Book Reviews

>> 21 July 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About LoveWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I experienced something strange while reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Raymond Carver's style has been copied by so many mediocre writers that my initial reaction to the stories in this collection was slightly dismissive. How many slice-of-life stories have been written about despairing blue-collar alcoholics enduring relationship problems? Answer: too many.

What sets Carver's writing apart from his emulators is the absolute precision of his writing. There are no superfluous sentences. There is no pretense in his style. Much like Earnest Hemingway, Carver has a knack for meaning more than what he says. Something as simple as a yard-sale or a trout pond embodies some great existential dilemma.

For the most part, the stories are bleak. Carver's vision of the world is not a particularly uplifting one. Nevertheless, Raymond Carver is a true master of the short story.

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Tree of SmokeTree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This novel got a lot of positive publicity and favorable reviews, winning the National Book Award and nominated as a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, the book didn't have the same impact for me as it apparently did for the judges of these prizes.

The novel takes place during the Vietnam War, over the course of several years and with several point-of-view characters. Due to this organizational structure, the novel jumps around a lot from one character (and storyline) to another. Some characters disappear from the narrative for long stretches of time, before suddenly re-emerging, as if from the jungles of Vietnam. Every time I started getting interested in a character, the novel jumped to whatever character I happened to be least interested in. It was sort of amazing how this worked. At the end of each chapter, I could predict who I would read about next by asking myself who I least wanted to read about.

While there are some moments of great suspense and intrigue, on the whole, the book falls slightly flat. My score of two stars is probably a little bit harsh, but I had high expectations for this book, due to the acclaim that it has received, and I ultimately did not feel particularly impressed with the novel.

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Banana Basics

>> 13 July 2010


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