October Reading

Two good ones for October.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

A fascinating book, at turns hilarious and horrific. Come for the story of a hapless geek in a decidedly non-geeky culture, stay for the unflinching look at the history of the Dominican Republic. (And don’t worry, he assumes — rightly in my case — that you’ve never heard much about their history.) Oscar himself is a classic tragic figure, and although the arc of his fate is never in doubt (see the book’s title, for example) his movement along it is quite interesting. Díaz does a great job of jumping around in time and showing effect before cause in a way that makes his characters even more fleshed out. Highly recommended.

Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis

Speaking of chronology, here’s a novel in which the narrator is a disembodied voice inhabiting the mind of the main character and experiencing that character’s life, only backwards. So for the narrator, people are constantly looking towards where they came from instead of where they’re going, relationships start stormily and end with the participants as near-strangers, and people grow increasingly younger until they are placed back in their mothers’ wombs. It seems like it could be gimmicky and hard to follow, but it’s not, and Amis makes good use of the motif. By telling the story if his protagonist in reverse, he not only adds to the suspense (our main character has a bit of a shadowy history) but also makes a lot of very pointed observations. It’s never clear why the narrator is so joined with the main character, but the fact that the narrator accepts this unorthodox view of life as normal (he feels something isn’t right on a fundamental level, and gets occasional glimpses of the “correct” forward-running world, but for the most part he doesn’t seek to interpret the events he’s viewing as anything out of the ordinary) makes for some astute comments. Very well done and interesting.

I’ve already started on my first book for November and it’s thankfully less apropos now than I thought it might be. But more on that in a month.

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5 Responses to October Reading

  1. Albatross says:

    I happened to be reading this book at the same time as Dave.
    There were times when I was undecided about the book.

    But the cultural background, both in the US and the Dominican, against which the character of Oscar is cast is great.

    This book is not Confederacy of Dunces, nor is it Kavalier and Clay. It’s entirely its own animal, and the characterizations it represents shine.

  2. Dave H. says:

    Weird, I just finished reading that Junot Diaz book too. I especially loved it, being (A) a hapless geek myself and catching most (but not all) of the geek references, and (B) having lived in the Dominican Republic for a couple of years and catching most of the place names and Spanglish Dominicanisms in the dialog. So reading this book gave me a lot of “uh huh, I totally get that” moments and made me feel really smart and worldly, and who doesn’t enjoy that?

  3. bugink says:

    ahh, this reminds me…I still have a book of yours! I’ll return it on Sunday. Can you find it in your heart to waive the late fees?

  4. Dave says:

    I will THIS TIME. Did you like it?

  5. Otro Dave says:

    Have you read “Drown”, also by Diaz? Really good stuff.