Nathan Brown already has an illustrious career as a non-fiction and editorial writer whose work ranges from thought-provoking to iconoclastic. Nemesis Train is his first foray into fiction, and it explores (among other ideas) one person’s potential to make a difference in a world of hurting people.
In this novel, that world is represented by seven nameless characters (or — are there really seven of them?) who recur throughout the book and are introduced by generic descriptors: The Wanderer, The Clerk, The Musician, The Veteran, etc. This has the effect of keeping the reader at arms’ length from the characters, which can be frustrating at times. But it also aroused my curiosity, as I wanted to know how these different storylines were going to tie together.
This is an interesting concept — a book about how the Song of Songs came to be written. It’s not the traditional story: the book is not viewed as a love song written by or about King Solomon. Rather, it’s a celebration of feminine sexuality and spirituality tucked in between the severe and masculine prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, written by a woman who is resisting the move from a more pluralistic religious background in the Babylonian exile, to the stern paternalistic monotheism of the returning Jewish exiles.
Hines tells two stories in this novel: the story of Shahiroz, a Jewish priestess of Asherah, and the modern-day story of Biblical scholar Reggie Niefeild and his wife, whose lives are transformed in odd ways when they unlock the secrets of feminine-centred, earth-friendly spirituality after a lifetime of arid textual study of the Song of Songs.
There are some easy cliches here, and some extremely awkward use of dialogue to convey exposition, but both stories are quirky and interesting and kept me reading. This could easily have been a much longer book, with all the characters fully fleshed out and their worlds more richly explored, but it’s actually quite a short one and there’s much to be said for the way Hines has written it, giving us just a tantalizing glimpse into a worldview that is surprisingly different from how those of us who are conservative Christians normally read the Scriptures. She brushes away some of our basic assumptions to suggest, “Maybe it was like this…” and, in the modern-day story, to hint, “Maybe if we thought it was like that, we might behave like this….” Offbeat and intriguing.
Karen Joy Fowler is probably best known for her previous book, the extremely popular The Jane Austen Book Club. I read that book and enjoyed it, but it didn’t really capture my imagination and I didn’t have the urge to reread it, nor did I feel the need to go see the movie when it came out. I don’t know if Wit’s End will gather the same kind of acclaim, but for my reading tastes it’s a much more engrossing book. I read it on my trip down to Baltimore/Washington and found myself racing through it so quickly I knew there was no way I’d ever make it last through the return trip.
Wit’s End is the story of Rima, a twenty-nine-year-old former junior high teacher. I felt a connection to Rima at once because she’s described as a person who always misplaces things, including her keys. But Rima has suffered far more severe losses — her mother, when she was a girl, her adored younger brother more recently, and most recently of all the charismatic father with whom Rima has a very complicated relationship.
In the wake of all these losses, Rima is a textbook case of complicated grief, and she retreats to the Santa Cruz home of Addison Early, the godmother she barely knows. Addison is a famous mystery writer best-known for creating a popular fictional detective named Maxwell Lane. Rima is quickly drawn into the household of lively and eccentric characters (including two daschunds) at Addison’s house, Wit’s End. As she gets to know them and tries to probe the real-life mysteries surrounding her father’s relationship with Addison, Rima slowly begins to heal.
Everybody loves Neil Gaiman, don’t they? At least that’s what I find. Avid readers speak of his brand of offbeat fantasy, both in traditional-type books and graphic novels, in tones of hushed awe and reverence.
It was probably a mistake that the first Gaiman book I picked up was American Gods. This was in my pre-Compulsive-Overreader-blogging days, so I can’t point you to my review of it, but let’s just say it wasn’t my cup o’ tea, so I didn’t rush out to get another Neil Gaiman.
On a Saturday night in the not-too-distant past, though, Jason and I watched the DVD of Stardust, which appealed to us partly because it looked like a fun, quirky fantasy, but mostly because Ricky Gervais had a small role in it. We loved it, and seeing it was based on a Gaiman novel, I decided to hunt down the book and give the man another try.
Unfortunately the only copy I could get from the library was the large-print edition, and I don’t like reading large-print books (Jason says, “I feel like they’re shouting at me!”) Despite that, I enjoyed Stardust, the novel. It’s a quick read, quite similar to the movie in some ways, though you can see where they took liberties with the story to make the film (Robert de Niro’s cross-dressing pirate captain isn’t in the book at all, nor is Ricky Gervais’ shady little deal-maker, but I can’t feel either of those was a bad addition). It’s a sweet-but-not-too-sweet fairy tale, a little too raunchy in a couple of places for the kids, but very fresh and fun and with a wry sense of humour. If you’re in the mood for a really quick hit of fantasy — you want a nice fairy tale but don’t want to wade through someone’s three-volume High Fantasy Epic — read Stardust, and then follow it up by renting the movie. Have fun.