This blog is dedicated to the amazing staff at the New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann, 2009, * * * * *

Let the Great World Spin is a dazzlingly rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s. There are dozens of intimate tales and threads at the core of Let the Great World Spin. On one level there’s the funambulist, Philippe Petit, making his way on a high wire across the World Trade Center towers. However, as the story in the novel moves forward, the “walker” becomes less and less of a focal point and you begin to care more about the people down below, on the pavement, in the ordinary throes of their existence. There’s an Irish monk living in the Bronx projects; a Park Avenue mother in mourning for her dead son blown up in Saigon; computer hackers who "visit" New York in an early echo of the Internet;  an artist who has to learn to return to the simplicity of love; and a Bronx hooker who has brought up her children in “the house that horse built”--“horse” of course being the heroin that was ubiquitous in the '70s.  The stories are interwoven so that it is one story..on one day.. in one city.. and yet it is also a history of the time. In Let the Great World Spin, you can’t ignore the overtones for today.  Suffice it to say that the novel is held together by an act of redemption and beauty.  I didn’t want to stop turning the pages.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, 2010, * * *

It is always cause for celebration when a debut author bursts on the scene with an original and whimsical novel that is bound to capture attention. And this novel -- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand -- has much to recommend it. Major Pettigrew is a very proper and delightfully droll widower of 68 who resides in the quaint village of Edgecombe St. Mary in Sussex, England. He is also the father of Roger, a posturing and preening young man who has incorporated none of the values of his father.  The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more.  The two of them must navigate the gossip and outright prejudice of their stilted society. It is also a charming English comedy of manners and, in places, a laugh-out-loud read. A scene, for example, where the atrocities of "Pakistani Partition" are reduced to a bad-taste dinner show or where the favored ducks of schoolchildren are chosen as prey for a duck hunt are spot-on. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand touches on many big issues: the clash of culture and religions, the greed of unbridaled globalization, the tension between fathers and sons, and family dynamics in general. At its heart, though, it is an old-fashioned love story and an ode for anyone who refuses to give up on life or love at any stage of life.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson, 2010, * * *

As the final installment of Stieg Larsson's trilogoy, I wish I could say that this book was of the same caliber as that of the prior two books, but in my opinion, it was not. The book picked up right where the last, The Girl Who Played With Fire,  left off, with Lisbeth Salander in the hospital being treated for her injuries. Mikael Blomkvist continues to sleuth on her behalf in order to expose those who have made her life hellish and attempted to frame her for all manner of crimes. All of the other familiar characters from the prior books return but the overall feel of the book is that it was the least edited and least considered of the three. This would make sense if Larsson had intended to go back and do some more tweaking and editing before publication, but he was obviously unable to do so following his death. There are entire sections of the book that meander on and on with no apparent purpose with regard to moving the story forward – these sections would have benefited greatly from some serious editorial paring.  There are also way too many characters who have not appeared before, and like a Russian novel, you needed 3x5 cards to keep track of them and how they fit into the plot line. I simply could not put down the previous books, but I was nowhere near as riveted by this one. For the ending alone, this story is worth reading and I wavered between a 3-and 4- star review for this reason. Ultimately, I considered whether the book, standing alone without the previous two, would be a 4-star book, and I don't believe that would be the case. Anyone who has read the first two books simply will not be able to deny themselves the final installment, nor should they. It is a great loss that Mr. Larsson passed away before he could really fine-tune the final book, and before he could write another.