Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Exempt from public haunt

The library books are piling up, but I'm determined to keep my overdue fine-free streak! So now I have a whole algorithm for determining which books to renew, and which ones to return and then re-check out when next available.

Olive Kitteridge was a collection of stories from a small town in Maine, all featuring retired school teacher Olive at some point in her adult life. In many of the stories, she is the main character; in others, she figures tangentially.

Stepping back, the book is a pretty intricate portrait of sadness and breakdowns in relationships. Strout showcases the desperate slowness before suicide attempts and affairs; and during weddings, funerals, breakups, and end-of-life care. Through it all, the Maine seasons roll by.

It reminded me of another rather gray depiction of a life loved and lost in a small New England town: Ethan Frome. (Given that that classic is one of the most dismal stories I've ever read, I don't know that that's a compliment.)

Sharon Creech's young adult books are always hit-or-miss for me.

The Great Unexpected is one of the ones I don't exactly love. The story is about two girls in foster care in a podunk American town who meet a mysterious boy who falls from the sky. But it bridges reality and fantasy in jarring ways: Irish magic, crows as omens, and witches exist alongside kids who have to "share" about their dysfunctional families for a school assignment (which is both funny and sad).

My main source of frustration is that I liked parts here and there of the story: the backgrounds of the people in the girls' lives, the mystery of the cackling old lady who always wants to "have a murder," the Tim Burton atmosphere of the small town. It was just too short of a book to weave it all together properly... for an adult reader, at least.

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