Recently Read

I just finished White Tiger, A Thousand Years of Prayers, and Standing in the Rainbow.

When I’m getting DVDs at the library I usually grab two experimental novels off of the New Releases section of the library. It’s a random thing, since the librarians get the really good new releases, so these are more like the sad sisters – ones that have been out for a year or so and still don’t have a date. I tend to leave about half of these unread. I feel guilt-free since it’s a library book and I didn’t buy it.

White Tiger is a book I’m glad I picked up. It’s a detective novel, set in present day, with a lot of narrated stories about Vietnam era. A Vietnamese woman is found stabbed, in her apartment. The detective recognizes her in autopsy- many jokes here that he only recognizes her naked- as an old friend from Saigon, when he was in service. The story progresses between two male narrators: the detective, and a psychologist who was a medic in ‘Nam too. I had a tough time getting into it because I kept on confusing the two male narrators. This reminds me of advice I’ve read a million times, to new authors: never have more than one point of view in a novel. I always thought that was bunk, because it’s been done so well in so many novels, until now. Wow, it can be really annoying. Now that I’ve finished the novel, I still don’t know, int he first half, what experiences happened to what character. Overall I really enjoyed the novel, though, and it was fun and quickly paced, with interesting chracters. This also may be the only noir-style detective novel with strangely interesting, lifelike, multi-faceted female characters that have real-life concerns: issues with marrying against family wishes, racial tension, issues with childbearing, career goals, etc.. For this genre, I think it’s really refreshing.

The other book, by Fannie Flagg (wrote Fried Green Tomatoes) had me crying three times near the end. I’m just a huge sucker for pan-generational stories. The book is about a small family Middle America, and their friends and neighbors. It’s sweet, funny, and not cloying at all. The discussion will be very boring, as it usually is when we all like the book. I’m impressed at Flagg ability to just tell a good story. The only tiny irritant is when she tries to build suspense, like it’s “Behind the Music”, “.. then, tragedy struck.” She really didn’t need to do that, we were right along with her characters all along. Well another little issue is that afterwards, I realized the novel wasn’t really about anything.

One of my real library finds on the New Releases shelf, was Li YiYun (Chinese way, last name first). She’s a professor now at Mills, or a guest speaker or something, my Mills college friend says. I had read a review about her, and then found her book of short stories on the New Releases shelf. For various reasons I didn’t read it, and even renewed it. On the last day before my renew was up, I decided to at least read a few paragraphs. I didn’t get off the couch for three hours. I’m not even a fan of short stories! The most memorable one was “Extra,” about a woman’s adventures after 40, when she gets laid off from a factory job (in China). It’s a great story of her resourcefulness, her lust, her general feelings and adventures. Great ending, too.