God of Small Things

Roy, Arundhati. God of Small Things. Random House, 1997.

Reason read: God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, a prize that is normally awarded in October.

The God of Small Things opens with a lush description of the monsoon season of Ayemenem and the statement, “Baby Kochamma was still alive” (p 4). The simple statement hooks your breath back into your lungs while your mind jumps the rail, “what do you mean still alive?” Still? As in to imply not supposed to be of this earth? As reader, be prepared to bounce between time and space. In one chapter we will cremate a woman, in the next she will be alive and flirting.
Rahel and Estha, twins who are separated after tragedy. Death is a tragedy. Divorce is one, too. But lack of social standing is the most tragic of them all. Like a pervasive black and choking smoke, the ancient Indian caste system hangs dark and poisonous in the air. The ongoing separation of Paravan and Brahmin, touchable and untouchable, inhaled through nostrils and accepted as common as air to breathe. I was reminded of Dr. Seuss and his star bellied Sneetches. But like all unfair systems, the order of life doesn’t always work when there is a tilt, an upset in the balance. Especially when opposites attract. I don’t know how to review this book without giving too much away so I speak in circles. Jusr read it.

Quotes to quote, “On their shoulders they carried a keg of ancient anger, lit with a recent fuse” (p 67). I love it when writers take the intangible, like anger, and make it something touchable. Here’s another, “Shadows gathered like bats in the steep hollows near her collarbone” (p 154). One more: “They were not arresting a man, they were exorcising fear” (p 293). If that doesn’t say it all about racism…

Author fact: Roy studied to be an architect. she decided to write a book. God of Small Things is her first novel and wouldn’t you know it? she wins the Booker Prize.

Book trivia: I watched a short Ted video on why one should read God of Small Things. I don’t know if the makers of the video had this intention but I thought it was cute.

Nancy said: Pearl said God of Small Things was “simply glorious.”

Playlist: Elvis Presley, Handel’s Water Music, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “The Sound of Music”, “Baby Elephany Walk”, “Colonel Bogey’s March”, Little Richard, “Ruby Tuesday”, “My Favorite Things”, “So Long Farewell”,

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: a Reader’s Itinerary” (p 125). Also from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scenes from Sri Lanka” (p 197).

Snow Falling on Cedars

Guterson’s fall back on the descriptions of mildew and a soggy wetness happened enough times that I felt like I had to wring myself out periodically. Snow Falling on Cedars (for those of you who haven’t seen the movie) is about a Washington state coastal community rocked by scandal. A fisherman is found dead in the water. Evidence at the scene points to foul play and incriminates an obvious suspect: a man who has had a well-known, long-standing family grudge against the victim. The most alluring characters are the accused’s wife and a winsome reporter covering the case. Of course, there is history between them and that only complicates the case.

Aside from being “damp” I thoroughly enjoyed Guterson’s novel (liked it better than the movie, of course). The characters are intricate enough that I felt like I was progressively getting to know them as I would in real life. Coming from a close-knit, teeny-tiny fishing community I could relate to the drama and intensity the trial brought to it. Of course, no love story would be complete without a heart wrenching love triangle and this one lives up to the drama.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “What a Trial That Was!” (p 244). Oh! And also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living High in Cascadia” (p 153).

Bonfire of the Vanities

Wolfe, Tom. The bonfire of the Vanities.New York: Bantam Books, 1988

I will admit I never saw the movie of the same name. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because as a 19 year old I didn’t have time to go to the movies. I was working four different part-time jobs on a little island that has never boasted of a theater.

This is, by far, the most wicked of social satires that I have read so far. Wolfe’s world in The Bonfire of the Vanities is a delicious clash of wealth and poverty, prejudices and avarice, sex and scandal. It seems like the perfect movie for the self indulgent 1980s. There is not a single likable character in the entire story. Everyone is on their way to being corrupted by greed. Greed for money, greed for power, greed for what they don’t have. In their worlds the grass is always greener on the other side of Central park, the other side of the marriage.
Bonfire of the Vanities takes a single incident and illustrates the domino effect one wrong turn and one bad mistake can have. Sherman McCoy is an unhappy Wall Street bonds man who is having an affair with the wife of an aging billionaire. He isn’t supposed to be with her, she isn’t supposed to be with him – a typical scenario for the story. So, when they take a wrong turn and end up lost in a bad section of the the Bronx their car strikes a black teenage boy, possibly killing him. They argue their way out of going to the police, convincing themselves it didn’t happen the way each of them think. Deciding not to tell is their downfall.
When the political Reverend Bacon hears of this “accident” from the mother of the victim the racial significance of the event is not lost on him. Witnesses claim the driver was white so he pushes alcoholic journalist, Peter Fallow, to pursue the story. Peter’s piece about a black youth who was the victim of a hit and run sends the media into a frenzy. Soon Bronx District Attorney Abe Weiss, up for re-election, is out for blood. He knows this is the perfect platform for garnering votes: hang the hit and run driver whatever it takes. Larry Kramer, assistant D.A., does exactly that with barely any evidence: an undamaged car, an eyewitness, and Sherman McCoy’s reluctance to cooperate.

Author Fact: probably the coolest thing (more relevant to me) was that Tom Wolfe used to be a reporter for the Springfield Union paper.

Book Trivia: Bonfire of the Vanities was made into a movie in 1990 and starred Tom Hanks and Melanie Griffith. Interestingly enough, it was a box office flop while the written word was a smashing success.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1980s)” (p 179).

Tortilla Curtain

Boyle, T. Coraghessan. The Tortilla Curtain. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

From the very first page this book had me cringing. The back cover of Tortilla Curtain reads, “…from the moment a freak accident brings Candido and Delaney into intimate contact…” The opening scene is the freak accident and it sets the tone for the entire story. To be honest I cringed my way through the entire book. Like watching a movie with one eye squeezed shut I could barely stand what devastating thing would happen next. There is nothing more tragic than misguided trust laced with preconceived notions about another individual. Reminiscent of House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III Tortilla Curtain is the story of two couples hopelessly fated to forever misjudge and distrust each other. The color of their skin provides a blinder for each pair. While how they react to their blindness differs from person to person their prejudices identically driven. Delaney Mossbacher and his second wife, Kyra, are a well-to-do couple living in the newly gated community of Arroyo Blanco. They worry about coyotes taking their family pets and the real estate market (Kyra is a successful realtor). Below them, scraping out an existence in the dessert are Candido Rincon and his wife, America, two illegal immigrants from Mexico. They worry about where they will get their next meal and when they will be sent back across the border. Two totally different worlds living within yards of one another. Inevitably the two will collide with disastrous results.

Favorite line: “He took the phone off the hook, pulled the shades and crept into the womb of language” (p 32). I wish I had more time to do just that.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Growing Writers” (p 107).