Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Good and valuable versus magical and gripping

The books by Beck and Germer I mentioned the other day are good and they are valuable.  But, they are prosaic and not beautifully written.  What is beautiful and fascinating to me might not be for you.  Still, for my money, two books that are magical and gripping are "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout and "The Unbearable Lightness of Scones" by my favorite writer of good stories, Alexander McCall Smith.

Lynn told me that "Olive Kitteridge" was not a happy book but was beautifully written. I read it since I like to read some of what she reads, to know and share her world of books.  I was not prepared for the skill and subtlety Elizabeth Strout laid on me.  The stories are set in Maine.  I don't usually go for story collections and have had better experience with one story.  The first Maeve Binchy book I ever read, The  Lavender Bus, like "Olive", was a series of stories of young people near Dublin.  A character was minor in a story but was  major in a later one.  This is similar to the stories in "Olive", where she might be the focus of a story or a minor character in the next one.  Whatever, I experienced that unrelenting hunger to read the next chapter that I get from a story or character that really takes hold  of my imagination.  Olive is a big woman physically, a tough Yankee who feels all the emotions but admits to little, even to herself.  I  didn't realize that the book won the last Pulitzer prize for fiction when I read it  but I thought it was fully deserved.

"Scones" is the most recent of a series about characters who initially lived in the same apartment building in Edinburgh.  They are all memorable and interesting but maybe the most arresting ones are Bertie, a highly intelligent 6 year old boy, Irene, Bertie's modern, liberal, rigid and stupid mother and Bruce, a very good looking young man in his later twenties who is truly in love with himself, his own beauty and his own charm.  I think most readers would like and sympathize with Bertie, ache to drop Irene off a cliff and find Bruce simply breath-taking for his pride and ego.

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