READING RECOMMENDATIONS DAY 10

This book, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by Nicole Dennis-Benn really ticked me off, I have to admit. It was VERY hard for me to read such a difficult treatment of Jamaica and the ways in which the tourism industry has made commodities out of the things that are most beautiful and precious about the island–not just its scenery but also its people. It was an unflinching and unromantic portrayal of the other side of paradise, that most people don’t see. Once done, I had to admit that though I didn’t like the picture the author portrayed, it wasn’t untrue. I recommend.

My review on Goodreads:

Here Comes the SunHere Comes the Sun by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Talk about a sad, tragic story. First, it bears saying and emphasizing that Nicole Dennis-Benn is an incredibly talented writer. Her prose is beautiful, lyrical and visual. She conjures up every one of the senses so vividly that I felt like I was right there in the hot, dusty community of River Bank as it suffers through drought, extreme poverty and an impending development project that threatens to displace residents from their homes, leaving them nowhere to go.

This would and could have been a five-star read for me, and frankly, I’m not sure it wasn’t a five-star read, and it is entirely possible that many of my criticisms are because I came to this book with a bias. I was raised in Jamaica and so the country and its people are familiar to me, as are its challenges and weaknesses and prejudices, much of which is explored in this novel.

But for me, this book presented the country and its poor as people almost uniformly made soulless by deprivation, made morally bankrupt by poverty, and with nary a redeeming quality among them. I resented that, I have to admit, because I thought it was a one-dimensional view of the island and its people, through the characters. The mothers who blithely exploit their daughters, or stand by while they are exploited; the men who rape women and children or abandon their families; the white Jamaicans who belittle and despise the Black Jamaicans; apparently all Jamaicans who loathe people who are LGBTQ; and the government that sells out its citizens … it went on and on, and on. And even the protagonists (if they can be called that) morphed from earnest strivers at the beginning of the book into mercenary opportunists, never managing to develop anything approaching a sustainable connection with another human being.

Apart from the hopelessly naive Thandi, Charles, the poor boy who loves her, and Verdene, the lesbian who lives in a community that never tires of persecuting her, scarcely a single character in this novel (primary or secondary) made me feel much more than contempt. And Thandi, Charles and Verdene were somewhat less sympathetic because often, they lacked agency and were at the whim of more malevolent characters, which made them pitiful even when they were at times noble and high-minded.

As I read, I kept asking myself, ‘what is this author trying to say?’ I settled on the possibility that her core theme may have been exploitation and how easily the exploited and persecuted can become the exploiter and persecutor; and how that ultimately, is a zero-sum game. Through long monologues, the characters rail at each other about what they have sacrificed and what they are owed, what was done to them, and how that justifies the odious things they do. It became almost tiresome, but not in the sense of being exasperating, but it literally made me tired. It felt like a point was being made over and over again, but in the manner of a poison pen, where after a while, the narrative felt less like illustration and more like bitter exposition.

As for the plotting, it was very tightly and cleverly executed, with some genuinely surprising reveals, always impeccably timed for greatest impact. Not all literary fiction writers can do this, but Nicole Dennis-Benn’s pacing is absolutely flawless. I did, at times, wish there was less intrigue and more character exposition. I knew thoroughly who all these people were by the end, but at times, I was unconvinced as to the why of who they were, or what they became.

Ultimately, this is an excellent book, grim in subject matter but for me, dubious as to motive. Recommended.


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READING RECOMMENDATIONS DAY 9

I realize I’ve been recommending books that are classics, or literary fiction, but there’s a lot more diversity of genre on my shelves. This one I enjoyed a lot because it kept me guessing from beginning to end, without the frustration that can sometimes come when books keep you unsettled and uncertain. Today I recommend, particularly for those who love the mystery-suspense genre, ‘A Stranger on the Beach’ by Michele Campbell.

My review on Goodreads:
A Stranger on the BeachA Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very well done. It’s been a while since I read a book where for eighty percent of it, I didn’t know what to believe, or who was telling the truth. Written in alternating POVs in the first and third person, we hear from a woman who is being stalked by a former lover, and the lover himself. Both of them, for various reasons are problematic and unreliable as narrators. As we hear different versions of the same events relayed, the reader cannot help but swing back and forth between belief and disbelief, switching sides and changing your mind several times before thinking you have a handle on what is really happening. And then … you find out you were wrong.

As I delve more and more into the suspense genre (particularly domestic suspense) I’m discovering just how much fun it is to read about people living supposedly normal lives but harboring darkness. And most enjoyable are writers like this one, who are skilled enough to know when to pull back from the overly sensational, making sure you as a reader think, ‘this could totally happen!’ and giving a story that is incredible, but not unbelievable. I have a few of this authors books, including one I haven’t yet read. This one makes me excited to get to it. Recommended.

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READING RECOMMENDATIONS DAY 3

Today I’m recommending ‘We Are Water’ by Wally Lamb. I think he’s most known for his debut novel, ‘She’s Come Undone’ which was a great coming-into-adulthood story. This one is about a complicated family. Mom, an artist, comes out to her kids and announces she’s getting married, forcing them all to deal with painful truths about their family. One of the remarkable things about this book other than how insightful it is, is that much like his other books (other than his first) he manages to write upwards of 700 pages and make every word seem absolutely essential. His other book that I love, love, love, ‘I Know This Much is True’ is now showing on HBO as a limited series. If you watch, prepare for the waterworks.

Happy Reading!

N.

Here’s my review of ‘We Are Water’ from back when I first read it:

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

★★★★★

Best of 2016 for me. It took me a while to get through this one, but not because it wasn’t good. On the contrary, I read slowly because it was AMAZING. This is the first book I’ve read in a long while where every single character–main and supporting–felt layered and complicated. I empathized with them all, every single one of them, even while I liked some and disliked others. As a reader, this type of fiction is my sweet spot. I also love that Wally Lamb bucks convention and doesn’t feel compelled to confine his work to 350 pages to make it “marketable”. I love that he never strikes a false note in the interests of sounding “literary”. His writing is just true, and clear and completely authentic. I can see, however, how this book and books of this type are not for everyone. It jumps back and forth between voices, and in time and it takes a certain level of commitment to trust the author, and believe that the different narrative strands will come together. Well, I believed, and am so glad I did. From here on out, I will follow wherever Wally Lamb takes me. Looking forward to reading his latest release.


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And in case you’re curious about the HBO series for ‘I Know This Much is True’ here’s the trailer with the amazing Mark Ruffalo.