Sunday, August 26, 2012

How Some of my Reading Choices Are Made

Some guarantees that I will not read a novel:

1.       If it promises to alter, enhance or change my life.

2.       If it is described as: comic, funny or will make me laugh out loud.

3.       If it has a dog or cat on the cover.

4.       If it is set in Ireland.

5.       If it was praised by my friend Lily.

6.       If it has a blurb from Anita Shreve.

7.       If it is about Jane Eyre’s daughter, stepdaughter, cat, or gardener.

8.       If it is fiction about Jane Austen’s’ personal life.

9.       If it set in ancient Greece.

10.   If it is in any way about contemporary politics in the U.S.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Homesick   by Roshi Fernando comes very, very close to being the novel her publisher (Random House) claims right on the cover that it is but alas… a novel it is not. However it isn’t quite the dreaded interconnected short stories either. It is more a series of life studies and it is wonderful. How is that possible when it isn’t successful as a novel or a short story collection?

In Homesick, Preethi is a part of the large, extended Sri Lankan family living in London. Her journey from child to adult is the underpinning for Homesick. Each chapter is devoted to a family member or members. Sometimes Preethi figures directly into the story of this relative sometimes not. As the title indicates these loosely written studies all draw on the immigrant experience.

The details of both the physical and emotional lives of her characters that Fernando packs into Homesick are impressive and intriguing. There is a vivid emotional range explored in Homesick that resonated for me. These lives that are not yet at home in London and no longer at home in Sri Lanka have compelling stories. Immigration is not a common occurrence in most of our lives but we’ve all been homesick. Fernando makes this experience as seen by families and individuals joyous, heartbreaking, sinister and always interesting and sympathetic.  

The physical manifestations of the characters new and old lives are a fascination throughout the book. Locations, foods, products, clothing, games, slang, pop culture and traditions are all prominent hallmarks in Fernando’s tales. These elements all work together to create an inescapable flux in these lives.

So what goes on here? As I’ve said Homesick is wonderful but it is not successful as a novel or as a short story collection. Why? In both cases Homesick is too sketchy, unfinished, unpolished to work when judging it by either form. But…when you take it for what it is an examination of lives undergoing massive change told in a disjointed storytelling way it’s really quite marvelous.

 I will absolutely read what Roshi Fernando writes next. My dissatisfaction with the form of Homesick was far outweighed by my enjoyment of her writing while reading it.

And yes. That is a beautiful cover.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Who Is More Delicious?

Really? Anybody? Those are your choices?

People, people, people think.  Of course it is Myrna Loy. She is the most delicious, fabulous actress ever. Who is more charming? Let me get that one, nobody.

 Today is Myrna Loy day on Turner Classic Movies.

So call in sick and spend the day with the unparalleled Miss Loy.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Newlyweds

I have to say I am not usually the audience for contemporary love stories. I’m too hard hearted and bitter to be objective—it’s a pitiful story. BUT.  I was looking forward to reading The Newlyweds by Nell  Freudenberger anyway. I have never tried her short stories, Lucky Girls, but I was a big fan of her novel, The Dissident. And. I completely heart the cover on The Newlyweds, magnificent.

The Newlyweds is the story of Amina, 24, and George, 34. Amina is a native of Bangladesh and George is an American living in Rochester when the meet via the internet. The stars align and the fall in love.  Both of them are searching for something other than what they have known and they seem to find it in each other.

Freudenberger has used the internet’s potential to bring anyone together to write this novel about a modern day mail order bride and mail order groom. It’s funny to think that this method of connection is so common now. How did that happen in such a short time?  Freudenberger makes good use of juxtaposing Amina and George’s similarities and differences, especially with Amina. Her longing for change parallels her homesickness very nicely. Also the struggle with a bond built in cyberspace verses the real, absolute bonds built over a lifetime.

The great strength of the novel is that despite cultural differences and family interference the trials and tribulations of Amina and George are not operatic. They are most impressively natural and everyday even including the Bangladesh angle. While Amina’s immigration and culture add to the complexity and tension of the couple’s relationship, not to mention the interest level for the reader, it is an important element of their relationship not the sole focus of it. The problems brought on by sex, work and family and equally important.

The weakness in this story is George. Unfortunate considering this is a two character tale with George being character #2. He is not as fully fleshed out as Amina and consequently not as engaging. Freudenberger has not given him any kind of a backstory or emotional pull that can compete with Amina’s.

If I view The Newlyweds as strictly Amina’s story I like it much better than if I think of it as a novel about a couple. Maybe that makes the whole thing unsuccessful?  Maybe but I did enjoy following Amina’s journey.