Three highly acclaimed ones for the discard pile, one keeper.
THE GOOD LORD BIRD by James McBride
THE COLOR OF WATER is one of my favorite books. The intertwined stories of McBride and his mother are compelling and beautifully woven, and his jazz musicianship is apparent in the cadences of his language. But I put his recent novel down after four or five chapters. I wanted to love it. McBride does John Brown and abolition with humor. But there's something about the voice. Not exactly inaccurate, but... not fully McBride's. And a lot of blubber that passes for action. Is there a danger in moving from fresh, vital memoir to... the conventions of storytelling? I'm thinking of how I love Dave Eggar's nonfiction, but both his recent novels have left me cold.
ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by Alison Bechdel
Oh, dear. Both McBride and Bechdel were classmates at Oberlin. And I love both their breakthrough books. Bechdel's graphic memoir, FUN HOME, is a great read/look, about her father. This one, about her mother, is okay-ish... but an exhaustive description of one's psychotherapy is better left on the couch.
MY EDUCATION by Susan Choi
At least with this one, I don't have to feel guilty about not liking a college classmate's book. Choi writes to massive accolades from the literati in this novel about a grad student obsessed with a professor. But little old moi found this novel so overwritten and self-conscious that I stopped at around page 30. Tell me if I'm wrong:
"[He] drove a very old, very damaged Volvo sedan the color of calamine lotion where it wasn't afflicted by rust. The car was so barely distinguishable from the countless other aged, rusted, neutral-toned Volvo sedans living out their last days in that town it might have been part of a utopian experiment of ubiquitous, ownerless cars, as with bicycles in some parts of Europe and indeed even here, in the seventies, when the university had apparently paid for a fleet of bicycles for public use on the campus, all of which had wound up within just a few days abandoned at the bast of the hill."
THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P.
All the juicy story material of a good chic lit novel, with the insight and dry humor of a British comedy of manners. Nathaniel P., on the verge of literary success in hipster Brooklyn, dates and writes and comments. Nothing about world peace or big ideas... just extremely well-crafted, beautifully written entertainment. Recommended.