I love memoirs.  They read like fiction but they’re true stories.  Something about their being true makes the story incredibly engaging.  It’s almost enough to pull me away from fiction.

Until I read flops like this one and get discouraged from that.  Though it had so much potential (despite the tragedy of it, the author’s life has given her great writing material) this was a terrible memoir for two main reasons:

A: It’s choppy.

There’s no coherence to it.  It’s almost impossible to know in what order the events she’s describing happened. Her story sounds like a drunk person who tries to tell a joke but ruins the punchline because she says it first.  Reading it was not in any way enjoyable.  Perhaps it’s morbid to expect to be entertained by a tragic memoir. Don’t judge me. You all stare at car wrecks, too.

B: It feels fake.

This is supposedly a story about grief.  Christa’s twin, Cara, goes on a downward spiral of drug addiction and self-hatred, and eventually dies of an overdose.  Christa is a mess.  But when she writes about Cara when she’s alive, it’s almost like she can’t stand her. She never has anything flattering to say.  There is very little appearance that they love each other, frankly.  They’re portrayed as close, but it always seems like it’s almost reluctantly–at times, cruel or vindictive. It makes her grief seem embellished and fake.

I was so incredibly frustrated by this book.  Perhaps I’m insensitive. It is, after all, the author’s way of dealing with her grief.  But for a memoir, it lacked the genuineness one would like to expect from a true story.  There are probably hundreds better memoirs you can find.  Pass on this one.

12.35–State of Wonder

12.35–State of Wonder

A customer recommended this book to me as I was ringing it up for her.  She bought several copies to give as gifts because she said it was just phenomenal.  Naturally, I thought, Hey, I gotta get me some of this.  Maybe it’s because I built it up in my mind as being super awesome, but it was a little less awesome than I thought it would be.  It was still good.  Ann Patchett’s prose is lovely, but it wasn’t give-copies-to-all-of-my-friends-for-Christmas good.

Marina and Anders are lab partners at a massive pharmaceutical company in Minnesota.  When Marina finds out that Anders, who months before traveled to the Amazon, has died of a nameless fever, she journeys to the very place where he lived out his last months.  Her mission, for her own sake and for the sake of Anders’ wife, is to discover what exactly happened, how he spent his last moments, and what happened to his body.  While she is there, however, she discovers a lot about herself and what she truly wants for her life.

The premise had potential, but when Marina discovers what the doctors are working on in the Amazon, the research they are doing, and the drug they are attempting to develop, the novel takes a turn for the bizarre and the far-fetched.  It is reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, both in that the forest is a living entity with evil intent toward outsiders, and that the forest people are somewhat inferior to “civilized” people.  The jungle seems to change according to its own will, closing paths that once existed and opening new ones where none were before.  At first the natives that Marina and her fellow doctors live with sometimes seemed more like  domesticated pets than human beings.  Other tribes were more wild and would like nothing more than to put an arrow through any and every stranger.  Slightly less off-putting than the whiffs of racism, but perplexing nonetheless, is the truly odd project that Marina’s employer is funding, and the hard-assed doctor who is its leader.

I don’t want to give it away.  There are secrets and surprises that are necessary for enjoying the novel.  But there was also something strained about it.  The events are too far beyond the realm of possibility.  It is classified as fiction, but its element of fantasy is just a little too strong. That said, it at times feels more like an acid trip than true fantasy or simple literature.

A good many parts of it were enjoyable.  Ann Patchett’s characters are fully developed and enjoyable.  Her prose is simple but elegant, and the novel is deeply emotional, as it deals with the connections and relationships between human beings in spite of age, language, and lifestyle barriers.  Though Marina does not enjoy Brazil–in fact, she fears it greatly–Patchett’s descriptions of the ugliness of Manaus and the filth of the river are somehow beguilingly beautiful.  Whether it’s an accurate picture she paints I cannot say, but it certainly is easy to picture in the mind’s eye.

Due to its being well outside the realm of what I normally read, I did enjoy the novel.  Though the plot is a bit weak, other aspects like setting and character development are strong enough to hold up the book.  Like I said, not Christmas gift or rave review worthy, but a decent read nonetheless.

12.13–Postcards from the Edge

12.13–Postcards from the Edge

My reason for reading this novel is an interesting one. One day while strolling the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland I spotted a plastic bag in the grass.  Outraged, I stomped over to pick up the litter, but noticed that inside the bag was a book.  Happily, I had discovered a Book Crossing free book.  It travels around the world, being read and then released to be found again by person after person after person. How cool is that?

So far, Texas is the only other place the book has been outside of Ireland. I haven’t released it yet. Not sure where to do it. I’d like it to be somewhere uniquely Austin, but also somewhere it won’t be misconstrued as litter and thrown away. Perhaps my readers would like to suggest something?

As for the book itself, it was mediocre at best. I can see why people wouldn’t have a hard time letting it go.  I know I certainly won’t! A book by Carrie Fisher (of Princess Leia fame), it reads as a fictional autobiography of Fisher’s life.  The protagonist spends a stint in rehab and then lives the rest of her Hollywood life attempting to make her big break and to find love. Sadly, the story falls a bit flat. It is disjointed and difficult to follow–a jumble of narrative styles that follow no pattern and therefore make reading more of a chore than a pleasure.  The plot is dull and the character is not one I was at all interested in.  I wish I had more to say in praise of Fisher’s writing, because it seems that a great many of her ventures have been flops.  But she is not a very talented writer, and the only reason I finished the book was to be able to review it and pass it on for the next person to find. Who knows? They may enjoy it more than I did.

I did appreciate the humor in the novel. Fisher portrays well the egotistical and shallow nature of Hollywood by creating characters that are vain and vapid.  I also enjoyed the fact that, though it’s a story about a recovering drug addict, it wasn’t incredibly and morbidly depressing.  She wrote it so that even the most dire of the addicts’ circumstances were light and humorous.  Fortunately, everyone got help and most “lived happily ever after.”  Oops! I gave away the ending, but I don’t recommend the book to anyone, so I don’t feel bad!