Category Archives: Literary Fiction Reading Project 2020

Weather by Jenny Offill

Weather by Jenny Offill Title: Weather
Author: Jenny Offill
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0385351102
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Weather by Jenny Offill is a demanding book. It holds you right from page one and doesn’t let go (at least it did that to me). It can also go the other way and make the reader wonder what they are reading and perhaps make them stop reading as well. Weather isn’t an easy read. If you are reading Offill for the first time, I suggest you start with Dept. of Speculation and then move on to Weather, as it will give you an idea of perhaps what to expect.

Weather is a novel that is everything and more – it literally as the title suggests, speak of the weather – the situation of climate change that we are in which isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It is about a marriage that seems to be in control and yet felt to me that it was tearing at the seams.

It is also about the protagonist, Lizzie Benson’s sort of stream-of-consciousness that comes from her brother’s mental and physical health, her mentor’s closing off to the world, and to what extent she will go to test her endurance when it comes to empathy and the state of the world.

This is not a book that can be read in one go. You have to savor it and give it some time. It is fragmented and will take some time to get into. Maybe nothing extraordinary ever happens in the book as well (quite subjective). It reminds us of times – of impending doom that hangs over all of us – and yet more often than not we choose to ignore it. It is bleak and has moments of joy. The writing as I have mentioned isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t deter you from reading Offill. She is simply the best.

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini. Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini Title: Snow, Dog, Foot
Author: Claudio Morandini
Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden
Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-1908670564
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This for now is the strangest book I’ve read in 2020. I mean it with the utmost admiration for the author, Claudio Morandini to have the capacity to spin such a fantastical tale of a man, a dog, and a human foot that appears poking out of the receding snow.

I don’t know what to make of this novella. It is a thriller (in some sense of the word), it is also a meditation on loneliness and deliriousness, and more than anything else it is about the reality of hunger and survival.

Adelmo Farandola doesn’t like people. He doesn’t like animals. He doesn’t like anyone. At one point in the book, I was certain he didn’t even like himself given how he lives. Till he meets a dog and starts interacting with him (interesting, isn’t it?). The winter that comes upon them is harsh. There is nothing left to eat. The village is in the valley and it’s impossible to go down there. What remains to be seen is who will eat whom first: the dog or the man. In all of his, they chance on a dead body that adds another twist in the tale.

This in short is the plot of the book. Morandini’s prose is exact and full of brevity. There were times I cringed, there were times I also shook in fear, and there were times I found myself smiling at the delirious interaction between man and animal.

Snow, Dog, Foot is a strange book (like I said at the beginning) but it is also very satisfying. It checks all boxes and leaves a lot unsaid. The translation by J Ockenden to me seems exact and not at all out of place. The prose beautifully captures the scene and harshly tells us readers what’s in store for us as well. All of this is very gently and sometimes hastily communicated to us. It is a book that is part humane, part deranged, and part thrilling.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid Title: Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
ISBN: 978-1526612151
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

The book took off very slowly for me, till I finished Part 1 and was instantly floored by the turn the book took, and the writing. Such a Fun Age seems so less on the surface, and it is so much more the moment you give it time, dedication, and continue reading it without stopping. At times, the book is also quite deceptive in its approach, making you believe that it is about the men and not the women, whereas it is only about the women and rightly so.

The book is about Emira Tucker, a young black woman, who is all of 25 years old, lives in Philadelphia, with two part-time jobs (typist and babysitter), with no benefits and no health insurance at all. She wants to do more in her life but is always held back for one reason or the other. In all of this, her life is brought to the forefront involving an upscale grocery store, where she is on an errand with the toddler of her employer, Alix, who is white. Alix is deeply embarrassed by the incident and takes on Emira as a project – to get to know her better and make wrongs right.

This then leads to a series of questions raised throughout the book about class, gender, race, parenthood, forgiveness, and what it takes to be a person in the twenty-first century. The plot and the semi-plots are full of nuances as created by Reid. The book is funny, and before you know it, it becomes serious talking about racial biases, and the prejudices we seem to hold onto, sometimes even unintentionally.

Reid writes from a place of awareness and experience, which adds to the many dimensions of the book. The characters aren’t all black and white, and you do not expect them to be that was well. The greyness is something that just sneaks up (Emira’s boyfriend and what happens thereof). There is a lot of engagement with the reader, in the sense of being vested, as the pages turn. I often found myself not wanting this book to end because of the way it is written.

Such a Fun Age besides being a solid book of and for our times, is a read that will leave you bedazzled and wanting more. It’s take on privilege, wealth, class, and crossing of paths of people is refreshing, and makes it a compulsive read on so many levels.

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Title: Interior Chinatown
Author: Charles Yu
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-0307907196
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I thought the book was exhausting when I first began to read it, till I reached about forty pages and started enjoying it thoroughly. This is somewhat my relationship with the other two books written by Yu as well. The start is rocky, till I make some headway, and before I know it, I am in love with what he has to say about the world he builds, and connects it with the world we live in.

Interior Chinatown is a deeply emotional book about race, identity, pop culture, and what roles we are forced to play in society, because of where we come from. Willis Wu is not the protagonist of his own life. He is always, even to himself, the Generic Asian Man. He is an actor. Sometimes he gets to play the Background Oriental Making a Weird Face, and sometimes just an Asian guy, but never the protagonist. Never the Kung Fu Guy which he longs to be. Willis lives in a Chinatown SRO (Standing Room Only) and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where a cop show titled Black and White (how apt and ironic as well) is perpetually in production. He is a sidekick or an extra in that show and just wants to do more. We only see his mother who has long separated from his father, being the only one who believes in him.

Charles Yu’s story is for our times, and also set in our times. Yet it somehow seems like it also has elements of the fantastical – of the novel being written like one big script (which works wonderfully for the book), and also of the show being in constant production took me some time to get a hang of the novel, but every minute of turning the page was worth it.

Yu speaks from a place of knowing. Every sentence is in place because of that, which most instantly connects with the reader. The stereotypes are so on-point that as a reader I was screaming with anger and yet understood where the writer and the characters were coming from. Interior Chinatown is a book that needs to be read and understood by everyone. It speaks of such a great need to fit in, to be someone bigger than what the world thinks you were meant to be, and above all of an aspiration and desire to humanize oneself all over again.

All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos. Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore

All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos Title: All My Goodbyes
Author: Mariana Dimópulos
Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore
Publisher: Transit Books
ISBN: 978-1945492150
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

All My Goodbyes is a strange read. A strange read that is also very satisfying on so many levels. It is a love story, a story of trauma and violence, and also a story of memory told in fragments.

The book is about the disconnected life of an Argentine woman who is rootless, constantly moving from one place to another, leaving the people who take care of her. She is scared of any emotion (I think) and doesn’t even carry emotions with her as she leaves. She then reaches the southernmost region of Patagonia, convinced that she has finally found home and happiness, till she is caught up in murders that seem to take over her life.

Dimópulos’s writing is sharp and exacting. There is no beating around the bush. It is thread-bare and works on so many levels for a book of this nature. It isn’t an easy read to begin with – the narrative moves between time and space, in almost every paragraph. However, it is very fulfilling if you keep at it.

Sentences and plot changes jump at you unexpectedly, which to me is the main strength of this read. The aura of mystery is maintained right till the end, including the life of the narrator that always keeps you second-guessing. The translation by Alice Whitmore is spot-on and manages to recreate everything the author intended it to be (again I am only going by what I have read).

All My Goodbyes is constantly moving like the narrator. It forces you to surrender to the story and let the book take you where it has to. I suggest don’t make much of it to begin with. Just read with an open mind and that is enough. More than enough to understand how we are connected to fellow humans in the larger scheme of the world and our place in it.