Two very different two star reviews from my continued QUARANTINE READING! (I am not quarantined, just working from home and/or staying at home like most everybody else).
I started reading this book a few weeks ago my classes’ SSR (Self-Selected reading) periods and it was so dry and bland that I put it aside and read comic books. When I picked it up yesterday, it was equally dry and bland as before. It’s Jane Smiley’s first novel, and what I normally like a lot about Jane Smiley novels, that they are very intelligent and especially emotionally intelligent, a little weird, funny, and incisive —- almost none of that is happening here in this novel. Instead, this is a barn book that can’t quite figure out it’s size and scope. Is it a minor tragedy, a minor epic, or is there supposed to be a much bigger story here?
This book is about a woman who feel alienated from her family and seeks solace, control, and meaning/identity through her running of the family horse farm. And of course, this choice, which is made in a kind of broken manner leads to personal and family tragedy.
There’s a part of me (a big part of me actually) that has never had the most sympathy for the horse people in the world — outside of people who just happen to like and love and live around horses — but I mean the rich-ass horse people. I come from Virginia and we have HORSE COUNTRY here. Not as much as other states like Kentucky, but it’s very real here and it’s a big cottage industry. And especially in the 20th century, I don’t buy it any more.
You Shall Know Them
What the hell is this novel?! This is written by the French writer who became famous for writing anti-Nazi underground texts as part of the French resistance in WWII. Maybe the war gave a totalizing shape to his work becuase it seems very clearly that he is flailing here. This book starts with a doctor being roused in the early morning to attend to a patient. When he arrives he finds that the patient is a small child and dead. He says that he has come too late, and the man who has called says he knows because he’s just killed the child with a dose of strychnine. Alright, cool a murder mystery! But then the guy says like “Umm notice anything weird?” and it turns out the baby is actually a proto-human child.
So the novel then becomes a kind of Michael Crichton like novel (but taken completely seriously!) about whether these sub-humans count as humans or not, exploring very much the same kinds of ideas as in H Piper Beam’s Little Fuzzy series and a whole lot of Star Trek storylines.
But the big NOPE in this one is that he’s using these “sub-humans” and “apes” and “primates” as stand-ins for non-white races and even if he MEANS WELL (TRADEMARK) it doesn’t work. Yikes.