"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Monday, August 19, 2013

Review #55: On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

We come in to On Chesil Beach during Florence and Edward's honeymoon dinner. It is the first time they are truly alone together, dining in a hotel room, with the bed looming large in the other room. They're both virgins, and while Edward is eagerly anticipating consummating the marriage, Florence is more reluctant. In fact, Florence is horrified by what is expected of her, and although she wants to fulfill what she considers her marital duties - and in fact there are even moments when the reader thinks Florence may be feeling the beginning stirrings of desire - she doesn't think she can. Things come to a head in one pivotal, brutally uncomfortable scene. Florence flees to the beach, Edward follows her, and they fall into the age-old trap of lashing out to protect themselves.

I have to admit that this was not an easy read. It was short, and spare, but it was difficult to get through. I felt like a voyeur, like I was suddenly privy to some very private, very intimate situation. I don't know as I've ever felt as uncomfortable reading a book as I did when I was reading this. Florence's apprehension was palpable. I dreaded what lay ahead for her. And I felt equally bad for Edward. His excitement and nervousness rang very true, and I knew that things were going to end disastrously, but I couldn't look away.

In the end, On Chesil Beach is about more than two inexperienced virgins on their wedding night. It's about communication, about missed moments, about fear, about pride, about love, about heartache and heartbreak, and about how we have to listen, really listen to people, and take a chance, or else we may miss the very thing we need most in life.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Review #54: The Spare Wife, by Alex Witchel

Ponce Morris is known in her New York socialite circle as the "spare wife". Loved by all, she can plan a luncheon with her girlfriends, and then sit courtside at the Knicks with the husbands, and nobody's jealous. Babette Steele, a social-climbing hungry journalist, spies Ponce kissing a very married man, and sets out to destroy her.

That's pretty much the novel. There are other subplots - the married man's wife is a paragon of virtue, Ponce's best friend's husband is having an affair with none other than Babette, someone else is falling apart in the wake of his wife's death - but all that really happens is people run around having lunch, having sex, and lying to each other. I didn't find a single character to like.

The story had potentail, but it fell flat. I couldn't get past Babette's name, or Ponce's for that matter. And I struggled with believing that Ponce's friendships with the husbands never cause any ripples among any of the them. The male characters were especially one-dimensional; they were portrayed as over-sexed, over-moneyed, over-Viagra'd weaklings. I wondered at how they possibly made their fortunes if they were this dumb at life.

Review #53: Strange Bedpersons, by Jennifer Crusie

I love Jennifer Crusie, but this is not one of her better works. Clocking in at just about 200 pages, it's a quick read (I read it in fits and starts while waiting for various children to ride roller coasters in 92 degree heat), and finished it that night in about 45 minutes.

Tess is a liberal teacher who shops at thrift stores and Nick is a staid, boring, Republican lawyer. They couldn't be more different, but Nick needs a pretend fiancee in order to make partner in his firm, and Tess is the only girl he knows smart enough to pass muster. She agrees, and shenanigans ensue. There are a couple of subplots - her dancer friend falls for Nick's friend, someone from Tess' past resurfaces - but Nick's interactions with his secretary are what makes the book hysterical.

Crusie is great at dialogue, and she doesn't disappoint, but this was definitely not my favorite. Save it for the 99 cent bin at Goodwill, and leave it behind when you leave the beach.