Monday, April 20, 2009

Books of the Week

Over my children's spring break, I spent a relaxing week in Florida visiting my in laws (yes I realize how fortunate I am that those two words, relaxing and in laws are not mutually exclusive) and got a chance to read a couple of books.

Veronica and Netherland both take place in NYC milieus that I have orbited but never fully inhabited. Veronica's NYC is the cocaine dusted (or doused) Manhattan of the 1980's. I really like Mary Gaitskill and the rhythm of the book appealed to me. I've often said that it was the luck of the draw that I was born in '74 and not '64. My travels over the bridge into Manhattan as a teen ager were underscored by a visceral fear of cocaine. Growing up in crack ravaged Brooklyn did have some benefits. As did coming of age during the AIDS epidemic. I know there are plenty in my generation for whom condoms have always been optional but given my sexual appetite and inclinations, latex free sex would have been tantamount to suicide...

My childhood was consumed by an intense longing to be anything but a child. I gorged myself on any information I could glean about life in "The City"(as the protagonist in Netherland points out a colloquialism much used by us outer borough types). My aunts were de facto big sisters and I watched my grandmother's Buick transport them from Queens to Manhattan the way other kids watched space shuttle launches. Veronica provided the adult me with fuller glimpses of lives I could only intuit as a child. Barreling down the West Side Highway in my father's car, covertly peering out of the window, eager and anxious to see things for which I had no names.

Netherland adroitly moves from Manhattan to Brooklyn to London with a finesse made possible by deft and nuanced writing. A great deal of the book takes place in Brooklyn, but in the world of Carribean immigrants with which I have only passing knowledge. It's "revitalization" a whisper from the future, the last thing on my agenda was exploring the county of Kings.

Two excellent books that were worth the hype when they were published.

I'm on to Cider House Rules. It's weird that I've never read it because I generally like Irving and did my undergrad in Maine.

I've also put a dent in Joyce Carol Oates' My Sister, My Love. It's redundant to say that a satire has a mean bite but because it's a thinly veiled take on The JonBenet Ramsey case it just feels wrong. Of course trying to take the moral high ground after signing up for a book based on a lurid and tragic set of events is hypocrisy at it's best. Especially as I have every intention of finishing it!

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