As summer comes to an end in Santa Monica, figs lots of figs keep showing up at my house—a bag from a neighbor, some from an aunt. More and more apples too are at the grocery store. The air is cooler and crisper and the heat and harsh sunlight is disappearing. I’m still yearning the perfect Autumn in New York—where on the hills at SLC the air is much fresher and the huge mountains of leaves that appear everywhere are inviting and fun to just-so-happen to walk into.
Right, so here is a review of a few books that I’ve read since July. Each one is really quite different from the other and all are well written:
–The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
This book is about tasting the feelings of foods that in turn offers many issues for the protagonist, Rose, and it is also about her disconnected and peculiar family. Each member in her family has distinct traits that set them apart. For Rose, it’s the fact that since she was nine she realized that she can taste the feelings of the person who made whatever she’s eating—any kind of food—she can trace the food back to where it came from and what the cook was feeling while making it. This is all interesting but makes enjoying food nearly impossible until she finally finds a haven of good, wholesome, and unproblematic food. Her brother, appears to have aspergers; he is strong in math and sciences and barely socializes. His random acts of disappearing and even literally becoming a part of his chair (his body being connected to the chair legs) offers an intriguing magical element. Rose discovers her mom’s secrets from the food she makes for dinner and that further complicates their relationship. Rose’s relationship with her crush, her brother’s only friend, George, is the perhaps most intimate one, and yet she can’t be with him because he ends up getting married. The novel on the whole, is melancholic with a unique and fascinating plot. The ending does satisfy and the strong writing mixed with those strange curious elements encourages me to read more of Bender’s work.
–Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum
Daum’s memoir is simply fun—with many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s delightful because her voice is so honest and real; on the book cover Curtis Sittenfeld says, “Wonderful…It’s like having a no-holds-barred conversation with your smartest, funniest friend”—I must agree with that. So what is it all about? It’s about living in a plethora of very different places ranging from being a kid in Texas, then moving to New Jersey, then on to Vassar dorms, to living in a flat in NYC, and a lot more other varied experiences. Indeed lots of moving takes place. And with each move and new experience the reader sees growth and transformation. She takes risks and constantly puts herself in new and often challenging situations; her dedication and willingness to take those risks without any help are encouraging. I particularly took inspiration from her days of living in an apartment with roommates in NYC, working, and being independent—something I’d like to eventually do one day.
She follows her dream of living on a farm—like in her old favorite books Little House on the Prairie—when she lives in Nebraska for a year or two. She has enough of a rural setting and then moves to California up in the Santa Monica Mountains—ironically quite close to my family’s house. The solitude and heat she experiences there is uncanny and certainly not the right place for her. Her obsession with moving, with finding the perfect home, with living in a place she loves, propels her into a crazy and unhealthy lifestyle. She never is satisfied and settled until she grows older and learns from all her myriad accommodation experiences; at 40 she says, “I’m beginning to see that there’s more to life than moving. For instance, just being alive” (242).
What I’ve always loved about her writing is her sharp sense of humor and voice, which I discovered a few years ago when reading her then-weekly (now 3 weeks per month) Opinion column in the LA Times. I remember sending her an email telling her that I was studying at Sarah Lawrence with a focus on literature and writing, and found her writing to be such a treat. She quickly responded, saying that my compliment had “made her day.” Well, this memoir truly made my week—it’s fun and thoroughly engaging.
–After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Murakami is a genius; he is a phenomenal writer, who like Jhumpa Lahiri, uses his Eastern culture to create miraculous short stories. Each one is potent and engaging from start to finish with prose that is simple, light, elegant, and cut down to just-the-right-amount, and each one distinctly connects to the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake. His story with the talking frog stands out for how he adeptly blends imaginary and real worlds. This one was particularly fun because, how often does one get to read a story about a frog talking to a man, trying to get him to battle with a giant worm underground in order to prevent an earthquake? It’s remarkable and fresh to say the least. His story, “landscape with a flatiron” ends rather hauntingly with a bonfire on the beach that a young girl and an older man are enjoying until the girl drifts off into a deep sleep, and the story ends–on a note of silence, darkness, and light. The ending of the peculiar “all god’s children can dance” is also dark and eerie; it ends with the protagonist in the middle of no-where and alone with the sounds of a siren and the wind, and the words he says: “Oh God.” These kinds of scenes draw out the beauty of Murkami’s images; they are all strange and distant yet so familiar and tangible. It’s hard to put this slight book down. Apart from creating fascinating stories, this collection is a reminder of the trauma and lives that were ruined from the earthquake. Moreover, it was lovely to read stories with characters that all have East Asian names. Murakami beautifully takes the reader into his culture and his imagination with meticulous skill and a captivating voice.