A great book and a meh book, one with a heavy figuring a saint and funny/insanely funny people, and the other with a variety of sinners and sads.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel, by Maria Semple, is gorgeous. It is layered and lively, told uniquely through the email correspondence, handwritten notes, and recorded conversations of its adult characters, and narration from its fifteen-year-old heroine, Bee. It was intelligent and interesting on architectural, technological, and emotional levels, and it reminded me of what I like best about writers like L’Engle and Dean. That is, the effortless flow of science and solid literature in the narrative. I like reading a book that makes me want to go read up on something real. Bernadette does that.
I read this in a few hours, and actually got excited when I turned on my Kindle after my bath, last night, and saw I was only 62% through. I still had a lot more to go! I had been afraid I was close to the end. Now I’m sorry it is over, so I”ll have to go read it again.
Five out of Five stars
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, seems like it should work. Like Bernadette, it is told in bits and pieces, through the perspectives of different characters. There is action, there is adventure, there is travel, there is romance, and there is Richard Burton standing on a ship on the coast of Italy. But it doesn’t work, mainly because there are no likable characters. There are sympathetic characters, but no one to like. No one to get behind. No one to care for, so why bother? The two characters who come closest to fitting the bill disappear entirely for sections of the book. The writing is goodish. I mean, there is nothing wrong with the writing. It is perfectly good writing, but it fails to deliver on that emotional level.
It took me 2 weeks to slog through it, and even then I only skimmed bits that were stand-alone segments, having little to do with the story. I didn’t enjoy the reading at all.
Two out of Five stars*
What’s funny to me is how much Bernadette and Ruins have in common in the way of style, storytelling, diversity of cast, and use of pop culture. They couldn’t be more different, though. Bernadette is going somewhere specific with it’s patchwork, and it makes a quilt. Ruins doesn’t know what it wants to be with its hodgepodge, and it makes a mess.
*I have to say that Ruins isn’t a terrible book. It isn’t even a bad book by today’s standards. But, it is not an enjoyable book.