Books Are Pretty

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hooked.




I don't really know what happened here. All I know is that around page 50 or so, just when I'd reached the part about the magical talking fish, it suddenly occurred to me that Hooked was sending me through the K├╝bler-Ross stages of grief and tragedy. While my reactions to the book weren't perfectly lined up with each stage - I transposed steps one and two, it seems, I did touch all the bases, starting with anger, touched off by the first couple of sentences in the prologue.

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom bursting with strip malls, luxury high-rises and enough bling to stretch across the Atlantic Ocean and back, Raymond Prince prepared to anoint a royal consort in the backseat of a cobalt blue Mercedes sedan. With a full moon as his guide, Raymond unhooked the front-loading brassiere of his target market and chuckled to himself. Damn, if those tan-lined double Ds didn't remind him of the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler!


I finished the prologue - he's a crass, unattractive used car salesman implausibly having sex in the back seat of one of the cars on the lot with an attractive young woman, and he's caught by his wife - put it down, and seethed over it for a couple of days. When I began to feel obligated to pick it back up, I shifted quickly into denial, and pretended like the book wasn't in my office at all. Instead, I buzzed through Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream and Max Brooks definitive record of global zombie war journalism, World War Z. Then I read December's issue of Vanity Fair.

Denial gave way to bargaining, where I promised myself that if I just finished it, I could put it quickly behind me and begin Matthew Sharp's Jamestown, the newest book from my book boyfriend Richard Nash.

Chapter One leaves Raymond Prince behind for the time being and introduces us to the principal characters, Woody, the assistant manager of the Trade Winds Yacht Club in South Florida, Todd Hollings, the rich boy, and Madalina, the Romanian waitress. The three form the points of a love triangle, Woody is in love with Madalina who is in love with Todd. Bad dialogue between cardboard characters bogs down several pages until Woody goes fishing at the request/order of the Overbearing New Jersey burgeois character and catches Raymond Prince, who has been turned into a fish, and the book takes a Fairy Tale turn. I have nothing against having to suspend disbelief in novels - I wouldn't read them at all if I did. It's just that my credulity had already been strained by the poorly drawn characters and the crass, leaden dialogue. It wasn't that I didn't find the talking fish somewhat surprising, it's just that, by this point, I didn't care. I already know Woody's going to chase after Madalina, she of the ridiculous Count Dracula accent, until he realizes he really loves the girl he met at his aunt's house that he wasn't initially impressed with. Plus I was starting to find all the male characters so repulsive that I started to shudder every time they started talking about their erections, which was way more frequently than necessary.

Depression set in when I realized that I had 200 pages to go before the two lovebirds finally sailed off into the sunset on the second hand boat Woody is constantly fixing up. My husband quickly ushered in the acceptance phase when he said, "You know, you don't have to finish it if you don't want to."

And you know? I don't.

So I didn't.

_________________



Hooked
by Jane May
2007 by Kensington Books
Paperback, 245 pp.
ISBN: 0-7582-1362-X

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Friday, November 02, 2007

The Spanish Bow.





One of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of parenthood is being able to watch the excitement of children during the holidays, and knowing the source of that pure joy comes from hard parental work and careful planning.

What we also know is that, as parents, we give an untold number of gifts to our children every day, often without even realizing it. We give our political leanings and religious convictions, we pass on quirky facial expressions and the occasional salty word, we sometimes even pass on fear, such as a squeamishness about spiders or anxiety over thunderstorms.

And then there's the things we never gave them that they absorbed and took for their own anyway, like my own love of The Eagles and their Hotel California album, which I associate with my father listening to their music in our family room. I remember vividly my father's filing system, and could probably pick it out of the hundreds of albums in his cabinet while blindfolded.

These gifts have such a major impact on the shape of our children's personalities and lives it's a wonder we don't crack from the pressure.

Andromeda Romano-Lax's debut novel The Spanish Bow begins with such a gift. At the time of his birth, the mother of Feliu Delargo tells her older son Enrique to make sure the baby is named Feliz, or Happy. "Not a family name, not a local name, just a hope."

Due to a clerical error, his name is misspelled, and for the rest of his life, he was Almost Happy.

Shortly after his birth in 1892, Feliu is given a second gift, an object from a random pile of items sent home from his father, a soldier serving in the Spanish-American war. First to choose, Feliu pores over each item, a compass, a toy tiger, a glossy stick, a blue bottle, and a diary. Paralyzed by the thought of selecting the wrong gift, Feliu selects the one that makes no immediate sense, the glossy stick. His mother tells him it is a bow for a cello, and sends him for music lessons with the local master, an instructor with a piano and a violin. Feliu selects the violin in order to use the bow from his father, and saws away dutifully at it until a musical trio, led by the flamboyant child prodigy, pianist Justo Al-Cerraz, and his accompanists at the violin and the cello. When Feliu hears the cello, his world clicks into place, and it is behind the large instrument that he finds his destiny.

The Spanish Bow spans fifty years of the life of famous musician Feliu Delargo, loosely based on the life of the legendary Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, and his tempestuous relationship with Al-Cerraz and, eventually, with ethereal beauty Aviva, a Jewish Italian violinist whose obsession with something she has lost threatens to destroy her.

True to his name, Feliu is almost, but never quite, happy. After his mother flees a dangerous relationship with a local Don, she and Feliu take up residence in Barcelona, where he hones his craft, pushing himself mercilessly, first with an aging cellist whose career was destroyed by his politics, then on the Barcelona streets, and later Madrid, where his talent propels him into the royal court.

As political tensions mount and Spanish fascist Franco rises to power, Feliu anguishes over whether to remain politically neutral like Al-Cerraz, or if he should, as his former teacher urged, to use his talent for good.

Romano-Lax has created a rich and lively novel, steeped in early 20th century Spanish history and culture. As Feliu passes through the years, he finds himself more and more unable to lose himself in music, and becomes no longer sure if he should. The complexities of his life and the onslaught of fascism bring his passion for music, Aviva, and politics to a head, creating a grand, sweeping novel the reader can immerse herself into.

P.S. - and on the Real Life front, I was given an advance copy as well as the finished product, one of which I gave to one of my coworkers. She approached me this week and told me her husband had taken the book away from her and had locked himself in the bathroom to read it. "He won't give it back to me until he's done," she complained.

Sometimes I think I should quit spending the time to write reviews and just copy down other people's reactions to the books in question. I think that may make the reviews more compelling.

_______________________
The Spanish Bow
by Andromeda Romano-Lax
September 2007 by Harcourt
Hardcover, 580 pp
ISBN: 978-0-15-101542-9

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