22 September 2006
September book report
1. Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LaZebnik (New York : 5 Spot, 2006). I read this book last weekend, not because it was on my list of books I'd like to read, but because my husband Tim, who works in a bookstore, brought home the reader's advance copy, since it had to do with knitting.
Well, it's true I did read the whole thing, but in the end I will admit that I was glad I hadn't bought the book. The story focuses on three friends: Kathleen, who is the fraternal one in a set of triplets. Her sisters are a multi-million dollar enterprise (think Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen), and she has always been more or less the "other" one. Sari works as a teacher and counselor for autistic children, as a result of having grown up with a brother who was autistic, and often the victim of other kids' pranks while in school. Lucy is a scientist in a lab who is somewhat ambivalent about the use of animals in scientific research. The basis of the story is that the three friends get together every Sunday morning for a knitting circle, where they deepen their friendships, support each other, and keep up with one anothers' lives. As you can imagine, there are the usual problems with male/female relationships, the usual heartaches, conflicts, and other general problems that you will usually find in a book about female friends.
I wasn't really too impressed with this book. It was entertaining enough to be a weekend read, or in my opinion, a great beach book. I didn't really like any of the characters, and a lot of what eventually happened seemed to be predictable from the get-go. Each of the characters had a moment at some point in the story when I thought to myself, "God you are stupid."
Now, I must qualify this by saying that I am a person who has been cynical for as long as I can remember, I'm pretty sure I was a cynical baby. So characters who spend all of their time discussing/worrying about/agonizing over their love lives, or lack thereof, really annoy me. It's partly because now you get characters who are well-educated women with nice jobs, and nice places to live, but in the end, the most important thing is to have a boyfriend or husband. Plus, though I have female friends, I have never been one who wanted a "girlfriend!" like a lot of other women. I've read some "Chick Lit" that I've enjoyed, and some that seems like crap. This book falls somewhere in the middle, and frankly, I would not recommend it to any of my friends. So there you have it.
2. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Harvest Books; Reprint paperback edition, 2006). This was the choice for September's book for Knit the Classics, and to be honest, I was not looking forward to it. I'm not one much for science fiction or fantastical stories. But all I can say after reading this book is: Wow.
The time traveler is Henry, a librarian who works at the Newberry Library in Chicago, and he meets his wife, Clare, for the first time during one of his time travels when he is an adult, and she is six years old. The story is narrated at different times by each character, sometimes describing the same experience from the perspective of their ages at the time.
The story is well written, and the language very evocative of time and place. The characters are interesting, and really well developed, and you really want to find out what happens to them. I will admit that the fact that it's set in Chicago was a plus for me, since I used to live there, so I could clearly "see" places where Henry and Clare found themselves at different points in the gook. But I think even if you never set foot in the state of Illinois, you would get a clear picture of time and place. Niffenegger is skilled at descriptive prose, so much so that you are almost disappointed when the story ends, as much for the language as for the characters.
Henry's time travel is not something he can control, nor can he decide where he would like to travel. He also runs into himself from time to time. For instance, in spite of the fact that it was a horrible experience, one of his regular "trips" takes him to the car accident on Christmas Eve that killed his mother; he sees himself again and again, standing on the side of the road. At one point, he finds himself at work in a restricted area of the Newberry, and when his boss and co-workers find him, they don't believe his story until another Henry shows up and they can see for themselves.
Clare is an artist, and though she loves Henry, she is also annoyed and relieved by turns when he suddenly vanishes, and she realizes he is on one of his time travels. Clare is the love of Henry's life, and first meets him when she is six years old, and he appears as a adult.
The story is compelling on a number of levels. I enjoyed reading it very much, but once I had finished the book, it struck me how poignant the whole story was. Many times, Henry travels to a happy time, i.e., when he sees his daughter Alba at the age of ten. But he also keeps revisiting the previously mentioned car accident, and he is also aware of exactly where, when, and how he will die. In my opinion, knowing that would make it really difficult to concentrate on the here and now, whether you could time travel or not!
I recommend this book - it's sweet without being mushy, sad without being totally depressing, and gives you a lot to think about while you are reading it, and well after you have finished.
(At the moment, Blogger won't let me add the cover image of this book, so I'll try again later.)