I was traveling for two weeks last month & I polished off 4 fiction books. Here they areeee!
“Fieldwork” by Mischa Berlinski // I was fascinated by this book for many reasons. First off, the author named his narrator after himself — an interesting choice. Mischa (in the book) is a freelance journalist. He moves to Thailand with his schoolteacher girlfriend. However, in “real life” Berlinski worked as a freelance journalist in Thailand himself. He originally set out to write a non-fiction book on one of the Thai ethnic group’s conversion to Christianity — but no one was interested in backing his manuscript, so he recycled all of his research and notes into a fiction story instead. In the novel, Mischa becomes fascinated with the story of Martiya, an American anthropologist who was in Thailand doing her Masters “fieldwork” study among the Dyalo people. (The Dyalo are a fictional tribe created by Berlinski.) Martiya and Mischa meet when she is in prison, serving a 50-year sentence for murdering the son of a American Protestant missionary couple.
The story is intricately weaved and bounces all over the place. I really, really loved this book. Pleasantly surprised at this random-used-book-store find. 4.5/5
“Plainsong” by Kent Haruf // Set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, “Plainsong” is a book heavy on character-development and slow-in-action. (One of my favourite combinations.) There are only a handful of characters featured in the small-town: a man named Guthrie, his two young boys, a teenager named Victoria (who finds herself pregnant and homeless,) two unmarried farmer-brothers and a young teacher named Maggie Jones. A word that comes to mind is “delicate.” This book was delicate and every chapter was a delight. Simple prose, minimalistic, sharing only what needed to be said. Below is an excerpt from Victoria’s conversation to Maggie, talking about the boy who got her pregnant. It hasn’t left my brain since. 4.5/5
You don’t understand, the girl said. He was nice. He was nice to me. He would tell me things.
Yes. He told me things.
Like what for instance?
Like once he said I had beautiful eyes. He said my eyes were like black diamonds lit up on a starry night.
They are, honey.
But nobody ever told me.
No, Maggie said. They never do.
(See. Minimalistic writing… it just gets me. This short conversation made me think of how important it will be to raise my girls one day with confidence. I want them to have a distinct knowledge of who they are. So someday, when a man tells them they are beautiful, they can say smile and say thanks – but it won’t be the first time they’ve ever heard it.)
“The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain // I was in Arizona, flying to Maryland the next day and out of books. We had 3 minutes in Costco before the doors closed and I ran up to the fiction section, scanned all the covers and took a chance on “The Paris Wife.” So. GOOD. The book tells the story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson. Now, I didn’t know anything about Ernest Hemingway except that he was a writer in the Jazz Age. That’s it. Although this is a fictional book, it is based on a handful of real facts – historical fiction. Very fascinating to learn about Hemingway’s life through the eyes of his wife. I was engaged the entire way through. Read it. 5/5
“The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht // I bought this novel purely because of the “1 of 10 Best Books of 2011 by the New York Times Book Review” sticker on the front and I’m pretty sure the NYT knows what’s up. I found this book very difficult to follow at times… but I’d rather have a challenging read than an easy one. Loved Obreht’s characters and the regular transitioning between present and past. (I’m at the end of this huge blog post and running out of creative things to say.) Some reviews online have said the ending was dissatisfactory, that the story never quite “went anywhere.” But I found Obreht’s writing fascinating. Perhaps in fiction, the journey is more important to me than the destination. Let’s be honest – I did find myself googling “The Tiger’s Wife Coles Notes” after the last page to make sure I understood everything that just happened. Haha! ;) 4/5