How interesting that author Bruce Wagner makes a fleeting cameo appearance in a party scene in Jonathan Lethem’s “You Don’t Love Me Yet”. Lethem’s slim novel about romantically adrift twenty-something Lucinda Hoekke, bass player in a fledgling alternative band, bears some resemblance to Wagner’s largely Los Angeles-based collection of novels and TV and movie screenplays. The title “You Don’t Love Me Yet” even echoes Wagner’s “I’m Losing You”, “I’ll Let You Go” and “Still Holding”, even though Lethem’s title doesn’t double as a typical telephone stock phrase/excuse. Actually, you would think he might have tried something like that, since Lucinda also answers telephones for a faux complaint line in an art installation.
Like Wagner’s stories, Lethem’s story is set in Los Angeles. His characters stumble (usually under the influence of one toxin or another) through the same decadent, emotionally parched terrain on the fringes of stardom, seeking and usually not finding professional, artistic or personal validation or fulfillment. While Wagner’s stories have Dickensian complexity, Lethem at least musters some Dickensian names – influential radio host Fancher Autumnbreast is a favourite – but isn’t able to match Wagner’s absorbing depth and insight, with one exception. Lethem’s characters are unsympathetic to a person, and their connections with each other don’t ring true, particularly Lucinda’s inexplicable and messy hookup with an enigmatic crafter of slogans that she meets when he starts calling the complaint line. The one exception is that Lethem captures vibrantly the alchemy of how individual musicians collaborate and cohere to make beautiful music.
“Through democracy, which demands we meet strangers as equals, we perhaps become less strangers to ourselves.”
This book is a fascinating exploration of artistic and aesthetic taste, and a kind, intelligent and moving defence of sentiment and sentimentality, using Celine Dion as the perhaps unlikely touchstone. Oh, and it’s cool and even laugh-out-loud funny.
As 2009 comes to an end, many publications and pundits are offering their assessments of the best whatevers of the decade just past. Inspired by the best books of the decade list from Salon magazine, I’ve listed those from their list with which I agree, and I’ve added my own. These are the books that left the greatest impressions on me as a reader, through the authors’ craft, imagination and that magical je ne sais quoi that makes for a memorable reading experience.
From the Salon list, here are the ones I’ve read that I agree are “best of” the last decade:
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathem Lethem
Additionally, here are other books I’ve read since 2000 that I think are “best of’s”, including links to previous reviews on this blog. (I’ll aim to add reviews for the others in, well, the next decade.)
This moving book captures powerfully the sheer physicality of enormous, yearning grief. Lisa Moore has forged a memorable portrait of a brave, no nonsense individual on her journey to a form of peace after devastating loss. Moore traces in plain-spoken but evocative prose Helen O’Mara’s happy, passionate early life as a wife and mother, to the shattering loss of her beloved husband Cal in the Ocean Ranger disaster, to her struggle to raise her family and keep herself emotionally afloat. Moore engages the reader simultaneously on many levels, from the sensory to the functional aspects of getting on with one’s life to hints of the spiritual. While the focus is on Helen, the subplot involving John, her oldest child and only son, is also absorbing, tracing his development from childhood to adulthood, his career path and his acceptance of unexpected new responsibilities in his life. Throughout, the feisty resilience of the entire cast of February and their ability to even find rueful humour in life’s challenges is both diverting and inspiring.
February 14, 2013 – 31 years ago today, the Ocean Ranger sank. How fitting that today, February has been recognized as the book that all Canadians should read. What a fine way to honour the memory of the 84 men who perished in that disaster.
This is an engrossing and sensitive depiction of the complexities of human lives lived during the German occupation of France during the Second World War. It’s made all the more poignant by the fate of the author, who was arrested and died at Auschwitz in 1942. Her notes accompanying the manuscript reveal that she had envisioned an even more sweeping and ambitious work, but that she sensed that her time was running out. The novel’s appendices, detailing her notes and the correspondence of her last days and that of her family and colleagues as they tried to find and rescue her, are as riveting as the novel.
Well crafted but depressing, sometimes verging on sinister … but when you hear Wright read his work aloud (which I’m glad I had the opportunity to do), the poems come across as wry and almost self-effacing.
This examination of different mother-son relationships – some intimate, some estranged, some just strange – is movingly rendered in language that is simultaneously rich and plain-spoken. This is an absorbing read that I think would touch everyone in some way, even if you aren’t a mother or a son.
Mark Hurst waxes exuberantly optimistic on the promise of simple bit literate habits to make every computer user more productive and savvy. I think he underestimates how ingrained people’s habits are, coupled with their fear of the “mystique” of technology and their dependence on specific applications. His contention, though, that bits should be independent of a given company’s software or platforms makes very good sense. Even if you just develop a few of his suggested habits, you’ll be more in control of your digital world … and, whether we admit it or not, we all *do* have a digital world nowadays.