An Untamed State

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not a book I would have chosen voluntarily – it was for a book club. Although I join book clubs because I want to read books like this that are outside my comfort zone. Giving this a rating is extremely difficult. The writing is quite good – the subject matter is horrendous and disturbing, so I’m not going to say “I really liked it”. Not a book I will forget, but I wanted to learn more from it about Haiti and the awful divide between rich and poor. Maybe there isn’t more to know. This doesn’t really fit my theme of “black-lives-matter.” Yes, it is set in a culture where such kidnappings happen every day, but it isn’t about race. Mireille could be any woman in any culture. Women are always the victims. You cannot feel sorry for the men who act out their anger and rage and their quest for power and money. This is the story of one such woman, her life divided starkly into “before” and “after,” and the people (and readers) who struggle to comprehend what she went through. Yes, I felt as helpless and as frustrated with her as her husband Michael. Which doesn’t make me a bad person. It’s just that the magnitude of damage portrayed (physical and psychological) is far, far outside my own experience. And God willing, always will be.

I loved the relationship between Mireille and her mother-in-law Lorraine. I’ve lived in Nebraska, and now rural Minnesota, and I know farm wives just like her, cautious, slow to warm, and self-deprecating, but it is Lorraine’s practical, no-nonsense compassion that allows Mireille the safe place and the time she needs to come to terms with her ordeal.

Book description: Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men. Held captive by a man who calls himself the Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As her father’s standoff with the kidnappers stretches out into days, Mireille must endure the torture and rape of the men who resent everything she represents. After her release, she struggles to find her way back to the person she once was.

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Furiously Happy

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible ThingsFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not sure I should even offer a review, since I decided not to finish this book. Made it 126 pages. It was hilariously funny for about 30 pages, and after that it just seemed sad. Her zany, random train of thought – at times brilliant and at other times just silly – reminded me of Robin Williams. Is it the mental illness that drives this kind of manic humor? Or is it the other way around?

This was a book club read that I didn’t get in time to read for the meeting. Now it has a hold waiting for it and I can’t renew, so back to the library it goes. I could re-request it, but I don’t think I want to. Sooooooo many other books waiting to be read.

This would be a great book to dabble in now and then for 30 minutes. But to sit and read cover to cover requires too much energy. It’s like trying to keep up with a dog that is constantly saying “Squirrel!”

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An overly clever pastiche with an ensemble of mostly unlikeable characters. The main storyline involving the almost-romance between Pasquale and Dee is sweet. Most of the characters border on caricatures. Some of the writing is quite lovely, and it does have its humorous moments. We go back and forth between the 1960’s and the present day, following a variety of people. How they all relate to each other doesn’t come together until the end of the book. Then throw in some chapters like the first chapter of one character’s unfinished war novel, another character’s movie pitch about the Donner Party, or the first chapter of the movie producer’s autobiography. A little pretentious, but it sort of works. Woven throughout is the theme of looking for happiness by following your desires, no matter how ruinous or self-destructive those desires might be. Pasquale and Dee make a different choice – to do the right thing instead of what they think will bring them happiness. I think a second theme might be the hunger that we all have to create something that will outlive ourselves. Hence the Donner Party with its images of cannibalism, one character’s obsession with anorexia, various forms of artistic expression – wartime artwork in a cave, movies, plays and music – keeping dreams alive (extreme plastic surgery?), and sublimating the loss of those dreams through alcohol, drug abuse, and pornography. It’s a book that makes for interesting discussion. Of course, I enjoyed Richard Burton as a character and I now have to watch the movie Cleopatra.

Book Description: The story begins in 1962. On the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies a tall, thin woman approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, an American starlet, and she is dying. And the story begins again today when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot, searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.