Book Reviews

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

August: Osage County
by Tracy Letts

This play dives deep into the inner workings of the Weston family and revels in their dysfunction. The family has serious issues, pills, alcohol, adultery, weed, etc., but it also has heart.

The story and writing reminded me of Tennessee Williams' work, southern families full of conflict and pain. It also has a dose of comedy and the ability to laugh at the absurdity of their arguments at times.

I think this is a play that won't appeal to everyone. At times it was hard for me to identify with the characters because they all seem to view themselves as victims. But over all I thought it was well written and didn't shy away from dark topics.

The Bean Trees
by Barbara Kingsolver

A young woman, Taylor, leaves home and on her way out west she's given a baby. The book deals with Native American culture, child abuse, illegal immigration, adoption and more.

I have heard about this book for years and I think that by the time I finally read it my expectations were too high. I never felt connected to Taylor and I had a really hard time accepting the premise. If someone gives me a baby and then leaves, I'm not going to keep the baby. How do you even know that was their baby to give away? I couldn't suspend my skepticism and embrace the plot. I did enjoy Kingsolver's style of writing, but I would definitely recommend The Poisonwood Bible over this.

Is anyone a fan of this series? Should I try the sequel, Pigs in Heaven, or is it more of the same?

The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro

The story is told from the point-of-view of a British butler, Stevens, and takes place in post-war England. Stevens served Lord Darlington's household for decades until Darlington died. He now remains in the Darlington house and serves its new owner, an American. The story slowly unfolds as Stevens travels through the countryside to visit Darlington's former housekeeper, Miss Kenton. As he travels, Stevens reflects on the events in the past few decades, including his relationship with Miss Kenton and Lord Darlington.

Although it sounds like a contradiction in terms, the subtlety of this book overwhelmed me. Ishiguro writes so beautifully. He unveils his characters slowly, giving them time to settle into the reader's mind before providing more insight into their thoughts. It's a simple plot, but the realizations Stevens faces about how he has spent his life are profound. I found myself thinking about the characters frequently after I'd put the book down. It has a heartbreaking simplicity and reminded me that stories don't need to rely on complicated plots when the characters are so well drawn.

Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes
by Roald Dahl

I love this collection of Dahl's retelling of fairy tales. The story of Goldie Locks is particularly great. I mean when you actually think about that story, what are we teaching kids by making her the heroine? Instead of the classic stories, Dahl gives each plot a twist that hits closer to home and skips the cheesy happy endings. They are delightful.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
by Edward Albee

I read this just after seeing the 1966 film. It deals with two couples, the middle-aged Martha and George, and the young Nick and Honey. The older couple's twisted marriage is based on vicious banter and constant mind games. The younger couple seems sweet at first, but after a short time and a lot of alcohol the cracks in their foundation begin to appear.

The play takes place in one evening at George and Martha's home. It's a fascinating look at dysfunctional relationships. You have moments of compassion for each of the characters, but in the end realize they are each in a hell of their own making. Their selfish choices and desperate attacks on each other's psyche make it hard to truly sympathize with any of them.

Photo by moi.


Emily said...

I love Roald Dahl. And his Revolting Rhymes are hysterical. How I missed that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a book I'll never know. It's been added to my TBR list.

ps- I've added you to my reader.

Amanda said...

I had Revolting Rhymes snatched from me because of the word "slut."

Off with her nut! Off with her nut!

Mrslouwho said...

The remains of the day has been one of those that sits on my list for a long time. Maybe I'll push it up a few.

Re: Bean Trees. There is nothing salvageable about those books I’m afraid, I've read Pig's in Heaven as well, and it doesn't get any better. Kingsolver has written a few things, like the poisonwood bible that I can manage, but all in all I just don't find her readable. That's sadly as scathing a comment as I've ever given an author.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Thank you Mrslouwho! You're the only person who's given me a straight answer about Kingsolver. Everyone tends to say, "You should try her other books, then you'll love her." Then I read those, feel the same and the cycle repeats. I liked Poisonwood Bible, but I think her fiction is just not for me.

p.s. The Remains of the Day was on my list for years before I picked it up. Make sure you're in the mood for an evening with a proper English butler before reading it. It won't be as good if you're feeling sassy, the mood must be right.

Laura said...

Excellent review of The Remains of the Day. You're right about the subtlety -- most of the meaning comes out through what's NOT said.