(also posted on Amazon.com)
I intended to love this book, having waited for it since Middlesex. I am disappointed. I felt like I was reading Franzen's Corrections, which was okay, but I didn't need to read it again; nor did I finish Freedom by Franzen for the same reason. I am disappointed because I had put great stock in JE, and I was sure this next book, so long in coming would be a masterpiece.
What has happened to popular literature? Why is it sufficient to trot out the lives of characters, their intersections and their problems, without the framework of plot -- there is no "desire" here. There is no conflict, and there is no passion.
I am always glad to learn new things. So after the MP I know some little something about yeast cells. I know a little more about manic/depression and I know some things about India which I might not have come to otherwise know.
The parents in this story were cut from the same dough as many others. In this book, and those like it, 20somethings from the 1980s (who would be 50 somethings now) are vapid but brilliant, healthy but unable to follow their own common sense, and they aren't even having a great time with sex. Sex is so tortuous in this book, that it frequently reads like the Indian excrement scene, embarrassing and tragic.
I suppose, as one reviewer put it, if I were of that class, I could identify with it better. I am much older than those characters were in this telling, but I don't lack my own memories from my 20s. We had **fun**. We suffered deeply, we played hard, we felt things, we regretted, we rejoiced. These people don't even get a kick from their privileged education and the exposure to the subjects they chose to study.
Poor Mitchell couldn't measure up to his own standards for being "good." Leo's situation is hopeless. I've known some M/Ds in my life. They function most of the time, they hold jobs and have families, go to school and prevail much of the time -- especially those with two shrinks and constant medication monitoring. This boy, Leonard, was hung out to dry. Maddy took on his illness and became a depressive too. There was nothing to root for in any of them.
So, I am disappointed on many levels. I expected more from the writer of Middlesex. I expected more from the parade of characters, not all of whom were cardboard cut-outs, and I expected some kind of mystery or journey or decision to be made by the hero -- but frankly, I am not sure who the hero/protagonist was.
The point of view changes were very effective, because not one of those characters could have supported the whole book. I was looking for a transition, a convergence of the three into one (metaphorically), but none came.
Maddy gets out of her situation with Leonard. Mitchell must accept her passive rejection and Leo is out running in the woods. While this may represent reality, who gives a s**t?
Loved it. gets easier and easier... then harder and harder and you think you'll never get it. Then it clicks in again. And you've learned something else. Before long you will start thinking of the Italian word for the objects in your life. But you really need a speaker to practice with.
An hour and a half of Reacher, read by his best (hopefully only) narrator, Dick Hill; and it works for me. I don't think it could be a longer story. I find it complete as is, and would like a new one like it every month or every two weeks or so.
This is by far the worst book I've read this year. It is even more horrible than Grisham's other failures. It makes no new hero of Samantha. Samantha has no style, no sass, no backbone, no intellect and no goals. Samantha is a victim of circumstances. She has a great education, is apparently beautiful, though not clearly described physically. This is told from her POV, so I guess we can't know anything about her except her mindless inner monologue of information she gives us about herself.
She puts herself into semi-questionable circumstances that she meekly balks at and then participates in fully. She is the bane of all intelligent women who read novels. We learn a bit about her background... rogue father, a mother highly placed in Washington, though the mother's role in Samantha's escapades and her contributions in the Washington political arena are neither defined nor described. Samantha has a "cool" relationship with mother, and a curious but arm's distance respect for daddy. She might have been a rogue too, except she is a mealy-mouthed coward who can't make up her own mind.
The story is typical Grisham. Big Business impinges on the lives of the poor and lowly. A group of people operating in the background (all big, burly men) try to thwart Big Coal's efforts, and women with a tad more backbone than our heroine sort of like them but never get their own hands dirty.
A constantly repeated trope in Grisham's novels is his disdain and nasty humor about fat people. In every one of his recent novels, he demeans--always poor, always dirty, always eating--obese people, (mostly female). In this case, there is an observation of a fat family at a buffet, while Samantha and her occasional lover pick at their meals -- meager by choice. It seems that Grisham is not familiar with overweight women worth talking about in the positive. This observation stands out there like a dead end, having nothing to do with the story. It reflected no other person's mentioning of fat people. It felt like propaganda. And, one can say his attack on BIG COAL was propaganda-ish too.
Yet, Grisham writes kindly about the poor, uneducated, dead-end people helped by his super heroes. All the men, even the big ones are fit and powerful. In this book, Samantha has success in helping only one of the down-and-out families. Samantha's BIG case may benefit another surviving family one day in the future, however. God forbid she is resurrected as a recurring protagonist.
So this time, the story is about BIG COAL and the damage BIG COAL does to nature and humanity. It was interesting, and I will assume that his descriptions of cutting off tops of mountains like so many ant hills is accurate. I felt the outrage and the sorrow over the loss of our natural beauty and resources. But these players on this stage are lifeless and helpless. Even in the homey scenes of a bunch of women doing girl talk lunches, the women were wimps. In another scene, Samantha must refuse her lover's advances citing, "it's that time of the month." Really? Really? Again, this scene had no use in the book, did not advance the plot. It didn't make Samantha more real or more sympathetic. I think they call this a "flat" character. Her time of the month was so lame, didn't even bring bears in heat to her cabin.. Oh, I forgot the bears were in hibernation. Kind of like in Chicago.... he-haw!
There is no story here. Samantha makes a last page decision, sort of -- with a question mark at the end... okay, yes, maybe for another year, she agrees to the immediate request, but makes no commitment. She suddenly, and with no emotional expression at all begins to "feel" something for these poor southern folks. Her clients are brighter, more excited by possible justice and more passionate than Samantha, their lawyer. She makes zero mistakes, has no "ah-ha" moment, is only one time in any kind of jeopardy of the physical or emotional variety. We plod along with her to the very miserable end.
Expecting a big bang courtroom battle at the end, I held on. With Audible, I had the luxury of "listening" to Gray Mountain. I could never have sat in one place and endured the monotony and going-nowhereness of these cardboard people and their boring story. (Her father's story would have made for much better reading.) At least while listening, I could simultaneously perform my womanly chores.
Why Grisham does this, I don't know. He's a much better writer than this. His stories are usually layered and complex at many levels. This is forgettable, time-wasting, paper-wasting (all those trees), disappointment. Like most readers of his work, I wait with anticipation at his next great publication. Maybe he is teaching a writing class, and this is the outcome of what a class of average high schoolers produced. Maybe he has a yearly contract and must produce, and gives us a few hours' attention, then has someone finish it. Whatever, the book will race to the "top of the charts," because we buy it expecting something wonderful. I wish these so-called charts reflected these reviews instead. Then the playing field would be leveled.
Some people have given the book five stars... God bless them for losing themselves in this mediocrity and still finding something wonderful that justifies the expense and time of the purchase. New readers of Grisham may count this among his best; the rest of us know much better.
Re the narrator. If the book didn't already scream CHICK-LIT, the too-sweet, too-weak voice of this narrator left no question. Hers is a voice more fitting for children's tales and stories of imagination and fantasy. She is a whiner, which aggravates the character's own whining words. She was clear, she was well paced, but whomever chose this narrator for this book may have been deaf.
Sorry. I simply hated the book. No payoff at the end. 14 hours and one credit lost forever.
Typical for the series except this one uses Abe Glitsky more actively. There were moments in the book that I felt Abe was made to look doddering, and deserving of his forced retirement. He made a bunch of rookie mistakes and I sort of winced at his foolishness. And even in the big solve, where Abe stands front and center, I didn't feel it was genuine.
Hardy was barely in the book, which this time was fine; but I wouldn't call it a Dismas Hardy book by any stretch.
Now about the story. The story was silly. A woman is murdered. Her husband is accused. There are all sorts of infidelities going on in marriages and in various departments of criminal justice. The resolve was a little implausible. You have to wonder if some of the bad behavior will continue by those in the story identified as truly guilty. You have to wonder if the fall guy (the final victim) was a convenience for the rest of the criminals in that circle. It seemed rather convenient to have the killer of the primary dead woman connected to all the deaths. About six murders occur in this book and by the end, there may be six previous to blame on this killer. Yet, it has no tension, no OMGs, no being caught off guard and no big surprise from the big reveal.
The ending was too clean. Too much information just showed up in the newspaper to justify the killer's motives, etc. I just kind of shrugged at the end. Abe's part in the finale was significant, and yet he seemed like an accidental hero. No final scenes with his wife. Mention of a potential reprimand, but nothing active or tense. The final scenes bring Hardy back into the picture, lecturing Abe, and, having taken little or no part in the story, Hardy morphed into a minor, all but forgotten character.
The series is usually better than this, but **The Keeper** wasn't the worst of them.
Very good EXCEPT that whole piece of Las Vegas and Boris was a bit tedious. Glad when he fell out of the story, though I suspected he would return later. Why are modern writers so taken with Russians? I am too, I admit, but every "good" book seems to use them for stereotypical thug characters.
A problem with first person "coming of age" tales is that the narrator/character is always innocent, caught in a bad spot and forced to do things they know are wrong, but at a loss to control, having excuses for committing sins and crimes, and being a general "shithead." I admire Tartt's making Theo somewhat less than sympathetic. I shake my head in annoyance at him, but at heart, he still meets the old criteria of "basically good." It may be too convenient. In some ways, "Goldfinch" is like Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March," yet "Goldfinch" far surpasses "Augie" in its engaging, realistic and interesting episodes. Bellow did the same thing with Augie. Made him an innocent caught in multiple acts inspired by circumstances he just "fell into." Bellow also had implausible, long-winded passages that even in retrospect could have been cut at no loss to the story.
I have a theory about motherless boys -- both fictional and as writers. Boys who grow up without a mother of any kind are a different, needier breed, as children and adults; literature makes great use of this disadvantage. Tartt put two motherless boys together, both with lousy fathers and both with issues around women, romance and sex. In this case, we are not seeing a split personality divided into two characters. These are two complete studies. Theo and Boris are NOT cut from the same cloth. They are thrown together because Boris pursued Theo's innocence and "outsider" status in Las Vegas. Wherever Theo landed, he absorbed the culture around him. He acted as he was expected to in each situation.
But, no matter what travails and adventures Theo, the hero(?) endures, I (the reader) continue to keep my eye on the picture that kicks off the early scenes. The story is about Theo and Boris and art and love and growing up. But The Goldfinch of the title is the thread. And, except for some of Theo's minor thoughts about it, that thread disappears from the plot for hundreds of pages. I, for one, never stopped thinking about it, never stopped wondering why Theo was such a wuss about it, why he never gave the beloved Bird its freedom.
After the big chase scenes that signal the end, with all the misunderstandings, and red herrings, what the story comes down to is that this book is a conglomeration of several religions, philosophies and themes in popular literature and the importance of art. Theo's final soliloquy is boring and self-indulgent. More Hobie, less Theo, I say.
Problems/Questions remain (for me)
1. Why is Theo so stupid? How can he not trust Hobie (a true father/mother figure) and instead put his life so often in Boris' slimy hands?
2. Theo's "romances," such as they were, were empty and expressed no passion, not even toward the beloved unattainable ONE. He simply observes and does not ACT. He is dragged along in an aimless, spineless march to the altar.
3. Did Tartt need to beat us over the head with the allusion to "The Idiot" in order to understand her desire to make a Myshkin out of Theo or maybe it's Boris -- not sure? Once was enough. The near ending backflash of a very early scene with Boris' reading "The Idiot" is downright insulting.
4. The mirroring of the the boy and their fathers is too symmetrical.
5. The big surprise about the contents of the storage shed was good, though not surprising enough. Didn't we all know already its fate was not secure? Why did the explanation of what happened require pages of cat-and-mouse play between Boris and Theo?
6. The rescue and return were implausibly committed. Theo, who had done NOTHING for the entire book, suddenly is alive and self-preserving. Still, he is conforming to the company he keeps. He acted as they would have acted, not as Theo. The real Theo would have died in that scene.
7. I am still not clear where ALL that end of story money came from. It was very convenient to aid in Theo's claim of legitimacy, but it was strange and convoluted. It required way too much explanation. The ending explains why Theo is where he is when the story opens, but the connection is not strong enough. It carries the same maudlin tone as the opening, as if Theo has been left to wander the earth to buy back his soul. Somehow, I just don't find any joy in Theo's redemptive acts. It was too easy.
8. I liked the final conversation Boris had with Theo as the resolution became clear, the honesty from such a liar and poor friend was refreshing, unexpected and it "felt" real, though with Boris, who can be sure?
9. What are we to feel at the end? Does Theo ride off into the sunset of every country he visits making restitution? Does he return and resume his life? Does he win the princess? Do we really care? I felt a bit cheated at the end.
Despite how the above may sound, I did like the book. I started out LOVING the book, and now I just like it. It is worth the investment of time and it is well written, though in places too tediously detailed. There were chapters which held me back from doing anything else. And then there were days I did not return to it for the mind-boggling litanies of who did what, when, how, and the drug-induced monologues that went nowhere.
This is not one I will listen to again, but I do recommend it. As has been said, it compares to "The Corrections" in breadth. It does not measure up to Franzen's "Corrections," despite the thread that keeps it all together. But "Goldfinch" lacked the nuance, the unspoken as well as the end-of-story revelations which made "Corrections" knock you out at the end. "Goldfinch" left me without a strong ending and proper resolution.
But I liked it! Contradictory, I know.
Not one complaint except an unanswered question... Who was Burt and what was the secret that Sylvester had promised to never reveal? Or did I miss it?
Beyond that, it was a very, satisfying, educational and rich in character and setting. Very well worth reading.
I read this for a class in Brit Lit. Simply because it's Henry James, it's not the worst of the bunch. It is rather long winded for the outcome. The psychological portraits seem apt. The legal stuff a tad unbelievable, but probably true. To me it all rests in one idea. Mrs. Gareth's son does not have the kind of adoration a son should have for his mother, so she is being ousted by the despicable woman he wants to marry. The woman Mrs.Gareth wants him to marry is too morally sound to do what must be done to displace the fiance, so much chaos ensues.
The ending is troubling for an absence of explanation. I like a cliffhanger, but I feel there was not enough information in the characters to give me even a guess at the perpetrator of the final act. It's almost as if James threw up his hands in disgust at his characters and took action with his pen to free them from a final decision.
Anyway, it's worth the credit; though it lacks humor, sustained tension and, except for a final action by Owen and a last page event, it also lacks surprise.
So this kid from the hinterlands decides to become a doctor. He goes through the trials and tribs of youth, early love, rejection. He hitches his academic wagon to the wrong stars on occasion. He finds the right woman who supports him and his quest for a medical degree and a position to work in science. He fails miserably more than once. He capitulates to corporate greed, the woman's parents, the expectations of society all before he wakes up --too late-- and has to start all over again.
If this was a jab at the education of a medical professional, it seems weak today. The writing was strong, the characters well defined, their foibles and power well explored and delineated. Poor Martin Arrowsmith, however, was drawn without much spine, and less imagination than his costars.
Not sure why this is a "classic" except for its year, and the fact that Sinclair Lewis also wrote Elmer Gantry, but it is an adequate portrait of early 20th century, pre-WWII America. There are some attacks at militarism, at corporate medical practices, at academia, etc., but it's not a diatribe and it is also not a deep read.
I am taking on Elmer Gantry later, but I feel I've already seen into that book through Lewis' sweep of American immorality in this book. Elmer Gantry SHOULD be preachy; Arrowsmith was as well.
I think it is about average for the series. There is much repetition, seemingly filler. There is no real "suspense" to speak of, no twists or turns. These books are getting too soft, too nicey-nicey and not enough bad behavior. Mikey Haller is despicable, he lies, cheats and pretty much bends the law to his needs, which is not only not appealing, but a little ridiculous. Connelley gives the judges much better standards of behavior, *always* belittles the prosecutors and generally makes the women characters very likeable. I think he is being a little too PC, it feels contrived. His client is claiming innocence of the murder, which is Mickey's case in this book, but the client is not someone I would root for--not because he is into bad stuff but because he's a wuss and I couldn't have cared less if he died in jail. Of all the characters, I think I liked Sly Sr. the most. He was the most authentic, but even he caved to Mickey's brilliant wheeling and dealing.
The plot to this one took some brain mapping. I don't know why, but I had a difficult time believing the tie-in between the (at least) three separate crimes.
Like I said, no surprises, no tears of sadness or joy, no real threats to anyone -- twice Mickey ignores the judge's admonition to quit running her courtroom and doesn't get in trouble. Mickey spends a good deal of time pinpointing his main juror, but it didn't matter anyway... why plant that seed? Bad use of red herring.
Anyway, I'm a fan of the series and of Connelley's past performances, so I am an eternal optimist. Maybe in the next installment he should kill off Mickey, so we don't expect more of a good thing that apparently is not forthcoming?
I have run into this syndrome in the past, favored authors' series and characters growing stale. It could be a matter of boredom by the author who may have publishing contracts to fulfill. Lee Child may be approaching this milestone, Jonathan Kellerman has gotten close too. Even Preston & Child's Pendergast series is getting a little predictable -- except that they have strong stories and AXP Pendergast is generally very much alive on the page and remains as likeable as a rock star.
It's kind of like knowing when to leave the party. I think it's time for Mickey Haller to pack up his boring self, his bad fathering, his womanizing, his self-pity and his tricky courtroom hijinks and drink himself to death.
The worst narrator in the world. Voice was bad, and there was an audible "click" like to a tape machine every several minutes... I am downloading another version, because I know the book is great... This should be removed from the list.
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