Review: Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser

As much as I dislike Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, I’m second guessing that opinion as I flip through my notes. So many quotes are lovely and the story sounds good when summarized . . .

Martin Dressler rises through the hospitality business in the late 1800s through a combination of work ethic and happy timing. The first 250 pages are rosy and predictable as potential obstacles are overcome by his natural virtues. The only question in Martin’s life is which of two sisters he’ll marry: Caroline, beautiful and lethargic, or Emmeline, his eventual business partner. He picks Caroline, even though she’s too tired to open her eyes all the way. Drama ensues. read more

Review: Cardiff, by the Sea by Joyce Carol Oates

Each novella in this collection by Joyce Carol Oates is well crafted. While all four stories have elements that initially seem a little unreal, or a little trippy, the threats faced by the narrators are very real. At no point is the safety of any of these women guaranteed, which means the “suspense” touted on the cover is more like a sense of crawling dread. These stories fit well together, taking different angles on a similar theme. read more

Review: Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

I read Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road when it was longlisted for the Booker Prize. Based on Tyler’s other books, I thought it might be shortlisted, but it wasn’t. At this point, I’m not sure why it was on the longlist. It’s not bad, but it’s not in line with Tyler’s other (better) books. Tyler excels at depicting quiet moments in the lives of “normal” people, but this book risks being too quiet. I forgot about it within a few days of reading. read more

Review: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa is another book that I’m surprised didn’t win the 2020 International Booker Prize. Like the winning book, The Discomfort of Evening, it centers around grief and loss, but in a much less tangible way. The unnamed narrator lives on an island where things are forgotten one at a time. The first half of the book feels like a strange mash-up of 1984 and The Giver set in 1942 Germany. I wanted more information about the mechanics of this world and to understand how the Memory Police were created, etc., but I stopped looking for answers as the story became more and more abstract. read more

Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

I’ve postponed this review because Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys isn’t the easiest book to review. Though it’s a fictional story, the setting is based on a real place, the Dozier School for Boys. This “reform school” was closed in 2011 after decades of abuse allegations. Fifty-five unmarked graves were found in 2012 and other potential graves have been identified since. Unlike The Underground Railroad which takes a long view of history, this story is tightly focused around Elwood Curtis’s experience on the edge of the civil rights movement. read more