082) Beyond the Light by Ryan Shoemaker, finished September 17
Great Heights") or that are willing to be surreal without succumbing to the silly ("Lost in Furniture Land"---which [absurdism aside] is almost an identical tale to "Great Heights" and follows it immediately in the book, which is a strange editing choice...). I appreciate the craft of his awful people behaving awfully stories, but sometimes the push credulity ("Our Students"---although this story might just push my buttons because it takes place at a high school; Ryan has it out for high school, both students and teachers).almost four months
One thing I find interesting about Ryan's CV is how he ... I don't want to say recycles, although that's not unfair, but how he revisits works, like Magritte painting rocks in the air over and over and over. I don't just mean publishing the same story in two places---that's great and more outlets should be willing to do that. Nor do I mean really liking the name Hector.
The sort of recycling (I'm going for it) is "Brigham Kimball: Mormon Missionary Extraordinaire" also appearing as "Parley Young: One Mormon Life"---a longer (and, in my opinion, better) version of the same. (The two version appear to have been published just months apart.) Or taking "Bing," originally published in Irreantum, and giving it a new title ("Beyond the Lights"), sending it successfully through Santa Monica Review's slushpile and republishing it. (Full disclosure: Ryan told SMR that it had been previously published.) Again, I don't have problems with these reuses, but in neither case is the first-publisher-under-an-alternate-title cited in the Acknowledgments. Which seems a bit weird to me.
I'm intending to write a longer review exploring the good and the hmm about Beyond the Light for AML, but that largely depends on my health and catching up on all my other responsibilities that have slipped while I've been sick.
083) Space Cat Meets Mars by Ruthven Todd, finished September 22
first two to the library), but this felt slighter. Perhaps it's just because there's less intentionality on the part of our heroes. They went to the Moon on purpose. They went to Venus on purpose. Then they're captured by an asteroid's gravity and have some mechanical problems and making an emergency stopover on Mars. That sounds good, but....two days
I like the faux pre-Apollo science of these books, but Mars is pretty far to walk for a gallon of gas. I dunno.
Anyway, Flyball meets the last Martian cat and she's coming back to Earth (via the moon) with them, after which they'll get busy, but the whole thing felt shorter and lesser. Charming, but insubstantial. In comparison, I mean. I'm not claiming the first couple are great literature or anything. But I liked them.
084) Invisible Gifts by Maw Shein Win, finished September 24
I intend to write a longer review of this (I hope for Whale Road Review) so I'll hold off for now.perhaps fourth months but actually two separated bursts
085) Middlemarch by George Eliot, finished September 29
I began Middlemarch long, long ago. And I loved it from the very beginning. But then the main character made a very upsetting decision at the end of book one and I ... just set it down.possibly over five years
I picked it up again when our ward Relief Society book group (ambitiously) picked it to read earlier this year, so I read along with Lady Steed.
No one finished it in the month. Well, like two people did. So book group discussed the first four books only. But Lady Steed and I kept reading and we both finished it this week.
After book one, the idea of a "main character" seems almost laughable. Its subtitle is "A Study of Provincial Life" and it truly does take us through and around an entire town. The characters we spend the most time with connect, but every spot and soul of Middlemarch is fair game.
However, with the last two paragraphs of the novel, we are thrown a reference that (with one exception) we haven't heard since the prelude. And it is the prelude and those final paragraphs that make Dorothea---that first-book main character---the heart of the entire novel. Her goodness drives hope and possibility; her strength is what makes us believe humanity should yet continue.
Dorothea is a complicated character but she's motivated by a pure goodness that makes her one of my favorite characters in fiction. I love her because I cannot be her.
Other characters I more clearly see myself in. For a few pages, I was certain Casaubon and I were the same person. (Happily, we are not.) And Bulstrode's justifications for his sins rang much, much too true.
My failures are much like Lydgate's, but I'm in a better marriage. (Fun fact: Occasionally I give my students an essay prompt originally part of the 2011 test that includes a passage from Middlemarch; all but two or three of the best readers always misinterpret it, and believe that Lydgate is abusive and cruel towards his wife. I don't know if this is a comment merely on my students' reading ability or if it somehow revealing of modern entitlement....)
In short, Eliot understands people. I loved Silas Marner and I love this too. It's a loving look at humanity while clawing its criticisms deep. If we're unhappy with Dorothea's fate, it's not because of any failure of hers. And she is happy. But in a better world, she, a woman, could have been everything we know she could have been.
I understand why people read and reread this book. It feels borderline irresponsible to not. But no doubt decades will pass before I return. And I will be different then and I will understand it in new ways.
I'll see you then.
[Final note: Although I'm generally skeptical of narrators waxing philosophic, I would never deny Eliot that freedom.]