Short Reviews of Four Short Books
14 May 2015
I love me a good chunkster (Anna Karenina, anyone?), but from time to time, a step away from the 1,000-page tomes and into the world of 150-page micro-books is good for the soul. Here are a few short titles I've picked up of late:
A Diamond as Big as the Ritz, by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald's novella weighs in at a mere 80 pages, but its slim size doesn't mean it doesn't deal in large themes: wealth, freedom, and first loves, to name a few. And speaking of large, the eponymous "diamond as big as the Ritz" is not an exaggeration in the story: John Unger spends a summer visiting a school friend in Montana, and is shocked to discover that his friend's family actually lives on a diamond the size of a mountain. Life on the mountain is lavish to the extreme--Fitzgerald's accounts of rubies and diamonds and velvet curtains make Gatsby look like a pauper in comparison--and John is happy, until he realizes the lengths that his hosts will go to keep their mountainous diamond a secret. I didn't necessarily love this one, but I find that the story, odd as it is, has stuck with me for weeks after finishing it--so maybe there's more to it than I originally thought. It's certainly short enough that it's worth picking up if you're interested in exploring Fitzgerald beyond The Great Gatsby.
[Read for the 2015 TBR Challenge.]
Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan: I'd heard some good things about this one from a few other bloggers, and picked it up from the library specifically for Readathon as a short selection to break up my otherwise chunky reads that day. It didn't disappoint. The 165-page novella is, on its surface, the story of a Red Lobster's last night in business. Deeper down, though, it is the story of the workers within the Lobster, some of whom have secured new jobs, and some of whom have not; some of whom are dedicated to making the Lobster's last nights perfect, and some of whom use the restaurant's closing as an excuse to not show up--or to show up and not deliver. I was struck by O'Nan's ability to capture the strange bonds that form between coworkers--even when those bonds are not based on any kind of fondness--and how the loss of the common workplace stretches and bends and breaks those bonds. Even more so, Last Night at the Lobster was a powerful exploration of the role of work in shaping not only our routines, but our identities, if we let it--and sometimes even when we don't.
The Red Notebook, by Antoine Laurain: This little morsel of a book slipped under the radar for many readers (including myself), but we need to rectify that. The Red Notebook is sweet but never simperingly so, charming but never too charming to be believable, romantic but never swoon-worthy. When Laurent finds a purse in Paris, he tries to return it to its owner--first he goes to the police, then he resorts to combing through its contents to find a clue, any clue, as to whose it may be. The contents of the purse prove mysterious and intriguing, and soon he wants to the meet the purse's owner as much to return the purse as because he wants to meet this unique woman. The novella reads like a disjointed love story, suffused with a sense of whimsy and a scent of Paris, and its short length delivered just enough story to keep things interesting without ever dragging on or revealing too much.
[Counting towards my 2015 Read Harder Challenge as a book originally published in a different language.]
Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer, by Heather Lende: Lende works as an obit writer in a small town (teensy town, by the sounds of it) in Alaska. Her collection of essays in Find the Good draws on that experience, coupling local anecdotes with life lessons to form a quirky and unusual collection of self-help advice. It's short enough to read in one sitting, but Lende's essays might be better taken one at a time--each a singular morsel of friendly advice you didn't know you needed until it landed in your lap.
Labels: 2015 books, book review, classics, classics club, essays, fiction, new books, new fiction, new nonfiction, non-fiction, novella, short stories