Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Tilted World

            There are some lovely aspects to this historical novel by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly. I enjoyed the premise of a federal agent during prohibition falling for the best moonshine maker in the region. I liked the setting and the sense of the impending flood of 1927 – the impetus for the climax. The details were gritty and solid and did a fine job evoking the era of Prohibition on the Mississippi. Certainly it was a quick and pleasant read and I enjoyed the finely-crafted language.
   The poetry in the novel no doubt belongs to Beth Ann Fennelly, the poet co-author. To my taste, though, there’s an inherent difficulty in using language that’s so clearly out of the realm of most of us, and especially of federal agent and bootleggers. It can work and in places it does, but in other places the voice of the poetry became for me a distraction, an obstacle to being completely in the world of the characters. I enjoyed it for the love of words, which were certainly quite beautiful, but at the same time regretted I couldn’t immerse more fully in the world of the story. The language jumped out as not belonging to the world of the story, making it difficult to forget or ignore the well-crafted sentences that were telling it.
            Thus I would recommend this book for those of us who like a more ‘literary’ take on an action story—and are willing to trade some degree of immersion for the pleasure of a well-turned phrase.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Doomsday Book

I've never been much of a fantasy reader, but a friend recommended Connie Willis as someone I might like and I thought to take a peek. She's won the Hugo and Nebula awards more times than almost anyone else, so she must be doing something right. I started with the Doomsday Book from 1992, which won the Hugo and kicks off a long series. And I have to say, the Doomsday Book is nothing if not different. It's an odd cross between a cozy mystery - it has that feel to it - and a historical adventure, all tied together by the fantastical rules that govern time travel within the story. 
It’s a long book and I have to confess I thought the middle sagged, as I had trouble pushing through it. Also I didn’t care for the harried way all the characters in Oxford – in the year 2050 – rushed around in a constant panic. Sure they had problems, but some of them were life-threatening and others were about sweaters and bell concerts (hence the cozy mystery feel) and they seemed to induce equivalent frenzy. I began to feel harried myself!
 But then, in that way that some books do and I really admired in this one, the ending pulled together all the pieces and uplifted the story to something moving. The protagonist Kivrin is quite a trooper and Ms. Willis pulls off a real sense of connection between her and the Oxford professor who sends her back to the Middle Ages via time travel. Which, as you might imagine, doesn't go so well.
What I liked best in the ending was the refreshing nature of the bond between a professor and a student, not a romance or even a typical friendship. It was a good read and I went on to read the first in her two-book series about time travel back to the Blitz. I’ll post more when I’ve read the second one!