Monday, March 7, 2011

What I Liked in 2010 (Part II)

Um, it's March 7, and I probably should be moving on...but here's the second part of my What I Liked in 2010 (the year I read only adult fiction) post.

John le Carre continues to have something new to say with each novel. Our Kind of Traitor is particularly interesting because le Carre has not missed the changes that have occurred in the former Soviet Union and beyond its borders where many of its former citizens live. The young British protagonists of Our Kind of Traitor stumble into a Russian "family" living in Switzerland and end up being hired to broker a deal with the wealthy leader of this clan on behalf of the British government. To the end of the novel it is not clear who is good and who is bad, who is moral and who is amoral, and the protagonists are both drawn to and repelled by the Russian family with whom they negotiate.

Crossover Potential? Some. This novel might appeal to the teen well versed in spy novels, but Our Kind of Traitor is a quiet spy novel, concerned more with moral ambiguity than with high-pressure negotiations and chase.

Ian McEwan's Solar was the funniest book I read in 2010. McEwan's protagonist, Michael Beard, is a Nobel prize winner in Physics and a mess. As the book opens, he's losing his fifth wife to his builder. This humiliation leads him to accept an invitation to the Arctic, where he nearly loses his penis when peeing outdoors. (Strangely enough, Solar was one of two books from 2010 featuring grave penile injury.) After his return home, Beard accidentally kills someone, steals his scientific work (on purpose), and heads out on a series of misadventures, one of which involves a solar energy project in Arizona. Other women, a child, and disastrous business deals ensue. Beard is a loathsome character, but one absolutely worth following to the bitter end.

Crossover Potential? Not really. But if you're an adult, don't miss Solar.

Lionel Shriver's So Much for That is one brutal book. Shriver takes an unflinching, merciless look at health care in the U.S. through the lives of two couples--Shep and Glynis Knacker and Jackson and Carol Burdina. Shep dreams of escaping the U.S. with the money he made from selling his business when he learns that his wife has mesothelioma. The novel marks time by the shrinking of Shep's escape fund, dollar by dollar, as he cares for his "insured" wife. Jackson and Carol parent a chronically ill and disabled daughter, whose care takes up all their resources and time. This is not the stuff of happy marriages, happy families, and happy novels. (So Much for That is the second novel of 2010 in which penile injury plays a significant role.) Despite, or perhaps because of, the trauma it inflicts, So Much for That is a novel that makes you think. I loved its brutality and its honesty.

Crossover Potential? Honestly? I don't think anyone younger than 40 should read this book.

My favorite novel of 2010 was Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story. Set in the near future, when everything about one's life (cholesterol levels, weight, credit score) is available for the world to see and when immortality is nearly achievable, Super Sad True Love Story is narrated by hapless lovers Lenny Abramov and Eunice Park. Abramov is the 39-year-old son of Russian-Jewish immigrants who works for an international corporation in the business of keeping people young. Park is in her early 20s, and after a stint in Italy is not sure what she is going to do with her life. Park and Abramov end up together, Abramov more invested in the relationship than Park. Super Sad True Love Story is indeed a sad story about the collapse of America, the futility of clinging to youth, the emptiness of consumerism, and the weight of an endless stream of information. But it is, in the end, a love story narrated by two compelling individuals unable to overcome body, history, generation, and time.***

Crossover Potential? Some. Shteyngart gets Eunice Park's voice just right. She sounds like a young adult and lives as a young adult might a few decades into the future.

Everyone loved Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. Heck, Judy Blume tweeted her appreciation for Egan's innovative novel just today. Told in a variety of voices and from different points in time, A Visit from the Goon Squad has its genesis in the 1970s music scene in San Francisco. It's difficult to describe Egan's novel, as the story and the storytellers shift locations, relationships, and places in time. Time, ultimately, is the center of Goon Squad--a center that can't be fixed.

Crossover Potential? Some. I think teens will appreciate Egan's approach to telling a story. In particular, I think they will find the concluding power point presentation intriguing.
*** I listened to Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story. This is a good choice for audio; Voice is the strength of the novel. However...bad accents in audio books drive me crazy. I really only know Russian well enough to be annoyed by how badly it is rendered in an audiobook, but if the Russian drives me crazy, I can only guess how badly Chinese, or German, or any other language is spoken in audio. Why don't publishers hire people to read who actually speak the other language present in the book? Why? Why don't they?
Okay, I am truly done with 2010. Time to move on. This week I will finally get to the mission of this blog and review YA fiction from Mal Peet that adults should read and two adult novels by Heather Gudenkauf teens will love.