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2 posts from May 2010

May 16, 2010

Reading Update

Nami Mun Miles from Nowhere

Cynthia Kadohata Kira Kira

Sarah Rees Brennan The Demon's Lexicon

I don't really know what to say about Miles from Nowhere. Or more accurately, I don't know how to approach writing about this book. Just thought it was very good, without it being a book that I would want to read, necessarily. Mun's prose is great: not quite transparent, but well able to fall to the background when it's time for us to see what's going on inside the page rather than on it. And when she does step forward and use prosey-prose, it's to pick out a vivid moment or image -- usually image -- either because it lights up the scene, or because she's found a particularly great way to do it. The images or moments aren't always -- or usually -- important in themselves or even symbolic. But they all do connect to the viewpoint character, either physically or through her noticing them, at key moments. The effect is of a generally grey or monochromatic landscape, well rendered, with occasional bright objects, rendered photorealistically, in full color.

I still don't like linked stories, but this one worked because she allowed herself to skip over the connecting tissue. No boring or dead spots in the narrative. Of course, you couldn't always tell if the stories were in chronological order, so you couldn't tell where or when they were happening. But that didn't distract much.

Kadohata's Kira Kira was very well done all around. A good portrait of immigrant parents and their American born kids in the 50s. A tear-jerker, too. But the ending was weak and mushy, just like the ending to Outside Beauty. I think Kadohata needs to work on her endings.

Loved The Demon's Lexicon! Very well done character study of what seems like someone teetering on the brink of sociopathy. Here's the thing: first person and close third (I've said before that these are virtually indistinguishable, right?) are wasted if the viewpoint character takes what is essentially the author's view. That is to say, when you're seeing things through a character's eyes, you should be seeing things through that character's opinions, too -- with that character's passions, desires, limitations, and blindspots. Which one of the reasons I'm usually so frustrated with contemporary "literary" fiction: it's dominated by 1st person and close 3rd, but doesn't limit the narrative to only what that character would be able to see and to understand. Which is why these characters end up feeling so flat.

In Demon's Lexicon the close 3rd narration follows just the "sociopathic" protagonist, Nick. It might be called an "unreliable narrator," since he's something of a naive viewpoint. But I don't really believe in "unreliable" narrators. All people are unreliable narrators by virtue of their limited perspectives. If you're doing 1st or subjective 3rd properly, then your narrator is necessarily unreliable.

Anyhoo, great book.

May 09, 2010

API Heritage Month Reading Update

It's May, API Heritage Month, and I'm drowning in books. Lessee ... I read:

Ed Lin This is a Bust

Ed Lin Snakes Can't Run

Robin McKinley The Hero and the Crown

The McKinley is an early one, and fairly standard fantasy, except with a female hero. Entertaining.

The Ed Lins I read because I finally found This is a Bust (I lost it after I bought it at his reading about two years ago at Eastwind books. But after buying Snakes Can't Run at our recent reading, I really had to find it so I could read both.) Two very different books in the mystery novel vein, using the same detective. This is a Bust is much more indie, develops slowly and is much more interested in the milieu it's depicting than in the nominal mystery. It felt very much like a New York version of Chan is Missing, with the mystery being merely an excuse to follow a dysfunctional, alcoholic police officer around on his beat. Loved it! Loved being in that place and time, and could feel the seventies film grit on my skin. (I actually had to stop reading at one point and go watch Serpico, which made the whole experience better. (I also went and watched Chan is Missing again. Both are watchable online at Netflix.

Snakes Can't Run, on the other hand, is much more standard genre mystery, although it still focuses a lot on the milieu, and the mystery, although meatier, was still not as muscular as the genre would generally demand. I still didn't want to leave that world after I finished, though. I hope this becomes a series.

I binged at various bookstores and now have a small stack of Asian American fiction to plough through. I think I'll try to focus on that this month.

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