This week marked my departure from having read more than one book in any match up. All in all it worked out pretty well for me though: out of four books I’d read three went through to the next round.
First up, a disappointment: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout lost to Version Control by Dexter Palmer. I loved Lucy Barton. It was quiet but packed with so much emotion. It’s a reflection by a now-successful writer on a few months she spent in hospital when her estranged mother came to visit. The prose is so simple and spare and at first I wondered if her mother was actually dead and visiting as a figment of Lucy’s imagination. (It is no spoiler to tell you she’s not.) There is so little to go on but that’s what makes the slim novel so strong as the little pieces of information slowly add up to a bigger emotional truth. The reader slowly fills in Lucy’s childhood of incredibly poverty with hard and detached parents. You see her marriage to her husband and her missing of her two daughters, her work on becoming a writer, her eventual divorce. (Kind of a spoiler but not really.) Some of my favourite parts came out of the eventual divorce.And through it all Lucy’s distant mother is there with her, bringing up parts of her story and solidly blocking others. It’s so interestingly put together and trickily compelling: I kept wondering about her childhood trauma but by the time it’s eventually revealed I realised it was not the point at all.
Next up was The Mothers by Brit Bennett vs High Dive by Jonathan Lee. I haven’t read High Dive but now I kind of want to. I’ll talk about The Mothers more next time.
Then came Moonglow by Michael Chabon and Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter. I tried to read the Chabon. I tried like three times. But I hated it so much, although I think more as a concept than the book itself. I loved Judge Chancelor’s verdict (I also really liked his odd book from ToB15. He says, ‘Ultimately, I don’t care that much about the grandfather—or Mike.’ I would stretch that to Michael Chabon. I am heartily not into sprawling, somewhat autobiographical white guy novels. Colour me completely uninterested. Of the very little part of the book I did read I found it forced – trying too hard to be quirky and trying too hard to generate interest in largely uninteresting lives. But hey, I only got through like 30 pages so what do I know. Although Grief was also not my usual jam after forcing myself through half of it I succumbed to its charms. (To be fair it’s a really short book so forcing myself through half of it took less than an hour. I like that in a book.) Grief is super weird and painful and full of very strange imagery and a giant talking crow. Judge Chancelor quotes the end of one of my favourite passages about moving on. Here’s the part I love that comes immediately before it:
Moving on, as a concept, was mooted, a year or two after, by friendly men on behalf of their well-intentioned wives. Women who loved us. Women who knew me as a child.
Oh, I said, we move. WE FUCKING HURTLE THROUGH SPACE LIKE THREE MAGNIFICENT BRAKE-FAILED BANGERS, thank you, Geoffrey, and send my love to Jean.
Judge Chancelor also says this:
‘Grief Is the Thing With Feathers shows how much life fits inside any moment. It’s short. There’s a lot of blank space to process what you’re reading. Each scene seems chosen with great care, but also with a reckless laugh that comes from Crow. We go as deep and as close as possible to each instant—with an intensity of feeling as if the entire thing is going to be suddenly ripped away.’
In the next round, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (which I loved) beat out Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet (which sounds cool but I haven’t read it). More on that next round.
And after that I haven’t read any of the others. Hopefully to be rectified soon!