Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book Review - "nice big american baby"

"nice big american baby" by Judy Budnitz
My grade: B+

My relationship with Judy (yes, I'm on a first-name basis!) is not simple. After reading, and loving, "The Flying Leap", I thought: those are exactly the kind of stories I want to write! And needless to say, Judy became a kind of hero for me, a writer I really looked up to. As often happens in situations like this, though, I'm somewhat disappointed. What I really liked about Judy before is that she took something normal, and slowly went into the absurd with it. And she did it so nonchalantly, that we weren't even sure at what point the change took place. Some of the same can be found in this book, except Judy bypasses the absurd, and goes straight for the abstract. In my opinion, she went one notch too far.

Aside from that, I found the writing too raw in some points. Really, unpardonably raw. My favorite stories, nonetheless, remain the first one, "nice big american baby" and "preparedness". I likewise have to say that Judy has an incredible depth of creativity, and I would definitely read another book of hers, especially short stories.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Review - "Everything is Illuminated"

"Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer
My grade: A-

I'm not really sure where to begin with this.

This, to me, is the epitome of modern literature. I think books in the future will always be written like this. It is amazing, and abstract, on a number of different levels. But remains, at the same time, very much tied down to this earth and to the past century. Foer utilizes a very interesting style of writing, and one that I have not previously encountered: he essentially has two narrators, telling more or less the same story, each from his perspective, and the story continues to evolve as they write letters to one another, in this way actually revealing important parts of the whole.

The book is hilarious in parts, even laugh-out-loud funny. Foer's main punching bags are Jews and Ukrainians, more so the former than the latter. I would even contend that this book would be difficult to understand for a person who is not at all familiar with these cultures and the histories of these peoples.

I have several big problems with this novel, though (isn't that always the case?). I'm a bit upset that Foer brought the Holocaust into this. The tone of the novel is changed dramatically when it becomes mostly a Holocaust story, and I'm not sure that I can reconcile the beginning tone with the end. Nor do I see it as entirely fitting or appropriate. I understand the message he was trying to make, but I think he overdid it by bringing in a subject that is so loaded. Perhaps he could have sent the same message using a less tragic event? Not sure about that. But then the tone and the people and the lives he describes need to somehow fit more into their fates and the events that ultimately unfold. His ultimate message about Jews is lost on me; does he have one?

I likewise found the ending unconvincing. I don't want to go into too much detail because I don't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it yet. But I have a philosophical problem here. I wholeheartedly disagree with the author on the premises he builds his ending around. If one disagrees with that notion, the power of one important character, along with the whole message of the book, is largely jeopardized. Foer didn't exactly convince me throughout the novel of this point.