Little, Brown and Company (June 28, 2016), 321 pages
Kindle Edition $ 7 99, Amazon paperback $10.01
Invincible Summer covers twenty years in the lives of four friends in England. The story begins in 1995 when the group is finishing college. It ends twenty years later in 2015.
Eva comes from a lower middle class background, but forged a career in investment banking. Sylvie is an artist who had difficulty getting her act together until circumstances changed her perspective. Lucien spent years representing himself as a club promoter but actually paid the bills by selling drugs. Benedict is a physicist analyzing data from the Large Hadron Collider.
Each member of the group has his or her own struggles. They had varying degrees of staying in contact and being out of touch. Degrees of success varied as well. They all had serious relationship issues. The author does and excellent job of interweaving the stories and keeping the plot moving forward. Eva takes center stage in her efforts to succeed in the cutthroat world of investment banking, and I found myself wanting her to succeed in spite of the fact that her actions were not always entirely ethical. The others get their fair share of attention as well. While it was easy to be sympathetic towards Benedict and even Sylvie, it was hard for me to develop much sympathy for Lucien and his poor choices.
In the end, I enjoyed the novel, but things were wrapped up just a little to neatly at the close of the book.
by Elif Batuman
Penguin Press (March 14, 2017), 429 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $14.16
Author Elif Batuman enjoys paying homage to Dostoevsky. She titled a previous book The Possessed. But Dostoevsky is not why I bought the present volume. I am a sucker for college campus novels and The Idiot is one of those. The novel also received excellent reviews, so I thought it would be worth my time.
The novel begins in 1995. Selin, the daughter of well-educated Turkish immigrants, is entering her first year at Harvard. Email is just starting to be widely used. Selin decides to take a class in Russian. One of the students, a senior, is a brooding figure named Ivan. Selin becomes obsessed with Ivan and develops a friendship with him. When Ivan heads to Cal Tech they continue their relationship via email.
Selin is a very smart woman, but not great at managing relationships. She continues her (strictly non-physical) relationship with Ivan even when she learns he has a girlfriend. She becomes part of a program teaching English in Hungary to be near Ivan over the summer in his homeland.
The writing in The Idiot is engaging and the book kept me entertained. In the end however…
(and here comes a spoiler—something I rarely do)
…we realize that it is Selin who is the idiot for continuing to have feelings for Ivan, who has a serious, ongoing relationship with a woman his age, who is off to study elsewhere in the world, and who will never return her affection.
I have had an Amazon credit card from Chase Bank for quite a few years now. I have long used the points from that card to buy many of my Kindle books. I would use the points to buy an Amazon e-gift card which I sent to my email address and then enter the redemption code into my Amazon account. I then bought the Kindle book I wanted. It all worked very well.
I went to do that recently and discovered that the option was no longer available. I further discovered that I can’t even use those points to buy a physical Amazon gift card delivered to me by postal mail. I spent several hours being seriously ticked off with Amazon. Then, however, I did some further investigation and I discovered that I could redeem the points as a statement credit on my Amazon credit card. So, I did that and then ordered my Kindle book which was charged to my Amazon credit card and I was done. As I thought about it, it was actually easier than what I had been doing.
Not so bad, I suppose.
This Is My Life
Riverhead Books, reprint edition (March 25, 2014), 326 pages
Kindle edition $7.99 ($4.99 when I bought it), Amazon paperback $8.38
I bought this book by mistake. I meant to click on the description of the book, but I clicked on the Buy Now button instead. Since I had returned a Kindle book just the day before I decided to keep it.
This an early novel by Meg Wolitzer. It was originally entitled This is Your Life, but the movie directed by Nora Ephron was released as This is My Life. When the book was reissued in 2014 Wolitzer decided to use the movie title, partly in appreciation of her friendship with Ephron, who died in 2012.
The story revolves around Dottie Engels, a popular comedian, and her two daughters. We see Dottie’s career peak and decline. We see the daughters becoming involved with men for whom they don’t much care and having sex more to pass the time than anything else. We see Dottie lending her name to a line of clothing when comedy is no longer paying the bills and we see her becoming involved with a man with whom she shares the habit of overeating.
If nothing else Wolitzer does a nice job of bringing the book full circle at the end. But this book was published in 1988 and the author has matured immensely as a novelist over the decades. It was probably worth the $4.99 that I paid. I’m not sure it’s worth $7.99. I would recommend that instead you spend an additional four dollars and buy The Interestings.
You’ll be glad you did.
I enjoy the “By the Book” author interviews in the New York Times Book Review. In a recent column writer Ali Smith was asked the following question: “What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?” Her answer:
A first edition of Plath’s (or Victoria Lucas’s) “The Bell Jar.” It’s been well loved in its life, it’s fairly barreled and slopy, and there are the remnants of what looks like Chinese takeaway on some of the pages. But opening that package and finding it there was the closest I suspect I’ll ever come to being given a sports car or a pony.
I really appreciate “finding it there was the closest I suspect I’ll ever come to being given a sports car or a pony.” I might not feel that way about that specific title but there are books about which I might have such a reaction.
I think Ali has her priorities straight.
The Marriage Plot: A Novel
by Jeffrey Eugenides
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 11, 2011), 417 pages
Kindle edition $9.99, Amazon paperback $10.62
I am a sucker for college novels, and I loved this one.
The story takes place in the 1980’s, and for the most part is set on the East Coast. The three main characters are students at Brown University. Madeleine is an English major. Mitchell is a religious studies student. Leonard studies philosophy. Mitchell is the good guy who goes on a Razor’s Edge sort of quest after graduation. Leonard is the bad boy, neurotic or perhaps psychotic, and is medicated with Lithium by his doctors.
The novel opens with Madeleine’s father logically laying out the options for him and Madeleine’s mother to attend her graduation ceremony. Close to the end he logically presents presents Madeleine with her options regarding her apparently failed marriage to Leonard. In between the author writes in the third person but gives us the perspectives of each of the three main characters. He jumps backward and forward in time, but in a manner that is engaging and not distracting.
The ending is not a “happily ever after” one but one which makes perfect sense in the context of the novel.
A good read to be sure.
The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky
Vintage, reprint edition (November 26, 2008), 338 pages
Kindle edition $9.99, Amazon paperback $13.63
Ellen Meloy, when she is known at all, is known for her writing about the Southwest. I knew nothing of her until I listened to a course on writing essays from The Great Courses. It is a shame that she is not better known, and it is a shame that she died all to early in 2004 at age 59. Meloy knew how to vividly describe the Southwest and she knew how to style an evocative sentence. In one essay she writes about her childhood:
Although I am certain I swam with my brothers or with friends, I recall instead a solitary, private world of sun and turquoise, leaving behind the sultry summer air, the lulling chorus of cicadas, and an interminable girl-boy geekiness to slip beneath the surface and stroke along the silent bottom of the pool—agile and fearless in water honeycombed with light.
The present volume is a collection of essays. While she writes about the Southwest, she also touches on other topics, including the Caribbean and her discovery of her ancestors there as well as the sex life of flowers.
The Southwest, however, is what she really knows. If you appreciate the Southwest you will enjoy Meloy’s writing.