The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of LossWhen both of her parents die suddenly,  a young girl is sent to live with her grandfather in Kalimpong in the 1980’s.  The son of her grandfather’s cook is sent to America to find fortune.  Both are not where they should be and both have inherited the loss of their families failures.

Sai is restless living with her taciturn grandfather.  She is also naive enough to believe that young love is the salvation she has been yearning for.  Sent away to school by her parents and virtually ignored by her grandfather, it is no wonder she clings to the first person who seems to notice her.

Justice Jemubhai Patel seems to prefer the company of his dog, Mutt, more than the company of the people around him.  Sent to England by his father, he now looks down upon his fellow Indians even after realizing he was never accepted by the British.  He turned his self loathing into cruelty and violence against his young wife and eventually shuts himself off from all relationships.

Living in America is not at all what Biju expected as he works at seedy restaurants in New York for little pay in squalid living conditions.  He lets his father believe his life is wonderful and moves from one filthy restaurant to another hoping to find his golden ticket…he does not.

Quotes:

Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss?

It happened all the time; ten years passed, fifteen, the telegram arrived, or the phone call, the parent was gone and the child was too late.  Or they returned and found they’d missed the entire last quarter of a lifetime, their parents like photograph negatives.  

The wealth that seemed to protect them like a blanket was the very thing that left them exposed.  

Ms. Desai has an enviable knack for becoming her characters, both male and female.  I would love to watch her observing others since she clearly has the vision to see the truth inside each person.  Perhaps we could share a meal and discuss her methods.

My rating for The Inheritance of Loss is a 7 out of 10.

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Next up, James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicansdownload

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Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Enduring LoveA recent conversation I had centered on the current prevalence of self-serving individuals in all-encompassing aspects of today’s society.  And while Enduring Love was written more than two decades ago, its characters share the similar and quite unattractive trait of being wrapped up in themselves.

What begins with what should have been a lovely outdoor picnic unravels into a tragic accident and follows with an extremely unhealthy obsession recognized by only one man who must turn to his own self-interests when he realizes he is on his own.

Joe Rose, the book’s central figure is a science writer who waxes nostalgic over his desire to return to scientific academia.  His life is upended when an enjoyable day out turns disastrous and results in an encounter that will test Joe’s mettle and take him to the dark side of survival tactics.

Clarissa seems more concerned with her research than the well-being of her partner, Joe.  She does not take Joe’s concerns to heart, and in fact, begins to get him to doubt himself.  Her self involvement and failure to acknowledge the threat just beyond their door ends up jeopardizing them both.

Possibly suffering from de Clerambault Syndrome, Jed Parry has fixated on Joe Rose after he interprets a millisecond’s glance as a signal of enduring love.  Starting with phone messages and then with planting himself outside of Joe’s residence, Jed eventually turns violent as his condition consumes his life.

Mr. McEwan certainly is a gifted writer and while I expected a less than tidied up ending, that is what was, sadly, delivered.  I’d like to ask him where life would have taken him had he not become an author and wonder if he regrets not pursuing a career in the sciences.

My rating for Enduring Love is a 7 out of 10.

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Next up, Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of LossThe Inheritance of Loss

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

GreatExpectationsExpectations are a tricky thing.  We can’t but help to envision an intricate outcome before we’ve taken a single step, yet are somehow surprised when our expectations are worlds apart from their eventual end game.

Dickens, once again, delivers a remarkable tale with powerful insight into the true essence of man; the thoughts never spoken, the shame believed hidden to the world, and the feelings of inadequacy haunting everyday thoughts.

While visiting his parent’s graves, a young boy encounters an escaped prisoner who demands food and tools to help further his escape.  While the experience terrifies the lad, it comes back to him as a man, in a way quite unexpected.

Pip is orphaned at a young age and lives with his tyrannical sister and her selfless husband.  His frightful experience with the escapee is the start of the many travails he experiences into adulthood.  An impressionable fellow, he becomes consumed with improving his station in life and quickly loses sight of those who truly have his best interests at heart.

The eccentric Miss Havisham lives an isolated and bitter life.   She seeks revenge upon men through her adopted daughter, Estella, in retaliation for being left at the altar and dons a thoroughly worn out wedding dress and keeps her clocks stopped at the hour of her abandonment; 8:40.  She invites Pip to Satis House, her dilapidated home and taunts him in the presence of Estella.

Joe Gargery, brother-in-law to Pip is a hardworking and humble man who sees only good in others.  His reticent manner makes it easy to dismiss him, yet he harbors no ill will to those who do so.  His lack of education and refinement in no way diminish his standing as a truly honorable man.

Best friend to Pip, Herbert Pocket is another honorable man.  While their initial encounter at Satis House is rather unpleasant, they both laugh it off and begin an enjoyable relationship.  Pip asks Herbert to guide him in his social skills and Herbert has the grace to correct him on many occasions without the slightest hint of repudiation.  This is the confidant any one would be blessed to call friend.

Quotes:

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me.  But, it is the same with any life.  Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been.  Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home.  There may be black ingratitude in the thing, and the punishment may be retributive and well-deserved; but, that it is a miserable thing I can testify. 

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlaying our hard hearts. 

So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.

Mr. Dickens holds a special place in my heart for his genuine understanding of the inner workings of the minds of men/women.  I think I’d just enjoy watching him watch others and learn how he was able to transpose those observations to pen and paper.  Sheer genius!

My rating for Great Expectations is a 9 out of 10.

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Next up, Ian McEwan’s Enduring LoveEnduring Love

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The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

TheBlackDahliaI’m glad I was not familiar with the infamous murder mystery of the 1940’s as it may have swayed my reading.  More so that I saved the epilogue for last, as that surely would have changed by point of view.

The hard-boiled writing style of The Black Dahlia elicits images of many a film noir from the books time period.  Based on the factual unsolved gruesome murder of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, the book takes some poetic liberties and served as a personal journey for its author.

Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert is a former boxer who joins the LAPD and becomes obsessed with the Black Dahlia murder.  His quest for answers takes him into underground bars, corrupt police stations and the arms of two women who know more than they’re willing to share about the case.

Partner to Bucky, Lee Blanchard also obsesses over the unsolved murder.  His obsession, however, is to assuage his guilt over the disappearance of his little sister when he was a teen.  Use of benzedrine fuels his erratic behavior and propels him down a path of disaster.  This was the character who earned my wholehearted sympathy.

Kay Lake, adored by both Lee and Bucky never quite reveals herself and leaves the reader wondering whether she is sincere or  a schemer.

With stars in her young eyes, Elizabeth Short came to California with hopes of becoming a famous actress.  Her dreams were never realized and her grisly death brought the fame no one deserves.

Were I to enjoy some time with Mr. Ellroy, I would hope to have him confirm that he’d slayed the dragons of his childhood through the cathartic writing process.  I’d give a go of emulating some of the hard-boiled lingo, but would probably only make a fool of myself.

My rating for The Black Dahlia is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations…GreatExpectations

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The Sea by John Banville

The SeaAfter slogging through Burroughs bombastic novel, I longed for a work that would deliver me back to the joy of reading and The Sea did just that.

A man deals with grief by returning to the haunts of his childhood and reveals how he has and has not grown from days past.  Interspersed between the recent past, the long ago past and the current day, Mr. Banville takes us along as we follow the steps and missteps of Max Morden as he tries and often fails, to reach a level of self-awareness.

Landlady at The Cedars, a vacation destination from Max’s childhood, Miss Vavasour is at times aloof while also seeming perceptive.  We learn she and Max have much in common.

Max Morden could not be described as a grieving widow, although he is, as his thoughts and actions are mostly self-serving, as most humans are.  It is only that he is not quite so good at concealing that truth.

A Cedars tenant, Colonel Blunden, is a sad man seeming to await the end of his life without filling his final years with any joy or fuss.  Not someone to spend time with if in a blue mood.

Max’s first love, Chloe Grace, is a privileged and bored girl who runs hot and cold with her treatment of her young beau.  Her selfishness and brazenness eventually lead to her ruin and sadly takes others along for the descent.

Quotes:

What a little vessel of sadness we are, sailing in this muffled silence through the autumn dark. 

Perhaps all of life is no more than a long preparation for the leaving of it. 

We carry the dead with us only until we die too, and then it is we who are borne along for a little while, and then our bearers in their turn drop, and so on into the unimaginable generations. 

I had that sense of anxious euphoria, of happy, helpless toppling, which the one who knows he will have to do the loving always feels, at the precipitous outset.  For even at such a tender age I knew that there is always a lover and a loved, and knew which one, in this case, I would be.

I felt an extraneous kindredship to Mr. Banville after reading the following, and won’t bore anyone with why.

I have always suffered from what I think must be an overly acute awareness of the mingled aromas that emanate from the human concourse.

Perhaps I would embarrass myself with Mr. Banville by such boldness, but I believe he’d be perhaps awkward at the onset, but brilliant and witty at the finale of our tete-a-tete.

My rating for The Sea is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia…TheBlackDahlia

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Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Naked LunchThis was another eagerly anticipated read due to its renown.  Unfortunately, like many other much hyped works, this was an extreme disappointment.  Actually more than a disappointment and more of an astonishment that it is considered one of the best novels of the 20th century.

As I explained to someone recently, it was like reading Joyce on acid with fewer pages.  This as it turned out, was even more painful than Joyce.  Turning its last page was relief beyond words.

Perhaps it is akin to the drunk who believes in his ability to perform fantastic feats only to awake with inexplicable cuts and bruises and no memory of their origin or the ecstasy user who saw nothing but beauty by night and who awakes, eventually, to the somber grayness of the day.

Pshaw to you naysayers for this is my opinion only and you are entitled to yours.

There were numerous characters; Lee (Burroughs alter), Dr. Benway, Joselito, Clarence, Iris, etc.  All equally repugnant and unsympathetic.

If I were to sit down with Mr. Burroughs, I’d probably choose the elder and hope he’d admit that this work were certainly not his best.  And yes, I am well aware of his passing in 1997, but this is my blog schtick where I imagine a face to face with the author.

My rating for Naked Lunch is a 1 out of 10.

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Next up, John Banville’s The Sea…The Sea

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Atonement by Ian McEwan

AtonementIs it ever too late to atone for one’s sins?  Apparently so is the message delivered in the aptly name Atonement.

Briony Tallis, an indulged and privileged 13-year-old girl sees what she wants to and doesn’t exactly tell it like it was.  As her version expands, she is too far in to stop the bleeding and the results have a lifetime of consequences.

Briony spends her entire adulthood attempting to right a wrong, yet her life and hopes do not have the happy endings she longed for.  Her young and inexperienced imagination and flair for the dramatic result in tragedy for innocent young lovers.

The injured party, Robbie Turner is the son of the housekeeper for the wealthy Tallis family.  His short-lived romance with Briony’s sister, Cecelia leaves him with only memories as he is sentenced to prison for a crime he did not commit.  His short reprieve comes in 1940 as he serves with the British army to fight in France.

Cousin to Briony, Lola Quincy, is equally complicit as she has an opportunity, early on, to set the record straight, but for unknown reasons, fails to speak up.  A beautifully elegant wife to the true heathen, Paul Marshall, she seems unaffected by the devastation she and her cousin have wreaked upon Robbie.  Not someone I’d care to spend any time with.

The Tallis matriarch, Emily, is mostly bedridden with migraines, yet seems to rally when a crisis unfolds.  She seemed to be a woman who found herself with a family near adulthood who she no longer knew and didn’t care to spend time with.

While I would certainly like to ask Mr. McEwan about his writing processes, I would most certainly not ask him anything about his ex-wife.

My rating for Atonement is a 7 out of 10.

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Next up, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch…Naked Lunch

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