Review: The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

I thought Tyll was extraordinary. When I learned it lost the 2020 International Booker Prize to The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, I immediately read Discomfort. One Goodreads review said something to the effect of “Trigger Warning: All of them,” but I ignored it. Winners of literary awards are often very “literary.” I expected any discomfort to be dressed with fancy metaphors to the point of being unrecognizable. They aren’t. So here’s a rare trigger warning from me: There are graphic scenes involving the torture of animals, self mutilation, incest, and sexual assault. There is also excessive talk of excrement, but they’ll take away my lit degree if I don’t clarify that Jas’s constipation is a metaphor for grief. read more

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