Monday, November 30, 2015

#CBR7 Review #28: Border Crossing by Pat Barker

I really don’t know when and how I ended up with multiple novels by Pat Barker on my kindle, but here we are. And knowing that a few of them belonged to a series, I opted to read Border Crossing, a book dealing with child offenders of serious crimes, and examining the idea of people changing and finding redemption years later. Or is evil an inherent trait that can be found in children as well as adults? Honestly, the whole thing sounded kind of like that Andrew Garfield movie, Boy A, except in comparison, I found the whole thing rather bland. Or, maybe “bland” is not the right word… I guess it’s just that I felt like I needed more: more of everything. Some interesting topics and themes were brought up, but I never felt like we really got to the depth of them, or even to the depth of the character of Danny and his manipulative personality, which I found to be super intriguing and the strongest force in the story. Yet, I was left with a sense of just gliding through the whole thing with nothing to really grab onto.

The story of Border Crossing itself focuses on a child psychologist named Tom, who we first see saving a young man who dove into a river in attempted suicide. Tom soon discovers that he knows this young man named Danny, or at least, he knew the boy for a time years earlier, when Tom presented evidence that resulted in the conviction of Danny for the murder of an elderly woman when he was ten years old. But now Danny is out, and has a new identity, yet he seeks out Tom’s help to go back into his past and reconnect to what happened all those years ago. Tom soon finds himself questioning and crossing the lines between the personal and the professional, and asking himself if people can find redemption over time. He also grapples with how to best deal with Danny’s wishes and personality, as well as Tom’s own crumbling personal life. But of course, even though new identities may hold for a while, the newly committed crimes of two young children threaten to bring Danny’s past life back into the focus of the media, and expose him anew. 

Truth be told, I found the character of Danny to be incredibly intriguing, and just the way he interacts with and affects the people around him. Yet, I felt as though I didn’t get enough of him through the vehicle of Tom, and didn’t even fully understand what Danny was doing or wanted from going to see Tom again. So while there was some serious potential and great points scattered through the story, the whole thing fell a little flat and came across as anticlimactic to me in the end. Though, I will say that it was not a difficult read, which is always nice when you don’t want anything too heavy or requiring of extra focus (especially since I read most of this during down-time at work). But in the end, while there isn’t really anything wrong with Border Crossing, I unfortunately feel like it is ultimately very forgettable. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

#CBR7 Review #27: No One Belongs Here More Than You – Stories by Miranda July

Miranda July is an interesting case, isn’t she? Sometimes I don’t know what to make of her and her work, and I find that she can be pretty divisive. There are some that find her to be gentle, profound, unique, and have a strong voice, while others may find her to be too whimsical, awkward, etc. And I happen to be right in the middle. I absolutely adore some of her work, but other times I just can’t connect with it and think, “Okay… that’s enough of you for a while.” And while the collection of stories in No One Belongs Here More Than You had a few short stories that really struck me, overall there were more misses than hits, and I couldn’t help but feel like everything in it was slowly dragging me down.

It is true that July has a distinct voice, and there is a skill to capturing small, single moments in a way that make you see them as so significant. In many instances, however, these moments in July’s stories center around her character’s sensuality or instances of sexual intimacy, which more often than not came across as somewhat awkward to me, which made me feel awkward reading them. And that is not to say I am uncomfortable reading about sex in any way, but in this case I was simply put off by something in almost all of the pieces included in this collection. In a way, I guess, I could only handle reading about and imagining so many uncomfortable women (and one, singular male protagonist), slowly and knowingly walking towards their own self-destruction, or into a place of more confusion and unknowing than they started in, but not in a inspirational way: in a disconcerting way. Though through some reflection, perhaps I feel a bit put-off by this behavior due to recognizing my own manner of working through life and issues, which may or may not follow a similar pattern. Yikes.

Yet, amongst all the other seeming misses and inclusions I just couldn’t connect with, there was one longer story around the middle of the book that really struck me for some reason, titled: “Something that Needs Nothing.” This story focuses on two teenage girls who run away from their suburban lives to live together in the city. The phases and realizations in their relationships and the way in which the protagonist found strengths and weaknesses made me think of things that, while not exactly the same, bore resemblances to my own life. I was even inspired to write a poem (which may later become a song??) about the things and feelings this story brought up in my own mind. And it’s kind of powerful when you can be inspired to make your own creative response to the work of someone else (kind of like how a dancer may be moved to choreograph in a particular way after hearing a certain piece of music).

The fact remains, however, that overall I did not find No One Belongs Here More Than You to be a very strong collection of short stories. And that is a shame, seeing as I really thought I was going to like it more than I did after having been exposed to some of July’s work before. Though perhaps it was the fact that many of the narrative voices came across as the same to me, and after a number of stories and a number of different characters, it all just felt a little flat. Or maybe it was the fact that I could be intrigued and immersed in a tale, only to come upon a line that I wish was never included, or drew me out of the story completely with the way it came across. I guess there are a lot of things that are keeping me from really loving this collection by July, save for a few of the brief pieces included. 

In any case, here are a few quick lines about what/who each of the remaining stories in the collection focus on:

  1. “The Shared Patio”: a woman becomes transfixed by the man who lives in the building below her and yearns for a relationship with him. 
  2. “The Swim Team”: a young woman reflects on the time she taught a group of older people how to swim without a swimming pool.
  3. “Majesty”: a woman fantasizes about one of the royal princes and imagines how she might meet him on day.
  4. “The Man on the Stairs”: a woman hears someone slowly coming up her stairs in the middle of the night and contemplates how to face him.
  5. “The Sister”: an older man hopes to meet a co-worker’s sister in order to form a relationship with her, yet the sister is elusive to meet.
  6. “This Person”: a hypothetical person has a celebration thrown in their honor, yet this individual wants to do nothing but retreat into themselves.
  7. “It Was Romance”: a woman goes to a class to learn how to be romantic, yet finds that perhaps romance is not necessarily what we think it is.
  8. “Something That Needs Nothing”: as described above, the relationship between two young girls who run away together.
  9. “I Kiss a Door”: a woman learns a secret about a past friend of hers.
  10. “The Boy From Lam Kien”: a woman lets a young neighborhood boy spend time examining her world.
  11. “Making Love in 2003”: a young woman wants to publish a story of a dark being she was once intimate with, only to find herself believing that one of her students is this same being reborn.
  12. “Ten True Things”: a woman takes a sewing class to try and get to know her boss’ wife better.
  13. “The Moves”: a young woman reflects on the lessons her father taught her regarding having sex with a woman.
  14. “Mon Plaisir”: a couple who have been together for a long time decide to become background actors together as a way to make their relationship more interesting.
  15. “Birthmark”: a woman removes a large birthmark from her face, only to contemplate on what this action means and how her identity is still tied to this mark she once had.
  16. “How To Tell Stories To Children”: a woman becomes like a second mother to a child of her friend, which is inevitably a strange family situation.  

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]