Book Reviews

DISORIENTATION
by ELAINE HSIEH CHOU

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Elaine Hsieh Chou’s satirical debut, Disorientation, is a dissertation on academia and race. It is well written, a little absurd, funny, true and biting.

 

Ingrid Yang is in the final stretch of her PhD program, a topic she was pushed toward with the promise of tenure track. She has the support of her advisor and her fiancé but lacks motivation. As she tries to pursue an original thought on the renowned poet, Xiao-Wen Chou, she begins to unravel her life, her university, and the poet's late life and legacy.

 

The cast of characters is a complex look at people in all roles of politics and power. It’s about what people in power will do to maintain power and the cost of waking up to what’s been going on around you.

 

It is a book on self discovery, changing, speaking up, not going down the path others want to force you into, and going home and talking to your parents about what’s been going on. I took so much away from this novel. As far as debuts go, Chou knocks this out of the park.

THE EVERY
by DAVE EGGERS

I was surprised to get the new Dave Eggers book from the library only to discover it was a paperback. Then I read the 577 page satire and articles about it which revealed the lack of a widely distributed hardcover is entirely the point. Hardcover versions of Eggers’ new novel, against big tech and the jungle distributor, will not be sold by said jungle. But there are 36 hardcover versions being sold at independent bookstores and through McSweeny’s directly. Eggers has made the distribution of his new novel a statement all its own.

 

The Every was a difficult read. It’s so bleak, so razor edge between humor and despair that I tipped toward despair often while reading it. It’s not untrue though.

 

We give our lives willingly to an algorithm and let it make choices for us, filtering what we see since we cannot take in everything on the internet. It is a furthering of The Circle, given just eight years between books, the advancement of our immersion into technology is more stark than before.

 

It’s hard to look at yourself through the looking glass of this novel and not want to make some changes or to put the book down and tweet about it.

 

While the novel was bleak, the most encouraging thing I read was that Eggers walks the walk of this protest against consumption. He does not live his life online, uses a flip phone, and does not connect his computer to the internet. Where the novel may seem heavy handed I believe Eggers is living his life as if to say, you can abstain. He is living out what he wants for the world and he has the influence to make his point.

Let's talk grief and horror in novels. More specifically, utilizing the horror genre to explore ideas of grief and loss in marriage.

 

I love books that push limits in genres and storytelling. Our Wives Under the Sea, by Julia Armfield, and This Things Between Us, By Gus Moreno,  takes tales of grief and loss and adds horror to the mix, elevating both the theme, the terror, and the stakes.

 

Our Wives Under the Sea is a stunning sapphic story of a wife returned from a sea voyage gone wrong. Armfield explores prolonged grief, the hope required to believe your loved one may return as a type of curse, and the end of a marriage. The writing is poetic and thought provoking.

 

This Thing Between Us is about the death of a spouse, several types of haunting, and being left alive. The prose is beautiful and the horror is excellent. You will not quickly forget this read.

 

Grief is a type of horror and to mix this theme with the genre is such a great combination. Both elements are enhanced by the other.

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THE TESTAMENTS
by MARGARET ATWOOD

The Testaments is a wonderfully written thought provoking sequel. It is both sequel, to the 35 year old novel,  and crossover, to the currently running Hulu series. The combination of crafts is enthralling. Atwood started writing The Testaments prior to Hulu launching their series. She's an executive producer on the show, and is in contact with its showrunner. In an interview in The Atlantic, Atwood states the goal [of the show and her sequel] "is not to do anything that directly contradicts something the other person has done, or might want to do [in the story]." Even naming Offred's children was a collective effort, the TV show picked Agnes and Atwood chose Nicole.

This combined effort in storytelling is essential Atwood, she's written a serialized novel, wrote the first novel for the Future Library and she is telling a story across mediums allowing others to expand stories within her world. The Handmaid's Tale is fascinating, but this new storytelling is inspiring.

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The reader is given a lot of attention in The Testaments. One of the narrators addresses the reader quite directly and often, asking questions about what a novel is worth if it is not read. The role of the reader breathes life into the work. The reader holds the power to destroy the work, through flame or apathy.

The question of the book is to ask its reader what role they would play in this society. We would not all be handmaids. We would be wives, we would be aunts, we would be Marthas. Would we be complicit to survive? Would we rather die on a wall for our rebellion? It is easy to read a work and separate yourself from its characters, holding them at arms length. Atwood's narrators grab you and make you a part of this story.

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