War Dances; How I Became a Famous Novelist; Never Let Me Go

I’m so behind on reviews!  I was slammed with work/life in May, and I let my writing slide–but not the reading!  I’m now soaking up all the free time I have before summer session begins and I have to get back to work.  Some quickie reviews to catch up:

War Dances

Sherman Alexie, where have you been all my life?

I vaguely remember reading a short story of his a long time ago, but War Dances, which won this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award, was my first real experience reading Sherman Alexie.

The book is a collection of short stories and poems.  Though the works are not related to one another, all are written with with undercurrents of humor, loneliness, sadness.  I particularly loved how Native American culture and questions of identity permeated the book.  And though I’m not usually a fan of poetry, some of Alexie’s poems blew me away.

I think my favorite story in the collection was “Breaking and Entering,” about a Native American film editor who has to decide whether to confront a person who has broken into his home.  I was completely mesmerized by the protagonist and his internal (and external) dilemmas.

The title story, “War Dances,” is up in the New Yorker archives.

How I Became A Famous Novelist

Pete Tarslaw is an ethically-challenged college graduate who writes people’s college application essays for a living.  Upon getting laid off by his equally shady boss, Tarslaw tries to think up the easiest way to get rich and famous before his ex’s impending wedding.  His plan is to smugly show up and make her regret ever dumping him.  Eventually, Tarslaw decides the easiest way to do so is to write a best-selling novel.

If the plot sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is.  Tarslaw studies the NY Times bestseller list  to see what kinds of books people eat up, ending up with a checklist for his own book that involves things such as World War II and a road trip.  He decides on the title The Tornado Ashes Club, and plows ahead with his writing.

I’m not usually a fan of comedies, but I was pleasantly surprised by How I Became a Famous Novelist.  The situations that Tarslaw finds himself in are ludicrous, but Hely’s parodies of various aspects of the publishing world are pretty funny.

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, a 2005 Booker Prize finalist always caught my eye in bookstores, but I had never picked it up until now.  Going in, I didn’t even know what the book was about.  For some reason, I’d had a vague impression that it was a science fiction novel.

When I finally did start reading the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is somewhat of a sci-fi novel.  The book revolves around a small group of friends who grew up at Hailsham, a boarding school of sorts in the English countryside.  I don’t want to give too much away because their identities and experiences are a central part of the plot, but the book follows this group of friends through their youth, then jumps forward several years into their futures.

Although the book was beautifully written, I was a bit underwhelmed overall.  Ishiguro is a very quiet writer, taking his time as he teases out the intricacies of his protagonists’ experiences and inner thoughts (sometimes to a fault).  What I did really like was the timelessness of the environments.  Although Ishiguro does give readers the actual years of the events, it was very easy for me to imagine the book taking place in an older time period; this made it all the more disconcerting when the sci-fi elements of the book subtly revealed themselves.

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