Managed to whip through a couple of heavyweights this weekend...here's what I thought...
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
I'm still conflicted about this book, even after staying up late just to finish it (this is one of those books with a clear "tipping point" - you either stop right there, or you read the last 100-150 pages in one sitting. I read in one sitting.).
Here's the setup: Judith is a middle-aged woman of some means with a staid life (husband, daughter, steady job) in Los Angeles who, through a series of self-actualizing events, thinks back to the first love of her life, Willy Blunt, whom she fell in love with as a teenager. Thus, the story breaks into two parts - narrated by Judith of today, and by the Judith of years ago, detailing her relationship with her father (he lives in Nebraska, the mother in Vermont, and she chooses to stay with him after school's out), her first love, and her discovery of herself during one long summer.
The interplay with Judith and Willy is entertaining and gut-wrenching, and when Judith-of-today decides to look up her old boyfriend...well, thus the tipping point.
This is definitely a character-based novel - at times slow-moving and head scratching (why did I need *that* particular detail, you think), and yet McNeal writes beautifully and his descriptions of place are truly evocative. You're not sure what you are rooting for throughout the novel, but McNeal makes you root for *something*.
Judith, Willy and her father continue to pop into my head even after finishing the book, which is the sign of a story that "stays with you" - there were aspects I disliked (editing, anyone?), but overall, I thought this was a solid, character-driven, emotional story. I'll be recommending it to others (Nat, I'm lookin' at you!).
Let me know what you think if you read it...it's a "discussion" book for sure...
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
I'm beginning to wonder if I'm the only one that hasn't bought until the cult that is Larsson. The first book was different and somewhat good - after a while - but this one was a chore more than anything. I was 200 pages in and still waiting for it to *start*. And when I'm skimming at the end? Bad sign.
(Larsson needed an editor, BADLY. I don't need to know what's on the grocery list or how many times they drank coffee. Really. 500 pages? Really?)
This time, the intriquing character of Lisbeth Salander (Wonder Woman, as I think of her - she boxes! she's a mathematician! she owns a condo! she shoots guns! she can make Molotov cocktails! she can make coffee! she's a hacker!) returns, and despite some LENGTHY descriptions of her day to day life, she is back in the crosshairs of a new investigation - hers.
The plot was okay, the characters were at times cardboard cutouts but okay, but I just became so disenchanted with the "tour of every corner of Sweden", the fact that every character's last name begins with B or S (I couldn't keep anyone straight!), the unnecessary details and then the serious suspension of belief for the finale.
I wanted to love it - I did - but I didn't. I'm not even sure I'll read the third one, though Larsson left this one so open for a sequel, I may just have to see how it all wraps up.
This felt like a lot of self-aggrandizing fiction to me - I give it an "eh" at best. Am I wrong? Did you love it start to finish? Let me know!