Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book 4 – The Lovely Bones

By Alice Sebold

I was of two somewhat opposing feelings before I started reading this book. A part of me was intrigued by the morbidness of reading the first person account of fourteen year old Susie Salmon, who gets raped and murdered by her neighbour. The other part of me regarded with disdain the fact that said girl was narrating her story as a floaty spirit in heaven.

It took me a while to get into the book. It vacillates from being a about a family trying to come to terms with their loss and grief, a suspense story where the father and sister of the murdered girl work together to uncover the identity of the killer and magic realist flights of fancy where the narrator tries to fulfill her girlish yet earthly fantasies.

The first two factors were what made the novel appealing for me. The world of 1970s suburbia was nicely portrayed and the characters of the family members well developed, especially the women, such as Susie’s mother and younger sister, Lindsey. The inclusion of a background story for serial killer George Harvey was interesting too. As well as having the detective, Len Fenerman, as a well-meaning yet sadly ineffective good guy.

There are also some powerful images in The Lovely Bones that stick in your head well after you're done with the book (whether you like it or not): Susie trapped with her murderer in the underground "clubhouse" hidden beneath an abandoned cornfield; Susie's dismembered body locked inside an old safe that's been submerged in a sinkhole, never to be discovered; Susie's sister Lindsey running off with killer George Harvey's sketchbook clutched in her hand, her soccer jersey disappearing into the bush (one of the few satisfying moments in the book).

Despite this, I generally side with the opinion of the NYT review, that although Sebold "maintains almost perfect balance" for this "high-wire act for a first-time novelist", it was the ridiculous wish-fulfillment ending that pretty much ruined the whole thing for me.

Basically, Susie’s old classmate, Ruth, has clairvoyant tendencies so Susie manages to possess Ruth’s body for a little while so she can make love to her high school could-have-been sweetheart, Ray Singh. Oh, and Ray, for some inexplicable reason, just knew that Ruth was actually Susie. Like, geez, come on! That scenario like really burst the narrative bubble for me.

To sum it up with a blurb from Observer reviewer, Philip Hensher: "very readable but ultimately it seems like a slick, overpoweringly saccharine and unfeeling exercise in sentiment and whimsy". I would disagree that the writing was unfeeling, but there were moments where it felt like Sebold was trying a little too hard.

The end.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book 3 – Revenge of the Spellmans

By Lisa Lutz

Yup! it's the third installment of the Spellman series, the first being The Spellman Files followed by Curse of the Spellmans.

Usually I don’t retain much interest keeping up with an ongoing series, but the Spellman books are a definite exception. As light entertainment, I suspect they are fairly proliferous, as my acquirement of each has been quite effortless. It's the second time in a row where I’ve come upon a hardcover edition at my local thrift shop, mere months after publication. And I wasn’t even looking for it. Eureka!

Lutz has been maintaining a good formula per chuckle-inducing installment. A caper comedy at heart (albeit a somewhat eccentric one), there isn’t much in the way of plot or mystery. There is more of the droll dialogue and deadpan delivery, the inter-familial “investigations” and the misadventures that almost reach the point of absurdity yet remain grounded in reality. The story once again centers around Isabel Spellman, on hiatus as PI, now bartending at her favourite watering hole, The Philosopher’s Club, and enduring her court-ordered therapy sessions (she kinda broke her restraining order in the previous installment).

“You are a licensed private investigator. That is your trade. And yet, for the last five months, all you have done is serve drinks and collect tips. You have refused to work at a job for which you are highly qualified, which used to give you some real purpose in life. I spent seven long, hard years training you at that job, teaching you everything I know while you talked back, nodded off, screwed up, broke equipment, slammed my hand in a car door, lost me clients, cost me a fortune in car insurance.”

Yes, at 31, Isabel Spellman is getting lectured by her dad and she is still having some difficulties growing up. Tired of her seedy apartment in the sketchy Tenderloin, she decides to move into her brother’s basement apartment in tony Russian Hill… without his knowledge. Ever since then, for some reason, Isabel has been suffering from insomnia and forgetting where she parks her car. As Isabel tries to get her life together, she reluctantly takes on a case for a friend. The case seems ordinary enough at first, but takes on more complexity as she delves into it. Will this case prove to be her saving grace?

The city of San Francsico is also featured prominently as Isabel takes public transportation wherever she goes (it helps her catch some much needed zzz’s). I just wish I’d remembered to seek out the Spellman residence at 1799 Clay St. in the lower Nob Hill district when I was in SF last Christmas holiday (Google tells me this address exists). And I was delighted to discover that the book makes reference to a bar where Olman and I hung out after a day of exploring the Mission District.

  This might seem a little too easy, but Bob used to consider the 500 Club his own personal living room. I drove straight to Seventeenth and Guerrero, hunted for parking, and found a space adjacent to Dolores Park. When I arrived, Bob was sitting at the bar. I ordered a beer, waited a beat, and then slipped into my ploy.
  “Bob? Is that you?”

Again, I derived mucho pleasure in reading the 3rd Spellman book. The 4th is already due this spring. I'm going to keep my eyes peeled!

(hey and this is my 100th post!)