Review: While I Was Gone by Sue Miller

20 Books of Summer 2018: Book 6

This is the first book I’ve read by Sue Miller and I was impressed by her writing style and vibrant voice. Even the slower passages and asides are engaging. That said, there’s slow bit in the middle where I felt the narrator’s boredom a little too keenly and couldn’t resist skimming. I’ve quibbled over this before—how it feels wrong to criticize a book when it makes me feel the character’s mood so well—but there must be a line between comprehending the protagonist’s boredom and feeling bored. Boredom > being bored? read more

Review: The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

20 Books of Summer: Book 5

J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise and Concrete Island are both creepily brilliant, but The Drowned World doesn’t meet their high bar. The writing is spectacular, but the characters are too flat for my taste. They’re buried under so much allegory that they lack surface-level believability or function. In the past, I’ve admired that Ballard writes stories that work on multiple levels, but The Drowned World is primarily a riff on Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. read more

Review: Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

20 Books of Summer 2018: Book 4

After I read The Talented Mr. Ripley, I went to my favorite used bookshop in search of more books by Patricia Highsmith. They had two: The Two Faces of January and Those Who Walk Away. It was hard to push aside the expectations I had from reading Ripley so I’m not 100% sure my gripes with this book are fair. Those Who Walk Away is curiously lacking in suspense and intensity—not from a flaw in the writing, but because the would-be murderer fails twice in the first 50 pages for a lack of effort. It’s tough to see him as a legitimate threat and not a well-dressed Scoobie-Doo villain. read more

Review: The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck

20 Books of Summer 2018: Book 3

I’ve only read one other book by Pearl S. Buck and the difference in quality between The Good Earth and The Eternal Wonder is striking. When poking around the Internet, I learned this book was published posthumously under strange circumstances. Knowing this alleviates the guilt of not finishing it (I skimmed the second half) because I’d never have picked it up if I’d known. I don’t want anyone to publish my drafts when I’m dead, so I’d rather not read the unfinished works of others. read more