The Week in Books #80

5/14 ✅

The week in books! It’s been a slow couple weeks for reading as the weather has been lovely and warm, and for a brief period there last week actually scorchingly hot, and it was hard to focus on anything that wasn’t a beach. It took me a week to get through The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, and another week to struggle through All the Anxious Girls on Earth. Here’s what I thought.

1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Was Oscar’s life actually “wondrous”? I didn’t really think so. I enjoyed the writing of this book, and appreciated all the history provided about the Dominican Republic, which I really stupidly didn’t know shared an island with Haiti. The novel tells a few side stories on its journey through Oscar’s existence; I enjoyed the sections about his sister and also his roommate, and the one about their mother was my least favourite. As for Oscar, he seemed like he was really careening towards the label of ‘incel’ if you ask me (that’s ‘involuntary celibate’ for those who don’t know, a term used to describe angry men who can’t find girls to sleep with and end up going off the rails, as if they are entitled to sex by merely existing). He was full on stalking and harassing the woman he was “in love with” by the end, despite her begging him to leave her alone, and I’m not sure if we readers were meant to find this admirable or endearing, but I just found it gross. I loved the idea of a family curse, and also really enjoyed all the Tolkien and other nerdy references sprinkled throughout. It would have been cool to hear more about the books Oscar was writing himself, as they seemed to be very important to him but the reader didn’t get a glimpse into any of them. In the end I liked this book though I didn’t actually like Oscar that much.

Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waoopens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. All the Anxious Girls on Earth by Zsuzsi Gartner. This is a short story collection from a Canadian writer that has lived in Vancouver and Toronto, and almost all of the stories were set in those locations (lots of Vancouver). The blurbs say it is a solid collection from an up-and-coming author to watch… though it came out 20 years ago and apart from one more story collection that was Giller shortlisted but had a variety of both good and bad reviews, I haven’t actually seen any other noteworthy works from her. That kind of made me dubious that it would actually be a good collection as it didn’t seem to launch a hugely successful career. And yeah, the writing is nice and there are some wonderful sentences hidden in there, but overall none of the stories really seemed to have a point. They all kind of meandered around in the lives of a variety of “anxious” (unusual? Misunderstood?) women and ended without any satisfaction. Pretty meh. Too bad!

All the Anxious Girls on Earth marks the debut of a startingly original literary voice. Zsuzsi Gartner’s exuberant prose gives voice to unforgettable characters who survive by their wits as they cope with indifferent relationships, lackluster jobs, and the myriad curve-balls life throws their way.

A woman calls in fake bomb threats from the nineteenth floor of a bank tower as revenge against her ex-lover. The mother of a girl killed by a teenage urban guerilla thrives spectacularly in her industrious grief, transforming herself into a forgiveness guru and talk-show host. Lured into the wilderness by her desire for a man who rebuilds vintage airplanes, a young woman finds she lusts more for biscotti and city sidewalks. A small, heroic child makes a guileless request for pajamas and creates a psychic storm at the center of her anxious, achievement-mad parents’ lives.

Rendered in a jittery, jazzed-up prose that has been compared to that of Lorrie Moore and Mary Flanagan, these stories brilliantly capture the pathos, beauty, and alienation of contemporary life and signal the arrival of a writer to watch.

Penguin Randomhouse

New books! I’ve cooled it a bit on the book hoarding, because as you can see below I have quite a few books waiting to be read at the moment and I don’t need any more. But we did make a trip to Nanaimo this week and stopped in at VV and I found a few gooders: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Deacon King Kong by James McBride, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, The Goddesses by Swan Huntley, and Inside by Alex Ohlin.

I was really excited to find Invisible Life as it has been on my list since it was released but hasn’t been less than $25 at Indigo at any point so I held off buying it. My wait paid off!

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