Book Reviews

Henry & June by Anais Nin

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Henry & June, the unexpurgated version of Anais Nin’s diary, doesn’t hesitate. It’s eloquently written, telling the passionate love affair between Anais Nin, Henry Miller and his wife June Mansfield.

What is hard to grasp in feeling, Nin captures. She took elaborate emotions and faced them — explored them, questioned them. She thrived in her diaries. Her diaries offered her space to voice her neurosis, yet they also kept track of her alibis, her double life.

I read the expurgated edition of volume one, which I enjoyed as well. However, she didn’t skimp on the details here, and as someone who relishes her writing, you can’t help but adore her chutzpah. Anais was bold but beautiful; coquettish, yet loveable.

In her diary, Anais falls in love with June, Henry Miller’s wife, before June departs for New York. Upon seeing her, she recounts June’s beauty, marveling at her confidence, her narcissism and her sheer awareness of such. She gravitates towards her magic, June’s lies, the way she attracts drama and events and how they unravel around her. Anais, although married to Hugo, harbored an affair with June. And as I was enraptured by the details, I couldn’t help but consider it more than a lesbian affair. What June was made of inspired Anais. She radiated, and Anais wanted every part of it.

After June leaves, Anais becomes entangled with Henry Miller, boldly telling about her sexual awakening with him. Drive in risqué diction into the already beautiful style that Nin writes, and you may blush. She unabashedly documented their carnal exchange before discussing their deep literary connection that underscores their passion. They continued to write letters back and forth and before them lay a fiery literary relationship that you wonder will burn out. To make some sense of her affairs and relationship with Henry, she eventually meets with a perspicacious psychoanalyst Dr. Allendy, with whom she also becomes involved.

Although Nin was married at the time, she rationalized that although she loved her husband, she also craved and loved life. That if she were to liberate herself, she essentially can live life completely.

Despite her multiple love affairs, Anais desired clarity and truth. She was eager to parse out thoughts and emotions, many of which emanated from her childhood and abandonment by her father.

I adore Anais Nin. She was a layered human being. Every time I get a book of hers in hand, I can’t wait to dive into her psyche and seek ways to perceive her, if not comprehend her, and the multi-faceted ways of being a woman, expressing oneself sensually, emotionally, intellectually, through literacy.

 

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami is a collection of short stories that recount the lives of men without women. This compilation of brief accounts opens up about a widowed actor who employs a chauffeur to drive him around as he tells her about his late wife and her unfaithful proclivities. Keep reading and Murakami reveals Dr. Tokai — a cosmetic surgeon surrounded by women daily — who falls sickly in love with a married woman. Murakami pushes the envelope and discusses Samsa, who wakes up in an unfamiliar house with an unusual body and meets a hunchback of a locksmith, unsure of these sensations of lust and excitement.

Each story bears a message worthy of discussion if not an absolute interpretation. Murakami descends into a downward spiral of poignancy, seen and felt through an overworked man with an extramarital wife and another male character, perhaps, in fear of committing to something good.

You might ask yourself questions like, “Who or What Am I?”  or feel called out in ways, knowing you are not alone in an emotion that is not often broached or exchanged.

Murakami finds ways to tell about these men without women, demonstrating their nature as the presumed male species. He shows this through Dr. Tokai and his respectable status in wealth and leadership and through Kitaru, who seemingly fears a sense of establishment or arrival. When he explores these characters, he reminds us of the human experiment — that whether male or female, feelings arise in both, and thus comes suffering, joy, temptation and wonder. Even in the most fantastical ways of being without a body that isn’t yours in his Samsa story.

Murakami, like many of his works, delivers information through words. His stories, which thrive in the metaphysical, are exceptional. Murakami leaves you with an experience that evokes suffering, joy, wonder and nostalgia, drawing a crowd that has more questions than answers in life.

 

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

⭐⭐⭐½/5

Writers & Lovers, written by Lily King, tells the story of Casey Peabody and her experiences with loss and struggle. As she processes her mother’s passing and the parting of an erstwhile lover, she continues to keep the rest of her life moving with unreliable hope and reticent about her personal affairs.  She then meets Silas, a mercurial English teacher writer who shares similar grief with that of Casey, and Oscar, a well-renowned author and father of two. The novel presses on as the reader learns more about Casey’s misfortune with her health, being displaced from her apartment that she could hardly call home and rejections from publishers on her book. Although split between two men and trying to reconcile with the fate of her health — among other snags — Casey bravely manages to allow the world around her to unfold.

King tells us about ordinary struggles that are mattering, and how with time and trust, one can begin to see the light after periods of darkness.

I smiled from ear to ear reading this book, from Silas’ obnoxious roommate to Casey’s pensive musings. I appreciate books of people coming into their own because the struggles of the human condition—from compound feelings to drowning in thousands of dollars in college debt — are relatable. Understanding Casey on several degrees, from waiting tables to sending your book to an Editor – I recall the anticipation, I remember that soiled apron.

The book fixes up nicely for Casey’s life being pretty messy. Although I loved some of the profound quotes in this book, the book was okay overall as it did not leave an indelible impression on me.

The Shack, written by William P. Young

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

The Shack, written by William P. Young, tells the story of Mackenzie working through his grief after losing his youngest daughter, Missy. One snowy day, MacKenzie receives a letter addressed from “Papa” telling him that he will be at the shack next weekend if he’s interested in getting together…

Thinking the note could either be from God or his daughter’s sadistic murderer, he decides to take a trip out to the shack. Taking with him his weight of curiosity and a gun of some sort, Mack ventures out to the shack where a series of experiences leaves him doubtful, confused, exasperated and later with an awakening or a realized state.

Throughout the book, Mack toils as he moves through his grief, faces his unresolved past and continues to challenge his wavering faith.

A friend recommended this book to me after I had never heard of it. This is a beautifully written book. It presents challenging material that readers will either question or take interest in. I related to Mack through many instances, just as anyone parsing through his or her grief or understanding of this world and wondering about the next.

This book carries some challenging content concerning faith, grief and having to reconcile with life’s losses and gains. I would recommend this book to individuals working through their own grief and material and to anyone questioning the integrity of his or her faith or seeking to understand life.

 

Forever Elko by Kim Bastian

⭐⭐⭐½/5

Forever Elko by Kim Bastian is a 120-page memoir. For a lightweight book, this one comes heavy.kim bastian, viola day book reviews, rina pritchard writer

The character ventures out west after a failed marriage and suicide attempt. She brings along company who I’m guessing goes by the name of Travis. On their road trip from Oklahoma — accompanied by a sweet-sounding blue assuie and oat Cliff bars — they sojourn in a questionable Airbnb in Truckee, visit Travis’ grandmother and lose Vi (their dog) only to find him again. Their escapade of sorts continues until their “Mercedes SUV with Four-Wheel Drive” sustains a flat. No sweat, they just lock in the available donut spare, much like how the rest of us tackle all of our problems. As they journey onward with the measly rubber reserve, the tire eventually gives out and the trio finds themselves perforated with more grief in Elko, NV, where they end up staying for an extended period. While mechanics service their luxury heap, the author recounts her experiences with strange confederate thrift shops, insipid Mexican food, broken toilets, their future selves, shoddy motels and creeper-like motel keepers. After managing to get their vehicle back in adequate shape, they head back to Oklahoma City. Eastbound, she arrives at a moment of realization and misplaced hope.

If I could flip to a random page, I won’t be let down in finding a sentence or three that I can write down and refer to in case I needed an upper. Some of these sentences are probably written somewhere in a dive-bar bathroom, an ex-girlfriend’s Dr. Martens or a neighborhood park bench. If not, it should. The author has channeled her inner resource and used her writing chops and boundless spirit to make, if not better, more parts of herself.

No frills with the storyline, nothing extraordinary happens; however, readers seize a glimpse into her outlook of the world, or this place, Elko, Nevada, and its population of 20,500.

Bastian is a conversationalist in her writing.

Bastian can create a mood in her prose.

Bastian shows, she doesn’t tell.

Her second-person point of view endeared me. Clearly, she was talking to Travis (I’d argue another soul who’s out doing some soul work but certainly someone special to the author), but I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t slip into moments where she was speaking to me.

I wallowed in the ending. I cared about her. I wanted great things for this human and her babies back at home. Maybe, she reminded me of a person I had been. The bright and hopeful ending left a mark of maturity and a glint of wonder. As someone who has experienced the lowest of lows, the author caught a window of faith and was able to step outside of herself, awakening to the fact that she didn’t need to be the “tourist in the passenger seat” “looping in a roundabout” any longer.

 

 

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Earthlings, written by Sayaka Murata, tells the story of Natsuki who claims that she is from another planet.

She looks like you and me.

She speaks in the way that you and I speak.

She even carries the biological makeup of a human being.

Yet, she insists that her body is not hers.

Barely surviving among earthlings, Natsuki refuses to conform to society’s measures and fakes it to make it. She carries this outlook, which ripens in complexity as she matures into a young woman. As the story moves down wonderful and outlandish boulevards, the reader begins to understand Natsuki as she carries with her a childhood trauma that places her into a mindset she cannot undo. Natsuki, who continues to feel as if her body was never hers, references the society that she inhabits as the Factory — where couples marry, buy a home and have children; the Factory — where Natsuki continues to “survive” with her asexual husband, whose values align with hers.

Shouldering the pressure to engage in intimacy with her husband to produce babies, Natsuki decides to escape the suburbs into the mountains, a place that ushers in fond memories of her youth and time with her dear cousin Yuu. It is then when Natsuki, Yuu and her husband — a trio of kindred spirits — decide to liberate themselves from the Factory at great heights that no reader can truly prepare themselves for.

This book is not for the faint of heart. Throughout the novel, you journey through unforeseen loops and sharp corners to an ending that can leave you either loving or hating the book. This book is outrageous. What could be metaphors, might be magic. What you thought was your imagination was metaphysical. This book begs to be rationalized and explained. However, readers will appreciate this work best with looming questions and countless theories.

Behind the dreamlike prose of this book, sits a tragedy that merits your isolated attention and rumination. It sums up the power of trauma and abandonment over a child. It is about being robbed of what is sacred. It is about having to heal with skinned knees — no band-aids — and with a back pocketful of rocks that you are forced to sit on throughout dinner while Mom tells you to stop fidgeting.

 

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

⭐⭐⭐/5

Wondering where you’re gonna be in five years can get just about anyone hoping for the best. Fruitful results, the highly sought after better paying job, the glorified vision of marrying your BFF with children and a wrap-around porch. In Five Years captures Dannie’s life as she deals with changes in romance, career and friendships and within herself. Readers might even appreciate this book more in the end when the author ties everything together. Dannie wasn’t particularly a likable character for me. She’s pragmatic, disciplined and goes by the book. A parental figure, Dannie bellies this character trait as she faces new changes and dilemmas, soon discovering that she doesn’t have it all figured out like she thought she would. In Five Years shows that time waits for no one. It demonstrates that time has its own agenda and to-do list. In Five Years is a realistic exploration of becoming, growing into your big girl pants if you will, or just constantly becoming. Granted, Dannie isn’t in her early twenties, she’s what our culture would refer to as a full-grown adult, but it seems that it isn’t age so much that ushers in wisdom, it’s experience. It is in the end when circumstances become real as life that the reader, specifically those who’ve experienced the duality of relief and grief, success and loss, recalls or learns that there is no easy or proper way to feel or deal.

I’m giving this book three stars because it was only in the end when the book pulled me in. I felt as though I should have been in tears but I wasn’t emotionally invested as others or as I had hoped to be.

 

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself charts DFW’s five-day Infinite Jest book tour with Rollingstone Editor David Lipsky. Each page offers a taste of their exchange in its rawest, although at times reluctant, composition – pauses and all.

Here, the reader gets two writers on a road trip engaging in discussions about fame, writing, mental health, DFW’s publication journey and his debilitating days of recovery. The reader is the backseat passenger, who can’t resist the urge to be lured into listening in on their intellectual carnage only to snicker seconds later at their chumminess.

DFW discusses fame, relates publishing his books to raising children, dives deep into his months-long recovery from substances and his adoration for Alanis Morissette while consciously trying to keep his humility intact. He never forgets that he is being interviewed, thus never wanting to buy into the fact that he’s a literary heavyweight, with a substantial following, knowing the understanding that success will never be enough.

I’m giving this book four stars, 1 star off because it had, during many times, become information overload (given the transcript format). Lipsky and Wallace converse like two long lost friends, where one can slide in a one-word remark without the other being fully thrown for a loop. DFW matters. He has a brain you would want to pick so you can understand yourself as an artist. He can use his intellectual chops in a way that can translate emotionally to the reader. He appeals to many aspiring writers, specifically those trying to make their mark or who are at odds with their calling.

 

The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5/5

The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons is an otherworldly romance story that connects the half-dead and living. She tinkers with ghostly and human projections and goes beyond a ghost lurking in your presence.

Thomas is a “ghost” who is insufficiently dead, prancing around limbo with no care in the world (or lack thereof) until he meets Rachel. Thomas is set out to finish 90 days of his return to reality as The Office irons out some hiccups and discrepancies that had regretfully taken place on their part. They have given him a set of recommendations, or rules, to go by if he does not want to incur any regrets, one of which includes becoming involved with people.

“Structured activity is an excellent antidote to loose and dangerous thoughts.”

(This isn’t an easy book to review, but I’ll do my best.)

I want to reread this book, but not so I can remember the minuscule details, snicker at the smart witty prose or understand the totality of it all, but so I can see if I’ll like this book more.

Getting to the point–I liked this book. It was enchanting, ingenious and funny. I grinned from ear to ear, rereading paragraphs, and took too many pictures as I normally do when I come across delicious passages. But as the book continued, as it switched narratives between characters, the context, my connection with the characters fell to the wayside. Bonnaffons gripped my attention in the beginning, establishing the story’s foundation, but the details began to collide, and meanings somewhere somehow got lost. It could be the convoluted subject matter, after having bent my mind and leaving it there, or that Bonnaffons had this momentum going…The entire book is bizarre, eerie even in the most endearing way, but I believe it holds the potential of having a stronger, more eloquent progression given its perceptive introduction.

This full-length novel is a metaphor in itself, a philosophical exploration of existence. It’s symbolic of becoming, romance, letting go, all the components that embody adulthood. The ending was beautifully written. I love Bonnaffon’s way of writing. She uses her verbs and adjective like poetry. She writes creatively. She features characters, many of whom we all know about as though she had plucked them from our millennial generation (The roommate from college who’s attended too many Burning Man festivals; the recluse librarian, the one with the Doc Martens.)

For someone to appropriately appreciate this one, an open mind is essential. Forget what you believe; this, here, is literature. Have you ever felt someone’s absence more deeply than their presence? that abstractions can somehow take form? It’s kind of like that where dreams, memories and ideas that lack in actuality, in skin, can incite your most dormant senses and thoughts.

viola day author book reviews_magical thunderclaps jisu leeMagical Thunderclaps by Jisu Lee (translated by Susan Park)

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5/5

​Magical Thunderclaps written by Jisu Lee comprises five short stories that are sure to entertain you. One tells about little secretaries filing away memories in a drunken man’s subconscious and another chronicles a couple’s ill-fated adventures in Australia.  After reading a synopsis about the book, I knew I couldn’t let this one slip past me.

Lee’s idiosyncratic storytelling really pervades the foreground here. There’s so much to adore about this book. Lee probably spends much of her time spectating in large groups, which explains and even nurtures her chops in describing the events around her characters, the time of day, what’s in the air, the clinking of beer mugs or how unflattering airport securities look under harsh lighting during an interrogation. Each story felt as though it were relayed to me by an excitable friend who failed endearingly at juggling the details, nuanced with the humor, before cackling to tears and repeating, “Wait, wait. Let me start over.” Each story will have you wondering where it’s taking, no, lassoing you. While some of these stories will end up tying loose ends others may lack clarity but transcend quick-wittedly. You will laugh, you will cry. You will make connections. While I can see why some readers will find the ending of some of these stories underwhelming given the climactic fatty middle, I thought it daringly left its remnants in my conscience, like a souvenir to remember it by. With no hesitation, Lee’s unique imagination charts these unusual settings and whimsical plotlines for their themes. ​​

Lee is a visionary in the way she writes, maybe even a poet behind her eccentric prose. It kind of makes me sad that this doesn’t have much attention. Magical Thunderclaps is many good things, but a book for the shallow-minded and those who do not rise to the occasion, it is not.

 

the immortalists chloe benjamin book reviewThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

The Immoralists by Chloe Benjamin chronicles the story of four siblings and the unfolding plot of their lives told in separate sections. At a very young, moldable age, Varya, Daniel, Simon and Klara see a mysterious psychic who prophesizes the ages when they will pass. The story continues, each section divided per character, and the reader learns whether their lives truly result in their awful predicted demise.

This has become one of my all-time favorite books. I began reading this book knowing almost nothing about it. The author writes in a way that summons your greatest fears and awakens poignant emotions. She tells a wonderful—at times heartbreaking and many times petrifying—story of the bond of four siblings, their past, and their life-long (or not so long) prophecy. The characters and their spouses/partners have different personalities, and I took a liking to all of them. Benjamin has written them, has created them, in a way that drives you to empathize with their unpropitious circumstances, all of which unfold differently. It could be the unsettling topic of death nestled quietly in the back of your head as you read page after page, the feelings of isolation and loss, the familiar bond between kinship, or endeavoring to become someone before your time expires. Benjamin sheds light on supernatural versus reality, the power of faith, the influence of science, and the gravity of magic. She dives into these themes without somehow leaving both feet off the ground, building on this reality we know too well and further blurring the debate of fate versus free will.

I thoroughly admired Klara, her outlook on defying logic.

Daniel, whom we find initially uninteresting and pragmatic yet perplexed for reasons I won’t say, surprised me.

Ruby, a flower in bloom, is an inspiration.

I wanted to hug Simon and chase away his demons.

Varya, I longed to understand, formulas and her rationale toward the world and all.

There’s hardly any comfort in this book. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder. I found myself anticipating death at every corner. However, where there is melancholy, we wish for hope. The Immoralists carried exactly that, shrouded at first until it revealed itself in the end.

 

viola day books reviewsEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman tells the story of Eleanor Oliphant who, we learn, isn’t fine, actually. Thinking Eleanor dealt with a crisis on the cusp of adulthood, I was mistaken. As the synopsis suggests, Eleanor is the main character who lacks social grace, takes conversations literally and has been sheltered from a culture that consumes us. She meets Raymond—a co-worker and the company’s IT—who can talk at great lengths about Windows XP and who takes a lackadaisical pride in his appearance, which Eleanor abhors. Throughout the book, we sink deeper into their friendship and into the depths of her past where we learn why Eleanor thinks and functions in the manner that she does.

This is no romance book, although some scenes do sprinkle tokens of affection. Much of their conversations are exchanged over lunch, work emails and libations. I adored the blend of poignant sadness and humor. Honeyman seemed to have done that so naturally as though it were deliberate to ease the load between the dismal details and the sardonic wit where readers won’t tire of either. Eleanor was completely endearing, and made you want to place your hand at your chest and say, “Oh, Eleanor.” She has quite a personality on her for not having one. During moments of reading when you aren’t bothered by her crude internal assessments of others, you’ll learn that it’s appropriate, totally intentional, and not for the interest of indulging readers. Raymond’s a doll, but I’d hoped more of a backstory from him in addition to serving as some kind of crutch for Eleanor.

Not sure if there’s a plotline here, but you’ll tag along in knowing her every observation in life, those around her, her innumerable encounters on the bus, at Tesco Metro and with her old friend Vodka. We’re there when she gets a promotion, superficially falls for the lead vocalist of a band and during conversations with “Mummy.”

I liked the book more as I drew closer to the end, where suppressed memories, names of people never mentioned and unfortunate sequence of events that took light came to fruition. When parts of the story weren’t light and feathery with Raymond, they grew lugubrious during her isolated episodes and discussions with her therapist and mother. With that said, however, I found myself struggling to feel, and I mean feel, her very grief/trauma that had me wondering since the book’s first pages.
The juggle between the deadpan humor and grief-stricken backstory came at the expense of true sympathy, of heart.

I enjoyed reading this book, would recommend it to a friend in passing, but it’s not a favorite.

 

 

viola day author book reviews_sputnik sweetheartSputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

“So much of your own writing has an other-worldly, dreamlike quality. If you aren’t inspired by your dreams, where do you get your inspiration?

Writing a story is like playing out your dreams while you are awake. It’s not about being inspired by your dreams, but about consciously manipulating the unconscious and creating your own dream. I think I am graced with the ability to do that.”

Murakami plunges deep into the themes and throes of unrequited love, alienation, childhood and reality vs. dreams. Like many of his works, it leaves readers with no resolution, but of their own interpretations and a splitting headache. He cleverly straddles the thin line between real life and the dream state, the known and the unknown, this world and the one that parallels it. In Sputnik Sweetheart, he explores these themes through its main characters, Sumire and K, in this part romance, part mystery that’s awash with mind-benders and metaphysical elements.

 

viola day author book reviews_confetti andy knowltonConfetti by Andy Knowlton

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5/5

Andy writes about the wonderful things nobody notices. I’m sure I’d mentioned this to him in passing. He packed my luggage for me and shipped me off to the Netherlands, South Korea and Botswana just so I can see the world as he saw them. I was there. I saw what he saw. I tasted those fries. I wore that Indian Calico shirt. He tells stories around a campfire. Andy writes about objects, too, and gives them life as though we took advantage of their value. I also think Julia is his muse. Julia sounds pretty. In his writing, Andy can take a brief five seconds of an event in Agra, India and stretch it into an hour. I think he called some people out and left them with a moral of the day. Some of his stuff is light and airy and then gets heavy and dark. He writes to amuse. He dwells into your senses and nudges them. He’s dropped the mic on many pages. Many of those pages I’ve folded the corners of. Andy explores the parameters of poetry as writers should. He crosses boundaries and draws his own.  He’s not afraid to redefine, to tamper with emotions and embarrass people. Thanks, Andy.