Patsy – Nicole Dennis-Benn

I’m not quite sure where I found this title (probably on one of my blog-reading adventures) but it sounded very good and my library had a copy so I brought it home.

From Amazon: Beating with the pulse of a long-withheld confession and peppered with lilting patois, Patsy gives voice to a woman who looks to America for the opportunity to love whomever she chooses, bravely putting herself first. But to survive as an undocumented immigrant, Patsy is forced to work as a nanny, while back in Jamaica her daughter, Tru, ironically struggles to understand why she was left behind. Greeted with international critical acclaim from readers who, at last, saw themselves represented in Patsy, this astonishing novel “fills a literary void with compassion, complexity and tenderness” (Joshunda Sanders, Time), offering up a vital portrait of the chasms between selfhood and motherhood, the American dream and reality.

 “But di weirdest t’ing ‘bout life is dat it’s only understood backward. Yuh neva know what’s at di end ah dis tunnel waitin fah you, sweetheart. Now come get dressed. We got life to live an’ rent to pay.” (p. 204)

This was a fast read at first and I really enjoyed the first two-thirds but then… I’m not sure what happened. The last third of the book seemed to be a different quality of writing (and not in a good way). It became sooo over-written in several spots that it became irritating to read which is a shame because the plot was good. I’d been sucked into the narrative of the characters but the questionable writing kicked me out very quickly.

What do I mean by “bad” writing? Let me count the ways:

“She weeps finally, finally with the rage of a woman touching her earlobe for the feel of an heirloom earring and discovering it gone, not knowing when and where it fell, and powerless at this point to find it.”

I know, right? A long and rambling non sequitur…

Or how about this example:

“Patsy pauses, the words bundled in her belly, as lifeless as a still newborn.”

Doesn’t it actually hurt your writing soul to read these sentences? Why would you use this comparison when there has been no talk of babies or infants around this?

The only (very slight) mention of anything linked with the topic of “baby” is “belly” in the phrase that comes right before this one and this image is such a stark negative one for what it’s being used to describe…

AND this book was stuffed with a really heavy Caribbean dialect which was continuously tricky to follow. I can typically do dialect for most books but this one was really hard to decipher. There were times when I had no idea what the characters were yapping on about.

The book, on the whole, had a strong basic narrative plot but my goodness, the last third of it was so overwritten that I almost stopped there. I soldiered on though because (a) I am pointlessly stubborn about some things and (b) it became quite entertaining to see what other writing nuggets I was going to read.

So, in terms of a plot and the actual story, this was a good read. In terms of writing, ummm…..

Library Loot: Feb. 09 2021

This morning, I received my second COVID shot (oowwee) (since I fit into a higher risk category), and this went smoothly — if not painlessly. 🙂

And – it just so happens that the immunization clinic was in very close vicinity to the library so of course, I ended up popping in there “just to see”… (Didn’t want to be rude, after all.) 😉

And then I came out with these lovelies (top to bottom in photo above):

  • The Body in the Library – Agatha Christie (can’t stop reading her every now and then – she’s like eating peanuts! 😉 )
  • The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells (F/Sci fi?)
  • Roads – Larry McMurtry (NF/travel essays). (In progress. He’s true to the title: he’s talking about actual roads. Dear me. It’s a little like watching paint dry in its level of excitement so prob. going to DNF.)
  • Plainsong – Kent Haruf (another blogger was raving about this title so thought I’d do a reread from a long time ago).
  • A Traveller’s Life – Eric Newby (NF/travel essays)

The first one (after I’ve finished my current read): Roads… (I miss traveling anywhere so this might scratch that itch.)

Pavilion of Women – Pearl S. Buck (1946)

Image result for pavilion of women

After having stumbled upon an old copy of the 1946 publication of Pearl S. Buck’s “Pavilion of Women” (no “The”), I was intrigued. I might have already read this but it’s been many moons ago and so I picked this up to read last week.

Wow. Great read. It’s follows Madame Wu and how, on her 40th birthday, she informs everyone (including her husband) that now their physical (i.e. s*x) is over, she wants him to find a concubine to replace her in that way. This decision upends her whole family and it will never be the same again.

What’s unusual about this is it’s a reversal of the typical gender roles fo this time: typically, it’s the husband who wants the concubine set-up and the wife is objecting. (For Madame Wu to turn this on its head is really notable, especially for the readers 60+ years ago.)

Additionally, it’s also more typical that the husband handle the logistics of this set-up; however, since the husband is reluctant to do this arrangement, Buck turns that on its head and makes Madame Wu be the person who handles all these details. In doing so, Buck completely reverses societal norms and mores. It’s really fascinating.

So, the narrative follows Madame Wu’s efforts to arrange this for her husband. Once it is done, Madame Wu proves her independence and relishes her new-found spare time and energy to read books in her room, knowing that her husband will be occupied with the concubine. It’s a clever way of showing how strong Madame Wu and how she takes charge of her life.

I would also argue that this plot is a reflection of the change in society, both in the Western world and that of China, especially in terms of gender roles and expectations in the rather rigid Chinese culture at that time.

The process is all going smoothly when Madame Wu meets a visiting foreigner (probably in a missionary capacity) called Brother John who has been hired to teach a foreign language to Madame Wu’s youngest son to improve his marriageability. Brother John not opens door to learning for this son but also for Madame Wu and her life is never going to be the same.

“I will spend the rest of my life assembling my own mind and my own soul. I will take care of my body carefully, not that it may any more please a man, but because it houses me and therefore I am dependent upon it.”

Madame Wu in the novel, “The Good Earth” (1946).
Image result for pearl buck

This is a book that reads really smoothly and I thoroughly enjoyed this. It also gives you a lot to think about once you’ve turned that final page as well, and I love that. Highly recommended.

(If you have to read this in HS and thought “meh!”, you might want to give it another read now once some years pass. You’re a whole new person, after all, so wouldn’t it make sense for it to be a different read from you were 17? :-))

The only squirmy part of this was Pearl Buck is a white person who is telling this very-Chinese story. Is it right that Buck takes the POVs of her characters and views them through the lens of a non-white country? Or is that coopting something that isn’t hers to own?

And yet, at the time of the book’s release, this received rave reviews across the book-critic world and, after having lived in China for 40 years, Buck knows her stuff about the culture and she presents the country and its citizens in a positive and respectful manner. However, is it ok for her, as a privileged white woman, to write as a Chinese peasant and tell his story?

Misery – Stephen King (1990)

A modern classic, I’ve been interested in reading Misery ever since I first watched the really excellent movie adaptation with Kathy Bates and James Caan (along with others).  It was the first (and actually the only) King I’ve seen because I am really quite a wuss when it comes to horror films…

However, this title is more suspenseful and psychological than horror (at least in my opinion) and although it does get your heart racing in places, it’s not that stressful to read. It’s also really REALLY well written (which I had forgotten) and I have it to hand it to King: the man can write like a dream.

To the plot: it revolves around the time when famous writer Paul Sheldon ends up in a snowy car wreck and breaks his legs. The other lead character, a very odd Annie Wilkes, ends up “rescuing” him from the scene of the accident and bringing him back to her home to recuperate. 

However, despite Annie’s background as a nurse, things go off the rails when she realizes who she has rescued (her favorite writer!) and he’s actually in her house. 

What adds even more thread to the screw is that Annie is Sheldon’s “Number One Fan” (quote from Annie) and she is really desperate for Paul to finish off his book series featuring one of her favorite characters. In fact, even though the poor guy is laid up with these two broken legs, she still persists in him writing from his sick bed as he recovers.

Sheldon is captive for the duration until he might be able to use his legs again, so his mobility is constrained and his freedom curtailed. As the hours and days go by, Sheldon realizes that Annie is mentally off. But what can he do when faced with his mobility problems? Additionally, Annie has stolen a lot of medicine throughout her nursing career and she doesn’t hesitate to give Sheldon the meds, initially for the pain and then later on, as a form of control. 

King does an excellent job of taking the reader on this journey of discovery with this pair of characters. As the days go by and Sheldon gradually recovers from his injuries, both you (as the reader) and the patient himself pick up clues about Annie’s mental health (or lack of it). (But – was she as crazy as she seemed?…) 

Anyway, all set in a distant cabin in a snowy landscape (so escape via foot for Paul is even more unlikely), King ratchets up the tension throughout the narrative arc and it reads like a hot-knife-through-butter. However, this is not a bad thing. As mentioned, King is an excellent wordsmith and this was a fast pleasure to read. 

I wonder if King has written any other non-horror books that I could chase down? Off to the library…

P.S. The 1990 movie is just a good as the book. 

P.P.S. The book won the 1987 Bram Stoker Award for a Novel among some of the accolades. No wonder. It’s a really good and well-written narrative.

Catching up…

Now the calendar has turned the month to February, thought it might be time for a little catch-up. The university has been in action for a few weeks now and the routines are setting into place rather nicely. I say it every year but it makes it no less true: I am so lucky (and appreciative) to hold a faculty position. It never gets old!

Life has been pretty smooth lately. I am teaching 100 percent online this semester which is new for me, but it’s working out. I do still come into the office (since my position is split between faculty responsibilities and some editorial ones) but since I really like coming to work, that works out fine. (I know – I am fortunate to have this set-up.)

The West Texas weather is edging into Spring with some regularly occurring warmer daytime temps. We still have the biting cold at night for the most part – that’s why I call our Spring “Ski-jacket-and-shorts” weather since you’ll need both of them by the end of the day!) It’s snowed in March before but it’s been 80 so it keeps you on your toes. It also means having a flexible wardrobe and dressing in layers if you want to keep up with the thermometer. 🙂

I’m now out of my reading slump (thank goodness). It’s interesting to watch how personal interests wax and wane over the weeks. After a serious bout of doing jigsaw puzzles, I haven’t done one since the new year, but now the itch is back and I’m planning on starting a new puzzle this weekend. <rubs hands with glee>

It has been similar with books. I was still reading per se, but it wasn’t books. I was reading absolutely anything else but just had a stubborn disinterest for them but I’m happy to note that this is no longer the case. (See ref above re: waxing and waning.)

My titles have been trending towards the “read-like-hot-knife-through-butter” category in that they haven’t been particularly demanding of my brain cells. That’s not to say that they haven’t been fun and interesting: just not giving me an intellectual workout. I think it was linked with the return to school. I was also not very well but that’s improved. (I can’t concentrate if I’m feeling a bit sick.)

Had a really good experience with Stephen King’s Misery and I’m interested in tracking down another King read so long as it’s a thriller and not horror. (Thanks to Mark, I have some titles to track down now. Thanks!)

Wanting another fairly smooth read, I picked up The Seven Dials Mystery, a random Agatha Christie murder-mystery. Goodness me. Christie can write well. It was a good palate-cleanser and I enjoyed it. It hit the spot.

Then I went looking for a POC author (since I’m working on diversifying my authors/titles this year) and came up The Book of Unknown Americans by Christine Hernandez. This was an enjoyable story and I loved its structure. Each character is given his/her own chapter from his/her own POV and the narrative just cycles through this handful of POVs so that you can see what different people are thinking and reacting at different times. It worked really well and I thoroughly enjoyed this read as well. No idea where I found the title – it might have been on the New Reads shelf at the library…

Since that title, I wanted to focus on a classic and preferably a classic that was sitting on my TBR pile, so I pulled down Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck (1946), a quiet but riveting plot featuring Madam Wu and revolving around a momentous 40th birthday. Madame Wu decides to upend her life and allow her husband to take a concubine which leads to a life of freedom for the protagonist. It’s a very domestic novel about a marriage in China and it’s been interesting so far.

A Town Like Alice – Neville Shute (1950)

Although this title may be shelved as a “romance”, it’s definitely not in the same genre as Mills and Boon and co.; to me, it was just a pretty good (re)read although the initial read occurred so long ago that it was really a new read. 🙂

This novel tracks the course of Jean Paget, a young woman from England, and her ongoing relationship with Sargent Joe Harman, both of prisoner-of-war captives in Malaya. They become good friends and post-liberation (and once WWII is over), Jean emigrates to Australia to be with Joe permanently.

So, this novel really has several distinct parts to the plot: the first part is when both Jean and Joe are prisoners in Malaya, about their lives and loves etc.; the second part is when they both emigrated to Australia to start new lives together, and the third part demonstrates how Jean (and her inherited large wealth) invest in the small outback community of Alice Springs (which is, as you may spot now, why the novel is called “A Town Like Alice.”)

It’s a straightforward story and it’s well written for the most part (in terms of structure, grammar etc.) It does suffer from historical anachronisms when any of the characters mention the native people of Australia and it was a little jarring when you’re reading it from a 21st century perspective. But them were the times, I suppose. 

The plot rather sagged in the second third of the book and TBH, I was a tempted to DNF but for some reason, I became determined to finish the damn thing so I did. I must have read this during my teen years when I was growing up in England but I don’t really remember it much so it was like a new read for me. 

(And, of course, I can’t let this post go by without a mention of “A Town Called Malice” by The Jam from 1982. 🙂 )

Glad I read it. One more off the old TBR pile, but probably won’t pick up another Neville Shute in the future…!

January 2021 Reading Review

The reads for January 2021 included:

  • The Borden Tragedy – Rick Geary (NF/graphic)
  • Daytripper – Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (NF/graphic)
  • Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (reread – F/spec fiction)
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk – Katherine Rooney (F)
  • The Best American Travel Writing 2019 – Alexandra Fuller (ed.) (NF travel)
  • The Closed Circle – Jonathan Coe (F)
  • News of the World – Paulette Giles (F)
  • A Town Called Alice – Neville Shute (classic – F)
  • Misery – Stephen King (F)

So to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in January 20219
  • Total number of pages read 2.739 pages (av. 304). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • Diversity 1 BIPOC. books by women.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books and e-books. One borrowed book.

Plans for February 2021 include picking up a classic or two (but which one? That’s the question. I’m thinking either Dickens or Zola but I’ll see what jumps out.) I also want to include more POC writing. Continue this pace of reading and perhaps read more from my own TBR as opposed to those titles from the library.

Library Loot: February 01 2021

I’ve been reading and I’m working on a general catch-up post about this but in the meantime, I thought I would do a Library Loot post. I did, actually, have a few more than this pile of titles but I think it was a case of the old “eyes bigger than your stomach” so about half of them were taken back last week. :-}

This pile includes:

Educated – Tara Westover (NF)

The Seven Dials – Agatha Christie (F/mystery)

Misery – Stephen King (F) – just finished this so post to come. (OMG. It was so good.)

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier (F) – reread

Plans for reading this week include choosing a classic (I have a hankering for one of those), write up a couple of posts about some recent reads I’ve completed, and then get back into the swing of things.

Looking forward to February!