Sunday, 30 April 2017

Book Review: All The Little Live Things

This novel by Wallace Stegner was first published in 1967. Retired couple, Joe and Ruth
Allston, move to the country in California to rest and try to recover from the death of their son. They are distant with their neighbours until Marian and John Catlin move in next door. Joe is instantly attracted to Marian and her optimistic, firm belief in the goodness and perfection of nature. He loves to argue with her and soon comes to feel that she is the daughter he's always wanted.

In opposition to all Joe values, a young hippie, Jim Peck, asks to squat on Joe's land. Joe wants to say no, but Jim has some sort of power over Joe, in that he reminds Joe of his son, Curtis. Jim is quick to disobey every rule Joe makes. He steals electricity and water, throws his garbage all over the place, has several friends move in, and builds himself a treehouse, when all Joe agreed to was a tent.

I found it difficult to empathize with Joe until he met Marian. His love for her and his devotion to her family when they discover her secret is admirable. Yet, I couldn't help wondering if Marian he would have loved her as much if she wasn't about to die. I never understood Jim Peck. He seems to be there as an annoyance to Joe whom Marian tries and fails to redeem. Most of the characters in this book are difficult to like. Ruth and Marian are the exceptions. I kept wondering what the book would be like if it were told from their points of view. Even Joe had trouble trusting his own perceptions.

Most of the book is within Joe's thoughts, feelings and ideas. It goes against everything I've learned about writing fiction. Yet it won The Commonwealth Club Gold Medal. It makes me wonder if fiction has really changed this much in 50 years. Perhaps it must when we consider how much the world has changed in that time. I learned a lot about the flora and fauna of California. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Book Review: Anna of the Five Towns
This is a very strange story, by modern standards. Of course, it was first published in 1902, so I should not be using modern standards, but I can't help myself. Anna is the daughter of a miser, living in a small town in England. They live extremely frugally while her father signs and accepts bank notes and interest on her behalf. Anna and her little sister Agnes attend a Wesleyan Sunday School where Anna teaches.

There seems to be some hope of escape for Anna. Firstly, in her coming of age. At twenty-one, she inherits a great deal of money. Rather than taking the money to at least buy some new clothes, Anna turns over her cheque book to her father and continues on as if nothing has changed. Except now her father wants her to chase down her creditors. The other form of hope comes in the person of Henry Mynors. Henry is kind and gentle and seems to admire Anna, for unknown reasons. I thought at one point he was just after her money, but this only seemed to be a bonus for him.

Anna is also embraced by the Sutton family after attending a revival meeting and coming away with mixed feelings. They are everything warm and generous, though they tend to spoil their daughter, Beatrice. Mrs. Sutton is especially lovely and the family invite her and Henry to join them on vacation on the Isle of Man. Here, I began to imagine Jane Fairfax on holiday with the Campbell's in Jane Austen's Emma, but it was nothing so light and fun. Instead, Anna is pensive and worried and Beatrice grows seriously ill.

I liked the book, but the ending was a disappointment. If Bennett wrote the book to be a suspenseful mystery, then his ending was a success. I never saw it coming. However, this did not seem to be written as a mystery and so the ending left me unhinged. What in the world was he trying to say? May have to dig into that one!