A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

confederacy

Considered a tragicomedy, Toole’s novel tells Ignatius J. Reilly’s tale. He’s a disillusioned, bombastic 30-year-old who lives with his alcoholic mother in New Orleans. When his drunk mom drives their car into a building, he must find work to pay off the damages rather than following his heat’s desire – to pen his philosophies and tales on Big Chief writing pads. The cast of odd, brazen, and often hilarious characters he encounters throughout his failed adventures as a hotdog vendor and an employee of a pants company is incredible. So too are the twists and turns. If I didn’t have to read this book for book club, I probably wouldn’t have persevered. I’m glad I did. Some parts are super funny. But overall, I felt that I was reading about characters who were emblematic of the author’s life and who were in denial of some serious mental-health issues. And that felt quite grim, especially given Toole’s suicide.

Gwenamon says: Worthwhile

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

dutch

Patchett’s novel is captivating. I can’t think of anything else I’ve read that has a house as a main character. (OK, maybe Wuthering Heights, but that was long ago.) This novel’s other two main characters are brother and sister – Danny and Maeve. Danny tells of their childhood in the house and how they are eventually kicked out by their stepmother. Their sibling bond is even more tenable than their attachment to the house. I loved Maeve’s forthright, motherly character. This novel is about family, memory, place, trust, and inexplicable drive.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

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Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

girl

I feel like this novel is more of an outline or checklist rather than a fully fleshed-out story. Where Evaristo spends time focusing on character development and capturing the essence of a moment, the writing is magical and moving. That doesn’t happen enough for me. Instead the novel feels like she has too much political agenda to try to cover – probably for good reason since the 12 intermingling stories are mainly about black, British women.

Gwenamon says: A couple of strong moments, but undeveloped overall

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

heart

I found it incredible (and humbling) to discover that Carson McCullers (who I also thought was male for about the first 1/4 of the book) was only 23-years-old when she wrote this novel – her first. It tells John Singer’s story and is set in a small town, in the deep South. As a deaf-mute, he assembles a motley crew of characters who seek him out, usually at the town’s café, as their confidante. And so he takes on a Messiah-like role. The writing is strong and often subtle, making suggestions about further connections that are never clarified, just sifted through, adding to the richness and tension of it all.

Gwenamon says: Impressive

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What Red Was by Rosie Price

red

Kate becomes best friends with Max during their first year of university. His privileged life is very different from her modest upbringing, but that doesn’t stop them from becoming inseparable. Then one night at Max’s family’s home, Kate is raped and her life is pulled apart. This is an excellent read created by a talented writer about the immediate and lasting effects of sexual assault.

Gwenamon says: A horrible topic is told extremely well

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Cherry by Nico Walker

cherry

I’m mystified that this made the New York Time’s list for Best Fiction of 2018. Really? Let me save you some time: A college drop-out joins the army after his girlfriend and fellow ecstasy taker, Emily, moves away. They then marry before he’s sent overseas. By the time they reunite, they’ve both become heroin addicts. Maybe the fact that Nico Walker wrote the book (with a lot of coaching from the sounds of it) while in jail makes it special. Or the fact that he served his country since he had few other options. What I do find remarkable is that he lived to tell his tale, which is extremely repetitive once he’s on heroin. Score, shoot up, repeat. His writing has some grisly stark moments, especially of his time in Iraq.

Gwenamon says: Readable, but not worth the hype

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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

believers

This is a captivating, moving story about the AIDS epidemic. The novel splits itself between two timeframes and characters. In the 1980s, we follow Yale Tishman in his career as a development director for a university’s art gallery, and in his relationships during the recognition of and fallout from AIDS. In the almost present day, we follow Fiona (the sister of Nico, one of Yale’s friends) as she travels to Paris to find her estranged daughter. I found Yale’s story to be the strongest of the two timeframes. There’s always a winner with different timeframes. This novel is so easy to read and so deeply affecting…at least for Yale’s story. Fiona’s story is weakened because her daughter isn’t developed as a character and an old friend reappears unexpectedly without much purpose. Or so it seems.

Gwenamon says: Well worth it

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An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

tragedy

This is the very long story of Clyde Griffiths’ demise, showing a very dark side to the American Dream. Full disclosure: I only read half of this tome. However, I was invested enough to care what happens. So I found a summary online. I know that the classics are often more detailed than today’s novels, but this still could have stood an edit. Griffiths’ downward spiral (and the reasons around it) didn’t need so much explanation.

Gwenamon says:  Decent, but it’s way too long

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We, The Survivors by Tash Aw

survivors

Having grown up in a Malaysian fishing village and served time for his crime, Ah Hock tells a journalist of how he came to commit murder. The writing is poignant and quite vivid. I’ll always remember the images created around a flooded house. The story also, brutally at times, traces the dividing line between the well off and the impoverished.

Gwenamon says: I didn’t love it, but I really liked it

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Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

boy

I really liked this first novel by Dalton about a 12-year-old boy, Eli Bell, who has to navigate a world of crime as he grows up in a suburb of 1980’s Australia. This is a fantastic tale about family, crime, fate, and love. I came to appreciate this novel more when I listened to an interview with the author, who actually lived a similar life, complete with the red telephone.

Gwenamon says: Overwritten at times, but still well done

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