Author Smith says NW is about language, and I agree. Language is central to our understanding of the characters, and language defines their lives in many ways. I had the good fortune to listen to the audio of this title, brilliantly read by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet. Having access to a paper copy at the same time, I feel confident that the spoken version is an aid to clarity and understanding, and there was true enjoyment in hearing the range of vocal virtuosity by both readers. I did end up listening to it twice.
A clear example of how language can define one is the incident of a boneheaded young man with the posh accent, Tom, selling an old MG to the young man Felix, who had made great strides towards self-realization despite the tug of his background and the brake of his language. Any observer of that scene would immediately suspect Felix of putting the fix on when objectively that would be far from the case. And Keisha, or Natalie as she began calling herself, managed to change most things about her world when she changed her language. She became a barrister and even forgot what it was like to be poor.
But this novel is also about the process of becoming. To my way of thinking, there are only two central characters in the novel, Leah and Natalie. Both resist adulthood, but the choice is not really theirs to make. They become adults despite their attempts to hold back the process, and end up making decisions that demonstrate authorial control over their own lives, and stopping their ears to very loud protestations from their inner selves. Therefore they land in adulthood awkwardly, splay-legged and wrong-footed, and must find a way to right themselves again before acknowledging they are older, wiser, and already there.
Several other minor characters, e.g., Annie and Nathan, manage to avoid true adulthood altogether by burying their options beneath addictions. Felix was the one that was most consciously “becoming.” He strove daily to be a better man--for his woman, for himself, for his future family. He made himself happy doing it. He got clean, “was conscious,” and made himself and his family proud. But demons chased him down. Maybe you can’t really ever get free.
In the last third of the book, a 50-something female barrister “role model” dressed in a gold satin shirt beneath the expected blazer, and a diamante trim to de rigueur black court shoes tells Natalie: '“Turn yourself down. One notch. Two. Because this is not neutral.” She passed a hand over her neat frame from her head to her lap, like a scanner. “This is never neutral.”'
Of course I’d heard of Zadie Smith, but I’d never read her early work. She was so popular when she first came into print that I decided to wait to form my own opinion when the clamour died down. Sometimes it is so noisy out there when a new, talented author is heralded that I can’t hear myself think.
I never had the feeling while reading this novel that Smith was haphazard in her choice of images or language. The novel is constructed and in the end one looks up to see graffiti covering a wall with violent scribbles of bright color. Overlaid, a couple words traced in black paint stand out over the rest: SEX RACE CLASS
A favorable review in The New York Times said Jess Walter’s new book is like a film script, but to my way of thinking it is more like Walter as a one-man performance artist, who suddenly pulls all kinds of horns, drums, bells and other props out of his bottomless pockets to illustrate a point, to make us laugh, to break into our attention and to declare: “are we entirely mad?” His work is brilliantly interpreted and performed by Edoardo Ballerini on audio, and to hear the thick and heavy tones of Richard Burton declaiming in a small outboard floating off the coast of Italy is to feel a stab of remembered joy.
Fifteen years from conception to production, this is Walter at his crazy, mad, funny, piercing best, for he skewers us and our lives by reflecting popular culture back at ourselves, but showers us with tender mercies at the end. The novel covers a time frame from the early sixties through at least the last decade, and covers at least as many personalities as years. But what a wild and happy party it is, with all the usual suspects: love, greed, envy, pride, lust, infidelity…and, I’ll say it again, finally love. “It’s a love story,” we hear as Hollywood producer Michael Deane pitches his latest to the studio executives at the end of the book. And I guess it always is, in the end, for that is all that really matters.
Take this trip, and if you have eschewed listening on audio for whatever reason, throw aside your inhibitions and do yourself a favor. This is performance art, and may be listened to with great effect. We have a nubile Hollywood actress with a bit part in an Elizabeth Taylor film, a Hollywood producer, a small Italian coastal village, a young man pitching a story…you get the idea. There is lots going on but it always with the greatest clarity that we can see that life ”isn’t always easy” and that we usually find our hapless ways despite, or perhaps because of, our questionable choices.
A rounded, complete mystery set in Scotland, with tentacles in Italy. A little far-fetched, perhaps, with two mysteries coinciding and intertwining, but told well, and read well by Eilidh Fraser. The head of the Cold Case Unit, Karen Pirie, investigates the reopened case of the kidnapping of the son of an important capitalist, but discovers it is connected to the disappearance of a union miner.
The characters and the settings are richly described and the mystery progresses with clarit...moreA rounded, complete mystery set in Scotland, with tentacles in Italy. A little far-fetched, perhaps, with two mysteries coinciding and intertwining, but told well, and read well by Eilidh Fraser. The head of the Cold Case Unit, Karen Pirie, investigates the reopened case of the kidnapping of the son of an important capitalist, but discovers it is connected to the disappearance of a union miner.
The characters and the settings are richly described and the mystery progresses with clarity and increasing depth. The tension between journalist, capitalist, striking union, and police is nicely defined. Family and office internecine conflicts feel agonizingly real and punitive and all are on display.
Craig Johnson's books, read by George Guidall, have something of the wise old dad about them. No matter that Walt Longmire, sheriff of Wyoming's Absaroka County, is not so old he doesn't lust after his deputy, the apple-assed Vic Moretti. That just makes him more of a man. And man he is. Bearing all manner of physical insult, he comes out on top once again, chasing his quarry through an 18" snowstorm high in the hills surrounding Red Lodge, Montana.
The ridiculous nature of the events that set off a chain of murders can only be based in truth because no novelist would create such stories for fear his tribe of readers would leave him for dead. In interviews Johnson tells us that he gets the basis for his outrageous stories from his friends in the police, so the one about the man cleaning the chimney in the middle of the winter with a rag soaked in kerosene, and tied with a rope to the bumper of a Durango, has got to be true. Hard as it is to believe. But it is the home-smoked flavor of these great western stories that make this series so...home grown.
This is a series I allow myself to savor like a fine cigar. I pace myself, withholding the pleasure of beginning a new story until I feel I have earned a special treat. They are soothing to the soul, funny to the bone, candy for the brain, and oh-so-reassuring for those among us who fear wisdom eludes our public servants.
The whole of America is wrapped in these pages--a close, funny, irreverent look at "the way we live now." Funny and tragic at the same time, Freedom is a comedy of manners that can enter the literary canon as a marker for America early in the 21st century, just as the novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton gave us the motivations and beliefs of Americans in the early 20th. We're not really being adult about things, the author is telling us. Even our children are older and older before they leave the security of home, if they ever do. But maybe we're all acting like spoiled children because we can. No one political party comes off looking attractive after Franzen lays waste to their point of view, showing the absurdity of the rhetoric spewing from all sides. But the author clearly believes we have a responsibility to do the moral thing--a thing we already know but "choose" not to do. It is a human failing, but in this book, it has a particularly American flavor.
I felt much impatience with the long discussion of Patty's college years, even though I can attest to the kind of naivete Patty exhibited in high school with her neighbor boy and in college with her stalker girl. The narrative and my sense of involvement changed, however, when Richard was introduced. The scene where Patty changes her interest from Walter to Richard felt all too real. Which one of us has not experienced the pain and humiliation of a potential lover lusting after our best friend? From whichever angle--the foolish luster, the cool lustee, or the poorly-done-by loser, it is an oft-played, excrutiatingly painful memory, and when Franzen brought us there, he got my attention. From that point on, we regularly and ruefully see ourselves, our friends, our enemies, our families struggling to gain control of our lives, make decisions, and then overcome the results of poor decisions. With all the freedom we have to choose any direction, we often choose a wrong direction, the author is telling us.
I'd have to put this firmly in the popular fiction category, but I wouldn't call it celebrity fiction, though that's what it is about. Lauren Weisberger treats us to a husband and wife team who actually achieve their highest aspirations financially and professionally, and suffer personally for it. So it has something for everyone...those who hope they succeed, and those who hope they fail. What kept me listening initially was the girlfriend talk in the beginning. It's always amazing to me that two people so different become such lasting friends. This is fiction, granted, but Weisberger seems to have a firm grip on the public pulse. In fact, she looks/writes like the pretty, popular girl at school. If you ever wondered what they were thinking while talking, here you might look behind the curtain.
Weinbeger talks about a different way of life from my own, and while I do not add reading celebrity gossip sheets to my list of guilty secrets, I do wonder about what it must be like to have one's privacy ravaged daily in supermarket tabloids. I actually admire those able to keep steady under such fearsome scrutiny. At her best, Weinberger reminds me of British novelist and screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who introduces us to a world beyond our imaginings in the upper reaches of British royalty. She is a bright, understanding, and seemingly balanced observer of human foibles as practiced by those we sometimes treat as super-human, when in fact they are only beautiful, famous, or rich, or all three.
I did grow somewhat tired of the stiff resistance to success as practiced by the wholesome main character, but it gave me moments to think what I might have done in such circumstances, and to wonder if I would have been so circumspect if I was 28 or 30 years old. But the ending was pure fiction of the old feel-good variety. I wasn't expecting it--things never turn out that way. But it was so delicious, that I listened to it twice.
Loved the idea of this series from the start, though through it I recognize the difficulty of keeping a series advancing without stagnating. So enjoyed the first books in the series, but passed up many opportunities to pick up this seventh in the series. When I came across an audio version and had time on my hands, I enjoyed hearing of the adventures of Maisie Dobbs, female British investigator extraordinaire, and her sidekick Billy as they uncover the killer of an American mapmaker in France during the Great War. The series ends with a promise of great changes in the lives of all concerned, and will undoubtedly spark the interest of avid fans.
I was also struck this time with the thought that this would make a good Masterpiece Theatre series and see no sign of that possibility on her website. British filmmakers, take note!
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