A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal

A Map of TulsaThis is a coming of age story about an Oklahoma middle class kid who falls in love with an oil heiress who lives the wild life and aspires to art and music. After a summer affair ends, he carries the thought of her (like a totem that has some private meaning in his life) into his superficially successful NYC literary life. The story frays for me as Lytal sorts through the main character’s relation to the girl’s father, her corporate aunt, and her long time boyfriend/soulmate, and all the local kids who stayed behind in Tulsa. The dialog strives to be realistic and thus fails to hold together. Why do I want to hear what sloppy thinkers have to say?

Reviewed by Teresa

Beyond Sleep by Willem Frederik Hermans

Beyond SleepIn this quirky, philosophical and blackly funny novel, a naive young Dutch academic attempts a geology field trip with three fit and competent Norwegians into the far Norwegian endless sun/mosquito-ridden “outback.” He is striving toward some literally meteoric discovery, but suffers mishap after foolish mishap, his esteem rising and falling like a feisty teen’s. It is a tale of ego and absurd academic competition, and you just know SOMEONE’s heading toward some sort of disaster. Some coincidences and surprises the reader learns of at the end are far-fetched, yet curiously compelling.

Reviewed by Teresa

A Death in the Family by James Agee

A Death in the FamilyAgee (pronounced Age-ee)’s exquisitely detailed tale of the dynamics and subtle emotions at a time of crisis was an eye-opening view for me into nonconformists of the early 20th century, and into how such people might interact with the mainstream religious people they love. There are no surprises, given the title, and the ending feels inadequate. I also felt that the preacher’s visit was an odd and out of place low-comic punch. But it is one of those classics I had to gobble down.

Reviewed by Teresa

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's WifeThis first novel by Chicagoan Niffenegger is not as compelling as Her Fearful Symmetry, perhaps because it is somewhat overly detailed, like science fiction composed by a French neo-realist. Still, I admired the audacity and the mind bending nature of the concept: that the time traveler is as blind sighted by his world view as is the wife (met earlier, in her childhood/his middle age.) The protagonist (the male one) is a violent and impulsive man–certainly no goody goody victim of fate. The wife is not as clear a character.

Reviewed by Teresa

Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie

Indian KillerThis is a strange offering from an author who can make me laugh out loud. It has some of the usual self-mocking, ironic characters and voices, but is a dark story of murder, racial hatred and violence (by both Native Americans and whites). Love plays its role, as well—chaste love between adults, love from adopted parents, etc. Like Spike Lee’s movies, this book leaves me not so much challenging but musing over the ethics that drive it. Is it sloppy thinking masquerading as artistic license?

Reviewed by Teresa

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

Levels of LifeAfter reading this book, I feel differently about Barnes, a favorite writer of mine, valued for his humor and quirkiness. As nonfiction with elements of autobiography and fictionalized history, Levels of Life combines a scattershot account of balloon flight and the affairs of balloon aficionados, some history and philosophy of photography, and Barnes’ own grief, anger and sense of loss upon his wife’s death to cancer in 2008. While I can relate to his anguish, the violence of his expressions of disgust at friends’ awkward condolences turned me away. The writer is a hard, hard person, but one who loved deeply and well, and feels a permanent, eternal loss. Perhaps it represents a cautionary tale in the literary world of grief and grieving, as it serves as a manual for behavior to avoid!

Reviewed by Teresa

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After LifeI was really taken by KA’ s concept—that the main character is born and dies and is reborn repeatedly, going over the same set of relations, years, and problems, yet with new variables and with a growing, ominous and usually partially helpful fore-knowledge of what could be about to happen to herself, her friends and family, and to World War II Europe. What Atkins depicts is not quite reincarnation—nothing so neat and orderly as that! This is sort of like an old picaresque novel hyped up on drugs, with adventures layered on ever repeating yet mutating loops. This concept was flawed for me only when the author had the heroine just happen to interact with Hitler and Eva Braun. That was the implausibility that broke this reader’s back.

Reviewed by Teresa

The Strange & Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

the strange and beautiful sorrowA beautifully written debut novel in the style of magical realism. Walton explores love, hope and the human condition in a whimsical and imaginative way through the heart-breakingly honest eyes of a sixteen year old girl.

Reviewed by Teresa

Fludd by Hilary Mantel

Quirky, funny and spooky, Hilary Mantel is up on my shelf with others of her ilk: Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, Muriel Spark…Like my favorite writers, she shows human nature at its obliquest. Is she condemning religion? Forgiving it? Relishing its oddities? Are all of her characters nuts? Or is that the true state of all of us? Her plot both shouts and whispers. Try her. If you like it, AH! Lucky you, you then have many more novels to devour.

Reviewed by Teresa