Boo is a Pulitzer prize winner and I’ve had pretty luck with them (Ava’s Man, The Bridge at San Luis Rey.) She shows us the daily lives of the residents of Anawadi, a slum hard by glitzy Mumbai International Airport and a sewage lake.
This tale is relentlessly grim. The characters live in degradation which the poorest resident of the USA would find intolerable (the sewage lake being the prime example). Several of the residents are enterprising and amazingly hard-working. Abdul, a young Muslim trash dealer and sometime protag, spends endless hours at the soul-crushingly tedious work of sorting garbage for resale to recyclers. He is incarcerated and beaten for a killing that the authorities know was a suicide. Every person of authority who becomes involved in the case, be it doctor, coroner, police officer or other, is motivated solely by the desire to extract the maximum bribe possible from the family. This is far from the only tragedy/travesty of the book.
The story is told by an omniscient narrator as in fiction. How was the reporting done? Was Boo really listening to every conversation she relates? Her tale is fascinating and reading quite competent. Finally, though, I couldn’t take any more. In the last year or so I’ve visited the U.S. Great Depression (A Secret Gift), famine in China (The Good Earth), and general misery in North Korea (Nothing to Envy). In the U.S. the misery was lightened by generosity and shared suffering; in China by shared suffering, initiative and the passage of time; and in North Korea maybe not at all. In Forevers the poverty is bad enough but it floats in a sewage lake of brutality and corruption. I may just have hit poverty fatigue. I bailed about 2/3 of the way through.
Housing again. Well, housing and life. Hard on the heels of Beautiful Ruins, a Walter that blew me away, I listened to this one. Very different. It’s told in the first person and the language is much more poetic. Gritty, gnarly, modern, hard. Time is post-financial meltdown.
The protag., Matthew, is a financial reporter who has lost his job. The family sunk their little all into a business venture: a website presenting financial news in verse! They’re about to lose their house and Matthew may well lose his wife to her high school beau. Facing hard times, the couple contemplates the ultimate comedown: sending the kids to public school! Unable to sleep, Matthew goes in the middle of the night to the 7-11 for milk for his kids’ breakfast. There he hooks up with a couple of homeboys who ask him for a lift to a party, get him high, and.... Added to this mix is Matt’s dad who lives with his family and suffers from Alzheimer’s.
The plotting is fine, characters sharp and language brilliant. Walter does Homeboy better than the homeboys. There are some actual poems, usually rhyming, but better are the descriptions of people, places and situations and his gift for symbol. A micro situation is a metaphor for a macro, perhaps universal, one. At times it’s a torrent of words, each hitting its mark. One of my favorite riffs is a description of Matthew's father’s arid, ruined property which alternates with the (arid, ruined) man himself until it’s hard to tell which is which. There’s another on the decline of newspapers, wherein the first dad who stopped reading the paper on the toilet is likened to first fish that walked on land.
Unllike some authors who should be prohibited by law from reading their own work aloud, Walter performs his own stuff pitch-perfectly.
I don't think he has written that many so far but I look forward to enjoying them all.
Zelinski focuses on the non-financial aspects of retirement, i.e. happiness and health. Like most self-help books it's heavily padded and redundant. I fast-forwarded through at least 30% of it.
Having said that, it is essential to have interests and social connections in place for retirement, and these take thought and planning. If Zelinski gets me or you to do this he's done good work. The book is probably worth a listen for those of us approaching the big R.
I found the reader's voice and delivery annoying. That's purely subjective, of course!
My fourth Moore, and not his best. I bought it for comic relief, but no guffaws here--droll, no more. I've seen the pieces before: the California coastal town with its cast of characters, the Demon from Hell who blends the ancient with American pop culture (think the stupid angel in Lamb), etc. A too-tidy ending. Mildly amusing, no more.
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