The Week in Books #24

Another week, another stack of books! This week I finished another memoir, The Electric Woman, and then made a return to fiction for the first time in a while. I’ve got a few sitting around waiting to be read so I’m going to tackle as many as I can before the end of the year.

The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine. This was a great memoir. Tessa shares the story of her mother suffering a sudden and devastating stroke and how it affected her family. During her mother’s lengthy recovery Tessa found herself joining a sideshow and learning to eat fire, bally for customers, hold a giant snake, and ultimately perform as the Electric Woman in an electrified chair. She provides a peek behind the scenes of the travelling freak show as well as delves into how her mother’s stroke affected her personally. I thought it was fabulously written, interesting and paced well.

Sad Girls by Lang Leav. This was an easy and fast first novel from poet Lang Leav. Audrey, the protagonist, tells a lie that leads to a girls suicide and sparks a series of panic attacks in Audrey as she deals with the guilt. I enjoyed it though there were definitely some things that stood out to me as problematic with the character development and plot. Firstly and most obviously, it never explains why Audrey told this lie in the first place, which is a bit bizarre because it is the event the whole book revolves around. The therapist character in particular struck me as totally unrealistic as she smoked cigarettes in appointments with her teenage client and also used affectionate nicknames when speaking to her which is wildly unprofessional. As someone who suffers from GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) I’d also like to point out that snapping an elastic band on your wrist is not really a realistic way to deal with a panic attack. I’m curious if anxiety is something the author has experienced personally or if it was something she felt would make her character more dynamic. Either way, I don’t think it was executed very well. There were some other things that happened that were unnecessary to the plot or that appeared to be important but ended up going nowhere, plus the protagonist was largely unlikeable but that shouldn’t really colour my opinion of the story. I read it quickly and did enjoy it to the end, even if the ending was a bit stupid haha. I forgot about how much I liked a blast of young adult every now and then 🖤

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Now THIS is an excellent novel. If you are looking for a more realistic characterization of someone suffering from mental illness (depression/mania) then this is the book for you. Madeline, Leonard and Mitchell form a love triangle of sorts while attending Brown University in the 1980’s. All the characters are wildly privileged and wealthy, but I tried not to let it bother me too much haha. I loved this book. I loved Leonard’s complex character and the thought provoking dialogue between characters. I also loved that Madeline was an English major writing her thesis on ‘the marriage plot’ in 19th century literature with a focus on Austen (it was nice to see a commentary on this as I found Austen’s novels revolving solely around marriage to be incredibly dull). This book was intelligent, engaging, and the characters were great. I’d expect nothing less from Eugenides, really, who also wrote Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides (both excellent) and is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. I’ve been curious about this book since I saw it mentioned on The Simpsons and I made a list of the books Lisa reads on the show. Many of these stories were a little on the slow side, but The Lottery was amazing. The original Hunger Games for sure! I also liked The Witch and how creepy it was. Shirley Jackson is definitely good at capturing the creep factor. Very good.

The Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese. This book was short but sweet. A sixteen year old boy accompanies his father on his final walk into the woods and finally hears the stories his father kept from him for so long. Exquisite use of language and fabulous storytelling. Five stars.

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