The Bell Jar

It’s been around a month since I finished this novel and I still don’t know exactly how to say how I feel about it. This articulate, funny, intimate, and authentic novel is about the depression and breakdown of Esther Greenwood. But through that, it’s about the inescapable confines the expectations of being a woman in Post-modern Western society.

Esther is a studious and successful nineteen year-old. She’s in New York for wining a writing contest and is enrolled in an advanced English program where she can devise her own curriculum. She constantly feels he pressure of her future. She doesn’t know what she’s gong to do after college except get married and have children, like all of the other women around her. She also feels the fruitlessness of her degree. It seems like just something to do until she can perform her feminine duties.

I chose this novel for our book club. I didn’t realize that it was going to hit home for all of the women in our group- albeit in different ways. We all took different parts of this novel very personally and identified with it. We all felt like this was a novel women in our situations should read.

I loved this novel. I feel like I read it for the first time at the perfect moment. I’m sure I’ll reread it in a few years and I’ll get something else out of it. It may not be technically flawless, but it affected me deeply.

5/5

Dark Matter

This book by Blake Crouch is a combination of literary fiction and science fiction. It is about Jason Dessen, a physics professor at a small university. The novel opens with him and his family enjoying a family dinner. Jason and his wife, Daniella, reflect on how neither one of them had the professional success that they wanted. But they both agree that they are happy and satisfied with their lives.

On that night, Jason is kidnapped by a stranger and wakes up in an unfamiliar place. He doesn’t recognize anyone, but they all call him by name and respect him. He tries to navigate his disorientation and figure out how to get back to his wife and family.

This book is classified as a science fiction because it deals with quantum mechanics. But it also has elements of a typical thriller and is clear in its themes. This novel is about family and what is more important in life- success in work or with raising a loving family. Crouch is unambiguous in his opinion on which of these are paramount for a happy life.

I really liked this novel. It was an easy read that wasn’t too bogged down with the science. It also didn’t feel too pedantic in its themes and how Crouch addressed them. I would read other books he has published, like his Wayward Pines series.

3/5

Difficult Women

This collection of fictional short stories by Roxanne Gay centers on a variety of women that have suffered hardships. When I first started the collection, I thought that it was non-fiction and I was horrified that Gay went through that situation. Then I started the second story and I realized that these must be fictional stories about different women. But none of them are dramatized, and similar, if not exact replicas of these situations, happen every day.

While I wouldn’t call any of these stories ‘happy’, some of them did have hope. My favorite was “North Country”. This is one of the longer stories in the book and follows a woman who teaches engineering at a college in the Midwest. Due to the dark color of her skin, people assume time and time again that she is from Detroit. Like most of the stories in this collection, the plot revolves around a traumatic event that occurred in this woman’s life. But unlike most of the other stories, this one ends with a hopeful tone. She is able to find love again and is part of a healthy relationship.

My biggest problem with Difficult Women was that every story had the same themes and tone. There was a variety in plot, but Gay centered on the same themes of trauma and the crimes against women. These are extremely important topics, but it was difficult to read stories about them over and over again. But Gay is a fantastic writer and I moved through these swiftly. I can’t wait to read her novel, now that I’ve finally finished one of her works.

4/5

Hag-seed

Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s the story of Felix, a down-and-out ex-artistic director of a theatre. After losing his daughter and his wife, and then his job, Felix decides to become a hermit. After 12 years of solitude and planning his revenge, he finally has the opportunity with teaching a theatre course at a local prison.

This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series from Penguin/Random House, who is publishing modern retellings of Shakespeare written by popular literary authors of today. This one was an indulgent feast for a theatre person. Not only is theatre a huge part of the plot, the cathartic release that comes from good theatre is a huge theme.

One of my favorite parts of this novel was the journey that Felix undergoes. He grows so much during the novel, but he is still a realistic person driven by human emotions at the end. Atwood kept that essential part of Shakespeare that makes his writing universally accessible.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I would want to read the rest in this series. But they’ll have a hard time topping this theatre-filled story that Atwood was able to translate perfectly for today.

4/5

The Handmaid’s Tale

When I read this book for my 2016 Reading Challenge, I’d just heard about the TV series for Hulu. I’m reviewing this book through a recommendation. If there’s anything else that you want me to read and review, please don’t hesitate to ask! When I say that this book changed the way I think, I do so without a hint of irony. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is literary without being pretentious and, since January 20, 2107, closer to reality in the United States than we ever expected.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, it follows the story of Offred, a woman who is a Handmaid. Handmaids are women whose function is to sexually satisfy and bear children for the elite of a new religious oligarchy. But these men who are the head of the new system also have wives. Offred is assigned to The Commander and his wife, Serena Joy, because she is infertile. In actuality, The Commander is infertile, but men are not allowed to be infertile under the laws of Gilead, the new nation and government.

I’ve read the majority of classic dystopian novels. This one stands out to me for three reasons: the female protagonist, its subsequent focus on female issues, and that it is from the perspective of someone who remembers ‘before’. I like 1984 and Brave New World, but they have no concern for women beyond the typical archetypal roles of whore and/or mother. The Handmaid’s Tale is from the perspective of a woman who remembers the freedom she had before the current extreme patriarchal society that took over.

I can’t really express how much this novel affected me in just a few short paragraphs. I have trouble articulating it at all, actually. I read literature to gain perspectives that aren’t my own. But we are just a few small steps away from a United States that could resemble the one that Offred lives in. I love this novel because it’s a mixture f many of my favorite genres: dystopian, feminist, and sci-fi/fantasy. Every word of this novel resounded with me and I already can’t wait to read it again.

5/5

The Underground Railroad


Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad follows Cora, a slave in Georgia, as her and another slave named Caesar escape to freedom using the underground railroad. In this book, the railroad is a literal railroad complete with steam engine.

It took me months to read this book because several parts were heavy and I would just get sad. Fictional slave narratives usually end happily, when the slave reaches a free state. This book show the continuous forms of slavery that people of color experienced even if they weren’t working in the fields. But I’m glad I read this whole novel. The prose is beautiful and striking. Also, the story of Cora is one that digs into your heart and won’t leave.

There are several plot twists in this novel that seem obvious once you have read them, but made me gasp in the moment. Whitehead’s prose pulls you in to the story so easily that you don’t even notice where he’s taking you. But every one has its place and purpose. This novel is difficult to read, but every bit is deliberate.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. Since I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me last year, I’ve steadily read African-American Fiction. This book hit me hard and is extremely relevant to the current state of race relations in America. Fiction sometimes exists to make its readers consider a perspective that is not, and never will be, their own. This novel achieves that in a deep and lingering way.

4/5

Another Brooklyn

Jacqueline Woodson’s adult novel, Another Brooklyn, follows the childhood of August in 1970s Brooklyn. This is a deep and moving story about four teenage girls who saw the world in each other, but couldn’t protect each other from the reality of it.

This book left me feeling melancholy. I was deeply saddened by the events of the novel and how realistic they were. The friendship between August and her three best friends is movie and one of the most realistic ones I’ve read in ages. Also, I love the early relationship between August and her brother.

The lyrical prose of this novel was almost overwhelming at times. I would stop to reread sentences over and over again. I had to take a break several times even though the novel was extremely short. The reality of the story and the prose was heart-wrenching, in the best way possible.

Overall, I loved the perspective of what it would have been like to be a brown girl growing up in 1970s Brooklyn. August deals with loss, abuse, and trauma. But she copes the best way she knows how and the overall tone is one of hope more than anything else. Hope for the brown girls of both the past and the future.

4/5