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Week in Books, Summer Edition: Week 8

July 11, 2010

Eight books for you this week.

I started the week with Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife.  This novel is based on the life of former First Lady Laura Bush, and once you know that fact, it’s hard to forget it, especially when there are sex scenes.  I’ve railed before on fan fiction, and I’ve also had issues when fiction is thinly-veiled fan fiction, as with Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s obviously Jennifer Aniston/Brangelina novel.  However, unlike in the romance, where the characters seem like puppets on the page in order to fulfill SEP’s need for a happy Hollywood ending (not that I got far into the book, once I realized what it was; I just couldn’t do it), the gen fic/literature aspect of Sittenfeld’s work assures us that there’s more than just tawdy backstory.  What Sittenfeld does is creates a character who, like Lee in Prep, is generally passive, but more willing to compromise.  Sittenfeld’s Bush–named here Alice–may not make the choices you or I make, but they make sense in context, and the most interesting part of the book is the beginning, discussing the childhood and car accident that leads to a life of making choices and sticking by them as if, she says, all the good things in her life are things she doesn’t deserve, and at first she clings to them as if they’ll be taken away at any time.  When  her marriage is on the rocks, she defaults to her upbringing to show her how to get through; she considers divorce an option, but not the best one.  The book falters in the White House, with a lot of soapboxing and a too convenient ending to a major conflict, but Sittenfeld does what few others have been able to do for me over the course of these last ten years: show me how Bush’s decisions could be sympathetic.

I feel that most people will be put off by how close the source material is to real life, or else how far it comes at times, but ultimately, American Wife is a good book.  I decided around the time I was finishing it that it’s as close to present-day historical fiction that I’ve ever read, and for some reason, that amuses me.

Next I read That Summer, Sarah Dessen’s first, somewhat lightweight, YA novel about a girl who clings to the memory of her one perfect summer as everything around her changes.  Unlike other books of Dessen’s, this one doesn’t make the transition to adult reader as well, but it’s a good book for middle schoolers and some high schoolers.

Next I read Swapping Lives by Jane Green, which I had a tough time getting into but enjoyed once I did.  The book is written conversationally, which was my first hurdle, and about two women leading fabulous, but extremely different, lives, which was the second.  I was having some serious back problems earlier in the week and I just didn’t want to read about the charmed lives of beautiful people, but because this book is more about embracing the life you have than glorifying something else, I found myself rooting for both women.  The plot, which revolves around the British single career gal Vicky and the American upper-middle-class suburban housewife Amber, does not get off the ground until almost halfway through the book, leaving us plenty of time to get into both women’s lives, maybe too much time, considering how the book is presented.  But that’s okay, because Green mires us in the issues both women face, and paints a believable picture of both urban and suburban frustration.  Green may not hand out remedies for the post-feminist confusion of home versus office, single versus married, etc., but she does find a way to present both sides so that both have flaws and rewards.

Green missteps a few times–“turn in” is an expression common in America, but Green has an American confused by it; Amber thinks about going back to work but never considers going back to being what she was before she got married, which seems the most obvious choice–but the book itself is highly entertaining.

Next I read a Harlequin that made me madder than any Harlequin ever.  But I’m saving that for the project.

I also read some more Honey & Clover, volumes 6-8.  The middle of this series drags in places, and many characters get lost in the shuffle, but fortunately, this story of art students in Japan wraps up in two more volumes.  Although I enjoy it, I’ve suffered through four fictional years of two love triangles, and it’s too damn much.  After two years, people would be considered pathetic, chasing after people who don’t want them.  Is this a fictional thing, or a culture thing?  Because it’s maddening.

Finally, I read The Sword Volume 1: Fire by The Luna Brothers, a visually stunning (if sometimes repetitive in facial expressions), violent comic about a paraplegic girl whose family is murdered in front of her by three beings with superpowers looking for a sword.  The resulting search for answers to the murder, to the identity of the murderers, to the sword, is a fast-paced adventure, not suitable for children, but older teens and adults may enjoy it.  I did.  The dialogue can be a little stiff, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.  UNFORTUNATELY, for some reason my library only has three of the four trades, but I’m hoping to point that out to them the next time I get over there.

Next up: More Honey & Clover, some graphic novels based on novels, and more romance I probably won’t tell you about.  Neener.

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