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 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).