All Grown Up and A Tale for the Time Being

Hi, how is your spring going? Have you watched any March Madness? Most of the snow and ice are gone here now (just left with some mud), and we are contemplating taking our first bike ride of the season today. I’m really excited that winter is over, hooray, though snowflakes can come here at anytime. I hope the buds are opening where you are, and that you are feeling spring fever. It’s a great time of year. I will leave you with some reviews of things I finished last week.

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg, 2016, Houghton Mifflin, 208 pages

I picked this novel up thinking it might be a bit fun with some attitude — a single girl in the city kind of novel, from an accomplished author, that I heard was bitingly funny. And indeed it didn’t disappoint in that regard. It’s told in a series of vignettes from different points in the protagonist’s life, which go back and forth in time. It read almost like it was a first-person memoir, but instead is a work of fiction.

The main character in the novel, Andrea Bern, is quite a piece of work. She’s approaching 40, lives in Brooklyn, has no passion for her job in advertising, sleeps around with no intention of getting married, and is seemingly lost and going through a rough patch. She is trying to figure out what it means to be an adult since her world is devoid of what typical adults are like. All the while, she is dealing with the grief of her brother and sister-in-law who are caring for a terminally ill child; the absence of her mother, who leaves the city to help them; and her best friend whose marriage is imploding. There’s also the baggage she carries around from dropping out of art school (her one true love), and the death of her father, who died from a drug overdose when she was a teenager.

Andrea would be totally sympathetic if she weren’t so flawed. She’s pretty selfish and self-absorbed and often not that likable. She’s also insecure and at times childish, and I wanted to shake some sense into her. But along the way, while seeking connection, she seems to gain some heart, and I started liking her for being clever, candid, and pretty funny as well. She’s snarky but sensitive too.

The story ends up being not so much about singledom — as perhaps just trying to find happiness, which most of us can relate to, though this book probably won’t be for everyone. But it’s a short, quick novel that turns out to be more touching than I would have initially thought — by an  author whose earlier books I’ve been tempted to pick up. I’m glad I got to this one. Have you read her before?

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, 2013, Viking, 432 pages

Meanwhile I listened to this novel as an audiobook, which is read by the author, who does a superb job of narrating the various characters. The book had been quite popular when it came out a few years back, but somehow I never got my hands on it. I’m glad I finally did. It starts with a relatively simple premise but then expands to cover so much. Who knew?!

It’s about a married Japanese-American writer (Ruth) on a remote island off British Columbia who finds a bag with a diary, a watch, and letters that washes up on shore sometime after the 2011 tsunami hit Japan and caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The diary turns out to be written by a teenager named Nao in Tokyo who’s being mercilessly bullied at school. She had once lived in Silicon Valley in California, but her father was downsized there, so they returned to Tokyo, where her father has attempted suicide a couple times, and her mother works a lot.

The chapters alternate between hearing about Nao’s life in Japan and Ruth’s life on the island where’s she going through writer’s block and trying to figure out more about whose diary and letters washed ashore and where they came from. (Don’t you love these lost artifact kinds of stories? Another one is Bich Minh Nguyen’s novel “Pioneer Girl,” which is also quite good.)

Both storylines of Ruth and the young Nao are quite captivating, though Nao’s chapters are more engagingly told as she grapples with the harsh times she’s going through. She’s a plucky teenager, who’s only solace is to write the life story of her great grandmother, a Zen Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century, and who turns Nao’s life around when she goes to stay with her on summer break.

Oh there’s much more to the story, this is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s a book that covers some dark subjects, such as from Nao’s life: depression, suicide, and bullying, and from Ruth’s life: nuclear fallout, ocean pollution, and species extinction (and from both lives: 9/11). But the book is also oddly uplifting, even a bit funny at times, how the two characters persevere and transcend time and place to reach out to one another through the diary and letters.

The novel’s essentially about the nature of time, and people in time: “time beings” as it says. For those who like a bit of philosophy in their fiction, and even quantum physics, which the story touches on near the end, then this novel is for you. It also includes a dose of magical realism, which luckily didn’t overwhelm me, or the story too much.

For the most part, I was captivated by Ruth and Nao’s lives, and I thought the novel was cleverly put together by the author. My only criticism perhaps was that it felt a bit uneven in parts, and could’ve been edited shorter. It goes on too long and for me didn’t necessarily need to cover so much. For instance, I would’ve been okay without the quantum physics part. Still I was totally surprised by the depth and how involved the story of “A Tale for the Time Being” was. No wonder it was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. I thought it deserved it.

Lastly this week, I watched the Best Picture nominated film “Hacksaw Ridge,” which is my second to last film in that category I haven’t seen. (I still need to see “Fences.”) “Hacksaw” is based on a true story about Desmond Doss, a combat medic in WWII who was the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot. Because of his Seventh-day Adventist’s beliefs, Doss didn’t touch guns and instead requested to serve as an unarmed medic.

The movie reminded me in some regards of other typical war, heroic films, such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Unbroken.” The Battle of Okinawa, which it depicts, was brutal with huge casualties on both sides. The film is quite graphic in terms of showing loss of lives, and body parts blown off. Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, dodges around the battlefield dragging the injured to safety. His courage and exploits are amazing, and apparently he saved 75 lives from the battle.

And though it is like other war films, I was interested to find out about the life of Desmond Doss, who grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, and dropped out of school in the 8th grade to help support his family through the Great Depression. His beliefs amid the war were quite atypical — so they are thought-provoking in the film. Apparently he lived quite a long time after the war, despite his injuries and contracting tuberculosis in the Philippines. He died in 2006 in Alabama.

What about you — have you read these novels or seen this movie, and if so, what did you think?

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26 Responses to All Grown Up and A Tale for the Time Being

  1. Judy Krueger says:

    I have read Saint Mazie by Jamie Attenberg and loved it! Also A Tale for the Time Being was a top book for me the year I read it. I was going to give Hacksaw Ridge a pass but Carmen’s review and now yours have changed my mind. I love to see a pacifist get a break and find a way to serve without killing people.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Judy, yeah I think I’d like to read more of Attenberg’s books. And I likely will look for the next Ozeki novel as well. I’m not sure if you’ll like Hacksaw Ridge or not – as a lot of it is a typical war film — maybe it should have had a bit more of the bio of Doss or something.

  2. Carmen says:

    I saw and reviewed this movie recently. Like you, I found it gruesome but inspiring. I still have to watch Fences, Elle, and Jackie. Last week I finished some heavyweights with Moonlight. I’m watching lighter movies now to compose a “Snapshots” feature. I saw Bridget Jones’s Baby and loved it.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Carmen, I’ll stop by your site today to see what you thought of these movies. Hacksaw was a bit of a different take on the usual war story, which made me think a bit. I was glad I saw it.

  3. I think I might actually like All Grown Up.

    I don’t usually like war movies, but maybe Hacksaw Ridge could be the exception.

    I hope you enjoy Fences….I did.

    Thanks for sharing…and here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah Laurel, Fences looks pretty intense but I think I’ll like it. I hope to see it this week (finally). You might like All Grown Up — she’s a bit of an unorthodox character. Enjoy your week!

  4. My son told me all about Hacksaw Ridge and it sounded heartbreaking to me.

    Both of those books sound wonderful.

    I think all of our cold weather is behind us. I hope you get to ride your bike soon.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Kathy, we got out on the bikes Sunday and it was fun and great to be outside on a beautiful day. I hope to keep it up. Hacksaw is quite a gory film but luckily the lead character saves a lot from the battlefield. I heard South Carolina made the final four in basketball, so congrats to your state. I’m sure spring is very pretty there now.

  5. Brian Joseph says:

    All Grown Up sounds good.

    I am OK with characters that are not that likable. I think that some flaws keep a charicter interesting. .

    I also seem to know a few people like Andrea. Some of them are getting well past 40.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Ha Brian, I sort of picked you for the other book A Tale for the Time Being, since it’s a bit complex and has a bit of philosophy about time to it. But some of us all know and Andrea or two, lol. She’s flawed on purpose I think, but seems to grow a bit in the story. Unlikable characters are often more interesting.

  6. Bookertalk says:

    I’ve heard other comments about the uneveness of the Ozeki – generally the feeling is that the Japan sections worked better than the American ones. Would you agree??

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi thanks for stopping by. I think Ozeki packs quite a bit into the book and perhaps some parts were more interesting than others. Although I liked Ruth’s narrative on the island, I thought Nao’s narrative really carried the story and was one I looked forward to more. Though I think perhaps Ozeki should have won the Booker that year, over Catton though I haven’t read Catton’s novel. The Luminaries looks too long for my tastes!

  7. Michelle says:

    Prior to your comments, I have heard nothing but good things about All Grown Up. Perhaps it was a case of the wrong book at the wrong time?

  8. Susan Wright says:

    Hi Michelle, yeah I did like the book All Grown Up. Perhaps I was overly critical of Andrea, but what I meant was that she’s flawed, but she comes around in her soul searching near the end. I did find her candid, funny, and smart. The author made her flawed, but she is interesting, as is the book. It’s a good discussion book I think: about being single at a certain age and seeking happiness too.

  9. Catherine says:

    Your take on All GrownUp sums up my feeling about it, but I couldn’t get beyond her narcissism and so DNFed the book. Maybe I need to give it another shot.

    I really like the idea of listening to Ozeki. I haven’t had an audiobook in such a long time!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Catherine, yeah you might like the Ozeki novel; she’s does a great job on the audio narrating, though it does go on for quite awhile. I’m glad to hear you thought the same about the Attenberg book. It is a bit hard to get through b/c of the way the character is; she comes around a small bit but not a lot. If you didn’t like it at first, it’s probably not going to be for you.

  10. John Wright says:

    Finished The Wright Brothers that SOMEbody gave me for Christmas. Usually find McCullough terrific, but while TWB left me impressed with the brothers technical skills I was underwhelmed with the rest of the narrative. Just started The Undoing Project, from the JS Ryan recommended reading list. Ride on, cyclist–Going-to-the-Sun awaits.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi John, I liked all the facts in The Wright Brothers book and all the details about their lives, some of which I wasn’t familiar with. It was my first McCullough book. I think he might have a tendency to romanticize his subjects (and America) in his books, still I like his enthusiasm for history when he speaks or give interviews about his writings. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of The Undoing Project, a couple bloggers thought it was a bit of a slog read, so I did not pick it up. Enjoy.

  11. Erin says:

    Sounds like you’ve been reading some good dramas. I finished two today as well – one I was really impressed with, one I wasn’t.

    I haven’t heard of March madness before.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Ha. Erin thanks for stopping by. March Madness is the college basketball end-of-the-year tournament, which some schools get really into in the U.S. Up here in Canada it’s not as popular, there’s only hockey hockey hockey, which I don’t follow much either. Anyways, I’ll stop by your site and see what’s up.

  12. It’s good to know that Ozeki’s book works on audio. I’ll see if my library has it and give it a shot once I am done with my current one. I will skip All Grown Up; I don’t think it’s my cup of tea at the moment.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Sounds good TJ. I’ll be curious to hear what you think of Ozeki’s book; I think it will interest you. The audio is quite good too.

  13. The All Grown Up sounds very interesting. It also sounds fascinating and fun. Thus it is something that I would like to read. You know what, Susan? I’ve never managed to listen to a novel as an audiobook. What a pity.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi RT, All Grown Up had some pluses and minuses to it; the lead character often isn’t that likable, but was interesting a bit; she’s different for sure. As for audios, it took me awhile to get used to them. They take focused concentration and some books are manageable on audio while others are not. I usually can listen to an audio when I’m doing something mindless like walking my dog, weeding my garden, or folding laundry. You can’t do it when you’re thinking about other things etc.

  14. Rachel says:

    I’ve seen Hacksaw Ridge (even though I felt kind of guilty for giving Mel Gibson any of my money.) I liked learning Desmond’s story but oh my gosh, the battle scenes were never ending! I actually found them boring after a bit and just wanted them to be over. I also thought Vince Vaughan was terribly miscast. He should stick to playing characters that are basically himself, like he usually does. I don’t think he has much of a range.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Rachel, I think you make good points about Hacksaw Ridge — the battle scenes are definitely long and Vince Vaughan seems to stand out a bit awkwardly in the role. I think the audience knows him too well in comedic roles and rom-coms — so he seems a bit unnatural here. I agree with your observations.

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