4 stars: Men We Reaped – by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped is the second book penned by Jesmyn Ward that I’ve read. And recently. For a reason.

My expectations were scattered:

  • Could it possibly live up to Ward’s incredible work in Salvage the Bones?
  • As a memoir, what themes will Ward weave through her writing that were or weren’t present in her other writing I’ve explored?
  • I know that she’s overwhelmed and passionate about racial equality – how will that be evoked?
  • The first word of the title is “men” – but it’s Ward’s memoir. Why?

In short: Ward didn’t disappoint. She explains from the get go precisely how she’s constructed the memoir, the order of chapters, the reasoning for the order… all without revealing just where she’s going or why.

She uses each chapter to reveal a section of time in her life and a relationship with a man that meant something to her – friends, acquaintances, her own brother. She’ll break your heart but you’ll learn something: about the narrator; about the racial divide in America in the 70s, 80s, and 90s; and quite possibly about yourself as well.

She loses these men – these incredible life connections – to drugs, accidents, poverty, and horrid luck. Ward pushes past these themes though in order to move beyond her grief, and to define her community and the mindset of a generation.


Rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Currently Reading this Beast

This beast of a book is taking me longer to finish than I expected and not for lack of trying… granted the beast itself is over 800 freaking pages.

Game of Thrones: the first in the famous series penned by Mr. George R. R. Martin. I have about another 70 pages to go.

I’ve yet to decide if I’ll critique it properly – I’m leaning toward “no” as the public view of Martin’s work and the current television show are already so awash with ideas and reviews. I’m enjoying both, no less.

Next on my list are a few library borrows, plus another one lent by a neighbour. In order:

  1. Men We Reaped by the recently reviewed Jesmyn Ward (my views here)
  2. Room by Emma Donoghue
  3. The Last Pulse by Anson Cameron

For more reviews and lists to peruse, check out Goodreads. My recommendations are here.

What are your top reads for 2016?

 

A Critique: Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin – Yawn

I was less than impressed with Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have ever picked it up if it hadn’t been lent to me by a neighbour. Alas, I finish what I start.

Rubin describes herself as a non-fiction writer. True, but her writing leads the reader to believe she’s aiming more for the self-help style. Rubin herself denies this genre in the book though. If it weren’t for her precise mention of this, I would have remained convinced that Happier at Home was indeed a rough attempt at the self-help genre.

For me, it was:

  • at best – entertaining for a chapter or two
  • at worst – infuriating and frustrating
  • most commonly – a complete yawn

Still, I’d rate it 2 stars, out of 5. Why? Because when you’re finally following one of Rubin’s thoughts, she yanks you out of your focus to tell you about yet another quote. She herself says near the end of the book that she’s obsessed with quotes. My thought: Captain Obvious, sweetheart. Every reader who has made it this far through your book KNOWS you’re obsessed with quotes. They’re a powerful tool when used appropriately, but overuse is distracting, detracts from your overarching goals, and becomes a complete nuisance.

I wanted to like this book. Truly.

At its heart, Happier at Home exemplifies Rubin’s respectable goal to study and experiment with increasing one’s happiness. She chooses a theme on which to focus for each of nine months. Themes include: possessions, marriage, parenthood, interior design, time, body, family, neighbourhood, and now.

The writing is brave, without a doubt. Rubin puts her heart on her sleeve and shares her trials, tribulations, and goals with the reader. I found her writing that centred on relationships and choosing how to think about happiness more worthwhile than the rest, but that comparison doesn’t mean much in this instance because the writing was so completely wishy-washy and self-centred.

I would absolutely not recommend this book. I rate it 2 stars, rather than 1, because Rubin does have a voice, personality and way with her words, but it honestly felt like a memoir of too-often whinging.

To learn more about Gretchen Rubin and her work, visit her website.


Rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Critique: Salvage the Bones – 5 out of 5 stars!

Salvage the Bones should be read for what it isn’t in addition to what it is. A truth about Hurricane Katrina and a truth about a family living a harder life than most would consider. And, how the elements of the world sometimes pile up against you to make things impossible and all you can hope for is to maybe survive.

Jesmyn Ward illustrates, to be blunt, a rough, extreme poverty-stricken family in Bois Savage, Mississippi in 2005. Ward is so brilliant with her story-telling that you forget the ultimate theme of the book despite the fact that’s written on the back cover: Hurricane Katrina.

As a first-time reader of Ward’s work, I immediately fell headfirst into the mindset of her narrator, fourteen year old Esch. Esch tells, first and foremost, her story, intertwining with her family, and the things that matter most to a young girl just trying to navigate life in the south with a drunk, often absent father, a deceased mother she’s just barely old enough to recall, and a slew of brothers to both watch over and out for. I felt for Esch, and I felt frustrated with her much of the time, as well.

Ward makes impressive use of Mississippi weather throughout her novel. She seems to make the weather work for her rather than the other way around – oft controlling and influencing us, as people. She paints the sticky humidity in the air, the red dust-covered ground Esch’s home sits on, the horror stories of past rain storms, and the ever-impending wind that comes with living near the sea.

Despite careful, gripping writing that you’re sure to remember, you’ll also find gritty, graphic scenes that you won’t like but won’t want to stop reading.

Since completing Salvage the Bones, I’ve, personally, added another of Ward’s books to my To Be Read list. She has a style and a voice that needs to be heard. The book I’ve added to my list is: Men We Reaped.

To learn more about Jesmyn Ward and her work, visit her page on Goodreads.


Rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Critique – 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl has some amusing quips here and there, but overall I found it a bit disjointed and lacking punch or flair.

Awad’s novel is written in pseudo short-story format. However, the short stories had the same themes and most of the same characters. What added to the unusual format was that deciphering time frames was never easy… which might not be a bad thing but in this case it didn’t help the author.

I respect the power of making a reader feel awkward or uncomfortable, or any strong emotion for that matter – well done. But the novel took this furtber; I must stress that the narrator was hugely unlikeable. It’s hard to enjoy a book, play, or story of any sort when the protagonist is hard to be around. Even a murderer, when described in a certain fashion, can be likeable. Sweeney Todd, anyone?

The ending, though I won’t divulge it, was disappointing and sudden. The reader spends the novel hoping that, through all of her self-reflection and often hatred, that narrator Elizabeth, will find a healthy light (and I do mean, light, not body, lifestyle, etc) to view herself in. It was less than iluminating. Not all endings have to be happy, but this one was also far from satisfying.

I’d had a few people recommend the book and felt conflicted while reading it because I simply wasn’t feeling what I expected to.

In fact, I read several reviews after finishing the book’s final page because I thought I was being overly harsh in my criticism. After seeing that so many had the same reaction, I felt less horrible about my 2 star, out of 5 rating.

To learn more about Awad and her work, visit this site.


Rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Critique – Celeste Ng’s Debut Novel

Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You reads like poetry, with beautiful elaborate descriptions of not only characters but scenes, emotions, and plot twists. It is writing to aspire to, in my opinion. A voice a lyricist would likely respect.

The novel takes its time unfolding, at times at a slower pace than desired. If it weren’t for Ng’s prose, I may have become frustrated with the speed and length of the book.

The themes – family, teen angst, self discovery, 1970s racism – are well portrayed, but I found myself recalling a similar plot within Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. Having adored that book and reflected on it so many times since reading it a few years back, I found myself comparing the two occasionally. The difference in time, tone, place, and dynamics however allow the reader to appreciate both writers’ work.

As a whole, Ng’s debut is enjoyable but leaves something to be desired – perhaps a bit more complexity, a few more pitfalls leaving room for further conflict and, later, potential resolution.

It’s important to note that there doesn’t need to be complete resolution though, especially in a novel where mental health is one of the main threads.

Overall, I would welcome a future book of Ng’s to my Reading List.

To read more about Celeste Ng and her work, visit her website.


Rating: 3 of 5 stars