Saturday, October 30, 2010

My long-delayed review of Great House by Nicole Krauss

(I really love the way the words dominate the cover. I always hear them in my head when I look at the book: "Nicole. KRAUSS. Great. HOUSE." It reinforces the rhyme.)

Thank you to W. W. Norton & Company, and to LibraryThing, for the advance reader's copy of the novel Great House by Nicole Krauss. I won the ARC through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

The minute I finished reading The History of Love by Nicole Krauss a couple of years ago, I brought the book up to my face and lightly kissed the top edge of the cover. If the book cover were a face, and had a forehead, that’s about the spot where I would have been kissing it, on its forehead. It’s an excellent novel, it kept me guessing, the writing was wonderful, and it probably came into my reading life at the perfect time.

Because I had enjoyed The History of Love so much, I was very happy to find out that I’d won a copy of Krauss’s new novel, Great House, from W. W. Norton, through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program. I received an ARC of the book on Sept. 13, and finished reading it on Sept. 26. Yes, that was about five weeks ago; health-related issues delayed the writing of this review, which I actually started writing TWO weeks ago. I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me so long to write this (and finish writing it), but I think the additional time I’ve thought about the book has led me to view it more positively – so there’s the silver lining to my delay.

I remember at least two different narrators from Krauss’s previous novel. In this one, there are four, each one narrating two chapters. One other review of I saw of Great House noted a "sameness" to the narrators, that it was somewhat difficult to distinguish between them. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. The History of Love had a man in his sixties and a teenage girl, who are bound to speak very differently. Great House has two women and two men, both of the men in their sixties or seventies. The narrator of the “True Kindness” chapters reminds me of Leo from the earlier book, and his is the most distinctive and “interesting” of the narrative voices, but I enjoyed all four in different ways, and became caught up with all four storylines.

Possible Spoilers Ahead!
I try not to include spoilers, except maybe when I’m writing about classics, but some of what I say about Great House could be considered “spoilery,” so proceed with caution. In the blurb on the back of the book (at least of my ARC), after some talk about the different characters (and their basic storylines), it says, “These worlds are anchored by a desk of enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away.” The back of the book actually talks about three of the four main storylines. As I read the book, I kept track of when, and how long, a character owned the massive desk. Toward the end of the book, I found that one of the storylines apparently had nothing to do with The Desk, and I felt a bit cheated, because here I was expecting to find The Desk in every narrator’s story. Near the very end of one of the other stories, one of the characters from the “non-Desk story” intersects with a character from one of the three “main” (Desk) stories.

When I first finished the novel, I confess I was a little disappointed. The writing was excellent, and as I said, the stories and characters certainly held my interest, even if I never felt close to kissing the book. My feeling about the non-Desk storyline was, Why the hell was it in there at all? The other feeling I had was that I wanted MORE – that if Krauss was going to bring two characters together from different story arcs very late in the novel, it would be nice if we could see where it might be going, not just, “Oh hey, that’s THAT guy. Huh, that’s interesting. I guess I hope he doesn’t die.” In the weeks since I finished reading the book, I’ve changed my mind about this. I’ve decided that, rather than spelling out what happens to the two characters, or giving “hints” so strong or obvious that we’ll know the outcome, Krauss leaves it up to the reader to guess what happens, and I’m okay with that. My take on it goes like this: One character lost The Desk that she’d owned for 25 years, represented her writing successes, and reminded her of the person who’d previously owned it, and the other character had given up so much, and was now close to losing his life. I think he WILL survive, and ultimately they can help one another rebuild their lives.

The novel follows The Desk back and forth through time – and in fact, the way Krauss bends the timeline in the different story arcs can make the reader a bit dizzy, a little bit lost in the Great House. One character’s actions, both long in the past and in the “present” of the novel’s main story, and that character’s obsessive desire to find and claim The Desk, impact nearly everyone else in the novel, to a greater or lesser degree. The need to recapture the past, taken to such an extreme, shuts out any hope for the future, not just for the person who looks only to the past, but often for those closest to them. Krauss allows hopeful (not immediately “happy”) endings for those who remember the past, but strive to live in the present. And throughout, of course, the writing is gorgeous.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

S.A.D. = Seasonal Affective Disaster

Yes, late October this year is about the same as late October every other year, when I'm ready to sob nearly every day, and usually for reasons insignificant or unclear. Crying jag last Monday evening, crying jag again last night, angry and moody moments today. But this year is different because of Horner's syndrome, and because I found out on Thursday that my case of Horner's is probably caused by a dissection in my left internal carotid artery. I've started taking Coumadin, and I'm supposed to not do too much, and try to avoid stress. HA!

No time for more details now, just posting a picture and this blurb because my efforts the past several days to upload a short video that we made (about Horner's syndrome) have failed again and again. My plan is to post the video on YouTube, then post it here on the blog with links to additional information, some of the more helpful pages I've found. Once that is finally done, hopefully we can do a few more videos as we learn more about this condition with my carotid artery, and look at treatment options.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I wish I had time to review books...

I have books on my bedside table that I've read and had hoped to review, or at least babble about briefly, here on my blog. Now, I'm trying to put a few things in better order (mostly paperwork that needs our attention, or just needs to be sorted out, examined, then filed or recycled), and I noticed that a couple of books on the bottom of the bedside table piles (two piles) have been there quite some time. How long? Well, Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, which I finished reading on Sept. 10. Nightwork by Christine Schutt, which I finished reading on Sept. 3. The partly cloudy patriot by Sarah Vowell, which oh-my-God I finished on Aug. 3, at least two and a half months ago -- and I read it within three days!!!

Okay, I'm going to put a few of these books away, or at least take them off of my bedside table and get them closer to where they really belong, and then decide on my next task. I have more posts planned about my health issues, but other duties are also in line for my attention. So, more to follow pretty soon, I hope!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Short health update, in longhand

I recently decided to keep an old notebook (actually a cool "blank book" I've had for quite a while) close by me, and hope to jot down activities and thoughts as they happen. I wrote these pages yesterday morning before my radiology tests, and early this morning. More to follow, I hope sooner than later.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FreeVerse: A fragment, or draft

Just got this into my head and wanted to "jot it down," might try to expand it more later, or might not.

A year ago tonight, my mother passed away.
In the Eastern Time Zone, it's tomorrow,
but here in Kansas, it was, it's still, today.

Imagine the many words we couldn't say
will be fiery red flowers bursting through snow
this winter. It could be beautiful. I'll stay.

(I don't have time to put up the FreeVerse button and I have no idea if anyone's even hosting it anymore -- sorry!!!!!)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Read-a-Thon only hours away, finally signing up

My life has been a complete zoo for WEEKS now, and I'm so excited to have a Saturday with nothing scheduled for our whole family except a much-needed haircut for me (YAY!), and the 24-Hour Read-a-Thon, a totally awesome excuse for me to REST and READ and not do housework and try to avoid anything else I don't want to deal with. My goal for the Read-a-Thon is to finish at least one of the books I've got "in progress," a total of four of them, all print books, which is very unusual for me. I usually have one audiobook, and one or maybe two print books, so if I can finish one or two of these, it will feel like good progress. Kafka is the priority there, because the book group discussion is next Tuesday evening.

Two of the books in the pile below are NOT books in progress. I finished reading Great House by Nicole Krauss almost two weeks ago, and since I got it from LibraryThing, I need to write a review, and soon -- so I might take a break from reading to write that review. The other unread is A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace, which my older son loved, and my younger son must like it as well because he's been bothering me to read it for several weeks now. It would be a great change of pace if I feel I need to dial things down for a while.

No great expectations, just some quality reading time, some peace and quiet, and finish at least one of the books I've already started. Happy Read-a-Thon, everyone!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Incomplete update: I'm doing ok -- plus a photo!

In the nearly three weeks since my last post (my visit to the wonderful Avol's Books, during my work trip to Wisconsin for the MTKN and Transportation Library Connectivity Pooled Fund Meetings), I've had a couple of serious migraines, including one paired with a day-long stomach flu, and one linked with some bizarre changes in my left eye. I'm so tired of telling the story, I won't tell it all here, again. I saw my eye doctor today (optometrist), and he's referring me to an ophthalmologist, so I'll have to tell it at least once more.

I'll give a quick timeline, which some of my Facebook friends are familiar with. A week ago yesterday, I went to a clinic, and the physician assistant suggested I go to the ER to get a CT scan of my head, because my pupils were different sizes (among other things), and it could have been a sign of something serious. I had the CT, but the docs wanted to do an MRI and have a neurologist see me, so they admitted me. I waited from about 5pm Sunday for my MRI and MRA until after 8 pm Tuesday night. They did an MRA of my brain, plus MRI of brain, head, and neck. (If you've never had an MRI, be advised: THEY ARE VERY, UNPLEASANTLY LOUD.) They must have ruled out all the major issues, because they read the films STAT, and I found out within half an hour (yes, 940pm) that they wanted to discharge me. (!!)

So, I was sick a few days, and later I spent some days "off the grid" in the hospital when I didn't feel nearly as sick as the week before, and my left eyelid is still droopy and my left pupil is still smaller (see photo, taken tonight). Except for some side effects from a new migraine-prevention med, including some sleepiness during the day, I'm actually feeling all right. My vision is fine and has been the whole time. Hopefully I'll have more definite news pretty soon, as well as some book-related news and at least one review. I'm hoping to participate in the Read-a-thon this coming Saturday, and FINISH one of the several books I've got going now.