Review: Morrison’s Sula

Toni Morrison

Morrison’s second novel. Like every one of her works that I have read, it’s a masterpiece. I really have nothing new to say about one of America’s greatest novelists except to say that what stuck me about Sula was how fully formed the characters are, even those whose appearances are brief, and how through the development of these complex characters Morrison not only tells her story, but gives you a deep sense of what the Bottom is like. The entire novel is a study in economy of language – Morrison fits so much into a pretty slim novel – but you’ll notice she spends almost all her time on her characters, and not on the physical description of the Bottom in doing so she shows us that a community is a collection of individuals, complex, fraught, individuals, as much as it is a place.

Recommended (duh)

Review: Gay’s Hunger A Memoir of (My) Body

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Roxanne Gay

A gut punch, a wake up call, a deeply effecting book about race, sexual assault, food, immigration, class, writing, love and America. Really a must read.

I’m someone who cares deeply about health and fitness.  I struggle to make the right food choices, and hit the gym, but my personal issues are put into stark relief as the cloying bullshit problems of a privileged white dude when held against Gays heartrending and inspiring story.

This is a story of growing up the child of immigrants, of suffering horrible sexual assault, and struggling with that, and more. Its about coping with lives horrors with food, both for comfort and protection.

It’s also the story of a powerful writer finding her voice through years of work and struggle and missteps and luck.

It is near perfectly written in Gay’s direct to the jugular style.

I couldn’t put it down.

You might not think of yourself as the kind of person who would read a memoir that is, at least ostensibly, about weight problems, but really it is about so much more. And you are the kind of person who reads important, powerful, books and you should read this one.


Review: Ward’s Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones
Jesmyn Ward

Stunning prose. A look into a world (rural, black, deep south) that is not often depicted in literature. Really, really good.

Salvage the Bones tells the story of a young girl and her family and community as they prepare for, and endure, Hurricane Katrina. The sense of dread that permeates the first part of the book sets in even deeper when you realize (a) that they have no idea how bad things will get and (b) that other calamities and challenges unrelated to the storm are also coming down on this struggling family.

Ward writes with a clarity that is awe inspiring. She says Faulkerner was an inspiration, and you tell. The writing is crystal clear, yet beautiful. Slow burning, yet, I couldn’t put it down. This was the first book by Ward that I read, but within months, I’d go on to read two more.

If you want to see the future of the American novel depicting a part of the world rarely shown, read this.


Review: Okorafor’s Who Fears Death

Who Fears Death
Nnedi Okorafor

I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy for most of my life. I devoured William Gibson in my teens, got deep into new wave in my twenties, and learned the classics in my thirties. I’m not an expert in the genre, by any means, but I’m also reasonably well read.

Lately, something interesting has been happening, not only have we seen an explosion in the popularity of writers of color (and women of color specifically) but I think we’re seeing more and more books like this one, set an place uncommon in science fiction (Africa) and dealing with an uncommon set of genre tropes (here, both high tech gadgets and magic).

This a book about a girl with magical powers and a high tech gadget who uses both and more to fight a dictator in post-apocalyptic Africa. Is this SF? Is it Fantasy? Is it something in-between? Who cares. Its well written, its challenging in its ideas about the future, and it puts front and center voices too rarely heard in SF and its worth a read. But and still, this isn’t a perfect work. The writing is strong, and the plot moves, but I found some of it a the story a bit over done. This is often a criticism I have – I like my poetic touches very light—so other opinions might vary.

If current trends in science fiction is your thing, then this is worth a read. Something is happening here, its worth paying attention to.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate
N.K. Jemisin

This is the follow up to Jemisin’s incredible, mind blowing, the Fifth Season and its good. Very good, even. Jemisin’s prose is top rate, and the story churns forward revealing more about our characters and the world they inhabit, while still keeping up the mystery and allure that made Fifth Season so wonderfully strange.

But its hard to follow up on a classic. I don’t know anything about how Jemisin wrote these books, but the sense I get is Fifth Season was painfully crafted, perhaps over years, every sentence worked to death, then every paragraph, then every chapter, then back again. The Obelisk Gate doesn’t have the same feeling. It’s a damn good book, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have the clock work precision of Fifth Season.

Still and all, if excellent SF/Fantasy is your thing, odds are you’ve already read this. If gorgeously written novels struggling with identity, gender, race, and the nature of relationships interests you, you should get over your genre prejudices and check this one out.