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mardi, avril 12, 2005

 Book Review: Two Books

So, on top of this movie-watching spree I've been on, I've also managed to read two books. Borrowed from the teacher's lounge in a very 光明正大 manner (or as 光明正大 as can be when you're walking into the teacher's lounge at 3am in the morning!) They are David Baldacci's "The Christmas Train" and Anna Quindlen's "Blessings: A Novel".

Maybe I haven't been keeping up with reading current-day novels, but these two surprised me. The first because it was so bad, the second because it was not as bad as I thought it would be.

Baldacci's story is about Tom, a war reporter who somehow gets barred from planes after going psycho on airport security when they frisked him too well (after September 11 and all, y'know.) He gets barred from flying for two years, and wants to go to L.A. (reason: girlfriend) - from New York. It's Christmas. Hence, the The Christmas Train. Doesn't help that his great-great-great-great-whatever was Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens, his real name) had made a similar cross-country journey when the dinosaurs ruled, but failed to make a story out of it. So Tom decides to saddle up and write his way into the sunset. (Geddit, geddit? Hyuck hyuck. Ahem. Right. Onward.)

He meets all sorts of people on the train, and he writes about them (boring), then improbable things happen (meets his ex-girlfriend on the train, meets a movie director who's his ex-gf's boss, encounters a huge boa snake, train gets stuck in an avalance, wedding takes place, he saves the day by going cross-country skiing... you know, tame stuff) which all gets so contrived that you wonder why the hell you're still reading the book. But it never goes beyond the realm of implausibility or improbability - there's always the suspension of disbelief, and although his bridge is pretty high (suspension bridge, geddit, geddit?), it's still pretty believable. Until the last chapter, when he ruins it with a deux ex machina plot. (rollover the phrase to see explaination.)

It's a total shame, because the writing is fine - the words flow, the characters are interesting, the chapters are well-paced, everything was running fine. It was like a really great Christmas present, all wrapped up with great wrapping paper, with all the scotch-tape hidden away, little folds here and there, no white showing - and then ruining it by picking the worst ribbon to give it the "finishing touch."

The second book I read was by Anna Quindlen, who wrote One True Thing, which I want to watch because Lauren Graham's in it, with Reneé Zellweger. (Boy, LG seems to be following me everywhere!)

The book started out slow, with description after description after description. I almost quit reading halfway into the second chapter because the plot seemed to be hidden under the many adjectives... until I realised that it was one of those "the world used to be slow, but the world is changing now" kind of novels. The book was writing with the pace and the linguistics of the older days (almost Victorian), and its characters lived that Victorian life - until life catches up with them, as it always inevitably does.

Plot... ah yes. Skip, an accidental ex-con, works as a land-keeper/gardener for Miz Blessing, at her large house, with a lake and acres of land. He wakes up one morning and finds a baby in her garage which he sleeps over. He decides to keep it. She (cranky, grumpy, bitter old lady) decides to help him, for reasons which unfold over the course of the book. Comic situations and a lot of soft-focus love (for the baby) goes on, until one day, the mom (and her mom and dad) come claim the baby. Baby goes back, Miz Blessing dies, Skip gets some money with her will, and... that's pretty much it. But the telling of the story - ah, therein lies the magic. Slow, almost to the point of screaming, but in the end, it's worth the effort put in. The soft-focus effect never goes away, even when the Victorian is pushed into the Modern - but the change is a creeping shift in boundaries on both sides - the Modern slowly inching its way into the Victorian, and the Victorian slowly retreating away into itself, until it passes away, with the old lady.

I have exams in a week. God help me.

[Book Review: Two Books]
Sngs Alumni @ 12.4.05 { 0 comments }


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