Saturday, May 13, 2017

Recent Reads

Nostalgia Rules

Helen Simonson's previous book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, gently but firmly took on Britain's classism and racism with a charming love story. The Summer Before the War adds in sexism, homophobia, militarism, pacifism, socialism and almost every -ism you could imagine in a book that somehow pulls it off, even as you see the author's hand in this story of a young woman facing adulthood.
Nostalgia is the emotion that colors most of the book, looking back to a time before a World War was even conceivable. There's an intersection between young folks of the upper class and the upper middle class in the bucolic English countryside. Young men and women dreaming of love and duty become caught up in the hard realities of all those "-isms," and their struggles to reconcile them echo to the present day.

I prefer my novels to have invisible authors; perhaps an aside or two is permissible, but in novels I want story to be the key. The timing of outer events, the wider historical ones, felt off to me; the white feather girls seemed to appear way early in the story and they didn't show up in reality until August 1914, the end of summer. But if you were ever a swooning teenager, it's hard not to be lifted out of the story to admire every young poet's longed-for death scene: Noble! Tragic! Beautiful! Even as the tears washed my face, I was congratulating the author for fulfilling this fantasy and pulling it off beyond cliché. You will like this one if you liked her previous book or are an Anglophile! 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Tale of Heart and Passion

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It begins with a cliffhanger: "Late one evening...a teenager picked up a shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there."

I read it in one sitting, for it reads like a thriller, even though it's all flashback. Backman's previous books have been wise and funny and a little tragic, but this is a masterpiece. It centers on a small town seeking glory from its hockey club. I know these kids and these families and so will you. You'll recognize "how we got here", too. Backman brings to life their hopes and dreams, frustrations and difficulties--adults and teens alike. "Beartown" should be read and discussed in every high school; it's topical and yet these events have happened for centuries. It takes place in Sweden, but could be any small town in America, too. In sports and life what we hope our children learn is to make good choices in a very un-ideal world. Fiction is a way to enter into an age-old discussion framed so beautifully by one of the characters: "This town doesn't always know the difference between right and wrong...but we know the difference between good and evil." What is the right thing to do when things go very wrong? You'll be compelled to find your answer. Backman is the Dickens of our age, and though you'll cry, your heart is safe in his hands.


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