Category: The Bestseller Code 100 (page 1 of 13)

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Sebold’s novel was published in 2002 and received several literary awards, including the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel.  I first read this book in 2004 and enjoyed it then.  When I saw it on our reading list I wondered whether it would stand the test of time.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Unique Voice

Alice Sebold has written a unique character in Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl who is murdered in the very first chapter and then relates what happens to herself in heaven and her family and friends on earth over the next decade.  Sebold’s take on high school, the way in which Susie’s friends react and cope with her murder, brought back to me much of the angst and joys I experienced in high school.

For a first-time novelist, Sebold has a powerful mastery of descriptive language.  Susie’s version of heaven has an interesting smell…

The air in my heaven often smelled like skunk—just a hint of it. It was a smell that I had always loved on Earth. When I breathed it in, I could feel the scent as well as smell it. It was the animal’s fear and power mixed together to form a pungent, lingering musk.

… and feel.

I turned around and went back to the gazebo. I felt the moist air lace its way up along my legs and arms, lifting, ever so slightly, the ends of my hair. I thought of spider webs in the morning, how they held small jewels of dew, how, with a light movement of the wrist, I used to destroy them without thinking.

It made me wonder what my individual slice of heaven would be like.

The Eyes Have It

They say that eyes are the windows to one’s soul and in The Lovely Bones this is certainly true.  Before her death, Susie dreamed of being a wildlife photographer and her most prized possession was her camera.  Referring to one of the early pictures that Susie took of her mother, Sebold writes:

My mother’s eyes were oceans, and inside them there was loss.

Susie used so many rolls of film that her father made her choose only a few to get developed due to the expense.  Several years after Susie’s murder, and after his wife had abandoned their marriage, her father developed the rest of the rolls.  On the very last roll he discovered a series of photos that Susie took of her mother one day just before her father arrived home from work.  This series of photos is a window to the diminished dreams Abigail experienced as she left behind the world of literature she studied in college and became first a wife, then a mother.  Susie’s father had not been aware of this change in his wife, not until he saw these photos.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my father walk through the side door into the yard.  He carried his slim briefcase, which, years before, Lindsey and I had heatedly investigated only to find very little of interest to use. As he set it down I snapped the last solitary photo of my mother. Already her eyes had begun to seem distracted and anxious, diving under and up into a mask somehow. In the next photo, the mask was almost, but not quite, in place and the final photo, where my father was leaning slightly down to give her a kiss on the cheek—there it was.

“Did I do that to you?” he asked her image as he stared at the pictures of my mother, lined up in a row. “How did that happen?”

He finally comes to understand why his marriage disintegrated after Susie’s death and also, interestingly enough, from those pictures he remembers the woman he first fell in love with and falls in love with her all over again, even though she is totally absent from his life at that point.

Possession, Again?

The only bit of this book that I did not really like was where Susie and her friend Ruth essentially trade places – Susie inhabits Ruth’s body for a short while and Ruth is transported to Susie’s version of heaven.  I didn’t like the whole “inhabited body” thing in The Cross Roads and I didn’t like it here either.  I didn’t understand what Ruth was doing in heaven (Ruth was the most unusual and difficult to comprehend character in the novel), and I felt that the whole scene with Susie in Ruth’s body having a relationship with her old school sweetheart was rather gratuitous on Sebold’s part.

Lovely Bones

Upon reading the book description, you expect that the  title The Lovely Bones refers in some way to Susie’s dismemberment, although how that could be considered lovely baffles the mind.  In the very last chapter, though, we learn that Sebold uses bones as a metaphor for the bonds that hold Susie’s family together.

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it.

I’m glad this book was on our list and provided me with the opportunity to read it again.  I appreciated Sebold’s writing much more the second time around.

 

Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 65.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) – Discussion begins March 5, 2018
Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Number 66. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon watches from heaven as events unfold after her rape and murder.

Published in 2002, this is one of the older books on our challenge list. It is Alice Sebolt’s debut novel, although she had already published a memoir, Lucky. It won a Bram Stoker award and was made into a movie.

 

 

Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 65.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) – Discussion begins March 5, 2018
Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Two Novels by Dean Koontz

To do something a bit different, I decided to compare and contrast two thrillers by Dean Koontz from a writer’s perspective.  The Darkest Evening of the Year, published in 2007, is the most recent novel we’ve been reading for the Bestseller Code Challenge. The Whispering Room:  A Jane Hawk Novel is Koontz’s newest novel, published in 2O17.

This post contains spoilers.

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Amy Redwing has devoted her life to rescuing golden retrievers. When she puts herself in danger to save Nickie, she develops a special bond with the dog. But now someone is after Amy. Who is going to rescue whom?

The Whispering Room: A Jane Hawk Novel

(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Jane Hawk is an FBI agent who has uncovered evidence of an evil organization which is brainwashing innocent people and forcing them to carry out crimes. Things go wrong when she tries to expose their plot and she becomes a fugitive from the law.

Genre:

Although both of the novels are squarely in the thriller genre, The Darkest Evening could be considered to be a psychological thriller with paranormal elements, whereas The Whispering Room is a conspiracy thriller set in the near future, which causes it to cross into science fiction.

At the time Dean Koontz began writing, agents advised writers to stick to the rules of a certain genre, because booksellers organized novels by genre on the bookshelves. If the bookseller didn’t know where to put a book, it was less likely to sell well.

Koontz was willing to break those rules from the start. Now it is much more common to see novels that are a mix of genres, and I think that is because few books are actually organized on bookshelves any more. The online bookstores have changed how we buy books and also how we write them.

 

Characters:

Both novels feature a strong female protagonists. They both were married, but are no longer with their husbands. They’ve also had children. Amy’s child was killed, and Jane’s child is staying with friends to keep him out of harm’s way. Both protagonists have a male partner who assists them.

The novels have multiple antagonists, with different reasons for endangering the protagonists.  Koontz’s bad buys are really nasty. They will make you squirm in your seat and possibly give you nightmares.

Setting:

The Darkest Evening is set in California in the area around Newport Beach and Lake Elsinore. In The Whispering Room, Jane Hawk travels around the country. The setting isn’t particularly well developed in either novel. Instead there’s a general feeling that evil is lurking around every corner.

Discussion:

Shared themes:

Fire is a strong theme in both books. In The Darkest Evening one of the antagonists, Moongirl, regularly sets fires.  There is a gruesome scene in Chapter 12, where she and another antagonist, Harrow, burn down a house with innocent people inside. They ignite the fire using gasoline.

The Whispering Room starts with Cora Gundersun dreaming that she is walking through fire without burning. In Chapter 17, she loads her SUV with 15 cans of gasoline. After setting the gas on fire, she drives into the front of a hotel restaurant, where her vehicle explodes. It turns out she was an innocent person who had been brainwashed into committing a horrific crime.

Other similarities are more subtle. For example, in The Whispering Room, as Cora drives toward the hotel she sees a golden retriever on a leash. Of course, golden retrievers figure prominently in The Darkest Evening and are, in fact, Koontz’s favorite breed of dog.  I suspect that the dog is Koontz’s way of giving a little present to his loyal fans.

He also has a character named Luther in both books.

Little Mysteries:

Dean Koontz is a master at dropping in little mysteries to entice the reader to keep reading. For example, in an early scene Brian receives a threatening email that mentions “Piggie.” The reader wonders who sent it and who Piggie is. Clues are sprinkled until it is finally revealed what is going on. He is brilliant at building these kind of questions in the reader’s mind, making it impossible to put the book down once you’ve started.

I’ve been aware that Dean Koontz was a bestselling author for years, but hadn’t read any of his books until recently. Now I can understand why he has such a loyal following and I hope to read more of his books in the future.

Have you read The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 66. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002) – Discussion begins February 19, 2018
Mix of genres

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Dean Koontz is a prolific writer, with 14 hardcover and 14 paperback novels making the number one position on the New York Times Bestseller List.  With that many books, I’m rather surprised that I have not read a single one. I guess all those flashy book covers and prominent positioning in books stores are wasted on me.

This post contains spoilers.

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Pleasant Surprise

 Since I have not read any of Koontz’s books, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up The Darkest Evening of the Year.  I was pleasantly surprised to be drawn in immediately by both the characters and the plot.  I loved the interplay of conversation between two of the main characters, Amy Redwing and Brian McCarthy.  They sounded like an old married couple, and yet further reading would reveal that they had only known each other a few months.  Their connection on multiple levels was immediately apparent and made several future scenes of the book all the more believable.

“I love October,” she said, looking away from the street.  “Don’t you love October?”

“This is still September.”

“I can love October in September.  September doesn’t care.”

“Watch where you’re going.”

“I love San Francisco, but it’s hundreds of miles away.”

“The way you’re driving, we’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“I’m a superb driver.  No accidents, no traffic citations.”

He said, “My entire life keeps flashing before my eyes.”

“You should make an appointment with an ophthalmologist.”

“Amy, please, don’t keep looking at me.”

“You look fine, sweetie.  Bed hair becomes you.”

“I man, watch the road.”

Koontz obviously has a flair for writing memorable characters.  The two main antagonists, Moongirl and Harrow, are as fascinating as they are evil. The only complaint I have is that I would have liked to learn more of Moongirl’s backstory.  We are given a glimpse into Harrow’s childhood and can see the influences that helped create the sociopath he is as an adult, but we don’t aren’t given the same depth of backstory with Moongirl.

Supernatural or Spiritual

There are aspects of the supernatural in The Darkest Hour of the Night; Brian’s marathon drawing session, the golden retriever Nickie, Amy’s phone call from the long-dead nun.  Or did the author intend the reader to see a more spiritual theme running through this novel?  There were many references to the sounds and shadows of angel wings and a scene of miraculous healing.  Even though this book was categorized as a psychological thriller, I found the spiritual aspect of it much more believable than our previous book, Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young, which was considered Christian fiction.

Koontz’s love of dogs, specifically Golden Retrievers, shines throughout the novel like a warm candle glow, lighting the way in even the darkest hour.  His belief in the redemptive and healing powers of a dog’s love is one of the main themes of The Darkest Hour of the Night.  Nickie is much more than a dog in this novel – she’s one of the main characters and also the conduit for angels (and thus God) to eliminate evil and right the wrongs perpetrated by the evildoers.

 The Title

 We’ve been reading these books to discover why the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code chose them as bestsellers.  One of the variables looked at by the algorithm was book title.

Bestselling titles might also capture an event, and we can presume that if an event makes the title page it is not just a plot point but something that provides the story with a more fundamental structure and meaning. Accident is one such title…. Nothing will be the same before or after that moment, that day, that kiss, that accident.  The fate of the characters is to respond, to react, to reacclimatize.  But the characters are not the primary agent: the event is bigger than they are.

The Darkest Evening of The Year is an apt title for this bestseller. We know even before we begin to read that something dire is going to happen, that the darkest night isn’t referring to a lunar eclipse.  Every page, every theme, every plot device is propelling the characters forward on an inevitable trajectory to that darkest evening and we are along for the ride.  It’s definitely a ride worth taking.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 66. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002) – Discussion begins February 19, 2018
Mix of genres

#BestsellerCode100: Number 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Amy Redwing has devoted her life to rescuing golden retrievers. When she puts herself in danger to save Nickie, she develops a special bond with the dog. But now someone is after Amy. Who is going to rescue whom?

Have you read The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 66. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002) – Discussion begins February 19, 2018
Mix of genres

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young Reviewers

Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Wm. Paul Young is also the author of the international bestseller The Shack and its sequel The Shack Revisited, all categorized as Christian fiction.

This post contains spoilers.

 

Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Who Cares?

 I found Cross Roads to be incredibly difficult to read.  In the first chapter the reader is introduced to Anthony (Tony) Spencer, an extremely successful business man, but also an obnoxious and unlovable human being.  The author goes over the top in presenting Tony in the most unflattering light, to the point where, by the end of the chapter, when Tony suffers a brain aneurysm and is in a coma, you are 1) relieved to not have to deal with his obnoxiousness anymore and 2) you don’t care one iota what happens to him, either physically or spiritually.

The rest of the novel presents Tony in some altered state of existence spiritually, while his body is still in a coma.  In this altered state he is forced to come to terms with his past behaviors and given the chance to grow spiritually.  It all sounds well and good, but like I stated in the previous paragraph, I had ceased to care whether Tony grew spiritually.  I had ceased to care about Tony at all!

Possessed

Tony meets Jesus, “The Grandmother” (the Holy Spirit), and even God, albeit in an unconventional form, in this altered existence, and they send him back to earth to “inhabit” the bodies of various individuals as an opportunity to grow and learn and redeem himself.  This is the point where I almost gave up on the book.  Not only did he inhabit these bodies, but he could talk to the owners of these bodies and they could hear him and talk back to him, carrying on long conversations.  And then he could be passed to another body by a simple kiss. I felt like I was reading a science fiction or fantasy novel.

To Finish or Not To Finish?

I’ve made it a personal rule to never start reading the next book in our challenge until I’ve written the review for the previous book, and for the most part I’ve stuck to that rule.  Often I read at least one other book in between the books in our challenge as a way of “resetting” my reader’s brain, if you will.  I wanted to get ahead a bit in my reading, though, as I have a rather busy February, so I started reading The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz the very next day after finishing Cross Roads.  Wow.  What a difference!  Whereas I had to force myself to finish reading Cross Roads, I simply cannot put down The Darkest Evening of the Year.  The writing style is compelling, the characters are fascinating, and the plot reveals all come at just the right time.

Christian fiction is not my favorite genre or one I normally seek out, so that could explain some of my dislike of Cross Roads and my disbelief in the whole “altered state” and “habitation of souls” concepts that this novel relies so heavily on.  But more than that, I disliked the author’s writing style, his phrasing (choppy, strident, almost military in feel), and the way he obfuscated his message, talking in circles without really saying anything clearly.  I’d read an entire paragraph and not have a clue what the author really meant.

If you enjoy Christian fiction or stories of spiritual journeys, you might like Cross Roads.  From the number of stars the book has garnered on Amazon, it’s obvious that many people have enjoyed reading it.  From my perspective, it was a waste of my time.

 

Have you read Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (2007) – Discussion begins February 5, 2018 — Psychological thriller

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Discussion of Cross Roads and Beginning a Novel

Let’s briefly discuss how to create a good beginning for your novel using Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Tony Spencer does whatever it takes to be a success. When he falls into a coma, he has an experience that allows him to re-evaluate his past behavior. Will he act on his revelations?

Discussion

For the first time in the Bestseller Code 100 challenge, I’m afraid this novel was a DNF — did not finish — for me. For my review I’m going to concentrate on a message I got from a recent SCBWI workshop about how to begin your novel.

Many writing courses suggest capturing a reader’s attention with a big hook in the beginning.  There are some great examples of novels that are able to do this, like Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Talk about grabbing your attention!

At the workshop, Abigail Samoun offered slightly different advice. She said to treat the introduction of your book like you are welcoming the reader into the door of your house. She used a beautiful example of how J. R. R. Tolkien started The Hobbit:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

She said this first sentence said to the reader, “Come on in, sit down and I’ll tell you a story.”

Other books might use introductions that tease, “Hey, check this out” or “Wait to you see this.” Anything to quickly usher them (the reader/guest) inside.

Once readers have entered, she suggested introducing “yourself” (your main character) right away and giving them a hint of what to expect. Particularly, you want to make them comfortable and eager to stay. I won’t go into all the details, but I really liked the analogy and thought it was something I’d consider for any story opening I write.

The Dilemma

The author had a dilemma in the first part of Cross Roads. He wanted to establish Tony as someone who was an awful person and needed redemption. By making Tony so extremely unlikable, however, the author essentially slammed the door in the reader’s face. Once I learned Tony had re-married his wife just so he could divorce her, I didn’t want to read any further. This was not a character I wanted to spend time with for one more minute, no matter what happened later.

If the author had started a bit earlier in Tony’s life, it would have been better. For example, if he had started the novel at the time when Tony’s parents died, the reader would feel sympathy for him and want to know what happened to Tony. Or, he could have used the age old trick of having Tony be nice to a dog or a child. Anything to allow the reader to root for him a little bit and want to keep reading.

Abigail Samoun gave some good advice. Be a good host to your reader and they will stay with you.

Have you ever read a book that shut you out or made you leave after only a few pages? What books have you not finished?

 

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (2007) – Discussion begins February 5, 2018 — Psychological thriller

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  The Goldfinch (2014) is Tartt’s third novel, following her critically acclaimed debut novel The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2003).  Observe the number of years between each publication date; Tartt takes her time, writing large novels, both in length and in scope.

This post contains spoilers.

The Goldfinch* by Donna Tartt

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Bildungsroman

When I finish a book, I like to read other descriptions and reviews. Sometimes those reviews gel the thoughts and feelings I had while reading the novel, while other times I disagree entirely with the reviewer. While reading through a few reviews for The Goldfinch, I came across a new term (to me): bildungsroman.  Merriam-Webster provides this definition:

literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character – a bildungsroman by Charles Dickens

This is certainly an apt description for The Goldfinch, as Tartt leads the main character, Theo Decker, on a decade long journey of life-altering catastrophes, emotional and physical upheavals, grief, and survivor’s guilt, providing plenty of opportunities for moral and psychological growth. As a reader, Theo drew me in from the very beginning, and I followed his journey avidly, hoping he would make it through the storms, while preparing myself for the possibility that he would not.

Descriptive Power

Tartt is a master at descriptive prose. Here we see one of the antagonists, Lucius Reeve, for the first time:

Though he was tight and elegant in his speech and gestures, and his suit was modishly cut for a man his age, his demeanor made me think of a puffer fish—or, alternately, a cartoon strongman or Mountie blown up by a bicycle pump: cleft chin, doughball nose, tense slit of a mouth, all bunched tight in the center of a face which glowed a plump, inflamed, blood-pressure pink.

Usually long passages of description cause me to skim the text, anxious to get to the real action, but this was not the case with The Goldfinch. I soaked up Tartt’s descriptions like a sponge, reveling in the tastes and smells and sights she provided, even when they were unpleasant or painful.

For unknown reasons, the gust of energy that had swept me up and fizzed me around all summer had dropped me hard, mid-October, into a drizzle of sadness that stretched endlessly in every direction: with a very few exceptions (Kitsey, Hobie, Mrs. Barbour) I hated being around people, couldn’t pay attention to what anyone was saying, couldn’t talk to clients, couldn’t tag my pieces, couldn’t ride the subway, all human activity seemed pointless, incomprehensible, some blackly swarming ant hill in the wilderness, there was not a squeak of light anywhere I looked, the antidepressants I’d been dutifully swallowing for eight weeks hadn’t helped a bit, nor had the ones before that (but then, I’d tried them all; apparently I was among the twenty percent of unfortunates who didn’t get the daisy fields and the butterflies but the Severe Headaches and the Suicidal Thoughts); and though the darkness sometimes lifted just enough so I could construe my surroundings, familiar shapes solidifying like bedroom furniture at dawn, my relief was never more than temporary because somehow the full morning never came, things always went black before I could orient myself and there I was again with ink poured in my eyes, guttering around in the dark.

Doesn’t sound like a man engaged to be married and dizzy in love, does it?

By the way, that passage above? It’s all one sentence! The editor side of my brain sure had a tough time while reading The Goldfinch, but Tartt makes it work. The pain and depression that Theo feels would not come across nearly so well in nice, neat, short sentences, would it?

Truisms and Real Literature

Some of the reviews I read blasted The Goldfinch for not being “real literature” because the novel explained too much to the reader and didn’t require said reader to have to analyze the book for its underlying message. The last chapter presents several “truisms” that Theo has come to realize from his bildungsroman, and they are spelled out for the reader. These reviews included long rants about what the term “real literature” means, what makes a book “serious” and “literary” rather than merely a contemporary novel, quickly read and easily forgotten. The same discussion occurs with art. What is art? What makes it art? Tartt addresses this:

You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time—four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone—it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all but—a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular.

In the end, art is whatever makes us, as individuals, feel. Literature is the same. It challenges us individually. It speaks to us individually. It affects us individually. For me, The Goldfinch is definitely literature, worthy of the time it took to read. It’s a book that I will think about and mull over for weeks to come, and one that I will quite likely read again.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 68. Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young (2012) – Discussion begins January 22, 2018
Christian fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listCross Roads by Wm. Paul Young.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Tony Spencer does whatever it takes to be a success. When he falls into a coma, he has an experience that allows him to re-evaluate his past behavior. Will he act on his revelations?

Cross Roads is considered to be Christian fiction. From the back, quote from Chapter 6:

Jesus reached over and took Tony’s hand. “On this journey, you can choose to physically heal one person, but only one, and when you make that selection, your journey will end.”

 

Have you read Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (2007) – Discussion begins February 5, 2018 — Psychological thriller

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

At 771 pages, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is in many ways a magnum opus. It is also a massive treasure trove for writers. Let’s delve in and see what we discover.

This post contains spoilers.

The Goldfinch* by Donna Tartt

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Thirteen-year-old Theo Decker survives the blast that kills his mother. Because his father has disappeared, he is taken in by a friend’s family. Struggling with his grief and the changes that have occurred, the teenager clings to a small painting that reminds him of his mother. As he finds his way to adulthood over the next ten years, the artwork becomes both a comfort and a curse.

The Goldfinch took Donna Tartt a decade to write. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

Plot/Genre

As literary fiction, this novel checks all the boxes. It is more character driven than plot driven and devotes a great deal of time to the main character’s inner life, including  pages of discussions of Theo’s mental anguish. That said, the novel does have a well-developed — if sometimes meandering — plot to keep the reader engaged. Throughout, the mystery of the painting lies at the central backbone of the book.

As expected in this type of fiction, the writing is lush and polished. Every word feels like it has been carefully chosen and then coddled, until it has grown into a perfect sentence. The vocabulary is also superbly elevated. For example, the word “inwrought” in the first sentence isn’t in spellcheck. Tartt’s word choice allows the nerdiest of us to flaunt our lexicons.

Literary fiction is defined by its revelations about the human condition, and this novel has more than its share. In the last section, profound wisdom is unsheathed, with page after page of quote-worthy insights.

That life – whatever else it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.

Donna Tartt’s musings about art are especially enthralling.

—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.

 

Character

None of the characters in this novel are simple. We learn on the very first page that the main character, Theo, is an unreliable narrator, yet we are drawn to him.  He wanders through life, propelled by his friend and sidekick, Boris, an alcoholic who boldly walks on the wild side, and yet tries to protect and take care of Theo like he’s a lost puppy.

Theo’s mentor and father-figure, Hobie, seems to be honest and upright, yet he remains loyal and loving regardless of how Theo tests him with dishonesty. Each character surprises us.

Setting

Donna Tartt’s descriptions are masterful and fully integrated. They never take the reader out of the story.

Theo grows up in New York City and spends most of his life there. The descriptions of New York are richly drawn and visceral, from the cold, damp weather to the odor inside a taxi.

Along Park Avenue, ranks of red tulips stood at attention as we sped by.

When Theo’s father takes him to Las Vegas, we sense the glare and heat. With strip malls arising out of blocks of stucco homes, the author captures a feeling of emptiness and disconnection.

The sky was wide and trackless…

Most of Theo’s time in Amsterdam is spent huddled in his hotel room, but he does encounter canals, bridges, cobblestones, and bicycles, giving us a flavor of the place.

Themes and Symbolism

As would be expected from a prominent work of literary fiction, the reader could spend a lifetime investigating the themes and symbols in this book. The main themes include the value of art, what defines a family, and what is love. The fact Theo was thrown into taking care of himself at an early age explores a theme of premature adulthood. Spirituality comes into play, too.

Discussion

According to an interview, Donna Tartt’s goal for writing a novel is to give her reader the opportunity to get lost in a book. If that is true, she has more than succeeded. To me, reading the first half was like gliding a knife through soft butter. It was so smooth that it was effortless. I looked up and a hundred pages had flown by.

As Theo’s mental stability wavers in the middle, however, so does the readability. I found the section in the hotel room in Amsterdam to be particularly difficult. By then, I was committed to find out what happened to him, so I plowed through to the end. It helped to realize the author’s jumbled writing reflected Theo’s delirium and mixed-up thoughts.

Part of why the story is so compelling is because Donna Tartt is a magician at setting up “little mysteries” through foreshadowing. For example, Theo goes to meet his fiancee Kitsey and she is “held up.” Her brother Platt awkwardly makes an explanation. Theo is confused, but doesn’t seem too concerned. The reader wonders what that was all about. A short time later all is revealed when we learn Kitsey is in love with, and secretly meeting, an old friend/enemy named Tom.

Of the Pulitzer Prize winners we have read so far, this one is the first that I truly enjoyed and the first where I didn’t have to figure out why it deserved the award. This is a truly magnificent novel.

 

Have you read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 68. Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young (2012) – Discussion begins January 22, 2018
Christian fiction

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