Friday, February 13, 2009

hit and miss

The Hit

Songs for the Missing
by Stewart O'Nan

I can't remember the last time I read a book cover to cover in one sitting but that is what happened with this book. I expected to like this novel because I've enjoyed two others by O'Nan: Last Night at the Lobster and A Prayer for the Dying. A missing child and the impact this has on parents appears to be an increasingly popular theme for fiction these days. What made this book stand out were several factors: the social class of the family; the working class small town location; the long term marriage of the parents who were approaching phase one of empty nesting (or the launching of the oldest child); and the younger teenaged sibling of the missing girl. O'Nan captures the varying viewpoints with authenticity and restraint. Look for this book to be made into a film. Four stars.

The Miss

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz

I have a lot of nerve to second guess the choice of the Pulitzer Committee, but seriously, what were they thinking? Having just read two previous winners of Pulitzer Prize for fiction, The Road and Interpreter of Maladies, and being absolutely wowed by both, I was ready for more wondrous writing. It was not to be.

While reading this book, it felt like I was trapped inside a reader's video game where obstacles were thrown toward me every other paragraph to make it challenging to make it to the end of this book. I had to overcome passage after passage of the story written in a language I don't understand and for which there was no translation. And then, most annoyingly, the gratuitous use of footnotes. Yes, that's right footnotes! Footnotes that added next to nothing to the storyline or character development and a little to the clever hipness of the irritating narrator. Maybe it was to disguise the unbearable lightness of the storyline. Also added to the off-putting mix is a toxic amount of vulgar sexist observations about every single female character. Apparently the most we need to learn about them are their various sexual attributes and behaviors. If I wanted to read a novel like that I'd read Tom Robbins.

I did make it through because there was enough cleverness in the writing to make it worthwhile. Although I have to wonder if I would have stuck it out if it hadn't been on so many top books lists and the Pultizer Prize winner. But wait, that didn't keep me from ditching Gilead. Two stars (it was ok).


Anonymous said...

I am SO looking forward to reading O'Nan. and even though I did enjoy Oscar, I can relate to your critique. good post!

sherry said...

Thanks, Carrie. We got some snow last night and while I was writing this post the power went out. So, I did something else for a while and came back to it. The power flickered again and I couldn't finish it. And also, internet connection was sporadic. So, it was an ordeal! Do you think it made my nutshell review too cranky?

Pam said...

Isn't it funny how people have different tastes! I loved the Junot Diaz book. I think some books are very polarizing, either you love them or you hate them.

sherry said...

Hi Pam,

Yes, books, music, film -- so many different tastes. I'm probably off kilter with my reaction to TBWLOW since it has won so many awards and such.

Thanks for stopping by.

claire said...

I've Oscar Wao on my reading list this year. I'm not sure if I'll love it though, it looked a bit jumbled when I skimmed the first few pages. But you're right, it does make us wonder what the fuss is about when so many others have raved about it. Although I know this book has gotten mostly mixed reviews. Thanks for your thoughts.. :)

Kim said...

If you wanted to try Oscar Wao again, I pulled together a site that helps with the translations and culture references:

sherry said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks for the link! I probably won't give Oscar Wao another try though because I think despite all the factors that made it a challenging read, the bottom line is that the story is not compelling.