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Books I have read … January

every-last-oneEvery Last One by Anna Quindlen

Mary Beth Latham is a happily married mother of three, two sons and one daughter, all very different from each other but part of a loving, vibrant family. The daughter is also loved by a boy she has known since childhood. But Ruby Latham wants to move on. Unfortunately, the troubled boy doesn’t want to let her go. This novel, like all of Quindlen’s works, is well written and deals with emotions that we all have to some degree, whether loneliness, envy, or self-doubt. When a violent and terrible tragedy happens, the aftermath of rebuilding a life is articulated with pathos and regret. Quindlen’s subtle details made me cry while wanting to read more. A review by Nancy Robertson of The Washington Post describes part of the plot: “As Mary Beth moves through shock and grief in the aftermath of great upheaval, hidden aspects of her life come to light. She’s forced to face what she fears most and somehow try to keep on going. Quindlen succeeds at conveying the transience of everyday worries and the never-ending boundaries of a mother’s love.” Other titles by the author can be found in our collection, all of which I recommend: Still Life with Bread Crumbs, How Reading Changed My Life, and One True Thing.

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo
Pretty much everything that Richard Russo writes, I enjoy. It’s easy reading but has enough insight to make the characters come alive, and his stories are funny and down to earth. This one is the sequel to his earlier novel Nobody’s Fool. The characters are about thirty years older, with Sully still drinking hard and playing shenanigans on his friends and neighbors. A good review by T.C. Boyle of the NYT reads, “The book is droll and affecting, not only in its masterly depiction of the workings of an inbred small-town society, but in its portrait of Sully, the nobody’s fool of the title, “a case-study underachiever” who is “divorced from his own wife, carrying on halfheartedly with another man’s, estranged from his son, devoid of self-­knowledge, badly crippled and virtually unemployable — all of which he stubbornly confused with independence.”
queen-of-the-nightQueen of the Night by Alexander Chee

I wanted to like this book but…it’s too long, the same events happen over and over again, and the writing, while historically detailed, left me cold. The plot would have made an excellent story if Chee’s heroine was more engaging. I read about the protagonist’s exploits, being raised in the Midwest, losing her parents, joining the circus, touring Europe, becoming a prostitute, gaining world-wide recognition as a opera singer, having love affairs with dangerous men, etc. All that would have been great if I cared about her. But the repetition of emotions and events kept me far from intrigued. Don’t know why this book got such praise and is on the best seller’s list. In a New Yorker review, Joan Acocella states, “The title is taken from “The Magic Flute,” and in an afterword Chee says that he meant his book to be a novelistic ‘reinvention’ of Mozart’s creation. Actually, it is far more indebted to nineteenth-century opera—“La Sonnambula,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Il Trovatore,” “Faust,” and “Carmen” are all invoked, sometimes at length.” Maybe that’s why I thought it was agonizingly boring. I’m not an opera fan. Enough with the singing, get on with the story.

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