Super Sad & Symbolic Shipping News (3 out of 5)
Set at the time of writing in the 1990s, Annie Proulx’s second novel, The Shipping News, follows thirty-six year old Quoyle from his small hometown in New York on his quest to escape his tragic past. He moves to his ancestral home in Newfoundland, Canada, with his tough, no-nonsense aunt in hopes of providing his two young daughters with happier childhoods than his own. Quoyle joins a crew of quirky locals in writing a small newspaper in the fishing town of Killic-Claw. Assigned to report on car wrecks and shipping news, Quoyle slowly finds his voice while creating a home capable of housing love without pain.
The novel was written in a distinctly modern style, often mirroring the headline style of the newspaper articles Quoyle writes, providing bullet point factual accounts of the action. Although this was effective, I did find it distracting at times as I kept rereading in search of missing subjects or articles. While the plot takes a hopeful and uplifting turn towards the conclusion, the majority of the novel focuses on somber themes including lengthy descriptions of setting that are dense with symbolism. I think it was a challenging and worthwhile read, but one that makes you work and throws in some dark twists and turns. It’s not one for the beach.
Amazingly Imaginative All Soul’s Trilogy (4 out of 5)
Two scholars at Oxford seem to have nothing in common until they discover their mutual interest in an elusive enchanted manuscript hidden in the Bodleian Library. Matthew Clairemont and Diana Bishop are two stubborn and strong-willed opposites who quickly fall for each other as they team up to find the manuscript. Written by new novelist and historian, Deborah Harkness, The All Souls Trilogy is a unique combination of genres. One part popular fantasy where vampires and witches are real, one part science fiction where the vampire is a renowned geneticist and the witch can time travel, and one part history lesson where we learn about New England witch trials and journey to Elizabethan London.
As a sucker for unlikely romances between outcasts, of course I fell in love with this series. But even so, I found some scenes too cheesy or dramatic to take seriously and found myself laughing a bit instead. I also thought the obvious attempts to compare monsters and witches ostracism to the modern day plight of homosexuals a little heavy-handed. Although I agree with the message that love in any form or grouping is a major positive, I think the delivery could have been more subtle. It just felt a little too after-school-special. There were also times the plot became a little predictable due to it’s structural similarities to Twilight. But I will say I was happily surprised at the feminist aspects that were nowhere to be found in Twilight. In fact, the strong female characters and relationships are my favorite part of the series.
Simon Rich’s Silly and Smart Short Stories (5 out of 5)
Simon Rich is a Harvard graduate, a former SNL writer, a former Pixar staff writer, and co-creator of my favorite show on television, Man Seeking Woman. I read four of his short story collections this year including Ant Farm & Other Desperate Situations, The Last Girlfriend on Earth: & Other Love Stories, Spoiled Brats, and Free Range Chickens. Rich has a talent for summing up the Millennial experience in hilarious, concise, and unexpected stories.
On one page you’re reading about the futile existence of video game villains dying off after three punches, on the next you’re reading about the fantasy of putting your parents through the excruciatingly awkward situations of your youth, like inviting over their entire office for their birthday so as not to exclude anyone, or insisting on impromptu performances of their talents to impress your friends. One story describes Zeus’s inability to reign in a rebellious Cupid who would rather learn to rap than spread love. The ideas are so clever and original. I loved every collection and laughed out loud all the way through. Simon Rich is a new favorite.