Tag Archives: Love

Review: Love, In Theory by E.J. Levy

27th September 2012

*This book was sent to me by the publisher The University of Georgia Press in exchange for an honest review.

Love, In Theory has the perfect cover, a flow chart of sorts, and I want to illustrate the paths. It says:

Ten Stories

…of love and passion in theory, in fact, in fiction, in love.

…of love and passion and heartbreak in fact, in fiction, in love.

…of love and betrayal and heartbreak in fact, in fiction, in love.

…of love and betrayal between women and women in fiction in love.

…of love and betrayal between women and men and men in love.

But Love, In Theory isn’t romance. It’s love, as it says, in theory. Why in theory? Many of the characters in these stories don’t seem quite sure what love is, or at least they have clicked to the fact that love is not, in fact, birds chirping sweetly and fish swimming around lovers in rowboats.

I have to confess that I haven’t finished this book, but only because I’ve been so incredibly busy. I will say, though, that in the hospital and in hospice, I kept coming back to it. I couldn’t sustain a novel, and it was so nice to pick up a story, read it, and put it down again. As Audra mentioned in her review, the first story “The Best Way Not to Freeze” was so affecting, I had to read it twice.

Then there were moments where the emotion and writing just seemed so perfect:

Panic, she recalls, was named for the god of wilderness. She heads for home.

She takes the parkway fast, rounds a lake and then another and then she is in the woods. Passing Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary, it occurs to Lisa to stop, but she has spent too much time already in this dark wood; she is ready to be done with it. She’ll find no Virgil there to guide her; she’s going to have to make her way alone for now and maybe for years to come, alone, and the thought of this – of herself alone, without Richard, in the vast stretch of time that is her future – makes her, finally, cry.

And this:

Cab rides in New York are like a love affair: one surrenders oneself to the care of strangers, trusting that they will take you to the right place. To the place you cannot get to on your own.

Full of love at its best and worst, Love, In Theory by E.J. Levy is a readable, addictive collection of stories about love, lust, loss, and loneliness.

Check out other opinions or add it to your shelf on Goodreads. Also, make sure to check out the other tour stops!

Audiobook Review: Asylum by Patrick McGrath

3rd April 2012

*I bought this audiobook from Audible. Buy yours here.

“Stella Raphael’s story is one of the saddest I know,” intones Dr. Peter Cleave, the senior psychiatrist in the mental hospital central to Asylum by Patrick McGrath. Asylum is a story of obsession.

Stella and her husband Max have moved outside London for Max’s job. Hoping to eventually become superintendent of the facility, Max is quite involved in the asylum’s day-to-day activities, and the couple’s home is on the property. Max has big plans, including renovating the conservatory and gardens of the home. Some of the better-behaved patients are allowed on work teams, and Edgar Stark, a former sculptor, is given the task of carpentry work in the conservatory. Charlie, Stella and Max’s son, is fascinated with the work and the gardens and the pond, spending many of his days outside. When Stella encounters Edgar while outside with Charlie, she is drawn to him. Edgar doesn’t look insane. He is polite and talented. The two become friendly, and Stella, lacking passion in her own marriage, falls in love with Edgar.

Edgar Stark is Cleave’s patient, and Edgar’s intelligence fascinates the doctor. Edgar murdered his wife and brutalized her body after suspecting her of multiple infidelities for many years. Edgar feels completely justified in his actions, and Cleave counts Edgar one of his more interesting patients because of this. It is only when Cleave observes subtle changes in Stella that he suspects the impossible. When Edgar escapes from the facility, Max and Stella both come under scrutiny, leading to a chain of events that is both disturbing and engrossing.

McGrath’s Asylum is an elegant novel. Gothic and dark, it explores the nature of love and obsession as well as mental illness. The novel is, in many ways, timeless, and particularly, it was some time before I could have stated with any assurance the time period in which Asylum is set. Late 1950s, to be exact.

Cleave is narrating the novel, yes, but he is doing so after discussions with Stella, after something has apparently gone badly wrong, and the impending sense of doom only adds to the novel’s complexity. Not that Asylum is a mystery. It isn’t. Edgar murdered his wife. He escapes from the asylum. Stella goes to him. Nothing surprising here. When Edgar begins exhibiting erratic behavior, though, she runs. However, the story doesn’t take the reader into the places you’d think it would. Stella is not repentant. Instead, she feels torn from her lover and sorrowful that she ever suspected his behavior. Willing, even after knowing the full extent of his crime, to go to him and be with him, and Cleave notes this:

At root, I suppose, in spite of everything she loved him, or told herself she did, and women are stubborn in this regard. She had made her choice, she had gone to him willingly, and it was unthinkable to run home because he was ill and his illness robbed him of responsibility. What did surprise me was that she could ignore the proliferating signals that an act of violence was imminent.

Just as Edgar seems to relish the idea of bedding a psychiatrist’s wife, so too does Stella enjoy her role as caretaker. Edgar is ill; therefore, Stella must take care of him, even if it means abandoning her husband and her child. The child she increasingly grows to resent because he is part of his father and therefore part of the imagined trap she feels exists around her.

If you have not yet picked up on it, this is an unreliable narrator speaking to another unreliable narrator. Both Stella and Cleave are obsessed with Stark, Cleave referring to Stark as “my Edgar” many times, a point of pride that Edgar is his patient. So we know what the characters intend to tell us, emphasizing that we never truly know the nature of anyone, much less someone with a mental illness.

The nature of these obsessions is, of course, destructive, and everyone involved hurtles toward that destruction in ways both expected and unexpected. I listened to this on audiobook, and I usually stick to my time on the elliptical only to listen to audiobooks. This was one, however, that after a certain point in Asylum, I had to put my headphones on for the rest of the day, no matter what else I was doing to absorb it all. Unlike Cleave, I don’t think Stella’s is the saddest story I know, and I had very little sympathy for her outside her feeling of entrapment, but I was still completely captivated by her ability to dismiss all rational thought in the face of the man she loves.

The narration by Ian McKellen is absolutely first rate, and Asylum is a story that will sink in slowly, insidiously, forcing you to think about the characters and their decisions long after the end.

Buy this from Audible, Indiebound, or for your Nook.

P.S. Thanks to The Literate Housewife for her recommendation of this book.

Other reviews:

A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook

Coffee and a Book Chick

Love the One You’re With by Emily Giffin

20th March 2012

*I borrowed this book from my local library.

Ok, so I didn’t exactly love the first Emily Giffin book I read. The main character/narrator drove me bonkers, and I just couldn’t sympathize with her selfishness. In fact, I probably never would have picked up this author again except that Elyse from Pop Culture Nerd and I had a pretty long discussion about Sophie Kinsella’s new book I’ve Got Your Number and we mentioned some of what we love about Kinsella. She makes strong heroines who aren’t necessarily going to give up who they are in order to be with a man. That’s a rarity in these types of books. [See my review of 666 Park Avenue.]

When I was at the library last week, I picked up Love the One You’re With and decided to read a few chapters before I fell asleep. This usually goes one of two ways: My eyes get heavy and within two chapters, I put the book down, not because it’s boring but because I’m not that into it or I’m really tired. Or, I stay up until 3 am, not daring to look at the clock, so intense am I on finishing a book. This book definitely fit in the latter category.

Ellen has been married for 100 days exactly when she passes her ex in a New York City crosswalk. The ex with whom she had an extremely intense relationship that broke off with little warning and no further contact. When he calls her and meets up with her in a diner, her heart drops to her stomach, and her knees go weak. This isn’t a normal reaction when you’re a newlywed, right? Ellen feels guilty immediately, going home to her husband Andy and trying to forget about Leo, but it isn’t easy. Leo was her passion, the kind of boyfriend that almost makes a girl self destruct because she cares so much, but the breakup spurred her to begin her successful photography career and to begin dating Andy, her college roommate and best friend Margot’s brother. For a girl from Pittsburgh who lost her mother at age 13, being a Graham is as close to being a Kennedy as a girl can get. The Grahams love Ellen, and they’re quite wealthy, part of Atlanta’s elite.

So why does Ellen fantasize about Leo? And why is she feeling more and more trapped by the family that loves her?

What did I think of Ellen? Ellen is so real. Very often, with chick lit or women’s lit or whatever you want to call it, the girl is with a real loser, and the other guy is so obviously the right choice that you want to smack her upside the head until she realizes the error of her ways. In Love the One You’re With, both of these guys are great, and one of the things Elyse pointed out stuck with me: “If I were her friend, I’d have a hard time giving her advice.” Because the choice to be with either of these men means a very different life and lifestyle for Ellen – not better of worse – just different. Until the end, I was honestly not sure which way Ellen was leaning, and I was ok with that.

What made this book stand apart from other chick lit books? Ellen loves her career. She’s a photographer, and she’s serious about it. She isn’t giving it up because her husband is a wealthy attorney. Plus, there aren’t 20 shopping trips to Barney’s where she spends 2 years of my salary on clothing. In fact, fashion is rarely, if ever, mentioned in the book except to distinguish how Leo and Andy dress. It was so refreshing to find a woman whose every waking breath wasn’t focused on ways to spend her money.

Why does Ellen even think about ditching Andy? Andy is wealthy, and though in many chick lit books, this is the heroine’s pass to spend tons of money on Chanel and Marchesa, Ellen actually sees it as a drawback instead of a bragging point. The couple moves to Atlanta to be closer to Andy’s family, and Ellen feels claustrophobic. She misses New York. She misses the energy she put into her photography because she just doesn’t feel the same way about Atlanta. Plus, she feels pressured to act a certain way or to have certain luxuries that she isn’t really comfortable with. So the problem is really that Andy doesn’t pick up on all of this, more than that there is something really wrong with their relationship.

So who does Ellen choose? Well, I’m certainly not going to divulge that juicy bit of gossip. You’ll just have to read this one yourself, and I highly recommend it.

If anyone has other books that sound like they break the chick lit mold, send me the titles! [pretty please]

Buy this from Indiebound or for your Nook.

Picky Boy: The Kids Are All Right

14th July 2010

When I sat down to watch The Kids Are All Right, my mind was on other things. The pizza I’d just eaten (it was alright)…the Cole Haan shoes I want to buy (I can’t afford them)…the A/C unit we desperately need in our living room (wouldn’t it be nice?).

I simply wasn’t prepared.

Here I sit, two days later, and I cannot stop thinking about this movie. Just a quick synopsis for those of you residing in places where this film probably won’t be released: The Kids Are All Right, written by Lisa Cholodenko, centers around two lesbians, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), whose two teenage children have decided to exercise their age-determined right to contact the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) their moms used to conceive them.

That’s what you could say if someone asks what the film is about. But you’d be underselling it by a long shot.

First things first: The acting is phenomenal.

Though she is wonderful in The Hours and Far from Heaven, it’s so nice to see Julianne Moore successfully tackle a current woman again. Her portrayal of Jules is unnervingly honest and I was reminded of the gritty ‘Moore of yore’ in Magnolia and Boogie Nights …and as to why I regard her as a truly great actress.

Once again, I was charmed by Mark Ruffalo who stole my affection years ago as the bumbling, loveable druggie inYou Can Count on Me.

And Annette Bening is perfection as the uptight, breadwinning and wine-loving matriarch, Nic. Bening, prone to roles in which she gets to stretch her overdramatic muscles (a la American Beauty and Being Julia), unwaveringly steamboats her way through this film, unafraid to knock anyone from her path in quick, concise judo chops of wit & severe candor.

 

 

 

The Kids Are All Right

It would be sophomoric to claim that this movie is a statement about gay couples with children. There are so many currents pulsing through The Kids Are All Right, it is difficult to classify the film. It’s hysterical without pause to beg for laughter and it’s heart-wrenching without device-motivated melodramatic outbursts.

I guess it suffices to say the movie is true. It’s a glimpse into a home, not just a family unit. They have fun together, smother each other, support each other, say hurtful things and do even more hurtful things to each other. They laugh, cry, yell and curse. The parents have sex (gasp, it’s two women!).  The kids holler and stomp up the stairs, screaming (You just don’t understand!). The film boldly and unapologetically explores the complexity of relationships and illuminates what can happen if we become complacent and stop seeing the ones we love when they’re right in front of us.

In one pivotal scene, Jules interrupts her family watching a television program to apologize. Through tears, she explains that “marriage is hard. It’s fucking hard.” And all of a sudden, as a viewer, I was struck with the clamor of the film’s voice. The sexuality and gender of this couple…it’s irrelevant. No one is exempt from making mistakes or above hurting the ones we love (especially the ones we love). Even those who have fought for the right to be with the person they love or to be able to adopt/have children. No matter the partnership, be it a straight or gay couple, committing your life to another person is a process. And it’s hard. Year after year, the game changes. You grow, you learn—about yourself and your partner. Life is in constant flux and the world changes around you. For you to somehow change as a unit…how can one not make mistakes along the way? It’s how we approach the resolution, that’s the key. Is it worth fighting for? Has too much time passed? Were we looking for an out anyway? Can we mend this? There are so many questions when trust is broken. It’s refreshing to see a film approach these issues in a mature, realistic manner.

I strongly recommend seeing The Kids Are All Right, alright? It’s a beautiful film with a lot to say, so listen up. Picky boy out!