounds like faint praise, but really isn't at all. (If you need a plot summary to decide whether you want to read it, you can go for the link, because I fear plot summary will sound like more faint praise! A woman and her husband move to the suburbs and meet a lot of neighbors, including the teen genius and his out-there mom, and the Queen Bee and her dying best friend, and their lives all get intertwined. Truly, the Queen Bee is the absolute best character, quite fabulous, though the teen genius is also quite great.)

The other novel with James Taylor in it is Sophie Dahl's Playing With the Grown-ups, and I have to say first off, that I have great difficulty telling the Freud girls and the Dahl girls apart. There are the imposing grandfathers, to begin with, and then they all seem to appear in British Vogue and design hats and write novels all at the same time, and maybe some of them are even artists--and oh my gosh, my mid-blogging googling has just proved that Sophie Dahl's new book is basically the same thing as Esther Freud's old book, so I am clearly onto something with the Dahls and Freuds (and what would Sigmund say about that giant peach?!). At any rate, this book was quite ridiculous: it was a coming-of-age novel, and basically had no plot except the heroine's mother being wack and the child heroine becoming a teenager heroine and getting bad, and then clearly getting good, because there is also a part set in the present when she is pregnant and married and obviously good, but you never see how she got from bad back to good, because she was quite good as a child, only adolescence and her terrible mother were the problem, and this is striking a bit close to home (not me, but my recent teenager), and really this book is not worth talking about much more. It wasn't BAD; it just wasn't very good, and really there was not much of a reason for it to exist, except perhaps for me to have my Freud/Dahl insight. But it did have James Taylor.


addy said...

I like when you use the word "wack." It's funny.

Genevieve said...

Now I'll be forever thinking about Freud and the Giant Peach!

Did you read de los Santos' first book? Love Walked In, which is terrific and has all the beginning of the story about Cornelia and Clare. I was so excited to see that Belong to Me was a sequel.