I have always wanted to read something by F. Scott Fitzgerald and understand why he is considered such a good writer. I finally got the chance to do it and am glad that I did.
Fitzgerald portrays a wide range of complex relationships, emotions, and cultural patterns without sounding phoney or contrived. His characters live on Long Island after World War I and most, but not all, are young and wealthy. While possessing beauty, wealth, and power, they teeter and eventually cross over our cultural lines related to truthfulness, honesty, trust, loyalty, nonviolence, thrift, justice, and respectfulness. Over the course of a summer, their decadent behavior becomes more extreme and ends in unexpected tragedy.
The narrator, a young man from the mid West, observes all this happening, and is confounded, especially by his enigmatic neighbor, Gatsby. As he gets to know Gatsby better and understand his motivation, he acquires a great respect for him.
This wonderful story explains how the main discoveries of geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology occurred over the last several hundred years. By focussing on entertaining aspects of scientists' lives and the difficulties they had in making the discoveries and being recognized for them, it holds your interest for hundreds of pages. I had heard of most of the discoveries before, but was not aware of the context in which they were made or how they related to each other, each allowing progress towards others in an expanding front of knowledge.
The story is filled with facts and numbers selected to give the reader a new sense of proportion and reveal insights about how life has evolved on this planet. Some were so astounding they me want to look at the bibliography to check the sources. The narrator's voice was clear, but a little too rapid for me to catch all the facts the first time through many passages. I imagine other readers can follow it, but after going with the flow for a while, I ended up buying a print copy of the book, which I am happy to own and will use as a resource.
As a social scientist, I learned a great deal from this book. I was unfamiliar with much of the history of hard science, and am impressed enough to think about giving it to my son, who is an engineer. However, I fear he would not appreciate the very aspects that I found so entertaining. Perhaps other hard scientists would feel irritated at the tone, but it held my interest more than a stodgy account could ever have done.
I had the privilege of hearing Barbara Kingsolver read her own work and liked her voice.
The best part of The Lacuna was how the main character, Harrison Shepherd, floated through his life with little control over what was happening to him, able only to observe and write about it. Huge historical events with famous people took place around him without his seeking them out, and they shaped his life. A few were beautiful(such as when he found himself staying in an hacienda on the edge of an incredibly beautiful Carribean coral reef) but many were negative and tragic (such as when he found himself in a house in the desert where people were afraid of being shot and some were.) You wondered if he would be able to break loose from the course of events or if it was his destiny to go down and down, passively observing and writing. When he finally did break loose at the end it was such a wonderful lift of the heaviness you felt for him! And he did it in a surprising and creative way, keeping it a secret, honoring and protecting the person that he loved!
I did not think he was a boring, uninteresting character who was hard to identify with or that homosexuality was an especially important part of his character. I did not think this was a political book, though politics was going on all around him and I learned a lot about things that I had missed out on. Even the colorful cultural themes were secondary in importance. The main thing it was about was an exploration of what happens when a person's life is shaped by powerful outside forces and he's a observer and writer, how he struggles with it. Pressure builds up and finally he comes up with a solution. Barbara Kingsolver herself is a writer. Many of us are observer writers, thinkers. How and when do we decide to take action and what kind will it be?
The best part about this book for me was the look into Danish society -- how its parliament, criminal justice, mental health service, and economic systems work, how its mass media function, how its families have problems just as ours do, and how traditional White Danes are experiencing workplace life as more People of Color with different religions move in from the southern latitudes. I loved hearing the Scandinavian accents of the narrator in all his voices. The protagonist and his sidekick were great characters. Those are the same reasons I am a fan of MHZ's International Mystery series on TV. I am hooked on this genre and can't resist reading it -- even when there are negative aspects to a particular story.
That was the case with this book. The torture performed on the victim in this book was so gruesome, detailed, and prolonged that I had to avoid listening to it before bed or I would experience really unpleasant thoughts. It was as if the author was trying to exceed the shock value of all previous works. That did not raise its value in my mind. On TV, I turn torture off. Unfortunately this book roped me into listening to it all the way through. It's depressing to know that the best minds of our society, the ones who still think and read, are being marketed with such -- I don't know what to call it -- evil. What will happen to our society in the future? Where is the redeeming value of our literature? No wonder there are people in the Third World who hold us in such disreguard! I am beginning to feel very old.
Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I sometimes find it difficult to face the cultural values of the South related to race relations. This book was a challenge for me to get through for that reason. It is an excellent novel, but sometimes I was so frustrated -- exasperated -- with some of the characters that I could barely force myself to listen. Fortunately the protagonist and the black house maids she was working with ("the Help") were admirable. Everyone should read this book to learn about a system of injustice which existed here in this country and may still exist in a few. It helped me understand a lot of our history.
The quality of Margaret Atwood's writing and the sound of Margot Dionne's voice made the Blind Assassin an intense, compelling experience. My curiosity was piqued by hearing what the 1929 Depression and years leading up to it must have been like around Toronto, Canada. I also enjoyed learning what life was like in a multigenerational family that was wealthy enough to travel to Europe on a ship. The only other books I have read about that part of the country were the Deptford trilogy by Robertson Davies. The Blind Assassinbook, has the same dark, secretive, you-can't-believe-this-story-is-happening quality as Davies' The Fifth Business. Afterwards I wondered how these authors do it. It must be that they get you to suspend your disbelief at the beginning, and, once you do, you're in another world that you really don't understand. You don't know what's going to happen next. You're fearful, but curious, wanting all the pieces to fit together and reveal the mystery. It's not exactly what you would call "pleasurable", but you can't stop reading.
The main character, Iris, told the story of her life in a way that sounded like a confession that kept getting to, but never reaching, the main point. You keep wondering what the "lesson" of it all is. Basically, at about age 19 Iris married a man she did not love in order to save her sister and herself from abject poverty and because her father arranged it and asked her to. The whole story and all the unhappiness that she and her sister and many others suffered stems from that decision. You could blame it on some other, "evil" people, but that doesn't really hold water. The story makes one wonder how many others went through similar things during the Depression and if others are going through it now, here and around the world. What's the relative importance of money and love?
Unfortunately there were not enough breaks in the Audible.com version for me. If I lost my place or missed an important detail in the story and needed to revisit part that I had already read, the only choices were to go back a half an hour or to go back 30 seconds. I couldn't scan for a word, like you can in the printed Kindle version. I would prefer to have the ability to go back by 5 minute intervals. I had to borrow a hard copy of the book from a friend to find out what I missed. Another Audible.com novel I am reading now has the same problem.
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