Begging to Differ on "The Little Friend"

The Little Friend - Donna Tartt

This is not a proper "review" of the book The Little Friend, but I do want to register with all possible emphasis and enthusiasm what is clearly a minority view of it: This is Donna Tartt's best novel.


Hear me out, please. Yes, I've read all three of her books, and I've enjoyed all of them quite a lot. But it is only in The Little Friend that we truly get to see Tartt's virtuoso treatment of female characters. Both The Secret History and The Goldfinch involve — indeed, are told through the eyes of — male protagonists. In contrast, The Little Friend is told in the third person, and has a wonderfully kaleidoscopic all-female family consisting of the inimitable twelve-year-old protagonist Harriet, her sister, her mother, her grandmother, and her three aunts. To be sure, there is also the predominantly-male Ratliff family, and there is also Harriet's comrade-in-arms Hely Hull and his older brother Pem, and they are all marvelous characters too. But it is the women who sing in this novel, in a way that by comparison they barely whisper in Tartt's other two novels. And I have to wonder, given how sublime the portrayal of all the females in this book, why Tartt has done, relatively speaking, so little with female characters in her other work.


A final brief point, not often enough made, and one for which I will brook no opposition: This is by far Donna Tartt's funniest book. Even though the story as a whole is dark and proceeds in a necessarily languid fashion (many readers misunderstand this too), The Little Friend has more laugh-out-loud moments than Secret History and Goldfinch combined.


More, hopefully, at a later date.


Knocking at the Door; More Interface Issues

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri - David Bajo

Both Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land)  and Bajo (The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri)  are clamoring for my attention, however.


Am I an idiot? Or should it be easier for me to "refer to" a book with an active link or cover image within the body of this text? What if I don't want to use the "Connect Your Post with Books" function to do this? I was reduced to a clunky copy-paste operation to refer to Murdoch's The Nice and the Good two posts ago; this should not occur.

New Dance Partners

The Ice Storm - Rick Moody The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis The Invisible Circus - Jennifer Egan The Mighty Walzer - Howard Jacobson In the Lake of the Woods - Tim O'Brien

In the meantime, I have made nontrivial progress in all six of the above books, but it's anybody's guess which if any of them will get finished in the next several days. Is this any way to conduct a reading life? I don't know, it seems to "work" for me somehow. Two of the books from today's earlier post, Russo's The Old Cape Magic and Roth's The Ghost Writer, were both books that I'd started some time ago, and set aside. Then somehow, in the last couple of weeks, these two books "called" to me, and I was able to steam through each one of them in fairly short order. I don't think this would have happened if I hadn't permitted myself to be so fickle and inconstant about "following through" with books once I started reading them.


See if I can keep my "fickle, inconstant" self from being diverted to (too many) other books in the meantime.

Books Finished SInce Last Post

Shroud - John Banville Woman No. 17 - Edan Lepucki That Old Cape Magic - Richard Russo Bad Mommy - Tarryn Fisher The Ghost Writer - Philip Roth

So would I have predicted which books I was actually going to READ (as in "finish") from my last couple of posts? Not really. Only two out of these five books were even "on the radar" at the time of the previous "Dance Report".


I'm confused by this interface. It appears that today I started a post, did a "save as draft", went off to put a proper cover image on the one "guilty pleasure" book in the group of five here (Bad Mommy - Tarryn Fisher), then tried to find my "draft" ... no luck! Bad interface! Bad!


The Nice and the Good - Iris Murdoch Besides these five books, I have continued chugging along in Iris Murdoch's The Nice and the Good, but it's been slow going. All the others are decidedly "on the back burner."

BookDance #1717

Woman No. 17 - Edan Lepucki

Woman No. 17 - Edan Lepucki  Woman No. 17 - Edan Lepucki : So I almost forgot that I'd starting dancing with this book a few days ago, then set it aside ... only to have it "call to me" again today. The good thing about "dancing" with books, experiencing multiple "dance partners", as opposed to "committing", gingerly, to a particular book and hoping for the best, is that one can do this, and give full rein to the ever-changing currents of one's reading preferences, but still make progress on what turns out to be a wider field of book types than I ever would have even considered back in my more "monogamous" reading days.


So yes, I restarted the book — I was only about 5-6 short chapters into it anyway, when I'd set it aside — semi-skimming the contents that I'd read before, and then gliding forward into uncharted territory with much greater alacrity than I'd felt when I reached the same point several days ago. In this book, Lepucki sets up an interesting situation where the narration alternates in relatively large (multiple-chapter-long) "chunks" between two women: Narrator one, a separated mother named Lady with two sons from two different fathers, the elder son, Seth, himself an interesting character — a college freshman — who is able to speak but who simply does not speak; Lady is the reticent possessor of a book contract, said book to be about her experiences as the mother of a boy such as Seth, in conjunction with her experiences as a mother of Seth's (much) younger, precocious, more-than-a-little-bratty brother Devin. And Narrator two, the "nanny"/au pair hired by Lady to do —what exactly? — who turns out to be something of a refugee from a failed/rejected gig doing socially-aware "art" as a student in Berkeley, the citizens of which looked less than favorably upon her efforts; she is reinventing herself in southern California with a job that pays only marginal homage to her academic background, and with a new name that bears only the lightest possible connection to her old, "original" name. Both narrators, just to stir the pot a bit more, have complicated, conflicted relationships with their mothers.


That's the basic situation, as well as I'm able to size it up at this early point of the novel; we'll see what Lepucki does with it.

"Dancing" With the Books

The Changeling - Joy Williams The Arrangement: A Novel - Sarah Dunn Quilt - Nicholas  Royle City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett Lovecraft Country: A Novel - Matt Ruff

The Changeling - Joy Williams  The Changeling - Joy Williams : One of the books I'm "dancing" with these days is Joy Williams's The Changeling, a book that apparently fell into obscurity on the strength of a single influential bad review when it first came out ... enjoying a revival as this new edition attests. I'd better get moving on this one because the library (San DIego Public) isn't going to let me keep it much longer.

Quilt - Nicholas  Royle  Quilt - Nicholas Royle : This book is a good example of what I mean by "dancing", and of why the traditional mutually-exclusive-and-exhaustive categories of "Have Read / Am Reading / Will (want to) Read" — crudely modeled, it would appear on the categories of "Past/Present/Future" — are inadequate to capture my reading habits. Royle's Quilt: Have I read it? no. Am I reading it? yes and no. I've taken a taste of it ... I've danced with it a bit, and having found it to be rife with all sorts of wordplay I'm just not quite in the mood for right now, I'll set it aside. But now, knowing better just what it is I'd be coming back to, I will come back to it, possibly multiple times, possibly just for a little more "dancing", but (always) possibly to read it through to the end.

The Arrangement: A Novel - Sarah Dunn  The Arrangement - Sarah Dunn : In the meantime, this other book here caught my promiscuous eye. It's about IPR's: Intentionally Promiscuous Relationships. Have done a preliminary dance with this one, and it looks promising.

City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett  City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett : My mind keeps returning to Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs ... I've begun and re-begun this one several times, and I do want to get back to it, but there's always the concern I must address of potential "interference" with other books I'm dancing with. In this case, I'm concerned about potential interference with Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country, even though their plots are superficially quite different.

Lovecraft Country: A Novel - Matt Ruff  Lovecraft Country - Matt Ruff : This one, unfortunately, has so far been something of a slog ... but I'm sticking with it ... I think ....

Always "reading" 7 or so books at a time

Shroud - John Banville Lovecraft Country: A Novel - Matt Ruff The Nice and the Good - Iris Murdoch The Physiognomy - Jeffrey Ford The Changeling - Joy Williams Quilt - Nicholas  Royle The Hidden Face of God - Richard Elliott Friedman The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery - Richard Elliott Friedman

There's always seven or more books I'm reading at a time. Is that odd? Is that impossible? It's probably at least a little bit of both; so when I admit that this is a long-standing habit of mine, I feel like something of a monstrosity; hence the "frankenstein" feeling in my "smiley-face"-variant (I prefer this label to "emoticon", which is too glib for me).


Shroud - John Banville  Shroud - John Banville : This is a reread for me; I read it several years ago, not knowing that it was intended to be a kind of "sequel" to Eclipse; book two of the "Father and Daughter trilogy", I believe.


Lovecraft Country: A Novel - Matt Ruff  Lovecraft Country - Matt Ruff: So far, about 25% or so into the book, nothing particular "Lovecraftian" has happened yet; presumably Ruff is doing some stage-setting for us. I liked Ruff's Bad Monkeys a lot, so I'm prepared to give him plenty of rope on this one.


The Nice and the Good - Iris Murdoch  The Nice and the Good - Iris Murdoch: Yes, it's an odd juxtaposition, thinking of the Lovecraft ethos and the Murdoch oeuvre at the same time, but I love her stuff; this is probably around the dozenth or so book of hers I'm reading. Most recently read Murdoch books for me were The Unicorn and A Severed Head.


The Physiognomy - Jeffrey Ford  The Physiognomy - Jeffrey Ford: Book 1 of the "Well-Built City" trilogy, very imaginative and also very tongue-in-cheek fantasy. (The mayor of a town compliments the narrator/protagonist on having given him a "good beating".

Woodcutter – First Impressions

The Woodcutter is a fascinating book ... it's like Kate Danley (the author) set herself the task: "I wonder how many fairy tales I can work into a single narrative that encompasses them all and somehow remains cohesive and coherent." So far — I'm a bit more than halfway through — she is succeeding ... more or less.


On the surface, the book is very simple; short words, short sentences, short chapters (79 of them!), and essentially a straight-line narrative. But the storytelling is very compressed, and more allusive than literal, and there are all these connections to keep track of ... or at least it feels like I need to keep track of them. One cannot help but notice the connections to Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Snow White, Rumpelstilskin, Cinderella, Baba Yaga, and more that I'm not remembering at the moment, and more still that I suspect link the story to fairy tales I'm not familiar with. And once one has noticed them, they all somehow command a place in one's overall conception of the story Danley is telling with them, and therefore one must keep them in mind as one reads, to get the full effect of the story. BUT ... every tale is modified so that it is not the same as the original that we have dim-to-vivid memories of, so there is that added complexity as well. It seems I can't even talk or think about it without getting all blathery and convoluted ... but sheesh, it's just an extended modern fairy tale, right?

Currently reading

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Changeling by Joy Williams
Quilt by Nicholas Royle
The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery by Richard Elliott Friedman
The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford
The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch
Lovecraft Country: A Novel by Matt Ruff
Shroud by John Banville
The Woodcutter by Kate Danley