It has been a busy couple of days, bookwise. VERY busy. I had to drive back from Atlanta to Philly (with 4 year old and bulldog). But when you give the bulldog a bed and the kid some movies and headphones, except for the crazy snow storm in NC (white knuckling those 3 hours and just trying to stay in the ruts in the untreated snow that were created by the 18-wheelers seemed like plenty for my brain to handle for that stretch), this made for some excellent audiobook time.
The first part of the trip was taken up with finishing the book that I originally picked for my Australia read, The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead. It is on the 1001 list and it was much more readable than Voss but turned out to take place in Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis (actually the father did make a trip abroad part way through the novel, but not to Australia), so I decided not to count it for Australia. Here is my review of it, followed by the Goodreads summary (just to keep you on your toes). Then I’ll tell you where I went when the drive took me to the Northern half of Virginia…
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This novel is the dysfunctional family writ large. Dad is a civil servant naturalist with superficially benevolent ideas about the world and mankind, but with a heavy dose of sexism, a leaning toward eugenics, a disdain for literature, and most importantly a massive dose of narcissism hidden beneath the superficial shell. He looks initially like a fun dad, ring-master of “family fun day” on Sundays, and seemingly the younger kids enjoy him, but he contributes to the impoverishment of the family, belittles the children in various ways (including speaking a nauseating baby-talk to them), and has a major war going on with their mother. “Mothering” (a nickname he coined, that she hates) is a former heiress who is less self-involved than she appears in some ways, but who speaks hatefully to the kids, especially the eldest who is a step-daughter, spends much of the time withdrawn or absent, and seems incapable of a kind word about anyone. The eldest daughter Louie is the child who gets the most attention in the novel, but I had a soft spot for Ernie, the eldest boy, who is the only one in the family with financial sense. We watch the family unravel from a marginally middle-class existence in Georgetown to abject poverty and emotional chaos in Annapolis after the father becomes unemployed. The emotional toll of family life on the kids, particularly Louie and Ernie, gets clearer and clearer and leads them to desperate acts.
Goodreads summary: “With an Introduction by Randall Jarrell. Sam and Henny Pollit have too many children, too little money, and too much loathing for each other. As Sam uses the children’s adoration to feed his own voracious ego, Henny watches in bleak despair, knowing the bitter reality that lies just below his mad visions. A chilling novel of family life, the relations between parents and children, husbands and wives, The Man Who Loved Children, is acknowledged as a contemporary classic.”
After I finished this oddly enjoyable, but nonetheless bleak, read, I wanted something quick that I could finish within the remainder of the drive. I moved on to my Finland read, The Year of the Hare which turned out to be an utter delight. Here’s my review (no Goodreads summary since it doesn’t add anything). I should also say that I have started another side read on audio, since I had a little more driving left. This time it is Shalimar the Clown by Rushdie, which I like so far, but I’m not nuts about the narrator, sadly. Ok, so here is my review of The Year of the Hare:
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What a delightful little book! A journalist’s life is changed when the car he is riding in hits but does not kill a hare. He wanders into the forest to check on it, the driver of the car becomes inpatient and leaves, and so begins the journalist’s decision to escape the life he doesn’t much enjoy and begin a simpler one full of manual labor, reliance on the kindness (or not) of strangers, a deep connection to the beautiful land of Finland, and a deeper connection to a marvelous animal. He chooses to make his life in remote locations and meets a delightful assemblage of characters along the way. This is a book that will make you chuckle, smile, and just enjoy life.