Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

20 Books of Summer 2020: Book 9

There’s a lot about Normal People that’s normal for high school and college relationships, but I have less patience for this type of story now than I would if I’d read this book from a dorm room. I don’t understand reviews that paint it as romantic or funny, because I’d argue it’s a starting point to talk about codependency. There’s room in literature for unhappy characters, and I love thorough character studies, even of miserable people, but there’s too much about this book that doesn’t work for me—bad communication between the lead couple, gimmicky structure, a lack of quotation marks, and a non-ending. I don’t mind open endings, in theory, but Normal People lacks an overall arc and its characters remain unchanged. A non-ending on a book like this leaves it feeling incomplete. read more

Review: There There by Tommy Orange

20 Books of Summer 2020: Book 8

Tommy Orange’s There There is a phenomenal book that follows 12 Native Americans in the lead up to a powwow. Its brilliant prologue allows Orange to relay historical context and social commentary to the reader before he writes about 12 individuals who subtly, and in varying ways, embody the points from his prologue. Orange does the heavy-lifting of educating a reader before the story, instead of awkwardly stuffing his words into his characters’ mouths. read more

Review: The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

20 Books of Summer 2020: Book 7

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham surprised me by how modern it felt until I happened upon a word or phrase that’s not used anymore, or now means something different. I don’t think, for example, that Maugham was trying to be a jerk when he used “idiot” to describe a child with hydrocephaly. It might be unfair, but unless I’m told otherwise, I expect that old books will have a slow, meandering style. read more

Review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

20 Books of Summer 2020: Book 5

I’m always happy when a funny book wins the Pulitzer because it makes me feel less glum about my chances of ever reading all the winners. There’s a lot to love about Less, which is to say there’s a lot to love about its protagonist: Arthur Less. Arthur is 49 years old and riddled with insecurities around his age and recently-rejected novel. He’s haunted by two past relationships: one with Robert, a Pulitzer winner who was too old for him, and another with Freddy, a man Arthur felt too old for. When Freddy gets engaged to someone else, Arthur avoids the wedding by going on a world tour of literary events: to Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, India, and Japan. Each chapter is set in a different country on his tour. read more