Sunday, February 06, 2011

But You Don't Have to Take My Word for It . . .

In reply to Nate's mention of reading books written by women:

Absent any effort, I read very few books by women last year. I would have thought there would have been a couple more, but nope. So I don't have a ton of useful recommendations. I imagine you're already familiar with Alice Munro from studying storywriting, but I picked up her collection Friend of My Youth, which is from 1990, about a year ago, and it's excellent. Her characters have a solid presence, and she writes with the effortless realism that I prefer in short stories. Now and then she'll adopt an indirect narrative frame that really makes the writing pop -- the title story "Friend of My Youth" and "Meneseteung" especially, and her later "The Love of a Good Woman" (which, in three parts and with shifting narrative viewpoints, is evolved past what you normally would call a short story).

Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs is a late nineteenth-century portrait of a coastal village in Maine, related as a string of anecdotes by a visiting narrator. There's a refreshing absence of plot structure, with Jewett bringing the characters and scene-setting to the foreground. It's a modestly scaled, humane, and pleasurable read, and I felt a little disappointed when it ended, like I wanted it to go on.

I don't really remember when I acquired a copy of Cynthia Ozick's 1987 The Messiah of Stockholm (I think it must have been at The Strand right before I read it, although I may have had it kicking around a while), but it's short and sharply drawn and packs an intellectual punch. (Pete, I think you might like this, actually.) It's about a Jewish-Swedish literary critic who's obsessed with the work of a Polish writer who was (or wasn't) his father, encountering a manuscript of his lost magnum opus. It's rather overabsorbed into the literary world (and Ozick has her characters constantly name-dropping Eastern European writers), but there are some sharp teeth on the reality-vs.-fantasy theme, and the characters are quietly outrageous in a nicely calibrated way.

But, for what it's worth, I'd recommend all three of these.


Blogger Pete said...

I've read a few of Ozick's books. A friend of mine turned me on to her a couple years ago. She's consistently intellectual, but also quite good.

2/07/2011 9:29 AM  
Blogger nate said...

Thanks for the recommendations. Messiah of Stockholm may bounce to the top of my list; I like the fantasy vs. reality theme.

2/07/2011 11:53 AM  

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