Review: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

Behold! A negative review. I’m sorry.

For those who read me often, you’ll know that you don’t see bad reviews often on 29chapters. But yes…occasionally I do encounter a book that for whatever reason, did not offer me a pleasurable nor informative reading experience.

Perhaps you will read it and completely disagree. In the meantime…

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Review for "A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal" by Jen Waite (2017)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

After reading the description, I took the last word in the title, betrayal, and expected something mind-bending and completely unbelievable to compel me to read all 258 pages of this work. This book was neither of those things. Sure, Ms. Waite’s husband is guilty of being a cheating and lying jerk, but how is this different from thousands of other women and men whose lives are ruined by a partner’s infidelity? I also understand that she was deeply hurt by his actions (as I would be), but what is so remarkable here? Why is this a memoir? Who published this drivel?

Most of the first half of this book is made up of adolescent-ish, ‘dear diary’ prose, with “Before” and “After” scenes documenting the beginning, middle, and end of her marriage to Marco, an Argentinian bar tender, serial liar and cheater. Somewhere in all of this she discovers her husband is having an affair and we’re forced to watch as she goes back and forth with omg why omg why omg why this happened. We watch as she scours her husband and his mistress’ social media, phone records, an Uber account. It’s exhausting. It’s obsessive. It’s creepy. And after pages and pages of this, we also don’t care.

I also take issue with her use of ‘psychopathic’ to describe her husband’s behavior. Yes, he cheated on her and lied to her–but does this really make him a psychopath? What medical expertise does the author have to make such a diagnosis? Of course, we’ve all called at least one person we know ‘crazy,’ but the author spends a great deal of time in this book, with no medical expertise at all, utilizing Google searches, internet message boards, and a Wikipedia page to self-diagnose her husband’s mental condition and actions. Well alrighty then.

I don’t recommend this–no way, no how. Sorry.

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Review: Out in the Open

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Review for "Out in the Open" by Jesus Carrasco (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In a desperate desert land, an unnamed boy flees his home and eludes a bailiff set on capturing him. The boy encounters a kind goat herder and together they brave the harsh terrain as they journey across the land, trying to keep one step ahead of the bailiff. We never find out the reason for boy’s flight or why the bailiff is so intent on killing him, though such an explanation may have helped me understand the story better. :/

Overall, the writing’s good but I wasn’t impressed. There’s a lot of description here of what the characters are doing at ALL times, and after pages and pages of such minutiae, I found myself skimming the book. Comparison between this novel and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” are inevitable, as they both feature pretty much the same elements–an unnamed man and boy, a bleak landscape, pursuit by evil people. Some have called this book dystopian, though for me it had a wild west kind of feel. Needless to say, I like McCarthy’s book better.

P.S. – This is the 3rd book I’ve read this year with unnamed main characters (“Chemistry” by Weike Wang, “One of the Boys” by Daniel Magariel, and this one.) Why is this happening? Somebody care to explain this to me?

[NOTE: I received a free copy of this book thanks to the publisher, Riverhead Books, because I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Opinions are mine.]

Review: One of the Boys

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Review for "One of the Boys" by Daniel Magariel (2017)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“One of the Boys” is the story of an unnamed 12-year-old boy, his older brother, and his father who move from Kansas to New Mexico after they win the “war” (his father’s term for his divorce and custody battle). As they settle into their new lives, it is apparent that the boy’s father has deep seated issues, which the narrator becomes more and more aware of as the story unfolds. While the boys go to school, Dad stays in his room for days at a time snorting cocaine, shooting heroin, and doing a myriad of other drugs. Exposed to a parade of weird strangers in their home, the boys are also subject to periods of abandonment and violent physical abuse by their father. Wanting to be “one of the boys,” the narrator desperately wants his father to protect him, but as his father become more and more paranoid, he gradually loses all trust and hope.

This is a nasty, brutal little book. I won’t say that it’s the most disturbing book I’ve ever read, but it comes close. There are some pretty graphic scenes here, so I would recommend reading this all in one sitting, as I did. At 176 pages its more novella than novel, though it still packs quite a punch. I thank God for this book’s brevity, as I would not continue to torture myself by going back to read it over and over had it been even 10 pages longer.

P.S. – This is the third book I’ve read recently where the main characters are unnamed. While I can understand why some characters aren’t named in a story, to not give the main character one is kind of odd. Is this a trend or something? If so, I wish it would go away. Pffft.

Review: What We Lose

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Review for "What We Lose" by Zinzi Clemmons (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have a confession to make. Like several other online reviewers, I too thought this was a memoir. About halfway through the book, I realized that the author is named Zinzi, and the character’s whose story is within these pages is named Thandi (*smacks forehead*). Though they are two different women their backstory is essentially one in the same, both are born of a South African mother and an African American father. Thandi navigates through life negotiating both identities, never really fitting into one or the other. The book chronicles her life from childhood all the way to adulthood as she stumbles in and out of relationships, loses her mother to cancer, marries, and eventually has a child of her own. The loss of her mother, however, is the clear focal point of this book.

This novel is written in sparse language and presented vignette style. There are photos, poetry, and snippets of nonfiction text, which is a pretty distinctive of a lot of the ‘new school’ memoirs that have come out over the past few years. Clemmons choice to present fiction in this way is interesting, though one of the drawbacks of this style is that all of the ‘space’ left me wanting more Thandi. It’s ok, however, because the words are powerful enough.

Do read this book. Clemmons is definitely a writer to watch.

P.S. – I’ll be disappointed if this book doesn’t win some kind of award this year. It’s that good. 🙂

Review: Bad Romance

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Review for "Bad Romance" by Heather Demetrios (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It took me a while to read this book. Despite the content I jumped in head first, and perhaps that was the wrong way to read this. Regardless, I found this book dead on in its accuracy of how emotionally abusive relationships work.

Grace is a teenage girl from a troubled home. Her mother is an obsessive nitpicker and neat freak, her stepfather unrelenting in his own dominance and control over her mother and the rest of the family. She eventually meets Gavin, an emotionally unstable rocker who, through jealousy, threats of suicide, and his own insecurities, begins to control everything about her: what she wears, where she goes, who she can talk to. There is no physical abuse but there is a steady emotional violence here, an erosion of her dignity, a trampling of her personhood. It’s hard to watch. It’s even harder to read about.

The ghost of my 16-year-old self made this book so difficult to read. I was Grace in high school–insecure, eager to please, in a relationship for 3 years with a person who was very much like the Gavin of this book. I think the genius of this novel is the way the author shows how impossible it can seem for the victim to get out of these kind of relationships. Thankfully Grace has a support network in her friends, who act as an anchor for her.

I definitely recommend this book to teens, as well as adults.

Review: Cuz

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Review of "Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A" by Danielle Allen (to be published on 5 September 2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A” is the true life story of the author’s younger cousin Michael, who was arrested at the age of 15 in Los Angeles for the crime of attempted carjacking. He was charged as an adult, served eleven years in prison, and was released in 2009. Three years later, his body was discovered in his vehicle, riddled with bullets.

Danielle Allen, an academic at Harvard University, peels away the layers of Michael’s troubled personal and family life and attempts to find an answer for why her cousin’s life came to such a tragic and violent end. She manages to write a really good background sociological perspective of Los Angeles, with its gangs, segregated neighborhoods, and history of mass incarceration that was very relevant to the discussion of the personal facts she presents. All in all, a very solid work that anyone who is interested in urban sociology would appreciate.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was given to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]