Monday, March 22, 2010

So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

Whenever anyone asks me for some of my favorite authors, 9 times out of 10 I will throw Lionel Shriver into the mix. We Need to Talk About Kevin is on my list of favorite books of all time (and proved to be one of the most sucessful book discussions that the library's book club has ever had), and The Post Birthday World messed with my head for weeks afterwards. The thing to keep in mind when reading Shriver is that she (and yes, Lionel Shriver is a female) evokes such deep emotions and feelings in all of her works, though they usually err on the negative side.

The same can be said for So Much For That. Shep Knacker has been saving for years in the hopes of retiring to a remote island off of the African coast. The time has almost come for him to leave when he finds out his wife Glynis has mesothelioma and needs him to keep working in order to retain health insurance. The fact that Glynis is kind of a bitch merely adds to the frustration. Throughout the novel, Shep relies on his friend Jackson for support mainly because he has been through the insurance ringer for years- his daughter suffers with a congenital disease. And so, as Glynis and Shep's bank account continues to wither away (and Jackson's marriage begins to disintegrate), the reader is pulled deeper and deeper into their misery.

And yet, despite all of this, the book is quite moving and ends on a more upbeat note than one could imagine. Though the book is exceedingly dark and depressing, the love and devotion that Shep shows Glynis is truly inspiring. It's a hard book to read, content wise, but the story and Shriver's language is lovely.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

One of the best things about reading Jodi Picoult is that she's so consistent. You always know what you're going to get whenever you read any of her works: the family drama (usually involving a fiercely devoted mother, an ignored sibling and some poor child with a disability or medical problem), the lawyer-with-a-heart-of-gold character, a tense courtroom scene and some contemporary references sprinkled here and there. And while some might say that "consistency" is just a nice way of saying "formulaic," I would argue that there is something quite comforting in being able to rely on a decent reading experience.

This time around, Picoult focuses on her attention on Aspergers Syndrome, which occurs on the low end of the autism spectrum. Jacob Hunt is an 18 year old kid trying to fit in with everyone else. His social skills teacher, Jess, encourages him to ask girls out, make normal conversation and eye contact and attempt to empathize with others. His mother, Emma, is his biggest champion. However, one day Jess goes missing and is eventually found dead. Whats worse is that Jacob, who is an avid CSI fan and forensic science hobbyist, might have played a part in this grisly case. The scary thing is that because of the Aspergers, Jacob exhibits symptoms similar to psychopaths and serial killers.

As usual, I enjoyed this book, though I was definitely able to figure out the ending long before it actually arrived. The dialogue is a little cheesy, as usual. The most interesting part though, I found, was the portrayal of Jacob. Having known several individuals with Aspergers, it was very enlightening to see things from his point of view as well as having to see what his mother had to deal with on a daily basis.