Monday, March 21, 2011

"All He Ever Wanted" by Anita Shreve

After I read Body Surfing, I developed a certain idea about Anita Shreve's writing. Intriguing and passionate. The second book I read, however, reached up to expectations only in bits and pieces. Expectations formed based on the earlier book by the same author as well as reviews of this one.

This one is also set in New England (which makes it easier for me to relate to it all), but not in the present day (which makes it more difficult for me to relate to it all). It takes us back to the late 1800s- early 1900s. It is set in a small academic town, with the main character being a college Professor. It revolves around the two things he wants most - to marry the girl he is attracted to, and to be promoted to the post of Dean of the college. He does eventually get both of these things, after some struggle, but each is a bit of a compromise that fails to make him as happy as he had hoped to be.

The most interesting part about this book is that it is written by a female author but narrated in the first person from the point of view of a man. When I started the book, I thought this might lead to a slightly odd narrative, but it was perfectly natural, and a few pages into the book I forgot about this little tidbit of information. There are only a few scattered episodes in the story, however, that generate the kind of intrigue and passion I was hoping to find in this book. The rest of it is fairly mundane and everyday. Towards the end of the book, however, Shreve does manage to generate enough interest to keep the pages turning fast and to keep me from falling asleep on the train ride home after a long day at work. All in all, it was only okay and I would perhaps have had regrets about buying this book if I hadn't bought it dirt cheap at a yard sale.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story

When I read The Secret Life of Bees, I did not know that its author, Sue Monk Kidd, was someone better known for nonfiction and that this was her first attempt at fiction. I found that out later. This is one of her nonfiction works, in collaboration with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor.

This is a memoir of the mother-daughter pair's travels spanning Greece, France and Turkey. Sue, at that point, was trying to conceive her first novel (The Secret Life of Bees) and also going through a number of other changes in her life, including menopause. Ann was trying to figure out what to do with her life, trying to sort out her passion for Greek history and for writing.

This is Ann's first book, but Sue was a well-known writer with a number of bestsellers to her credit at the time of writing this. Yet she was unclear and unsure about writing fiction for the first time. Ann had someone like Sue for a mother, who would obviously know a lot about writing and would know lots of people in the publishing industry, but was still unsure of whether or not she could write.

The narrative shows a very human, very delicate side of both the authors. It gives you an insight into how even well known, accomplished people can be less than completely confident about things rather closely related to their area of specialization. It makes you feel that you are not alone in being uncertain about whether or not you can accomplish everything you want to.

The mother-daughter relationship is very beautifully described in the book as well. Sue doesn't want to push Ann into being a writer, even though she believes that her daughter does have the talent. She wants Ann to discover, on her own, her talent and her willingness to write. Ann, on the other hand, doesn't want to be her mother's shadow, she wants to be her own person and she wants to be different from her mother.

It's a great book for mothers and daughters all over the world.