Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Tiger's Wife, Téa Obreht (3.5)

"Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories, the story of the tiger’s wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life — of my grandfather’s days in the army; his great love for my grandmother; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the University."  -The Tiger's Wife

I’ve been having a really hard time writing this review for some reason. I really liked it, and I feel like it’s similar to a lot of books I’ve liked, but I can’t really put my finger on why. What do I have to say besides “I like when a book is in the present, but weaves together stories of the past along with some mystic tale that may or may not be true.”
The story follows Natalia, a young doctor travelling with her friend Zόra to give immunizations to orphans. Just after she arrives, she is struck with the news that her beloved grandfather has passed away. The story weaves Natalia’s memories of her grandfather, stories he has told her, and her current journey.
The novel is both slow and gentle and teaming with love, loss, and adventures with a tiger. Moments like this were beautiful:
After following him through dark, empty streets, suddenly she sees what he sees: an elephant, a refugee from a defunct circus, being walked to the city’s embattled zoo. “None of my friends will ever believe it,” she exclaims in regret. “You must be joking,” her grandfather replies, rebuking her: “The story of this war — dates, names, who started it, why — that belongs to everyone. Not just the people involved in it, but the people who write newspapers, politicians thousands of miles away, people who’ve never even been here or heard of it before. But something like this — this is yours. It belongs only to you. And me. . . . You have to think carefully about where you tell it, and to whom. Who deserves to hear it?”
 I was surprised to see so much wisdom in a novel written by a 27-year-old. If she could write something of this magnitude, perhaps I should go back to one of my abandoned novels. Perhaps I could do something this great. Critics love this book. 
However, there is so much happening that I’m not entirely sure I came away with a great sense of what the novel accomplished…or what even happened. Characters die as they do in real life, leaving a gaping hole and without delivering purpose to the plot. Death does not tie a pretty bow around the ending of the novel, and yet death is present throughout the book.
I think what has bothered me about this book, and what has kept me from reviewing it, was that I didn’t feel that the story was finished. I enjoyed reading it, and desperately wanted to give it a five star review (I want to give everything a five star review, but have to remind myself that 3 can mean that I liked it, and I should save 5 for the Harry Potter's of the literary world) but I also realized that I had so many unanswered questions, which made me feel stupid. Had I really read the book so quickly that I had no idea how everything came together? Did I miss something? I felt stupid. How could I give you a review about a book I didn’t feel that I understood? And worse yet, how could I tell you that I loved said book, when I could barely tell you what happened?
So here is my review: read it. It’s a good read. Then tell me what you think. Let me know if you understood the great point of this novel. My copy went back into the internet-library before I could re-read or review it. Perhaps next year I will revisit it and try to figure out what happened myself. Leave me a note if you have any idea what happened.

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**giant, major spoilers ahead – here’s a picture to keep you from peeking**
Tiger's don't like peeking.

I feel like I would have liked the book better if in the end Natalia had encountered the deathless man, Gavran Gailé, instead of leaving the myth out of the present. One the one hand, I like that the myth remained a myth, but on the other I wish 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin (5)

            This was one of the posts that I had started for this weeks blog post, and I tried to choose another post to finish, because I felt like I was doing the thing that I myself blamed the media for doing – capitalizing off of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. The problem is I’m having a hard time writing about anything else.
            I reacted, as most of us did, to the news on Friday with a gut-wrenching call to blame…everybody. We need mental health reform, I cried along with everyone else, and more gun regulation! How did our law makers allow this to happen? But therein lies the problem. While we can try to blame parents, guardians, and other mentors for not being there for this troubled young man, we can blame congress for not regulating everything, we can blame the media for making these horrible incidents infamous. However, the blame can only lie with the perpetrator of this heinous act. And the hardest part is that we may never know why he did it.
            So I offer this novel to all those asking questions and seeking answers. It won’t answer your questions necessarily and may instead raise more, but I think this novel is important and I think it has given us some idea of what its like to really deal with a broken child.
            We Need to Talk About Kevin, is narrated by Eva, whose son Kevin killed seven of his high school classmates, a cafeteria worker, and a beloved teacher two days before his sixteenth birthday. Two years after the incident, Eva discusses her thoughts and feelings through a series of letters to her estranged husband, Franklin. She has stayed in the town her son traumatized as her own personal penance.
            I found this book devastating and sort of beautiful. Eva cannot forget what Kevin has done, and has shouldered some of the blame, wondering where in Kevin’s life she had so ruined him that he would be driven to this act of destruction.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Auditions & Bossypants (4.5)

            Let’s take a break from the sad books, or books that make me sad because I hate them. Who doesn’t need a good laugh in the darkness of the brink of winter solstice? This book is like a happy lamp for your soul. Especially if you are working in the arts and need to know that everyone hates themselves as much as you hate yourself after a bad audition.

Personal anecdote time: (If you came here just for a book review, just go ahead and skip this. If you came here because you are my friend, read on!)
Speaking of bad auditions…I keep posting on my facebook wall “going to _____!” Why, why, WHY do I keep doing this? It inevitably leads to a string of “break a legs!” and “how did it go?” that, while heartfelt and wonderful, mean that I have to relive every horrible moment of some soul-crushing experience.
            Not that all auditions are soul-crushing, by any means. Often I leave an audition feeling like I nailed it, knowing that if I don’t get the role it’s because of some redhead or brunette or 5’ 10” girl that also wowed them and was the look they wanted.
            Yesterday was another story. Yesterday I had my first audition that I had to flash my fancy brand-new “Equity Membership Candidate” card (EMC). It was at Intiman, and I spent the entire Sunday night singing my songs, picking out the best piece, and researching all four of their plays. I watched their welcome video. I pulled up my resume and edited and printed and edited and printed until I just stared out the inadequacy of my credentials.
            I went into the auditions feeling confident, but terrified. My pieces were solid, my voice was in good shape, and it wasn’t like there was some perfect part for me, if I just showed them something awesome maybe they could find me a chorus role. Fourth wife on the left in Lysistra would have been fine by me if that’s what they wanted.
            I walked in, and they were SO NICE. Introduced themselves, shook my hand, smiled at me, and genuinely looked interested in seeing my work.
            I tanked. Oh lord how I tanked. I don’t remember breathing, and by the time I left the room I was shaking, literally, from head to toe. Maybe finger to toe would be a more apt description, but you get my point. I could barely change from my character shoes to my boots because I couldn’t stand on one foot.
            Apart from the fact I didn’t breathe and I croaked out the first note of my song like a frog and I wanted to die, I might have done ok. And actually, it felt kind of good realizing that I cared enough to be so terrified. Every time I tell someone how the audition went, they try to make me feel better. Which is sweet, I absolutely appreciate the sentiment, but honestly I don’t feel bad about it. I feel like yes, this is what I want to do, and it terrifies me and excites me in ways that I can barely explain. I love it. Even when I tank, I love that I prepared as best I could and knew I could do better, if only I wasn’t so scared. Because that fear will go away. I’ll sing in front of more people and eventually it’ll feel the same as when I sing alone in my basement.

Oh yeah, we were talking about Tina Fey, weren’t we?
I don’t read a lot of nonfiction because I like to read a solid plot with solid characters. If I know how it ends, I don’t care about reading it nearly as much. Tina Fey’s Bossypants starts out chronicling her early life including her struggling acting career. While, as an actor, it is nice to see that even Tina Fey once struggled with her career, I also know that she’s going to make amazing things happen, so half of me completely gets every moment of panic, and half of me just doesn’t by it.
            Tina Fey is just as hilarious as you’d expect, her anecdotes are funny, but I find her lack of self confidence both adorable and annoying. Part of me thinks, hey, you have an Emmy-award winning show running 7 seasons, shut. up. And part of me is happy to know that I’m not the only one who suffers these cripping moments of artistic lack of self-worth.
            That being said, by the end of the book I wanted nothing more than to grow up to be exactly like Tina Fey. She is fierce, funny, and overall a normal person who works very hard at doing what she loves. It was inspiring reading her journey from a young girl hanging out with the theater weirdos to playing with the big boys and producing her own show. I loved that she struggled with everything that woman in the arts struggle with. How do you balance a family with a 80-hour-a-week schedule? Are you screwing up your child? If you have a second one, will you completely derail your career? 
            I often read this book before an audition, because it made me happy instead of stressed and it also gave me a huge sense of empowerment being a woman in the arts. Thank you, Tina Fey, for showing me that this journey is full of many, many bumps but is in the end, worth it, and a hilarious ride.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Casual Vacancy (4.5)

   I’m obsessed with the Harry Potter series. I’ve read each of those books more times then is ok to admit. I grew up with them, and because of this I feel a little like I know J.K. Rowling. I sometimes refer to her as “Jo” and I was so excited that she was writing a new book. In my mind, the worst case scenario was that it would be a total flop and she would go back to writing Harry Potter novels.
            From the start, I was hooked. Casual Vacancy was as un-Potterish as it is possible to be. J.K. Rowling used the word “cunt” and talked about an erection. WHAT? Who is this author??
            Casual Vacancy has the most unusual and dynamic cast of characters, each of them tragic in their own way. This is not a happy romp through an idyllic town but rather a town masking the war brewing underneath the surface. No, not Voldemort, this war is about ideals, money, and hidden desires. In a sense, this book is about the Dursley’s life, if Harry Potter did not exist. In fact, you might think Dudley Dursley is a much sweeter kid than Fats, one of the major players in Casual Vacancy.
            If you can muddle through how quickly Jo switches character point of view, sometimes mid-paragraph, and begin to make sense of her writing style, if you can find it in your heart to root for some of these tragic, broken people, than you will read a book that takes you on the emotional ride of your life.

I have a habit of reading some sad books, so this was totally up my alley. If Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire broke your heart, then this book might be a little too intense for you.  
If you wanted to know what was really going on in some of those empty classrooms in Hogwarts, or how the Dursley’s fit in with normal society, and enjoy books that are not action/adventure/mystery but a bit of a slow build, then you’ll love The Casual Vacancy.

Next week: a plug and a book review, all in one!