Thursday, March 30, 2006

Three book reviews

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Middlesex worthy of Pulitzer , March 30, 2006
Greg A. Locascio (DeKalb, IL USA) - See all my reviews
Middlesex is a page turner. Eugenides explores three generations of the Stephanides family with lushly-described characters brought fully to life through the conversational, detailed narrative of Cal(lie), a genetic time bomb hermaphrodite. Eugenides switches between first and third person narration deftly, telling us what Cal(lie) could not logically know (like the smell of his/her grandfather/uncle Lefty's crotch, and his embarrassment over it, the first time he makes love to his sister Desdemona).

While Eugenides vision is grand in scope (such as his description of the burning and evacuation of Smyrna and, later, the burning of Detroit in race riots), he also shows his character's interior, hidden motivations inflected with an air of tragedy and humor. His only fault is treating Cal(lie)'s gender dilemma with a light stroke, as if an afterthought to the more pressing demands of showing us how he/she got there.

This is a great book, the kind that stuck with me for days after I finished. I read "The Virgin Suicides" a year ago. It is difficult to compare the two books because they are so different. "Middlesex" is epic in scope, spread across space and time. "Suicides" is introspective, claustrophobic, creepy suburban isolation. Kudos to Eugenides for crafting a work that departs from prior success.

Independence Day, by Richard Ford
A good treatment of Baby Boomer generation, March 30, 2006
Greg A. Locascio (DeKalb, IL USA) - See all my reviews
Independence Day is a solid, easy read, even though it is light on action and heavy on internal monologue. This is the third Ford book I've read in the last month and a half, along with "A Multitude of Sins" and "...Day's" pre-quel, "The Sportswriter." I don't know how many more books I need to read by Ford because his narrative style is essentially the same in all I've read. Ford writes convincingly, and with lush, genius, award-winning detail, about hapless, resigned middle to upper middle class men. Frank Bascombe is the Holden Caulfield for the Volvo set or anyone dealing with their own "existence period."

In " Independence Day" I found myself wishing Bascombe would get all passionate and out-of-control like he did at the end of "The Sportswriter." But this novel does not end like its prequel did, with a crazy cross country journey and eventual expatriation to France. "Independence Day," appropriate to its title, ends with Bascombe alone, after chatting with a superficial friend and neighbor, taking in the quiet, sedate, suburban scenes of holiday Haddam, NJ.

Okay, I lied. I'll read at least one more Ford book. "Rock Springs" next?

I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
A classic in every sense, March 30, 2006
Greg A. Locascio (DeKalb, IL USA) - See all my reviews
From a feminist perspective, the lead character of Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist whose life is the loose narrative thread that connects nine short stories about the advance of robots, is revolutionary. And she is not the only genius element of this book.

I was surprised to discover "I, Robot" was written in 1950. Asimov's timeline portrayal of technological advances, and their wide-ranging social implications, is remarkably fresh, prophetic, even, to this day and certainly a brisker antidote to the pseudo-pop philosophical rantings of lesser imitations.

"A/I" is a better robot movie than the Will Smith summer blockbuster that bears only a vague resemblance to its namesake book.If you consider yourself a true science fiction fan, "I, Robot" is a must read. I've only tread lightly through the vast Asimov canon, but have to say this is the best by him I've ever read.

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