Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Reviews: The Triad of Sad Stories

My Netflix queues and library hold requests tend to form patterns. For instance, at some point in time, I'll be browsing through indie films and see eight different "dark, visually interesting" films that look intriguing. The next thing I know, I'm at my mailbox flipping through the DVDs that just arrived and wondering how I ended up with three biopics about serial killers.

The same thing holds true with books - I tend to have my library open as a tab in my browser when I'm reading other book-blogs or reviews.  Which means I end up with 16 YA paranormals in a row, or a batch of thick non-fiction works that'll take me two months to read through, based off where I was perusing.

The last time I went to the library,  I walked out with a couple of non-fiction books (one on resumes, because I really should write one of those sometime) and what I've come to think of as the Triad of Sad Stories.  They were all interesting, I just wouldn't have chosen to read them all together if I'd put more thought into my selection as a whole.

The Hour I First Believed: A Novel (P.S.)One of them was Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. This is a story set around the massacre at Columbine, so I was certainly prepared for a rough ride. It's a story about how victims respond and cope with trauma - as well as the people who love them, who form collateral damage.  Lamb is a masterful fiction writer who creates utterly believable characters - even more painful than his description of the damage done at Columbine is the story of the damage that people do to themselves in the aftermath.  But it's also a story about love and redemption, and it's just so beautifully told. I have some issues with the book's portrayal of military vets, but that's a post for another day, if ever - I still recommend it.

Every Last One: A NovelMy feelings as I read were less mixed about Anna Quindlen's Every Last One, which is a beautiful portrait of a mother and wife in a lovely, but imperfect, family. The main character, Mary Beth, worries about her teenage children - daughter Ruby and her fraternal-twin sons. Quindlen spends the first half of the novel building up their family life before a terrible act of violence wrenches her world apart.  What I loved about this book, too, was Quindlen's quietly masterful use of tension - even though nothing exactly is happening in the first half of this book, about the family's life leading up to that destructive day, it's never dull.  I really liked this book, which is a detailed and loving portrait of both family and the grief that we risk by having those families. Well worth the tears.

The Shack (Special Hardcover Edition)Last but not least, I read The Shack by William P. Young, continuing my (proud?) tradition of reading uber-popular books at least two years behind the crowds (I think the only one I've ever read promptly was The DaVinci Code, which was fun to discuss, and also someone gave me a copy for free). For those of you who somehow missed all the fuss about The Shack, it's the story of a man who returns to the place where his young daughter was murdered years before to meet God. So, I was very interested in the theology behind the story, and there were some very moving moments in the book.  For me, the writing style was a little irritating at times - the prologue, in my opinion, is the epitome of the Unnecessary Prologue we writers are often warned against. And, while I was sometimes in tears as I read, I also laughed - perhaps not quite as Young intended - at the utterly bizarre scene where God talks about too many greens giving you the runs. It's an interesting book, but it's not one that will find a lasting place on my bookshelf. I'd rather have a straight theology book, to be honest. But the idea - man meets God face-to-face - is an intriguing one, and the end is satisfying without being easy.

I liked that while all these books were sad, they were ultimately about people triumphing - in their own ways - over their circumstances. 

What are you all reading lately? What's the last sad story that you read, and would you recommend it?


Talli Roland said...

Thanks for the reviews! I must check out Anna Quindlen's book.

I haven't read anything too sad recently, but one of the most disturbing books I read was 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' by Lionel Shriver. *shiver*

Matthew Rush said...

There's nothing wrong with sad - grief and loss is a normal part of life. In fact I think all good books should have a bit of sad - unless they're just hilarious.

Ann Best said...

I have The Shack. I'm curious to read it now, to see what I think. A very good critique on your part.

And I really want to read Anna Quindlen's book.


Old Kitty said...

Fair and succint reviews - I love how you've done these reviews!!

Gosh last sad book(s) I read was/were Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy. Oh buckets of tears during and after!!!

Take care