Posts Tagged contemporary fiction

book review: Love May Fail

love may fail

Love May Fail By Matthew Quick.
Harper| June 2015|401 pages |$25.99| ISBN: 978-0-06228-5560

Rating: ***/5*

This is my first novel by Matthew Quick. Having liked the film Silver Linings Playbook, I expected to enjoy this much more than I did. It’s a quick read with resonating themes of redemption and second chances. Portia Kane finds herself at a crossroads. She’s in her 40s living in Florida with her adult film director husband. Of her husband Ken, Portia admits: “He wants to be my emotional pimp—the owner of my heart.” Finally his dalliances with younger women drive Portia to head home to her hoarder mom in New Jersey. Fond memories of her high school teacher Nate Vernon instilled hopes in Portia that she might one day become a writer. He gave all his students ‘member of the human race’ cards at year’s end with inspirational messages which Portia always carries with her still. Life intervened and Portia finds herself miserable and unfulfilled. Is it too late for Portia to pursue her goals?

Portia Kane: “How did I end up so seduced by money, living in a tropical palace of marble floors, twenty-foot ceilings, cathedral archways, palm trees, crystal chandeliers, lap pool, hand-carved furniture, and high-end stainless steel appliances—all of which make my childhood dwelling look like a mud hut that barnyard animals would refuse to enter?”

Meanwhile a scandal drove Nate Vernon to retreat to the Vermont mountains. After meeting and later corresponding with a nun on her flight home, Portia decides that to re-align the universe, she must convince Mr. Vernon to return to teaching. In New Jersey Portia encounters her former friend’s younger brother, Chuck Bass, a sweet guy who ran into drug issues in the past and now also finds himself buoyed by thoughts of their high school English teacher. The ex-heroin addict currently pursues a teaching career complicated by his shaky past. Portia and Chuck bond with memories for 80s metal and this elusive teacher–“What do you do when the person you admire most literally turns his back on you?”

Love May Fail dragged at times. There’s a high school teacher in crisis and a nun –so religion in plenty which rarely interests me. I’m fine with unlikeable characters as everyone in the world isn’t likeable to everyone but I need these unlikeable characters to be well-written and compelling. I appreciated the characters of Portia Kane and Chuck Bass and would have preferred the entire novel told from their points-of-view. I found myself skimming the high school teacher and nun chapters. This isn’t the type of novel where the author writes short chapters from varying viewpoints. Instead we don’t get to Mr. Vernon until part two 100 pages in and carry on with him for about 100 pages. When Mr. Vernon thinks that his dog is Albert Camus reincarnated and begins talking to him, it’s a tongue-in-cheek existentialism moment for the novel and it just went too far. More moments could’ve been explored instead—Portia’s hoarder mom for instance.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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book review: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

life and death of sophie stark

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark By Anna North.
Blue Rider Press| May 19, 2015|288 pages |$26.95| ISBN: 978-0399173394

Rating: *****/5*

Want an engrossing read for the weekend? This book grabbed my attention from its title, cover and first pages. I was captivated and couldn’t stop reading. It’s a fascinating novel about creativity, artists, fitting in and being satisfied with success, fame and how we perceive ourselves and how we want others to understand us. Sophie Stark, who changed her name to suit her persona, is a renowned and elusive filmmaker. She makes enigmatic and often strikingly sad, honest films that strip bare the characters and dig into their psyches.

Author Anna North creatively writes through various viewpoints of those close to Sophie at some point or another– Sophie’s girlfriend Allison; her songwriter boyfriend Jacob (later husband); an older film producer George; former college crush Daniel and her brother Peter. Daniel describes Sophie: “She was that kind of alternative girl with a camera. She’s a director now.” Sophie has a strange magnetic control over all these individuals by simultaneously annoying them [“Her voice wasn’t rude, just flat, without feeling.”]; scaring them [“Sophie was worse than I’d thought, further away from normal. The coldness I’d seen in her movies wasn’t something she just called up every now and then to help her with a scene; it was the way she was.”] and interesting them [“I think she knew that I still loved her and that‘d be flattered that she needed me.”]. Sophie wasn’t well-liked in college or high school. She never fit in. She’s offbeat and stand-offish even when trying to market her films. She just doesn’t seem to care. But yet she does. She wants to be liked. She wants people to understand her through her films. Her brother says: “I realized then that Sophie did care what other people thought—at least, she liked to be praised.”

Sophie manages to get those close to her to reveal dark, personal moments and memories and then exploits them through her film-making. Jacob admits: “At the same time, I wanted to hold Sophie’s interest. I felt like I was performing for her—I didn’t know whether it was a good performance or a bad one, but I didn’t want to stop. And I didn’t like the way Sophie was looking at me, like she’s given me a challenge I was failing to rise to.” Allison starred in Marianne based on her experience being raped in her hometown in West Virginia. She thinks: “I’d gone to so much trouble to tell a good story about my life, a story that was exciting and didn’t make me look bad, and now the cast and crew and anyone who saw the movie would see the other story anyway. They would see me letting Peter do something I didn’t want; they would see me fearful and helpless and struggling.” This is Anna North’s second novel. The first, America Pacifica, came out in 2011. She’s a currently a staff editor at The New York Times and has been a writer and editor at Jezebel, BuzzFeed, and Salon.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Net Galley.

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