Monday, December 22, 2008

The Gathering by Anne Enright

Just the thing for a cheery Christmas read. A homeless alcoholic brother is washed away by the tide and his large, Irish family gathers for his funeral. Very upbeat!

Even though it isn't a "feel good" book, The Gathering is well worth the read. Winner of the Man Booker prize in 2007, it is beautifully written and not as gloomy as the short description intimates. It's often funny and always witty. Enright's prose is lovely and her characters are brutally honest, if not with themselves, then to each other.

Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris

I loved this book! I loved everything about it. The style, the wit, the style, the pathos, the style, the pace, the style. Can you tell I loved the style? It's told in first person plural, and how Ferris managed to do this so seamlessly was, to me, a marvel.

The people in the novel are copywriters and editors at a firm in Chicago. He uses the plural because they act like a herd at their cube farm. Every minor thing that happens affects all of them in disproportionate amounts. Every look, every encounter with their manager, every compliment, every slight is amplified by bouncing off each and every one of them.

If you've worked in an office and suffered through the little indignities that corporate life foists upon you, you'll empathize with these people. Especially if the office is in your past. If it's not, this might cut too close to the bone.

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

I've read all of Russo's novels, and have enjoyed the lot. Oddly, this wasn't my favorite. I find that odd because this is by far his biggest book and delves very deeply into a smaller ensemble than usual. Maybe that's why I didn't enjoy this one as much. Russo's previous books skirted along the surface of his wide-ranging characters; showing us just enough to care about them but not so much that we felt we knew them better than their therapists did.

In Bridge of Sighs he wants us to understand every major event that has happened to his 3 main characters; no matter that the events are, in fact, often fairly minor. That's not to say that their lives are without strife or grief. But he's trying to make a few events give us the keys to the psyches of these people, and, when we get inside we see there's not a hell of a lot going on. They're just relatively normal people who lead, for the most part, very simple lives.

I don't think there's anything wrong with writing novels about simple people leading simple lives, and, as I said previously, I've read and liked all of Russo's previous works. This one just seems a bit of a reach.

I read the book over two days and I was up until 3 a.m. reading it the first night. I would have stayed up all night reading but I couldn't manage it. But I cooled on it the second day. Not enough to put it down, but I was hoping for a bigger payoff. I could guess the resolution of all of the story lines, and that's always a bit disappointing. And the few things I couldn't guess seemed out of character, which is also a letdown.

Russo won the Pulitzer for his previous work, Empire Falls. I'd heartily recommend that book, as well as his previous novels. Bridge of Sighs isn't without merit, but for me Russo's reach didn't meet his grasp.