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Jennifer Haigh, Dennis LaToya, John Green, and Zombie Awesomeness

November 23, 2010

I’ve quit lying to myself — after my latest, totally unplanned blogging hiatus, I’m never going to catch up. I decided to do a quick “catch up” post reviewing what I’ve managed to read lately. 😉

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The Condition by Jennifer Haigh
My daughter chose this book for me as a birthday gift. She and I share a terrible weakness for books and movies about dysfunctional families. 🙂 What makes this novel unique is that is concerns a little known condition, known as Turner Syndrome, in which a woman doesn’t reach sexual maturation.

The novel opens in 1976, as Paulette Kotch’s family gathers at the New England beach house that has been in her family for generations. She is joined by her husband, Frank, a research biologist, and their three children, Billy, Gwen and Scotty. Their marriage is vulnerable. Paulette, uncomfortable with her husband’s sexuality, is plagued with doubts about his fidelity. Frank is deeply absorbed in his work. That summer, looking at his daughter beside her much taller same-aged cousin, Frank suddenly, irrevocably realizes something is terribly wrong. After that the fissures in Frank and Paulette’s marriage widen, and it will soon crash around them.

The story leaps forward 20 years in time, as Frank and Paulette try to reconnect with their three adult children. Billy, a New York cardiologist, keeps the family at a careful distance. Gwen, 20 years after her diagnosis with Turner’s Syndrome, lives a solitary life as an anthropologist. Scotty has basically become a “stoner.” He’s in a marriage he seems to feel is beneath him and dislikes his teaching position at a third-rate private school. Shifting among these five characters’ points of view, the author gradually moves in closer and closer, letting us get to know them, glimpse their secrets, and feel their agonizing loneliness and vulnerability.

This is a lovely novel and for me, it was a page turner.  I actually disliked many of the characters; I saw them as pretentious and infused with a sense of superiority. This is probably one of my “hot buttons.” Humility and respect for people, whatever their education, intelligence, and socioeconomic status, is very important to me. It is a tribute to this author’s skill that although I never completely warmed up to these characters, I found them complex, rich, and compelling, and I couldn’t put their story down.

The Wolves of  Fairmount Park by Dennis Tafoya

Two teen-aged boys are shot in front of a house known as a haven for drug dealers. Neither of the boys is a known drug user. Why were they there? Who shot them? And the strangest question of all: why did the victims have handprint-shaped bloodstains on their cheeks?

This complex, character driven mystery weaves among the points of view of many players. These include Danny Martinez, the investigating officer, Brendan Donovan, a police officer and father of one of the victims, and Brendan’s brother, Orlando, a heroin addict who happened to live near the scene of the crime. We also see the story through the eyes of other characters, including grief stricken parents and violent criminals. We’re drawn into a world of criminals and drug addicts. One of the novel’s strengths is that it delves into the psyche of each character, and most of them are treated with empathy and respect. 

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Though he has loving parents, Miles’s life feels hollow.  His high school classes don’t interest him, and he has no real friends. He spends his time reading biographies and collecting the last words of famous people. Inspired by the last words of French Renaissance writer Francois Rabelais, Miles decides to start a new life at an Alabama boarding school, seeking “the Great Perhaps.”

There he befriends “The Colonel,” Takumi, and Alaska, four highly intelligent, quirky, rebellious kids. He is especially drawn to the beautiful, mercurial, poetry-loving Alaska. As the four students engineer pranks, get drunk, and study French and world religions, they form a complicated bond.

God, I loved this book. It’s light and funny, and at the same time, incredibly serious and complex. On one level, it’s a coming of age novel, but it’s really ageless. It’s about life and what it is to be human. It’s about love and friendship, struggling through grief and guilt, and finding a reason to live. It’s also about spirituality, and how one makes meaning of life and death, with or without religion.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon

I didn’t finish this book, though I was enjoying it. Manhood for Amateurs is a loosely connected collection of essays drawing on various parts of the author’s life. It reflects his coming of age, his unsuccessful first marriage, and his roles as a husband and father. Chabon’s writing is witty, articulate, and often funny, and he has interesting insights on parenthood.

I’ve also watched a few movies and shows. My hubby and I made a bee-line for Harry Potter VII (Part 1) the day it premiered. Loved it! I also saw Sleepwalking, an indie film about a quiet, diffident young man who bonds with his niece after her mother leaves and begins to come to grips with his painful childhood. And I’ve bee totally into The Walking Dead, a new series on AMC. I am usually squeamish about blood and violence, but I immediately got hooked on this show. I thought Andrew Lincoln was adorable in Love Actually, and now he’s fabulously Bad-Ass in The Walking Dead.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2010 8:47 pm

    Love, love, love Looking for Alaska. Green is just fantastic. I’m totally hooking on The Walking Dead too!

    • November 23, 2010 9:03 pm

      This was my first John Green novel, and now I want to read everything he’s written. 🙂

  2. November 23, 2010 8:59 pm

    I have such a crush on Andrew Lincoln but only because of his character in Love Actually!! LOVE that movie!!

    Those books all look good… especially that Wolves of Fairmount Park… I hadn’t heard of that one before!

  3. November 23, 2010 10:59 pm

    I forgot that I also want to read Looking for Alaska – I have heard nothing but good things about it!

  4. November 23, 2010 11:45 pm

    I really need to try Looking for Alaska. That first book you mention looks interesting!

    • November 24, 2010 12:43 am

      I hope you do read Looking for Alaska, Amanda. I think you’d really like it. And The Condition *is* interesting and a terrific read.

  5. Veens permalink
    November 24, 2010 1:33 am

    Wow, you read some really good books. I loved your reviews. I want the 1st 3 books for me.
    And I need to see this movie, Love Actually.

  6. November 24, 2010 3:36 am

    OMG, I’ve gotten into The Walking Dead, too! 🙂

  7. November 24, 2010 3:44 am

    I loved Looking for Alaska as well – you’re right, light but also serious, in the best way.

  8. November 24, 2010 2:25 pm

    I’m glad to see you enjoyed The Condition without having to really like the characters. Those are rare but cherished moments in reading. I bought that book ages ago but haven’t read it yet.

  9. November 24, 2010 7:20 pm

    The Condition and The Wolves of Fairmount Park both look psychologically gripping. I haven’t read Looking for Alaska, although I have enjoyed some of Green’s other work.

    Consider yourself all caught up!

    • November 24, 2010 9:46 pm

      Thanks! 🙂 I am looking forward to Green’s other books. I’ll probably read An Abundance of Katherines next.

  10. November 26, 2010 3:27 pm

    I still have to read more John Greene, and I’m glad you are enjoying (enjoyed?) Manhood for Amateurs – that one is still up for my best of the year list.

  11. December 15, 2010 2:39 am

    I love “Looking for Alaska”. Just so you know, nothing else he’s written comes close to it. “Paper Towns” is really good, though. “Will Grayson, Will Grayson”… liked it, with reservations (particularly about the ending). And “Abundance of Katherines” was just okay, I thought. Still, he’s easily one of my favorite authors, just for that stunning debut novel alone.

  12. Claudette permalink
    January 6, 2011 11:00 pm

    Hi- I am a former Homeschooling Mom(kids are grown). I must comment on The Condition. It seems to me that the author uses Turner Syndrome as a metaphor for what is wrong with the family. The character with Turner’s is the only one who seems to be functionally normal, or well adjusted in the end. I think it is important to correct your post and note that Turner Syndrome is NOT rare! It occurs once in every 2000 or so live births of girls. These girls CAN and DO reach sexual maturity, by taking HRT to start puberty, and then taking birth control pills until menopause. It is extremely important for any girl under the 3rd percentile to be checked for Turners, as some of the symptoms can be life threatening, and all can be fixed.

  13. Claudette permalink
    January 6, 2011 11:03 pm

    I must add a ps—the teenage Turner Girls that I know(5 of them) were deeply offended by The Condition.

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