Tag Archives: Relationships

In the Cards, by Angela D’Onofrio (2016)

D’Onofrio’s novels take place in fictitious Aviario, Connecticut, a town where the underground lines of magic intersect and supernatural happenings abound. This second book in the series revolves around a string of murders, a demon that haunts one of the town’s oldest families, and a romance that everyone except the main character thinks is a bad idea.  The story’s real energy, however, comes from its twentysomething cast of characters who read tarot cards, run a magic shop, play table-top games, and never fail to talk like real people, making the whole novel feel decidedly current (spirit animals notwithstanding).

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Angela D’Onofrio’s website

Author interview

A Girl on the Shore, by Inio Asano (2011)

A ninth-grade girl wanders distraught after a subpar encounter with the class playboy, then seeks solace with another guy who likes her and a shit-ton of graphic middle-school sex ensues.

I’m not kidding—this manga isn’t for the squeamish, since there’s A LOT of sex here shown in close-up, and just when you think it can’t go any farther, it does.  In terms of story, Koume and Isobe’s relationship shows a lot about first love, disenchantment, and searching for something you can’t quite describe, and their confused realizations keep you guessing until the end, with stirring results.

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Revolutions We’d Hoped We’d Outgrown, by Jill McCabe Johnson (2017)

Johnson’s poems hit that sweet spot of being approachable yet challenging, not too simple, yet not too arcane.  The opening section was written during her walking trek through France in the days leading up to the 2015 Paris attacks and captures both the country’s historic character and the ideological ugliness behind ISIS, including its abominable treatment of women (which tends not to get as much coverage).  The collection’s other poems convey images of loss, humiliation, and conflicts with loved ones in moments that quietly ask for our reflections, along with a few plays on words to break the rhythm.

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Jill McCabe Johnson’s website

Revolutions We’d Hoped We’d Outgrown at Finishing Line Press

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers (1940)

Four lonely people in a Southern town search for meaning outside of life’s banalities, brought together by a deaf-mute who’s mourning the loss of his closest friend.  Parts of this book resonated with me strongly as the characters express their inability to fit into the world around them, especially Mick’s analogy of the outside room where she performs for society versus the inside room where she enjoys her secret love of music.  The rest of it, however, moves painfully slowly, with long chapters and dialogue that hasn’t aged well, leaving its raw power to be deciphered rather than enjoyed.

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No One Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July (2007)

I loved this book.  I loved how its stories are meaningful but also speckled with Miranda July’s dry humor (“As with the whole-grain bread, Carl did not initially leap into the idea with enthusiasm”) that stops them from ever being too pretentious.  I love that these stories are about relationships that don’t always work.  I love that July’s characters undergo real emotional turmoil.  I love how there are things about these stories I don’t understand, and that I’m OK with that.  Finally, I love that this paperback comes in five different colors and that mine happens to be orange.

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Election, by Tom Perrotta (1998)

A high school presidential election pits a goody two-shoes overachiever against a clueless jock and his rebellious younger sister, with one teacher viewing the race as a microcosm of who gets ahead in life and why.  Election shows how much these contests seem to matter in the moment but afterwards feel trite—it explores rivalries based on jealousy, social class, love, popularity, and the glory of the spotlight.  The novel’s rapid switches between narrators (often in mid-scene) are among the most effective I’ve ever read, and keep the novel constantly moving.  Read this even if you’ve seen the movie.

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The Flowers of Evil (Vol. 1-11), by Shuzo Oshimi (2012-2014)

Kasuga, a shy middle-schooler obsessed with Baudelaire, impulsively steals his crush’s gym clothes only to be spotted by the class outcast and labeled a pervert, but is he really a pervert, or just looking to form a normal relationship?  Powerful stories never fail to make you care about their characters, and Oshimi pulls this off incredibly—his explorations of courtship, friendship, surviving adolescence, and fitting in capture his characters at their most vulnerable.  The series’ driving question is whether Kasuga will cave in to the adult world like a shitbug or find his own path—whatever that might mean.

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Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami (2001)

An aloof college student falls in love with his best friend, a wannabe writer beatnik—the only catch is that she’s also in love with a businesswoman seventeen years older than her.  Sumire’s an outgoing, speaks-her-mind girl in classic Murakami fashion (she reminded me of Midori in Norwegian Wood) who gives life to much of the novel, which Murakami tells in short spurts between section breaks.  While a lot of Murakami’s subject matter feels familiar, the story’s compactness keeps it moving, with the ending evoking an uncertain stillness that makes the whole novel seem more whole.

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Four Major Plays, Volume II, by Henrik Ibsen (1881-1896)

Prior to this I’d only read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, and while these four plays are less significant, they built off of the other Ibsen I’d read while covering more thematic ground.  Ibsen was a progressive decades ahead of his time, and today these plays seem more relevant than ever, covering environmental protection, the place of women in society, the dangers of populism, parents wielding control over children, and choosing money over love.  I enjoyed the denser John Gabriel Borkman much less due to its heavy exposition, but maybe also because I haven’t gotten old yet.

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Ghosts 

An Enemy of the People  

The Lady From the Sea  

John Gabriel Borkman  

Fight Scenes, by Greg Bottoms (2008)

Fight Scenes is about growing up in the 1980s with your friend whose dad keeps naked pictures of women he’s slept with under his bed; it’s about dealing with bullies and looking at porn with girls you like and sitting in front of the 7-Eleven and smoking pot in the woods and fending off crazy racists at the local Popeye’s.  Bottoms shows us these moments in a series of vignettes that all say more than they seem to at first glance, so that the book shows us both his ridiculous middle-school adventures and how fucked up life can be.

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Where I Got It

A 2016 Christmas gift from the same friend who got me Rose of No Man’s Land, which is also pretty rad.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan (2001)

In 1935 Britain, a thirteen-year-old girl’s overactive imagination and accidental brush with the c-word lead her to send an innocent man to prison for a sex crime.  While the first half covers the misunderstanding, the second deals with the grim early days of World War II, both on the French front and in the hospitals.  Everything about this book feels like it shouldn’t work (historical fiction, child narrator, loaded politics) but it does, which speaks to McEwan’s skill as a storyteller.  Though the prose is often slow, there are enough hard-hitting dramatic moments to make this an intense read.

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Where I Got It

From a friend who was getting rid of books in the summer of 2015. I have mixed feelings about movie cover tie-ins, but this one pulls it off quite well.

Updike, by Adam Begley (2014)

Begley’s biography of writer John Updike exhaustively covers its hero’s rural Pennsylvania childhood, his stint as a twentysomething New Yorker writer, his years in suburban Massachusetts, his elderly descent into isolation, and his many, many novels.  Though Updike’s serial adultery plays a key role, Begley keeps the details vague for privacy reasons—unfortunate, since it often feels like there’s more we’re not getting as Begley instead summarizes the autobiographical facets of Updike’s vast oeuvre.  The result reads more like literary criticism than biography, but still decently flushes out one of America’s most prolific 20th century writers.

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Where I Got It

Ordered online in Fall 2016.

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Longer review

If you haven’t already, you should probably read Rabbit, Run instead, because it’s excellent.