A Piece of My Heart - Richard Ford
His first novel, and impressive in parts. Ford is at his strongest when presenting dark psyches and creating a sense of menace and dislocation. Dialogue, mood can be authentic and fresh, as in the scene where Robard picks up the woman with the broken-down car. Vivid characters appear, like Mr. Lamb. But I stopped reading because I felt I was being manipulated. Ford involves the reader in lowlife doings, such as his setting up an expectancy regarding what’s going to be done with a plastic bag – apparently something very kinky (I never stuck around long enough to find out). As if to compensate for this focus on sordid mattters, he has Robard engage in high-minded (and annoyingly obscure) musings. This deep introspection isn't believable because nobody actually thinks like that. Sometimes the writing was show-offy, especially in the overdone descriptions. Also, why use words not in my dictionary?
Barchester Towers - Anthony Trollope
The author has his feet firmly planted. The world he creates has the weight of reality, though his best creations have a grotesque quality – Slope, the Bishop’s wife, all the Stanhopes. The beautiful, crippled Madame Neroni is fascinating and frightening. I wish that Trollope had leaned more toward comedy (done so well in the Bishop’s party). I felt that Eleanor and Mr. Arabin were not particularly interesting, and their goopy romance took up too many pages. Still, this novel is like one of those grand old buildings that was constructed to last. *
Body and Soul - Frank Conroy
I skipped the last fifty pages because the characters were wooden and unbelievable; I didn’t care about them anymore. And to think that I read the first hundred pages with such pleasure! It started out with an appealing boy in trouble; his situation and the people around him created a dark tangle, and I liked his muted responses. Then Conroy has everything good happen to this boy, which turns him into a privileged prig. The complexity disappears, not only in his character but in everybody’s (the mother has her problems solved with the wave of an authorial wand). It’s as if Conroy lacked the will to sustain his original premise. He winds up writing a high society chronicle, with people called Muffy.
S - John Updike
A mean-spirited concoction, without a person who is real or sympathetic – all are cardboard cutouts meant to be ridiculed. Every relationship, even that between mother and daughter, is destructive and selfish. For the story to be told through letters is illogical – Updike shows the commune as a nest of backbiting hypocrisy, yet the character who presents it this way is supposed to believe in it. Lastly, this is a boring book; it had little substance, and Updike inflates it to full length with filler about Eastern philosophy. He attempts to liven things up at the end by throwing in plot twists, but S is a mess.