In the Dream House – 4/5 Stars
This memoir came out a year or so ago, and because I was kind of mixed on the short story collection, I didn’t pick it up. Since then, I’ve been a little back and forth on reading it or not reading. Partly, because of the subject matter, I knew it would be rough going. And it is. This is a book that involves Carmen Maria Machado looking back and narrating being in an abusive relationship with another writer, while also dealing with some of the other kinds of othering and abuse she’s faced from other experiences and identities in her life. These different experienced spiral and circle in various ways. Using the metaphor of a “dream house” as in a place that is inhabited, imaginary, variable etc, Machado related different experiences from the relationship using different narrative constructs and forms, as well as using various stories, concepts, philosophical and poetical constructs to explain and not explain this relationship.
The writing is powerful and inventive, it’s painful and raw, and it takes the reflection and digging into some depths that I’ve felt have been attempted in some other various similar texts, but that I liked less. I think the other thing that worked for me in this relationship is the digging in of especially emotional and verbal abuse (along with sexual abuse) in ways that hide in and out of public.
White Fang – 3/5 Stars
I have to say that I don’t like this book as much as I like either Call of the Wild or To Build a Fire. I think the shorter narratives just allow for a tighter focus and a more controlled novel/piece of writing. In this book, the longer length is more grueling and less effective, and the I felt myself drifting a lot. Jack London has certainly written longer works (like Martin Eden), but with human characters, that’s obviously an easier thing to do.
What I can tell you is that this book reminds me of one of my favorite things in a novel ever. In Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, the father character, modeled after the Mitford patriarch, who in one scene early in the book is storming around the house talking about why he never reads books. He tells us that he’s read one novel, White Fang, and that it was perfect, so that he never needs to read another one ever again.
I think this book still works in a lot of ways, but it’s really pretty brutal at times, including a long section where White Fang is in a fighting ring for a while. It’s a story about redemption, even for animals, and even for animals not at all responsible for any wrongdoing.
Killers of the Flower Moon – 3/5 Stars
This is a book that I find a lot in recent years, where there’s a powerful and important narrative, told through a less than impressive storytelling. This happens in part because David Grann is best at 20,000 word articles and twice now he’s put two of those together in a book and then stretched it out until it’s a book. And that’s a shame because the events he’s narrating are incredibly important.
The book details a series of gruesome murders of Osage tribe members in the 1920s. The Osage through some luck, some shrewd planning, and against all odds ended up in possession of huge oil tracts after being forcibly relocated from traditional lands, and managed to hold on to mineral rights, right before the oil boom. Because of the evilness of federal government, members of the tribe who possessed large fortunes as a result of this were placed in forced custodial relationships that “managed” these fortunes, which means being targeted and harassed in any number of ways. And as the murders would show, the targets of horrendous violence in order to separate them from their wealth. The murders would also show that even in death, justice was elusive.
So the book follows the murders initially, sticking close to one of the central cases. Once we’ve established this part of the story, we move toward the case being investigated first by inept and corrupt locals, and then by the fledgling FBI, which didn’t even have arrest powers at this point.
So this part is also fascinating and necessary to the story, but it confusingly goes 40 years the court cases, through the death of Hoover in the 1970s. The last section of the book returns to the tribe to illustrate how limited the actual FBI investigation ended up being.
It’s a book that can spawn an interest, but I don’t think it nearly covers its subject to the extent needed.
The Man on the Balcony – 3/5 Stars
If you pick up a Sjowall and Wahloo novel and read the introduction (written by contemporary writers like Val McDermid or Henning Mankell) you hopefully won’t have the mystery spoiled, though you might. But you’ll also be told in every single one how this writing pair were one of the first to really tie social issues into the narratives. This is not really true — they do, but they weren’t the first obviously — but each book does take on some various contemporary social issues in some form as part of the book. They’re good in folding these in, without this being a specific subject of the book. And because plenty of the cop characters would not be out progressives who would just have the right “take” on things, they don’t, and that’s refreshing. In this book, we are dealing with among other crimes, the murder and likely molestation of a child, and scanty witness evidence. It’s a scary and short book, and the lead character thinking through this mystery and crime while also dealing with the dissolution of his own marriage (a typical plot point but one that works here). It’s solid.