Archives for posts with tag: Book Review

This novel has the slow steady pace of country life:


A few big events puncture the narrative but mostly you get more than three hundred pages of small-town life. The sheriff and his deputies. Some townie lowlifes. A few good people trying to make a respectable living. It’s a good book. Maybe you’ve heard of it and passed it over. Maybe this is the first. Don’t pass it up. It’s a nice summer read.

I happened to read half of this book in the north-eastern corner of Iowa where this book seems to be set. Maybe that’s one reason I felt such comfort settling into this weighty novel. Tom Drury never explicitly places a pin in a map but he leaves some strong clues. The nearby Minnesota border. The long stretches of corn and gravel between towns.

This part of the country is beautiful. Perhaps most beautiful to those raised here. Even those of us who grew up in town and never lived the hard-working farm life, feel the pull of those fields and that horizon line. The comfort and awe of seeing weather work its way across the land. A thunderhead building and bubbling up lightening.

The wife and the poodle watch a summer storm churn towards us:


Writing is built on reading. I better get back to it.


I moved into this book for the duration of my honeymoon:


AM Homes has a dark and somewhat frantic sensibility, one that may not seem conducive for a relaxing beach-read, but I beg to differ. This novel is at once a page turner and a character study, as one might argue her other novels have been (please see This Book Will Save Your Life and for reference).

I like this style. As a reader I’m kept just enough off balance to be forced to pay attention. I can settle in with the characters but I know the calm won’t last. Reading a Homes book is like walking a tight rope, walking it and never quite falling off. I have just enough balance to keep my grounding. I understand the character’s problem, I am familiar with the world in which they live, but occasionally that rope swings. I’m snapped awake. There is a fight or an unstable child or a tiger on the loose. It’s goddamn brilliant.

Whew, that got a little more theoretical than I intended. Sorry about that.

Let’s make this simple: it’s a good book and you should read it.

One extra joy of being married to a fiction writer is you inherit their bookshelf. That’s how I came upon this gem:

that night

The novel, as the title suggests, is grounded in one summer night . One fight between teenage boys and middle-aged fathers. It’s the story of a neighborhood, of young love and youth, of childhood, of summer. It’s really beautiful, as simple as that. From the sentences to the larger structure, I swooned.

As I sit back and think about this, I’m struggling with how to describe this book without the use of hand gestures. I want to tell you how the narrative wraps around this center, swooping from days before the event to years later but always remaining grounded. You don’t often see a novel’s structure so artfully crafted. Such large swings made with such a deft hand. It’s really a joy to encounter.

Let’s try this – bear with me now. The narrative reminds me of the Army’s tents in Kuwait:


See how the tie-down straps leave circles and arches on the canvas? When a sandstorm rolls in the ties flail in the wind and beat themselves against the canvas. That isn’t just a line in the dust. Those arcs are forever etched into canvas. The ties have left their mark. That’s exactly how I felt the narrative worked. Give it a read and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m really not sure what made me pick up this book – the sparse style, the width, the beautiful cover art, the title – but I’m glad I did.

let's take

Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a memoir of friendship and grief. More friendship than grief until the last forty pages. Specifically, Caldwell has written the story of her friendship with the writer Caroline Knapp (author of Drinking: A Love Story). By the hundredth page it’s clear Caldwell can’t bring herself to write of her friend’s death. Maybe if she doesn’t put it on the page it won’t be true. It’s easier to focus their love of dogs and rowing and writing. Anything but death.

When she finally gets around to writing about Caroline’s death (“Grief is fundamentally a selfish business.”) she does so as eloquently as writer before her. If found Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking useful/enjoyable you’ll like this.

Near the end of the book, after Caroline’s death, Caldwell’s dog is attacked by two pit bulls. She survives, don’t worry. But all I could think was how would I save my sweet little poodle? She pulled me back in. When the grief has pulled me down a sudden urgency returned to the narrative. Like a gulp of fresh air after staying under water too long. That’s the real joy of memoirs. Sometimes life gives us these plot points that wouldn’t seem believable in a novel.

I love nonfiction.

After hearing about this book on NPR and seeing it on even the smallest bookshelves, I gave in and read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks:

The book is about Henrietta Lacks, her family ,and the immortality of her cervical cancer cells (HeLa). Skloot has done some of the most intense research I’ve ever read. She artfully weaves in her research methods with the research itself. It’s a compelling read. Not the most poetic book but I doubt the fact checkers would let much poetry stay.

If this is a subject that interests you – cell cultures, patient rights, the roots of cancer research – then you should definitely read this book. If not, you still might want to read it. I’m usually not interested in the bureaucracy of medicine but this book pulled me along. The Lacks family is as  compelling a subject as any reader/writer could hope. Henrietta’s story is simply heartbreaking. If you’ve been picking it up and putting it back down like I did, go ahead and buy it, if only to talk about it with the rest of the world.

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