It’s been a bit of a slow reading month for me perhaps because my mind has been distracted on other things, notably getting done some home renovations, officiating a tennis tournament, and absorbing the very troubling news out of the States on the latest school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and why there isn’t sensible gun control on semiautomatic rifles and who can get them. My big hope is that there will be a breakthrough on getting something accomplished, thanks to the Parkland students leading the way. Enough is indeed enough.
Meanwhile it’s been freezing here. For as mild as winter was in November and most of December, it’s been hitting hard this month with temps often in the single digits if not 0 degrees Fahrenheit, making it apparently the coldest February in nearly 25 years here. Hmm, what the heck? Surely I’m dreaming of spring days now, though it’s still quite a ways off. The only one who likes this cold is my trusty book assistant, pictured at left.
Luckily some of the Olympics has been a good reprieve this week. The women’s hockey game between Canada and the U.S. was as usual very close and exciting; it came down to the wire, needing a second OT shoot-out to decide the Gold medal. My insides were torn apart for both teams. And I was totally stoked to see the U.S. team of Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall win Gold in the cross-country team sprint (the country’s first medal ever in a women’s cross-country event). Wow it was an all-out rush and mega effort down the home stretch. And watching the downhill skiing action wasn’t too shabby either. So thanks for these antidotes. And now, I’ll leave you with reviews of what I finished this past week.
Oh yes, it was about time I got around to “The Power.” This novel by Naomi Alderman won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and made a lot of Best Of Lists last year, including at the New York Times.
Gracious, I had no idea what I was getting into — I just thought it was a speculative tale about teenage girls around the globe who develop the ability to send an electrical charge from their body that alters the balance of power between the sexes and on Earth — which indeed it is — but whoa, there’s a lot more to it than that. This is no simple Hunger Games action tale. This lively novel is stuffed to the gills — both thematically and satirically with an array of storylines and characters — and you’ll need to be on your toes to drink it all in.
I began listening to it as an audiobook, and though the production was top-notch, I yearned midway through for the print version so I could better follow its various directions and people. Basically its storyline chronicles the early days of matriarchy’s rise around the world through the experiences of four characters whose tribulations alternate the book’s chapters.
There’s Tunde, a Nigerian photojournalist who begins to document the global phenomena; and Margo, a U.S. politician who tries to hide her power and win over her electorate; as well Allie, an abused foster child who escapes to a convent and reinvents herself as healer Mother Eve; and my favorite, Roxy Monke, who’s the daughter of a London crime boss that finds she has a particularly potent electrical charge. These four become quite intriguing to follow and offer various perspectives that converge on the newly declared nation of “Bessapara,” previously Moldova, where the former sex-trafficking capital of the world becomes a staging ground for the new world order.
Oh my, at first I didn’t know what to make of all of what was going on and was a bit overwhelmed by the storylines that stray and converge periodically, like Whaa? It’s a bit complex narratively, and make no mistake: it’s a violent tale that does not involve a feminist utopia with a lot of peace, love and understanding. Instead there’s rampant brutality and war and the newly discovered female power is abused.
The story’s got some humor to it (thankfully), and politics, religion and sex too (with a bit of zap) to it — not to mention payback against abusive men. Early on, I almost set aside the novel as a DNF (for its sporadic-ness?) but then held on and got hooked on the character of Roxy Monke somewhere along the way, and Tunde too. Both face some rough misfortunes and journey far and wide, which kept me closely tuned in. The inventive ending surprised and amused me too, but I will leave that to you to find out on your own.
Surely Naomi Alderman drank from the kool-aid acid test in creating this novel and seems at the height of her powers. It’s a tale that’s busting from the seams with subversive ideas and satirical wisdom. It might not have held me as much as Emily St. John Mandel’s novel “Station Eleven” did, but I came to like Roxy Monke quite a bit and admire Alderman’s obviously immense talent. Her characters and vision quite literally lit up the stratosphere.
Next up, I finished reading Xhenet Aliu’s debut novel “Brass,” which is set in Waterbury, Conn., and is about the lives of a mother (Elsie) and her daughter (Luljeta), told in alternating chapters taking place when they’re both coming of age in their late teens. It’s a story that captures a once-bustling factory town — back when the brass mills were still open — full of immigrant workers that’s turned into a dead-end place (when the story starts in 1996) where people are stuck with little prospects and can’t seem to leave.
Elsie, a granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, is a waitress at the Betsy Ross diner when she falls in love as a teen with an Albanian line cook who comes to the States chasing dreams, but when she finds out she’s unexpectedly pregnant she must grapple with trying to hold on to him and wondering if his heart is back with the love he left behind in Europe. Flash forward 17 years, and her daughter Luljeta makes a fateful decision to find the father she never knew on the day she gets beaten up at school and receives a rejection letter from NYU.
You get the picture of these alternating storylines, which kept my interest. The novel includes some sharp writing particularly of these protagonists trying to escape their fates in this dead-end town, though I seemed to like the chapters about the mother’s teen life more than the daughter’s, perhaps because there seemed more depth and emphasis on hers. Also I was looking for a bit more from the novel’s ending and could’ve used a little more on the mother and daughter’s relationship other than what’s reflected from their separate teen lives. Still you get the gist of what’s handed down between them from their circumstances and of their dreams lost. There’s plenty to ponder by the end and I felt the story’s many emotions.
What about you — have you read either of these and if so, what did you think?