Monday, April 30, 2007

The Little Disturbances of Man, Grace Paley

I finally read Grace Paley. She was someone I have wanted to explore for years. The short stories in The Little Disturbances of Man must have been rather controversial when they first appeared. Not only would the content have been shocking for many in a late 1950s audience, but the form of the stories must have been unique and perhaps difficult to read for those used to a structured narrative.

Paley does not provide introductions for her plot or characters. The stories just begin and end like we are peering into the characters' private lives for a brief moment. It is through conversation that the various personalities are developed. Paley is a master at creating realistic conversation. The stories also have a rich New York feel.

Due to the nature of the form and heavy use of dialogue, these stories are not easy to read. I was often reminded of Tillie Olsen. Paley challenges the reader and wastes no time with sentimentality - like Olsen.

A man at my book club meeting commented that the writing resembles poetry. I agree. Paley is for those who like to think about literature; she is, fortunately, not merely for entertainment.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

It took me awhile to get through this book. Not only is it simply packed full with stories, but Hempel's writing is deceptive. She carefully selects each word and creates stories that appear simplistic until you are completely sucked in layer by layer. Many of the stories read more like poetry, requiring slow reading and much reflection. The way the stories (and even the sentences) turn is often surprising and occasionally shocking.

Hempel can be classified as a "writer's writer." Her stories are for those who enjoy lingering over the page and dissecting writing to uncover the meanings.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Interpreter of Maladies

Wow! I just finished Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of stories: Interpreter of Maladies. Lahiri is the author of the novel The Namesake, which has become a major motion picture. I recently saw The Namesake and loved it. This sparked my interest in Lahiri.

In Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri beautifully examines the lives of various Indians, often immigrants to the United States, by presenting the complexities and difficulties one faces when encountering cultural differences. Each story is filled with rich characters.

In A Temporary Matter, we see a marriage falling apart; in Mrs. Sen, we are introduced to a woman who is tragically displaced from her family and culture; and in The Third and Final Continent, we meet a young man who is making his way in a new environment. In this final story, the man tells us: "I know that my achievement is quite ordinary....As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination" (p. 198). This sums up the essence of Lahiri's writing: she turns the ordinary into the magical.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Grapes of Wrath

I finally read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, a book that has been on my shelf at home for years & years. It is clear to see why it is considered such an accomplishment. The story is known, even if vaguely, by people who have not even read the book. The narrative follows the Joad family and their horrible circumstances as they migrant from Oklahoma to California.

The Grapes of Wrath was the selection my book club read last month. We had one of the largest turnouts we have had for at least a year. One man came for the first time and simply stated he came, because the book has remained his favorite throughout his life. At least one member, however, was not a fan and found Steinbeck's writing and characteristics of women difficult to live with.

It was interesting to take part in a conversation of what can be called the "California dream," which, I believe, is much different from the "American dream." As the Joad family imagined California, so did many in the group before coming here. Typical to California, I think only one person at the meeting was born here. For my husband and I, California was very much a fantasy world before our arrival. Others commented it had been the same for them.

The Grapes of Wrath is sad and sometimes disturbing, but a social justice classic I am glad I finally read.