It’s been a hard week watching the U.S. elections. As a Canadian, I wish our neighbours to the south best of luck and suggest that they hide themselves in a good book until they have a better idea of what Trump stands for — and proceed to fight for their rights.
I recently finished Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event and thought it was, meh. My mistake is in thinking it’d be anything close to Summer Sisters, Judy Blume’s epic first adult book.
The story centres on a teenage girl named Miri Ammerman growing up with a single mom in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the early 1950’s. In the span of two years, three airplanes out of Newark Airport crash in Elizabeth earning it the nickname, Plane Crash City.
In the Unlikely Event is still full of believable and relatable, adolescent characters who are traversing the trials of growing up. This, Judy Blume will always excel at. But I just didn’t feel enough for the characters and I really didn’t like the ending. The story came up short for me. I’ll just stick to Summer Sisters, thank you.
It probably didn’t help that I took a two week break from reading In the Unlikely Event. I had planned to take it as plane reading materials for a trip to Asia but then decided against it. Who wants to read about plane crashes on a plane?
There were so many great quotes I wanted to pull from NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.
Darling is a little girl growing up in Zimbabwe. She steals guavas with her friends. They play games like “Find bin Laden” and speak like unconventional poets. In one conversation, they contemplate looking for Jesus instead of bin Laden because it seems like a bigger prize.
But Darling has an aunt in America whom she hopes to join. This aunt lives in what she refers to as “Destroyedmichygen.” There are so many small moments of genius in this novel, it was hard to pick the ones I wanted to share. I would probably end up publishing the whole book on this blog.
Darling makes her way to America eventually and what she finds there isn’t the paradise she expects. There’s so much food but she’s hungry to go home. We Need New Names attempts to answer that age-old question for immigrant communities — where exactly is home? Bulawayo reminds us that it’s not so easy when home doesn’t exist as you remember it.
“We ate like pigs, like wolves, like dignitaries; we ate like vultures, like stray dogs, like monsters; we ate like kings. We ate for all our past hunger, for our parents and brothers and sisters and relatives and friends who were still back there. We uttered their names between mouthfuls, conjured up their hungry faces, chapped lips — eating for those who could not be with us to eat for themselves. And when we were full we carried our dense bodies with the dignity of elephants — if only our country could see us in America, see us eat like kings in a land that was not ours.”
I am writing today during a somewhat strange hail storm. It is raining ping pong balls outside! But enough about weather — let’s talk about war. WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?
Well, sometimes, good reading. I was really excited when I picked up Fobbit by David Abrams. A satire based on the Iraq War sounds pretty interesting right? Well, I didn’t love Fobbit. It made me chuckle at times but it wasn’t nearly as funny or dark as I wanted it to be. What’s meant to be mean and funny, seems to only come off as mean. All the characters suck. I can barely remember their names. There, I can be mean and not funny too.
Fobbit is based on Abram’s personal experience as a public affairs officers in the US Army during the Iraq War. Fobbit is a derogatory term for the paper pushing soldiers stationed in war zones but never see battle. They are safe in their Fobbit holes while braver soldiers get blown up. Members of the Public Affairs live it up in their air conditioned quarters, drafting press release after press release about dead soldiers.
But most of the story isn’t even about the horrors of writing wartime fluff. I would have enjoyed that more. In fact, I was hoping for something like Thank You For Smoking meets Apocalypse Now but that sounds difficult to pull off now that I say it out loud.
No, most of the book is about the crazy antics of Fobbits who are bored out of their minds waiting to return to the US. There are moments of action but I found Fobbit unsatisfying as both war fiction and satire. With a war that seems to make little sense, I was hoping Fobbit would exploit that meaninglessness just a little more.
I’d like to use this as an excuse to show you more awesome photographs taken by Richard Mosse of Saddam Hussein’s abandoned palaces — which is where the Fobbits in this story were stationed.
That’s exactly what I wanted to do when I finished Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. I wanted to flip back to the front cover and start all over again. And I could have because that’s what her main character Ursula does for most of her life. Lives.
Remember Choose Your Own Adventure novels? If you chose the wrong adventure, you’d wind up dead but then you’d just flip back to the previous section and choose again. That’s what Ursula Todd does in Life After Life. She winds up dead a lot but then the story starts all over again and she has the chance to choose differently (although, she’s not always sure why).
When Ursula gets to start again, you (as the reader) get to choose how to react. Sometimes, it’s a PHEW because Ursula’s life has become a train wreck. Other times, you can’t help but laugh out loud (always in public). I also loved the rich descriptions of places and times — from the British countryside to wartime London. It’s the kind of descriptors that keep you wanting more.
Judging from this novel alone, I can only conclude that Atkinson is incredibly clever. More clever than Churchill, Hitler and all the Todds combined.
One review suggested that she is perhaps, too clever. I couldn’t tell if they were sarcastic or just plain ignorant. Let’s blame sexism. I loved this one so much I could read it a thousand times again and again and again.