Sunday, September 30, 2007

The God of Animals - Aryn Kyle

Alice Winston is twelve. She has a reclusive mother who rarely emerges from her bedroom, a beautiful, high-spirited sister, Nona, who ran away with a rodeo rider, and a father overwhelmed by money problems and preoccupied with his horses. Absorbed by their own dreams and disappointments, they don't really see Alice standing on the periphery in isolation. Alice has no friends. When her shop partner, Polly Cain, drowns, Alice posthumously invents a friendship with the dead girl and forms an unsettling relationship with her English teacher.
To save their ranch, Joe Winston, begins to board horses and sells Nona's prize winning Cap to a girl he hopes can be taught to win. As the summer heat seres Desert Valley, the family's lives become enmeshed with the wealthy women who come to groom their animals and drink cocktails from their thermoses. Alice begins to understand and resent the security that money can provide. It's a summer of lies and promises, cruelty and generosity.
COMMENT: Aryn Kyle adeptly captures the voice of a twelve-year old girl. Sometimes Alice speaks with a wry humour ("I was the only person present who couldn't sue my father if the mare crushed me into pieces") and sometimes with heartbreaking sadness ( "I kept my eyes closed, letting myself pretend that she was someone, anyone, who loved me.") The plot development is strong and through Alice's eyes, the characters are well drawn.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott

PLOT Cameron Brown, prominent neuroscientist, finds his historian-mother, Elizabeth Vogelsang, dead in the river, a prism clutched in her fist. He asks Lydia Brooke, his former lover who was also Elizabeth's friend, to return to Cambridge and complete the missing last chapter of the book his mother was writing about Sir Isaac Newton, Trinity College and alchemy. Lydia moves into Vogelsang's studio and of course, in addition to rekindling her affair with Cameron, strange things begin to happen. Papers disappear or blow away when there is no breeze. And then there are the odd lights and shadows, the strange man in red, murders and mysteries, both past and present, a violent animal rights group, and a blurring of the 17th century with the 21st. Lydia, pursuing the truth behind the 17th century deaths, soon finds herself haunted and pursued herself.
COMMENT Ghostwalk could be called creepingly eerie, or eerily creeping (toward its end). It's full of historical detail about 17th century Cambridge, alchemists and Isaac Newton. Stott's style borders on essay-writing in some chapters dealing with Vogelsang's research while she's almost poetic in others. Written from the first person (Lydia) to a second person (Cameron), Ghostwalk's use of "you" was disconcerting and a bit confusing at first. Imagery, delivered in snapshot sentences, is definitely effective in creating the ominous mood.
I sensed a supernatural threat from the beginning and was surprised by the plot addition of the real-time threat posed by NABED, the animal rights group. But this really is a ghost story with one century bleeding into the other.
Sometimes Stott's erudition might be a barrier to digesting Ghostwalk . If you aren't familiar with Mondrian, her reference to the painter will not create the image she intended. To explain the entanglement of past and present, she delves into quantum mechanics - which is fascinating, but not light reading.
Overall, I enjoyed Ghostwalk, but I am really looking forward to my next book by Dean Koontz.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards

I should have known - on the cover is glowing praise from Sue Monk Kidd, author of Mermaid Chair. I didn't like Mermaid Chair (But enjoyed Secret Life of Bees) I am beginning to think that there is something seriously wrong with my literary tastes. Memory Keeper's Daughter is the flavor of the season - a bookclub darling. There are still 32 requests for it at my library - in other words, 32 people are in line, breathlessly waiting to read it. (The library has 14 copies plus a bookclub kit and CD.) It was published in 2005, so it's not just a flash in the pan! Now for the truth - I found the book slow, annoying and well, numbing.
David Henry, orthopedist, on a snowy day in 1964 delivers his own twins. Without telling his wife, Norah, he "hands over his daughter," who has Down Syndrome, to his nurse, Caroline Gill, telling her to take the baby, Phoebe, to an institution. Caroline just can't do it and decides to keep Phoebe, raising her as her daughter. What ensues is 25 years of interminable introspection, alienation, and regret. Oh goodie.
There is a lot of repetition of imagery and thought in this book. For instance, Caroline, when pondering whether to leave Phoebe at the institution, keeps returning and returning to the image of the dark haired young woman in a slip being shorn of her hair in the institutional cold. David Henry refers again and again to the day he "handed over" (using that phrase) his daughter to Caroline Gill. I get it, I get it!!
The Memory Keeper's Daughter functions on the premise that the family is torn apart by David Henry's secret, but I think Norah is a basically weak character, and she would never have been able to cope with Phoebe. She's too concerned with moving in the proper social circles as shown by her reaction to Kay Marshall. She would have been a promiscuous lush anyway. I just couldn't cope with this book's bleak view of relationships (maybe that's my problem - but I loved the Moviegoer. Go figure.) Paul, the son, rails constantly about his father's lack of love for him in spite of the fact that David tries to connect. But, alas, somewhere along the line, David has expressed his reservations about Paul's being a musician and well, that's it! David can never convince the kid of his pride and love. It's really quite a sad story of a basically good man, who makes a bad decision. David Henry is burdened by secrets and surrounded by very needy people.
On a more positive note - I rejoiced in Phoebe's life and Caroline's love for her daughter.
To sum up: I found the constant, interior ruminations tedious - like listening to the slow ticking of a clock, and I could not muster much sympathy for Norah. Without that sympathy, the book for me was an exercise in endurance. And maybe I do need some sort of biblio-therapeutic intervention.