Monthly Archives: April 2008

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, by Joshilyn Jackson

Once again, with her third novel, the fabulous Joshilyn Jackson has not let me down.  Jackson, a Southern U.S. writer (and amazingly funny blogger, at Faster than Kudzu), is the perfect balance between a literary and popular writer — her prose is thoughtful and beautifully crafted, but it never gets in the way of the story and characters that keep you turning pages till the end.
 
Once again, Jackson returns to the world of what some people describe as “Southern Gothic” — a mysterious death in a Florida suburb, which leads to the unveiling of buried family secrets and further acts of violence and desperation.  But her home territory as a novelist is not just the South, but the geography of family relationships — the bonds that unite and sometimes divide mother and daughter, sister and sister, husband and wife.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction -- general

Seven Types of Ambiguity, by Elliot Perlman

Before leaving Australia I was given a small (but heavy, for a person who only travels with carry-on) packet of Australian fiction so that I would have the opportunity to learn a little about the literature of the country in which I’d just spent two weeks.  One of the books included in the package was Seven Types of Ambiguity, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award (the Aussie version of our Giller or GG — in fact, given the money involved, it’s more like their version of the Giller PLUS the GG).
 
Perlman steals the title from a work of literary criticism with which his main character, Simon, is a little obsessed. Simon is a little obsessive anyway, and I’m not sure it’s even accurate to call him the main character of the novel, but the 600+ page story centres around an impulsive (and stupid) act by which Simon attempts to win back the attention of his ex-girlfriend Anna, who has long since left him, moved on to someone else, married and had a child.  Ten years after their relationship, Simon — an unemployed, brilliant but directionless ex-teacher — can’t move on. And when he does make a move, his action has consequences for Anna, for her husband, for Simon’s psychiatrist, for Simon’s hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold girlfriend, and of course for Simon himself. And for a couple of other random people who are basically needed to make up the number seven.

Continue reading

10 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- general

The Woman at the Well, by Patty Froese Ntihemuka

In my endless quest for good Biblical fiction I picked up this novel about a Biblical character I haven’t read a book about before: the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well in John, chapter 4.  On the one hand, the author seems to have had her work cut out for her in spinning the tale of a woman with only one brief Biblical appearance out into a book-length narrative.  On the other hand, the woman’s brief bio as encapsulated by Jesus: “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18), practically cries out to be expanded into a longer story.

Patty Froese Ntihemuka has done a good job with this story, making her main character, whom she names Nilloufar, believable and sympathetic.  The research is excellent and the setting comes vividly to life. The book is, perhaps, a little too short, so that in places the author resorts to telling rather than showing, especially towards the end.  However, in just 156 pages she has managed to make not only the woman at the well but each of her five husbands, her lover, her sister-in-law and her best friend into real and rounded characters, which is quite a feat.  This novel does a particularly good job of giving us a sense of the multicultural flavour of Israel and Samaria in the time of Jesus, where a Greco-Roman culture exists alongside the more traditional Jewish culture and religion — Nilloufar’s best friend is a slave woman, Pia, who insists that a woman really needs a goddess like those of the Greeks.  Little touches like this helped me feel like I was really getting a glimpse into another place and time, as well as into the life of a real woman whose life was touched by the Man at the well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction -- historical

Seven Reasons Life is Better with God, by Nathan Brown

In reviewing this book, I’ll resist the temptation to tell you the story of how Nathan made me buy it, and the story of his deep discontent with the book’s title and the sunflower on the cover, and even the completely irrelevant story of how he ran a red light, got a ticket, and had to take a breathalyzer test while driving me around Perth. I’ll cut straight to the heart of the matter: it’s an engaging, well-written, thought-provoking book, and you should read it.

Not unlike Chris Blake’s Searching for a God to Love, this book is in some ways a work of apologetics — not in the sense that it tries to build a logical argument for Christian faith, but rather in that it tries to answer the question “Why does Christian faith matter?” The book is largely directed at people who are familiar with Christianity, who are perhaps even nominal Christians, but who don’t see the relevance or importance of faith to their everyday lives. Rather than trying to create a case for why we should believe Christianity is right, Brown tries to create a case for “why it matters” (which, I believe, may have been the working title of the book).

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Nonfiction -- general, Uncategorized

LentBooks #11: Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn

This book was recommended to me by my friend Christine, who always seems to be me to be an amazingly mindful and “together” parent, so of course I wanted to read it. It applies the same principles you would find in Zen Buddhist meditation practice to parenting. Given my interest in how I as a non-Buddhist can apply principles like mindfulness to my everyday life — and given how much of my everyday life is consumed with parenting — this seemed like a great fit.

It was a good fit, although the book was not as practical and specific as I’d hoped it would be (there is a good section in the back on exercises and intentions for mindful parenting, which was the most practical part). Mostly it’s theoretical and reflective, interspersed with illustrations drawn from the authors’ real-life experiences parenting their own children.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general