In 2015, Barbara Lipska - a leading expert on the neuroscience of mental illness - was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to her brain. Within months, her frontal lobe, the seat of cognition, began shutting down. She descended into madness, exhibiting dementia- and schizophrenia-like symptoms that terrified her family and coworkers. But miraculously, the immunotherapy her doctors had prescribed worked quickly. Just eight weeks after her nightmare began, Lipska returned to normal. With one difference: she remembered her brush with madness with exquisite clarity.
I am giving this book a 5/5 because of its genre: memoir in a medical/science setting. My favorites! Medical and psych details of this book are thoroughly presented, though at times seeming a bit "dumbed down". I would guess this is to simplify the story and give non-medical readers a handle on the brain and all its vast capabilities. Plus it helps to move the story fast without dwelling on small or technical details. I am part of that "non-medical" audience, but I am also an armchair medical geek, and would have enjoyed a more technical focus.
The choice of the narrator doesn't make sense to me, due to her voice, which sounds too old for this protagonist. She has quite a well-defined British tonality and speech cadence and I don't get the reason for driving the story using such a colloquial accent. Compare this narrator to the contemporary professional voice from "Still Alice" and "Every Note Played", where the voice is calm, straightforward, professional and appropriate for a skilled neuroscientist.
But I did manage to accustom my ears to this sound, so that after a certain point I could ignore it.
I especially could not buy this character sounding like a children's book reader. Very juvenile and almost like she is talking down to her audience, not realistic in my view.
I do recommend this book with my five stars, but with the warning that the voice is not consistent with the story and the sing song dialog requires a huge suspension of disbelief.
On the eve of her daughter's wedding, June Reid's life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter's fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke - her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.
Although this novel's initial setup is an unthinkable tragedy, and for that reason a credit-worthy original beginning, the consequent backstories and forward-stories of the characters involved, both major and minor, fail to deliver. There are too many marginal figures, too many incidents and intrigues spanning both coasts, for the reader to become involved with and/or relate to, any one or two figures. At one point I thought I needed a notebook to jot down everyone's situation and relationship to the central events.
The writing is tender, detailed, layered and perceptive - an aspect of the novel worthy of commendation. At least it kept me reading, and to his credit, Bill Clegg delivers no cardboard characters here! I like the author's writing - the musical cadence, poetic at times - his "style" - whatever that may mean, and look forward to more from him.
However, the complete package seems too global in scope, with just too much going on, in both the past and present, for this reader to really become immersed. And of course there is the annoying fast-forward and rewind that is required of such constant past/present multi-character writing.
I know this book is extremely popular for its surgical insights into tragedy and aftermath, but for me it misses the mark, if only slightly.
I think it was a huge mistake to have the author read this particular work. Perhaps cost-cutting was a factor, who knows. If a female narrator could have been cast, my star ratings might have increased by at least 2. There is too much emotion to be contained in an extended rough-sounding male performance. Not a voice that creates peace, contemplation and serenity.
I would not hesitate to recommend this work, though, and will probably re-read to fill in any details I might have missed. I would also suggest reading a hard copy so that the individual voices might resolve and clarify.
8 of 16 people found this review helpful
Meet Florence Gordon: blunt, brilliant, cantankerous, and passionate, a feminist icon to young women. At 75, Florence has earned her right to set down the burdens of family and work and shape her legacy at long last. But just as she is beginning to write her long-deferred memoir, her son Daniel returns to New York from Seattle with his wife and daughter, and they embroil Florence in their dramas, clouding the clarity of her days with the frustrations of middle age and the confusions of youth.
I bought this book because of the many positive reviews, and I was interested in a seventy-something as a primary protagonist. I like that this is a presentation of the life and work of a woman of a certain age, with all the acquired wit and wisdom that age provides.
While the story and characterization delivered, I just felt there wasn't enough exploration of the several connected plot lines, and not enough development of the characters' interior geography.
On the "plus" list: I did especially like the polarity that was set up between the main character, Florence, and her Gen Y (or is it "Z" by now?) granddaughter...where both the conflicts and connections were profiled with plenty of insight. And I also liked that both the male leads were not described as eye candy, their appeal emerging from more interior, subtle, character-driven sources.
But the narrator pretty much ruined it for me - most of her voices were delivered in a kind of sing-songy chatter, adding a lot of unnecessary drama which is NOT why I read. To her credit, she presented the male characters without sounding like a female Attila the Hun, but for the most part I was annoyed by her rapid staccato vocalizations.
I could sense in this narrator an affinity for the theater, as some passages of dialogue were read like a stage play, with no description, and I found it all just a little too "cute" for my liking, with quick one-liners back and forth, almost as though the speakers were going to break into song at any moment. Sort of a Noel Coward/Neil Simon effect. I realize this is the way that the scenes were written, but I would have preferred some interior thoughts and/or actions mixed in with the dialogue. Hope that makes sense.
The ending was abrupt - and I am not fussy about endings. I think they are about the same as beginnings - within certain parameters, one place is as good as another. But this novel sauntered gracefully towards an end you could see coming but then the story simply vanished, dropped out of sight without saying goodbye, leaving the reader to wonder "what just happened?".
So, it's a "3" all around. Still a very good listen, even though I didn't think it was quite "there", and it's one I would recommend - either in audio or print.
12 of 17 people found this review helpful
When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. After all, reputation is everything in this business. Personally, he’s not exactly upset that Ralph is gone, but as a high-profile doctor to the stars, Marc can’t hide from the truth forever.
OK, the familiar basics are there: attractive teenage girl, overprotective father, lustful family friend, moneyed, powerful, and successful.
But this is where the archetypes end. The protagonist is a physician, a cynical general practitioner with a dissonant loathing for the human body; his remarks about office visits by the "typical" patient are filled with negative energy and his self-deprecation for not being "good enough" to sign on for four + more years of med school in order to specialize are recounted in detail.
Mix this up with a family vacation with his actor friend and his family, two beautiful (aren't they always?) daughters and there follows a series of potential disasters. Lots of near-nudity by the pool and at the beach, bikini bottoms that nearly fall off, body contact during casual ping-pong games and just general older man-teenage girl lust.
This novel would have seemed clichéed and overdone if it were not for the primary character's voice and dark vision of life, coupled with a vaguely-described precipitous event befalling one of the daughters. She has nothing to say about what actually happened and she continues her life "sadder but wiser" as the saying goes. We never find out just exactly what happened but we can all guess. The doctor's quest to find the perp after this summer seaside idyll dominates the rest of the story.
My only issue with this novel is the lack of geographical grounding. We know the doc is living and practicing somewhere in Holland but that's as far as it gets. The sense of place, with shops and restaurants, museums, scenery, architecture, weather, people-watching, etc. is missing, and there is no concept of a particular locale that could act as a backdrop for the action, if not be present as an additional character.
Narration is perfect, the voice very neutral but age-appropriate
This book does not follow any typical story line nor any customary resolution, and that's why it gets five stars.
45 of 54 people found this review helpful
In the idyllic ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado, Sarah St. John is reeling. Three months ago, her 22-year-old son, Cully, died in an avalanche. Though single, Sarah is hardly alone in her grief. Her father, a retiree, tries to distract her with gadgets from the QVC home shopping channel. Sarah’s best friend offers life advice by venting details of her own messy divorce. Even Cully’s father reemerges, stirring more emotions and confusion than Sarah needs. Sarah is surprised, then, when a strange girl arrives on her doorstep. Unexpected and unexplained, she bears a secret from Cully that could change all of their lives forever.
I bought this book, preview unheard, because "The Descendants" is high on my list of faves.
But I found this novel to be nowhere near the quality of "The Descendants". Hemmings uses some of the same devices as in "The Descendants" but somehow they do not add up. Foremost amongst these is the presence of an unseen character who, because of death or coma, has a past but will have no future. In this case it is the protagonist's son, Cully, who has died in a snowboarding accident. I may be wrong on those details, but his presence is a character throughout the book, even though he is no longer available to actively participate in the story. Similar to the narrator's wife in "The Descendants" who is in a coma after a boating accident.
And, also, both novels are staged in a resort area, but the stories evolve from the perspective of a native.
There is also the background layer of heritage and family history.
But there the similarity ends.
I found this story to be lacking in focus and direction, and missing that sense of pace and movement towards a completion. The characters were rather limited and incompletely fleshed out, and I was always having to work to create in my mind a character's "look" and animus. I like a little bit of description, but here there wasn't enough.
The narrator sounded way younger than the main character would be at her stage in life.
So, if you are looking for a Kaui Hart Hemmings novel that's on a par with "The Descendants" you will have to wait until her next offering.
11 of 17 people found this review helpful
In 1960, Billie Valentine is a young housewife living in a sleepy Massachusetts suburb, treading water in a dull marriage and caring for two adopted daughters. Summers spent with the girls at their lakeside camp in Vermont are her one escape - from her husband's demands, from days consumed by household drudgery, and from the nagging suspicion that life was supposed to hold something different. Then a new family moves in across the street. Ted and Eva Wilson have three children and a fourth on the way, and their arrival reignites long-buried feelings in Billie.
Just one caveat here: in spite of my occasional frustration at the overused literary device of postponing for the reader a "big event" you know is coming, and filling in with meandering, anecdotal back stories, I loved this story and connected instantly with the issues facing that marginal generation of women who came of age in the 1960's. Torn between family and meaningful personal vocation, we all knew we should be doing something besides making dinner and babies, but what?? Yes, we were all college graduates, but that only seemed to complicate our situations.
However, that's simply the backdrop of this novel, which alternates between two time periods in the life of one woman, who finds herself caught up in a sensitive web of love, affection and commitment, through various breakups, re-starts, and her partner's escapes from a violent, controlling spouse. It's an at-the-time unconventional relationship that would sentence the participants to "disgrace", rejection and isolation from their peers.
I have become a T. Greenwood fan, and she is now my "go to" author when I have exhausted what's current from a Jodi Picoult or Elizabeth Berg, Sue Miller, and others in this genre.
I only have one minor bone to pick - at times I felt like a hostage, waiting for a key plot point to "happen", and wading through pages (minutes, hours) of not-so-interesting or relevant back story.
T. Greenwood is now on my short list. I've already read "The Hungry Season", which is a tighter, more compact family drama, and my review will come soon.
A full five stars!
24 of 30 people found this review helpful
Kit Noonan is an unemployed art historian with twins to help support and a mortgage to pay - and a wife frustrated by his inertia. Raised by a strong-willed, secretive single mother, Kit has never known the identity of his father - a mystery that his wife insists he must solve to move forward with his life. Out of desperation, Kit goes to the mountain retreat of his mother’s former husband, Jasper, a take-no-prisoners outdoorsman.
Unlike other books by Julia Glass, this read meanders directionless, and is largely a series of short stories about family members through several generations.
I don't know the original publish date (or am not finding it when I try to look it up) but it reads like a first effort. The reader only has time to participate in one family's issues, only to be abruptly transported into the stories of another back story of the same family. Yes, they are all related genetically or in terms of extended family, but it's still a jarring transition, and it creates for me a negative animus toward the author, whom I have come to love, and whose books I always purchase without a preview.
Topping that off, the focus is generally on the male perspective, with very little nuanced insight.
I found myself really surprised by the characters' lack of introspection and continuous emotional blank slate.
I dislike when an author seems to declare through character development and story arc, "this is the main story" and then goes off on another tangent which in turn becomes the "main story". It's like getting off at the wrong bus stop, and it's all just too much. Perhaps this is a personal issue, having moved in my life many times geographically, but I ended up with emotional whiplash after reading this.
I did not think this read was nearly as "good" on many levels, as other books by this author.
But I am hopeful for more work from her.
17 of 19 people found this review helpful
It’s a place like hundreds of others, nothing special, really. But for four friends—all born and raised in this small Wisconsin town—it is home. And now they are men, coming into their own, or struggling to do so. One of them never left, still working the family farm that has been tilled for generations. But others felt the need to move on, with varying degrees of success. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit, and one of them even hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives.
This one begins like they tell you how to run a marathon: start slow and get slower. And it's a hard call to rate a book that has so few parts for women. Mostly this book is about men and all their stuff - golf, drinking, farming, music gigs, coupling and uncoupling with various women who are only interesting as sexual partners.
Aren't there any female (or male, for that matter) editors who could have steered this book towards a more balanced perspective?
There were some good prose snippets, with good flow and musicality, but mostly this was a flat narrative. Not much happens, and character development? Not so much, I'm afraid.
It's all about men and how they go about populating their lives with accessories: farm equipment, kids, drinking, people, music.
I am not so much a fan of "plot" for its own sake, and I can just as easily enjoy a book that meanders through decent and layered psychobabble. However, without any interior landscape nor circumstantial forces that drive the characters, "Shotgun Lovesongs" doesn't have much to grab on to. Excellent title, though.
A smaller group of characters and their stories would have served to provide some fresh depth, and to give spark and nuance to the monochromatic scenes, and a few piercing insights here and there wouldn't have hurt, either.
We are well into the 2000's, and fiction still is all about who is hooking up with whom. Isn't there anything else to think about? To write about?
This was/is a strictly "read while you're doing something else" kind of book.
12 of 19 people found this review helpful
After 27 years of marriage and three children, Anna Oh - wife, mother, outsider artist - has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her success. They plan to wed in the Oh family’s hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut. But the wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora’s Box of toxic secrets - dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives.
Having read, devoured and otherwise cerebrally ingested Wally Lamb's other books many times over, I was looking forward to "we are water".
I must first point out the book's central oxymoron. Two female protagonists are getting married. How hip with the times. One partner was raised with abuse and with no material nor cultural advantage, and I mean…zip, nada, zilch. She meets her partner by chance at a gallery and then becomes a kept woman. Well, she does supply the art for which her partner becomes wealthy, but how is this any different, except for the fact that the principals are the same gender - than the 1950's version of this same rescue story of a "woman in distress"?
Wally usually takes on highly ambiguous situations with a keen understanding and writes with skillful interpretation, with lots of elegant emotional and geographical description thrown in. However, I cannot say that "we are water" is up to Wally Lamb's standards - at least not as I have come to understand them. The obstacles to my enjoyment of this book are easy to enumerate as follows.
1) "we are water" is all about highly-educated, wealthy elitist characters with "first world" problems. There is a less-advantaged hispanic family thrown in for "diversity" I guess; someone's "help" brought along to assist with the logistics of a wedding, and wordsmith Wally deftly adds their little backstory as just more cumin in the curry.
2) The artist character gets her start by making little Joseph Cornell shadow boxes. I can say that nearly every book I've read where a female artist becomes successful she starts with little Joseph Cornell shadow boxes. Do writers just not know how to describe the visual arts and are incapable of giving the artists in their stories anything to create besides these (becoming trite) mini-scenes?
3) The female protagonists all talk with what I call Piping Rock Lockjaw. Those who've been raised in private schools and country clubs know what I mean. For simplicity's sake - let's just say they talk in that 1950's Hollywood-speak, sounding like Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, but with drawn-out syllables to the "drama". I actually thought the first sentences read by the Anna character - pronounced "Ah-nah" - were part of a parody of snobspeak. Her first scenes were meandering thoughts on "Viveca"'s wedding dress. Just sounded like something out of "The Onion", or "Hyperbole and a Half".
4) I can't stand listening to George Guidall, who always brings to my mind a matronly picture of Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie", wearing a wallpaper-like flowered dress, white gloves, and boxy, capacious purse carried on his/her forearm, sort of like Queen Elizabeth. Add to that the fact that Guidall can't seem to read more than three words without taking a breath and you get a barely endurable Guidall endurance-fest. Not my most pleasant listening experience.
5) The names of the characters are pretentious, snobbish, elitist and non-relateable. "Viveca"?? Really?. "Orion", with his constellation-of-stars reference? The pompous one-letter surname "O"??
I am being harsh, because the shallowness of all these factors derailed for me the devastating emotional issues with which this extended family grappled. And grappled successfully, I thought. The pay dirt is there and is pure Wally Lamb. But this book makes you dig your way through a lot of shallow sandboxes to get there.
32 of 43 people found this review helpful
What do you say when you know you don’t have forever? Ruth has been Ann’s closest friend for years - her confidante, her solace, her comic relief, her tutor in life’s mysterious ways. So when Ruth becomes ill, Ann is there for her without question. After all, it is Ruth who encouraged Ann to become who she is, Ruth whose rebellious, eccentric spirit provided the perfect counterpoint to Ann’s conventional, safe outlook. And so the friends go on as they always have…gossiping, consoling, and sharing intimate secrets.
Elizabeth Berg is one of those writers who explores just about all aspects of the human condition - and "condition" is the operative word, as in we are al here "conditionally" and must navigate our lives with attention and mindfulness.
Having said that, what happens is that you never quite know what you're getting when you sign on to a literary trip with Berg. I always think I know her, but am always jolted from my complacency.
After very recently finishing "The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted" and being satiated with comic as well as tragic (or at least challenging) moments in life, any life, I have expanded my reading repertoire into the short story genre and was pleasantly surprised. Berg has a few substantial funny (if not downright slapstick) bones in her vision and deploys them well in this story collection.
But now, to my point - "Talk Before Sleep" could have been an inspiring exploration into the experience of the end of life; after all, loss is universal to us all, part of the admission price we pay to enter the planet and does not have to be a monochromatic plunge into sadness and despair. But instead I found the world portrayed in here in "Talk Before Sleep" to be narrow and sad.
But I will continue to seek out work by Elizabeth Berg, one of my favorite authors, and one of the few whose work I download without even having to listen to a sample.
8 of 11 people found this review helpful