Tag Archives: Books Read in 2013

22: The Bean Trees

The Bean TreesThe Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Purchased at Beacon Books in Sidney last August.

Read in September 2013.

View all my reviews

Previously at The Remainder Table, I read Prodigal Summer. (I’ve also read The Poisonwood Bible, but that was before I started writing book posts.)

Apparently this is quite a well-known book, but I didn’t know anything about it prior to reading it. After checking out the reviews at Goodreads (as I enjoy doing after finishing a book), I’m going to guess it’s assigned reading in high school English classes. The one-star reviews offer such gems as: “I didn’t much enjoy this book, mostly because of its inability to relate to me through the predominantly female cast of characters.” Oh noes! Not, gasp, female characters! By that logic I should stop reading every book(/watching every movie) with a predominantly male cast of characters. Oh, wait. That’s most of them.

Marietta, called Missy, works for a few years after high school. She saves up and leaves her hometown in Kentucky in a VW bug (that has no side windows and that she has to push start) and heads west. She decides a fresh start needs a new name and picks Taylor when the car runs out of gas in Taylorville.

I still felt kind of awful about leaving her, and changing my name just seemed like the final act of betrayal, but Mama didn’t see it that way. She said I was smarter than anything to think of Taylor, that it fit me like a pair of washed jeans. She told me she’d always had second thoughts about Marietta. (85)

(The funny/ironic thing here is that her original name was also a place name—Marietta for Marietta, Georgia.)

Along the way, Taylor stops for something to eat and a woman foists a small child on her. She takes the child, who she discovers has been abused, and continues west. She names the child Turtle on account of her grip. A lot of the reviews I read had issues with these two elements. Why wouldn’t she turn the child into the police? Why would she name her Turtle? Oh, I don’t know. Because it’s fiction? In fiction, characters make strange choices. If they didn’t, stories wouldn’t be very interesting. Sure, if you were in Taylor’s place, you’d probably call the police. But would you really want to read a story where the main character only makes good, safe choices? zzz.

Meanwhile, Lou Ann from Kentucky is living in Tucson. Despite (or perhaps because of) her being pregnant with their first child, her husband, Angel, leaves her. On Halloween. Trick or treat!

Taylor and Turtle stop in Tucson when the VW gets two flat tires Taylor can’t afford to replace. Lou Ann places an ad for a roommate and Taylor answers it. They bond over both being from Kentucky.

Taylor gets a job at the tire shop she went to her first day in Tucson. The owner, Mattie, offers sanctuary to refugees. Taylor becomes close to two of them, husband-and-wife Estevan and Esperanza. Estevan has this exchange with Taylor:

“This is how Americans think.” He was looking at me in a thoughtful way. “You believe that if something terrible happens to someone, they must have deserved it.”

I wanted to tell him this wasn’t so, but I couldn’t. “I guess you’re right,” I said. “I guess it makes us feel safe.” (123)

This sentiment feels so current. And yet, The Bean Trees was published in 1988, when the North American obsession with safety wasn’t nearly as frenzied as it is now. It’s crazypants how people think they can minimize risk to the point that nothing bad will ever happen and that if something does happen to you, it must be because you did something wrong. This just isn’t true.

I loved the horticulture bits, of course. That’s one of my favorite things about Kingsolver’s writing. (Thinking I need to start a biology-in-fiction tag.)

In the end, this was a story about family, how families are not always the conventional kind, but are sometimes created in unexpected and unusual ways.


21: Road Dogs

Road DogsRoad Dogs by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the VPL Spring 2010 book sale.

Read in August 2013.

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When Elmore Leonard died on August 20, I thought hmm, don’t I have an Elmore Leonard book on my to-read shelf? Indeed I did. And yes, it had been there for a while. Thus, it was chosen as my next read.

As the story opens, Jack Foley and Cundo Rey meet in prison in Florida. Foley’s a bank robber. He escaped from prison (under duress, or so he says) but has been returned. Cundo’s a rich criminal kingpin. (For whatever reason, that’s how they’re referred to: Foley and Cundo, not Jack and Cundo or Foley and Rey.) Foley’s been sentenced to thirty years but Cundo gets his lawyer on it, gets Foley’s sentence reduced to thirty months.

Foley is… wait. Foley is George Clooney in that movie with Jennifer Lopez. Out of Sight. J.Lo. was Karen Sisco. Ok. So now every time I read “Foley” I’m going to see Clooney. Hrm. Weird. (Is it just a coincidence that, like Foley, Clooney’s more often than not ‘Clooney’ rather than ‘George’?)

Moving along. Cundo has two houses in Venice (California, not Italy). His “wife”—Dawn Navarro, a psychic who’s been waiting (cough) for him to get out of prison for the past eight years—is living in one of these. VPL Spring Book Sale

Foley is released first, and Cundo puts him up in the house Dawn’s not living in. Dawn and Foley hook up (naturally). They hatch a scheme involving “psychic powers” to relieve a grieving widow of her fortune. They also hope to relieve Cundo of his fortune.

But once Cundo gets out, Foley doesn’t play the con the way Dawn wants and things go awry (understatement). In the end, Foley gives up robbing banks for good. Or so he says.

It’s all about the dialogue.

20: The Redeemer

The RedeemerThe Redeemer by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Loaned to me.

Read in August 2013.

View all my reviews

The Redeemer is set in Norway and part of the enjoyment in reading it was learning about a country I’m not familiar with (but supposedly—possibly apocryphally—have ancestors from). It’s the sixth book in a series about police detective Harry Hole. (I have not read any of the others.) Harry is your typical damaged hero character. A recovering alcoholic, of course. He falls off the wagon at one point, but he has unwavering principles. Unlike some colleagues.

The story takes place in December and despite reading this in August I had a bit of a SAD attack just thinking about The Darkness. Oslo is at the 59th parallel, people. (59°57′ to be precise. Bergen is at 60°23′. For comparison, Whitehorse, Yukon is at 60°43’N.) eep. /digression

The story opens with a flashback to an incident at a Salvation Army summer camp in 1991. Two of the characters in this chapter are brothers Jon and Robert. As the story shifts into the present day, older brother Jon has a stable career with the Salvation Army and is engaged to fellow SA officer Thea, while younger brother Robert’s life is still unsettled.

[Note: the following is not a spoiler. It is given away on the back cover.] An assassin kills Robert while he is staffing a Salvation Army kettle at a concert (really!) but before the assassin can leave the country and disappear as he normally does after a job, he realizes he’s made a mistake. He was contracted to kill Jon, not Robert. He returns to Oslo to find Jon. Duh, duh, duh…

Ok, so I’m going to try to write about the ending without being spoilery. I thought the resolution was totally plausible in that it involved a person who had been in the story throughout. It wasn’t a deus ex machina or anything like that. But. Something felt off for me about it. Specifically, I felt like there was too much withholding of information in certain scenes (the point-of-view shifts between a few key characters) in order to misdirect. For sure, there were some clues, but maybe too much dependence on unreliable narration. Although, maybe if I reread it, I’d see it differently.

Nesbo is a fan of chapters that end leaving you thinking a character is dead. Then as the next chapter opens, you realize the character is actually not dead. In the end, the death count was fairly low (four).

My favorite character was probably Martine, the daughter of the Salvation Army commander, but I’m guessing she won’t be a recurring character in the series.

I liked that the characters were trapped up by modern technology. The assassin gets stuck because he can’t use his credit card or make a phone call or get on a plane. People are tracked by their phones. A computer is used to access voice mail. You know. Stuff that actually happens in the 21st century. I appreciate when writers adapt to new technology rather than, for example, making up some excuse for a character still having an answering machine (!) so it can blab a message at an inappropriate time.

19: Skinny Dip

Skinny DipSkinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one was a bday gift.

Read in August 2013.

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When the subject of ‘beach reads’ comes up (every summer; it’s a staple), inevitably there’s a disagreement about what sort of book a ‘beach read’ is. Although I’ve been known to read such light fare (haha) as Anna Karenina at the beach, Skinny Dip is the type of book I’d actually classify as a good beach read. It’s a light, entertaining story. Breezy, even.

The story begins with Chaz Perrone (Chaz! you just know you’re in for lols with that name) pushing his wife Joey off a cruise boat in the Florida Keys. Chaz is a biologist (bonus points!) who doesn’t like biology, but who does like being called doctor—“that’s Dr. Perrone.” Mmm, double bonus points for that. Who’s ever heard of a biologist who doesn’t like biology? It’s not something people typically just stumble into like, say, law 😉

Anyway, Joey survives her unplanned dive into the ocean and clings to a rogue bale of marijuana (more lols) until she is rescued by Mick, a former police officer who’s the caretaker of a private island in the Keys. And… I want that job. Owners of private islands: contact me. (I am serious.)

Together, Joey and Mick hatch a plan to get revenge on Chaz and figure out his motive. Joey, of course, is rich via inheritance (x2). First, her parents drove a plane into the ground by putting a bear (yes, a bear. grrr!) in the cockpit. Second, her first husband (Chaz is her second) was squashed by a falling skydiver. Cue more lols. But, according to Joey’s will, Chaz inherits nothing. It all goes to the World Wildlife Mission. (awww) So the question is, what is Chaz’s motive?

What follows is lots of Joey + Mick sneaking about messing with Chaz’s head. The plot isn’t difficult to figure out and it’s all explained anyhow—it’s not really a mystery so much as a comedy—but it’s funny and it sneaks some biology in, which I liked. As part of his job, Chaz collects water samples from the Everglades for testing, so you get to enjoy Chaz-the-biologist-who-hates-biology slogging through the swamp being grossed out. Biology is not for the squeamish! I also appreciated that the secondary characters played against stereotype.

18: Eating Dirt

Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life With the Tree-planting TribeEating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life With the Tree-planting Tribe by Charlotte Gill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bought new at Chapters.

Read in July/August 2013.

View all my reviews

I learned about Eating Dirt via Emily St. John Mandel’s review at The Millions  (which, btw, is hands-down my favorite literary site / online magazine that is not TC). I was hooked by the opening paragraph: “My father was a treeplanter. It isn’t a job that very many of my fellow New Yorkers seem to have heard of—” Wait. There are people who haven’t heard of treeplanters?! Oh, but of course there are. Undoubtedly the same people who think “every” fledgling writer grew up with the ambition to be published in The Paris Review or The New Yorker. Meanwhile, many of the fledgling writers who grew up knowing all about treeplanters had never even heard of The Paris Review or The New Yorker. Perspective!

I never treeplanted, but it would be a lie to say I didn’t consider it. I certainly did. it was a good-paying job! But I’d spent plenty o’ time in the forest and I was terrified of the boredom that I knew awaited me. It practically drove me mad just thinking about it. (To be honest, just reading this revives that anxious feeling, even though I know I don’t feel the same way now about repetitive tasks without distractions (that’s writing-in-my-head time!). In fact, now I’d probably deal just fine with the monotony; I am the person who runs without music, after all. Back then, an iPod may have made all the difference. Too bad they didn’t exist when I was in university.)

Anyway, it’s a bit weird reading a book where you can picture everything so clearly. The landscape, the little towns, the shabby motels, all the forestry stuff. I always think it’s funny when someone says they’re from a “small town” (population 50k). Haha! 50k, small. Good one!

Aside: I’ve started wondering how many people have actually spent much time outside of cities. Like, even amongst people who have moved/traveled a lot, the impression I get is that it’s mostly jumping from one big city to another big city. Which… would give you a really different impression of the world than seeing the spaces in between.

Eating Dirt starts out in early spring (February) on northern Vancouver Island, in places like Holberg and Port McNeill, where the planters stay in cheap motels and rental houses. Scenes of the crew are interspersed with passages about forests and forestry.

Another aside:  the area of Vancouver Island is 31,285 km2  / 12,079.2 sq mi. The area of Oahu is 1,545 km2 / 596.7 sq mi. That’s less than 5% of the size of VI. It’s so… little! Is it really as covered in freeways as Hollywood would have me believe? Where are they going?!

After early spring on Vancouver Island, the crew moves to the Sunshine Coast (which is the mainland, but inaccessible by land) to Jervis Inlet and Seymour Inlet where they stay at a logging camp and on a boat. This is middle-of-nowhere. There are bears. Naturally. Gill writes about cedar—natural history, early history.

She dips into summer planting in the interior and up north (Mr. PG!) and back to the coast in fall, but then returns to spring on the coast, her frame for the book. The foray into summer planting ties back to how her career as a treeplanter began—with the university students arriving for the summer.

She writes in plural first person. There are occasional “I” references, but it’s mostly “we.” It’s composed as if she’s describing a single season, one year, but likely it’s a compilation of all the years she spent planting. This is her goodbye to that part of her life.

From the descriptions I’d read, I expected more of a memoir. I’m not sure I’d describe this as a memoir. It is based on her personal experience and she’s writing from that perspective, but it’s not about her. It’s personal in a “this is important to me” kind of way, but it’s not personal as in “here are all the tmi details of my life” kind of way. Her partner is also a planter but we learn no more about him than any of the other characters. It’s about treeplanters (“we”) and treeplanting, not about Charlotte-the-Treeplanter. And also, as mentioned above, the crew parts of the book are only about half of the text. The other half is natural history, biology, ecology: all about trees and forests, which makes sense seeing as it was published by the David Suzuki Foundation.

I am realizing that I really like narrative—fiction and non—with nerdy biology stuff in it.

17: The Science Writers’ Handbook

The Science Writers' Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital AgeThe Science Writers’ Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital Age by Writers of SciLance

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bought new at Chapters on Robson.

Read in July 2013.

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In the event that the never-ending dissertation does eventually come to an end (positive thinking!), I’ve been thinking about the future. If you pay attention at all to academic things, you’ll have heard some variation on the theme that doing a PhD is crazypants because traditional academic jobs (tenured professorships) are going the way of the dodo and the majority of new PhDs are doomed (doomed!) to careers as underpaid adjuncts.

I guess I’d find this more alarming if a) it wasn’t the story of my entire life (Jobs? What jobs? I once got rejected by McDonald’s. McDonald’s! Doesn’t get much more deflating than that.) and b) I’d actually started this with the expectation that I’d end up a tenured professor. See a). At no point did I ever have that expectation. I’m an optimist (I’m doing the PhD!) but I’m also a realist (some may say cynic). Temporary is the new permanent.

Which is the tl;dr way of saying I went into this open to any possibility afterward. Apparently this is odd. I’ve since learned that for PhDs, any non-tenure-track job is considered “alternative.” Oookay. Pretty narrow view of what you can do with a PhD, in my opinion, but I’ve always been a bit of an oddball, so I’m happy to roll with it.

So I’ve been making a list of possibilities to pursue. And one of the things that’s bubbled to the top is science writing. Why science?

  • In part it’s because I’ve become increasingly annoyed by intelligent people, people with advanced degrees, joking about being innumerate. That’s not ok.
  • In part it’s because of the general lack of understanding of science—you don’t  get to choose to “believe” in evolution or climate change. It’s not ok to teach creationism in biology class or to deny climate change because you want to keep driving your gas guzzling SUV without feeling bad about it.
  • In part it’s because of the current Canadian federal government’s muzzling of scientists. Grrr. #standup4science

On the one hand, all you hear is STEM, STEM, STEM. And on the other hand, non-scientists’ understanding of science and math is regressing. Right now, it seems like science needs all the voices it can get that can translate it into everyday language even the innumerate 😉 can understand. And why not me? Science writing = science, writing, educating, communicating… even law. Perfect fit, right? (The only thing I can’t figure out is why I didn’t have a eureka moment post-undergrad when I spent all my time at the library reading university course catalogs—were science writing programs not a thing back in the day?)

The Science Writers’ Handbook is written by a group of science writers who call themselves SciLance (science + freelance). They have an excellent blog that I’ve been reading for a while so I knew the book would be worth buying. After reading it, I’d call it an essential reference if you’re interested in science writing/communication, and useful for any freelancer (a lot of the material is applicable to any kind of freelance writing).

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Be able to distinguish between topics and stories. A story has:
    • characters
    • journey or conflict
    • series of linked events (beginning middle end)
    • discovery or resolution
    • hook –> why now?
    • connection to a larger idea
  • Play first, write later. In other words, get out in the world and do stuff and meet people and you will find ideas. At the same time, you’re always working because anything can become a story idea (but same is true for all writers).
  • Pitch = story idea + relevance + timeliness + execution + extras + author.
  • As an editor, I enjoyed this: “Distaste for email attachments just may be the one thing all editors have in common.” (Thomas Hayden, p. 29). 🙂
  • Interview one source for every 250 words.
  • Notetaking: remember not to just write down quotes, but describe people, surroundings, sounds and smells, overheard dialogue, etc. so you can set the scene.
  • Toolkit for field reporting: digital recorder, notebook, camera—take photos for notetaking purposes, video clips of subjects… but you probably won’t be able to listen to all the recordings you make.
  • The one-sentence pitch!
  • Story anatomy—newspaper-style:
    • headline (hed) – clear sense of story
    • news lede – who what where when how
    • most important point – fleshes out lede
    • substantiating points – decreasing order of importance
    • background / context / reactions
  • Story anatomy—magazine-style:
    • headline – catchy
    • dek/standfirst – subtitle/clear sense of story
    • lede – lures reader into story
    • billboard/nutgraf – partially summarizes the story
    • body 1 – context / history / explanation
    • body 2 – what happened?
    • etc.
    • kicker – ending that ties the story together
  • Multilancing = reporting a story in more than one medium.
  • Creative procrastination (necessary, productive) vs. distractive procrastination.
  • Business: Start as sole proprietor, see how it goes. Incorporate if all is going well and you want to continue.
  • Email, email, email… you also have to talk on the phone and go to conferences and such but lots o’ email. (good for introverts)
  • Contracts: if you are uncomfortable with the language in a clause, speak up, suggest an alternative that would be acceptable, especially re: liability, rights, payment.
  • Ethics. If you’re reporting on a topic you shouldn’t also be doing PR for same topic. But you could report on Topic A and do PR for Topic B. Also disclose existing relationships, etc.
  • Blog. Just do.
  • Science communication (vs. journalism-style writing): companies, universities, nonprofits.
  • Look for mix of work: good pay but not as interesting balanced with stuff that excites you.

16: Forty Stories

Forty StoriesForty Stories by Anton Chekhov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bought new (at Chapters).

Read in June 2013.

View all my reviews

I’ve read Chekhov stories before, but never a whole book of them. I picked this up a while ago; I don’t remember the exact impetus, but I’m going to guess that it was probably something I read whilst blog/twitter-grazing.

So it was sitting on my to-read shelf. Meanwhile, I read that Frank O’Connor book, with its offensive chapter on Katherine Mansfield, and The Sky is Falling, in which the narrator was obsessed with Chekhov. That was it. The time was right to read this. I’ve long wanted/planned to read more Chekhov because he’s always described as being a big influence on Katherine Mansfield, whose work I love.

Trivia: both Chekhov and Mansfield died young of tuberculosis. A cause of death I realize wasn’t unusual back in the day, but hey! thank science that same fate won’t befall you, present-day-writers!

The stories are arranged in chronological order, starting in 1880, when Chekhov was 20 years old—nice from a writer-reader standpoint because you can see how his writing progressed. A lot of the early stories are very short, flash fiction length. The later stories are longer, more developed. His early work tended toward punchlines (I’m not usually a fan of this style of short story, but some of these were ok. I liked “The Threat” :)), but got more subtle as he grew as a writer.

It includes the well-known stories, of course: “Death of a Government Clerk,” “The Huntsman,” “The Lady with the Pet Dog.”

Some of the other titles I made note of:

  • “Joy,” in which a young man gets mentioned in the newspaper for drunkenly falling under a horse. He’s thrilled because he thinks he’s famous. (This one just seems so… prescient, ya know?)
  • “Who is to blame?” in which a tormented kitchen kitten grows up to be a sleek outdoor cat… who’s afraid of mice.
  • “Sleepyhead,” in which a young nursemaid’s sleep-deprivation leads to tragedy.

I noticed he seemed to have a fondness for the name Pelageya. I looked it up and it means “open sea.” (doh! pelagic!) Cool name. I think I’ll steal it. Now I just need a character to give it to…

15: The Sky is Falling

The Sky Is FallingThe Sky Is Falling by Caroline Adderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the Fall 2012 VPL book sale.

Read in May/June 2013.

View all my reviews

This story takes place in two time periods: 1983-84 and 2004.

In 1983: Jane Z. is a second-year UBC student originally from Edmonton. She spent her first year living at her aunt’s in Burnaby, but now she wants to live closer to campus. She ends up moving into a communal house in Kitsilano. Her new housemates are Sonia, Pete, and Dieter. They are into peace and anarchy and protesting. They, esp. Sonia, think there is going to be a nuclear war and everyone is going to die.

I have to interject here and say this story totally reminded me why/how I spent my high school years thinking nuclear war was an inevitability. To the point I didn’t worry much about long-term consequences not because I thought I was invincible, but because I thought we were all going to be vaporized sooner or later. It’s weird, how this doesn’t get mentioned much, if at all, anymore. So when I started reading this book and realized that’s what it was about (in part), I was hooked. Well, that and the fact it’s set in Vancouver 😉

Jane is taking Russian and reading Chekhov*, so her housemates assume that she’s Russian (they’re in love with this idea, of course), but she’s actually not. She just had a professor in first year who encouraged her to continue on in his department, and in classic “I can’t decide what to major in” fashion, she floated into Slavic Studies.

In 2004: Jane is now 39. She’s married to Joe, who’s a doctor, and has a 15yo son, Joe Jr. She works as a freelance copy-editor.

One morning there is a story in the newspaper about Sonia being released from prison after serving a 20-year sentence for her part in an attempted bombing in 1984. This gets Jane thinking about the events of twenty years ago, although it turns out that she never really stopped thinking about them. Her whole life has basically been haunted and shaped by how she remembers what happened in the spring of 1984.

I don’t want to say any more about the plot, but I was impressed by how the ending of this one worked out. It felt like all the pieces fell into place but at the same time Adderson resisted tying up all the loose ends.

VPL Fall Book Sale

*Because of all the Chekhov discussion, I decided that would be my next read.

14: Room

RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the fall 2012 VPL book sale.

Read in May 2013.

View all my reviews

Here’s one I probably don’t need to say much about. You’ve either read it or you’ve read about it. My question going in was “will it live up to the hype?” The answer: yes.

Jack, the narrator, is five years old. His mother, who he calls Ma, is 26. They live in a 12×12 room, which turns out to be a garden shed (spoiler? I think that horse has left the barn). Jack thinks Room is the whole world and everything else is “TV” (imaginary). Jack calls everything by proper nouns: Bed, Wardrobe, Door. This is partly because there is only one of each of these things in his world. But also, I wondered if it didn’t partly come from the children’s shows he likes to watch. For example, he’s a big fan of Dora, and Dora’s backpack is called Backpack.

Ma has managed to shelter Jack from the reality of their situation, but now that he’s five, he’s starting to ask questions. She decides to tell him the truth. Events start snowballing from there.

What I thought was particularly impressive about Room was the pacing. It starts off at an almost oppressive pace, detailing the minutia of a day in the room. But then just when you start to think “I’m not sure how much more this I can take” Donoghue shifts gears, and the story speeds up to an almost frenetic pace. Finally, she slows it down again, letting readers catch their breaths.

I know some readers didn’t like the story being told in Jack’s voice—they find kid-voices annoying or question the authenticity of his thoughts—but I think to tell this particular story, it had to be from his pov. If it were told from Ma’s pov, it would be a story we’ve heard before. We also have no trouble imagining how we’d feel if we were kidnapped/falsely imprisoned. So telling the story from Ma’s pov sets up a very different narrator/reader dynamic. Jack’s situation is outside the realm of our experience . Readers have to work harder to understand his perspective, not because he’s a child, but because we (with few exceptions) didn’t start off life like Jack did.

tl;dr: It is easy for us to empathize with Ma; we have to work to empathize with Jack.

And that’s why I think the last part, when Jack is suffering from sensory overload, when he wants to go back, is so important. This story is not about freedom, as it would be if it was told from Ma’s pov, but about adjustment. Jack has to adjust the entire framework of his life experience.

VPL Fall Book Sale

13: The Flying Troutmans

The Flying TroutmansThe Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the Spring 2011 VPL book sale.

Read in April 2013.

View all my reviews

Hattie Troutman was living in Paris with her boyfriend, but returns home to take care of her sister Min’s kids when Min has a psychotic break and is hospitalized. Hattie is 28; her nephew Logan is 15 and niece Thebes (short for Theodora) is 11.

Hattie is unsure about taking on this responsibility and decides to take the kids and go look for their father, Cherkis, who left years before. Which means… road trip! Yes, this is a road trip book. Love. Most of the story takes place on the road. Naturally, they have a crumbling van and stay at cheap motels in dusty towns populated by quirky characters.

They start in South Dakota, where Hattie knows Cherkis used to live. There, they get a lead that he moved to California, so they head off cross-country. On the way, they have adventures (of course).

I’m not sure when this is supposed to be set, but they drive across the border without showing ID and Hattie keeps making calls to the hospital to check on Min’s condition from pay phones, so I’ll assume back at least a decade (it was published in 2008).

I think I’ll stop here lest I say anything spoilery. I loved this book.

VPL Spring Book Sale