Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Long And Twisted Trip Beyond Twisted River

So I was really, really excited when I got an advance copy of the new John Irving book through the Amazon Vine program. Too bad the book turned out to be a total dud. I think true Irving fans should give it a read just to see how Irving's work has changed, but I would not recommend this to the casual reader.

John Irving's "Last Night in Twisted River" begins in the mid 1950s in the isolated logging town of Twisted River. A cook and his son are about to be drawn into a series of events that will change their lives forever. After the events, the cook decides to take his son on the run, and the next 50 years of their lives are shrouded in tragedies related to the events of that one fateful night.

I felt like "Twisted River" was an apt title for this book--since as a reader I felt like I was being twisted and turned on a wild goose chase that lasted for 500 plus pages. The book was long, it was meandering, and it simply is not Irving at his best. The core of the story is simple--the cook makes a decision after a misunderstanding to save his son, and the two of them spend the remainder of the book running as a result. However, the book lingers on this point for too long, and I felt like the characters never grew beyond their actions. Also, the book is broken into segments set in each decade following the 1950s, but instead of focusing on the events happening in that decade, it typically jumps back to events that happened previously. This made it hard for me as a reader to follow the book, since I never knew exactly where in time I was. When coupled with the slow moving plot, this made the book almost unreadable in sections.

If you are an Irving fan, I would recommend that you read this book to see how his approach to writing has changed. If you are considering this as your first experience with Irving, I would suggest that you start instead with one of his classics, such as "A Prayer for Owen Meaney" or "The Cider House Rules".

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Birthday Ratskellar Reads!

So turns out today is a big day! Not just because I'm off work to celebrate Mr. Columbus, but because when I opened my calendar this morning I discovered that this little blog is officially 1 year old today!

When I started a year ago, I was turning to blogging more as a way to keep track of what I read for me than for anything else. Now, a year later, I think that blogging has turned into a great way for me to share my thoughts on books with my friends and family. I know many of you have asked me about books that I've reviewed, and a few of you have even read some of them! It's always nice to think that people are reading my reviews!

So to commemorate this day, a review of one of my favorite recent reads. I'm hoping that this anniversary will encourage me to post a bit more regularly (I'm still reading, I just am having a hard time updating!).

"Julie and Julia" is Julie Powell's memoir about the year she tried to cook all of Julia Child's recipes in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (MAoFC). Much like the movie with the same name, the book is as much about Julie's life--her marriage, her friendships, her thankless job--as it is about cooking. Unlike the movie, this book is really just about Julie, there is very little "real" Julia Child in this book. The only Julia in this book is the one in Julie's head, who almost like an imaginary friend, cheers Julie on as she make her way through MAoFC and helps her to discover an inner passion for cooking and how it brings people together.

I really enjoyed this book. I thought Julie was honest and funny about the challenges of being young and direction-less in modern urban America. I found it interesting to see how Julie used the project to discover a real passion in herself and to provide herself a purpose that ultimately led her to fulfilment (and an extra 15 pounds of butter weight!). That being said, I don't agree with everything that Julie said or did, and yes she could be a little self centered at times. But this is her memoir, so she has a right to share the world from her perspective.

If you are drawn to this book because you loved the movie--be warned, this Julie is a much more colorful (in both language and personality), well drawn character than the Julie in the movie, who in my opinion was sanitized into a typical romantic comedy heroine. Yes there are a lot of incidents that were in the movie that are also in the book. But the book is really about Julie and her life, not Julia Child. That being said, I loved both the book and the movie, but recognize them as two distinct works.

If you're interested in reading about how one woman found herself through the completion of an unreasonable project that most people would never even think of undertaking, this book is for you. It shows Julie's project as it was--with all of the messes, curses and challenges that it contained. If you go into the book knowing that, I don't think you'll be dissapointed.