Mini Reviews: Minding Frankie, Cutting for Stone and The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It’s interesting because I had similar problems with all three of these novels. I didn’t hate any of them, but all three felt too disjointed. I loved certain story lines in each book, but the rest left me cold. They feel firmly in the middle for me and I feel like those are always the hardest books for me to review.
Minding Frankie

by Maeve Binchy

Noel is struggling to find a bit of meaning in his life. He has a mediocre job, lives with his parents and drinks away his boredom each night. Then he finds out that a one night stand from a few months before resulted in a pregnancy and his impending fatherhood forces him to get his life in order. Noel is surrounded by family and friends who are willing to support him and help, but a social worker named Moira is convinced he can’t be trusted with the child.

This one failed to really hook me. The whole time we’re suppose to hate Moira, which I did, but that doesn’t make for a great story. There were so many different characters and plots that the story kept loosing focus. I liked the American cousin and some of the other supporting characters, but it was too disjointed for my tastes.

If you’re a die-hard Binchy fan you should read it. If you aren’t but you’d like to check her out, start with Circle of Friends, Evening Class or Tara Road.

Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghese

In the most incredible set of circumstances, twins (Marion and Shiva Stone) are born to a nun in an Ethiopian hospital. The story that follows is an intricate look at their lives and the many people around them.

My favorite part of the book was the plot involving Hema, a strong female doctor, and her relationship with fellow doctor Ghosh. They raise the twins together and their relationship defies all stereotypes and clichés.
Some of the medical scenes were a bit too graphic for me. They are continuous and sprinkled throughout the book because all of the main characters are doctors, so they’re hard to avoid. The brutal nature of the medical world is one I’m not familiar with and it’s not one I’m drawn to. There are also other elements, female circumcision and a graphic pregnancy scene that made my stomach turn.
I wanted to like it more than I did. Bits of beautiful writing are spliced into a frustratingly bloated story. A few stand out characters helped me connect, but overall I was disappointed.

“Perhaps she should have been grateful to him, happy to be alive, but in the hierarchy of her emotions anger was always trumps.”

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz

This is the story of an over-weight geek with a penchant for falling in love a little too easily. From his childhood in the Dominican Republic to his later years in New Jersey, Oscar never really finds the happiness he longs for.

The story is told from Oscar’s college roommate Yunior’s point of view, which is a strange choice. It bounces around dealing with the rough relationship between Oscar’s sister Lola and their harsh mother, the mother’s troubled past, Oscar’s emotional issues and Yunior’s romantic relationship with Lola.

It was interesting to read this shortly after reading In the Time of the Butterflies earlier this year, because books discuss Trujillo’s reign in the Dominican Republic. Also I’m an absolute geek at heart, so I loved all the nerdy references to Tolkein, etc., but it wasn’t enough to really hook me.
There were aspects of the novel that I enjoyed more than others, but I was never as invested as I wanted to be. In the end it just wasn’t enough. There were too many different threads and it never came together in a satisfying way.


Amanda said...

I gave up this book right about when we got to the distention scene. I'd had enough, and beyond being grossed out every five pages, I didn't care about any of the characters at all, except maybe a tiny bit for Hema, but she'd hardly shown up at all at that point. I read spoilers for the rest of the book and learned about the graphic non-medical scenes as well, and the whole rape violence bits, and I'm glad I didn't finish it. It would have been a squarely one-star book for me. Bleagh.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

Completely agree regarding "Minding Frankie" - not her best, but fans would still take something out of it. To celebrate her (such a bit literary loss!) a group of friends and I decided to read together Glass Lake very soon. Have you read that one?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Amanda - I was reading it for my book club and I tend to stick with those books no matter what because I love being part of the discussion. I will say my rating on it probably went up a bit listening to the others' observations. I still wasn't a fan overall, but I appreciated a few things more because of our discussion. Yay for book clubs!

Alex - I was so sad when she died last year. I have read Glass Lake and it's really good! Definitely one of her darker books, but I really liked it. I can't wait to hear your thoughts. I'm kind of sad because I only have one more book that I haven't read (Heart and Soul). She's definitely a comfort read for me.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I have only read Cutting for Stone, and I absolutely loved it. One of my top reads for whatever year I read it (ha). I loved all the medical descriptions though...made me want to be a doctor. I have heard mixed things about Oscar Wao.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I really loved Cutting for Stone, so sorry it did not work that well for you:(

Anne said...

I loved Cutting for Stone too, I thought it was beautifully written. I agree about the medical scenes being hard to get through. I definitely could have done without those parts.

Care said...

Well, I think Maeve is allowed a few misses considering her body of work.
As to Cutting for Stone - I go back and forth on wanting to read this. Just the word 'epic' usually makes me shudder. I so have to be in the mood. I know many people love it.
And my thoughts on Oscar. I loved it. I do think it was the right book at the right time for me and I let it sweep me away and I feel hard for the voice and the story. But I get how some might not find it so gush-worthy.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

People LOVE Cutting for Stone but I'm a quarter into it and just don't get the draw. I'm going to try to finish it up before The Shining, though.

I did love Oscar Wao but it's not one I would recommend. And honestly I'd have to go back to my post to even see what I thought about it. Though my lousy memory does make for great (potential) re-reading!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I really wanted to like that one more. So many people loved it!

Diane - I guess that's the beauty of reading, it's different for everyone. A lot of my book club loved it too.

Anne - Those medical scenes really got me. My book club has a few nurses in it and they weren't bother at all.

Care - I completely agree. I just found out Maeve has one more book coming out! I think I had built Oscar up so high in my mind (Pulitzer winner, people loved it, etc.) that it couldn't live up to that.

Trish - I know, I had so many people recommend it to me! I thought I would love it.

Jenners said...

Hema and Ghosh were my favorite characters in the book too … and the medical stuff was brutal. Still, it isn't a book I fell in love with but I admired it. I've had Oscar Wao on my shelf forever but never pick it up … probably because of reviews like this!

Anonymous said...

Cutting for Stone is one I've been meaning to get to, and one that people rave about. I'm sad you didn't love it, but I just might agree with you re: the medical scenes. We'll see.

Oscar Wao is another one I've been meaning to read.

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

I'm sorry you didn't like Cutting for Stone more. Sometimes it seems like books just don't come together for us in the way we hope they would! I also felt "meh" about Oscar Wao.

I also wanted to thank you for all the comments you've been leaving on my blog. I'm getting email notifications that you left them but they are not appearing on my blog. Just wanted you to know that I am not deleting them!

Kristi said...

Cutting for Stone was just okay for me too. I just didn't connect with the twins, and it was sort of endlessly depressing. I agree that Hema and Ghosh were the best parts of the book. Great characters.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - I think that a book that dense and sad can be hit or miss for people.

Heather - They are both books that a ton of people had recommended to me. I wish I liked them both more.

Captain - Ha, no worries. I'm glad you're getting them!

Kristi - Yes, that's how I felt. I would love to read a book just about Hema and Ghosh though.