Indian Summer – Aaron Mahnke
This was an impulse purchase for the Kindle before my Kansas City trip in late July. I’ve read another of Mahnke’s books, but it was a guide to being a freelancer rather than a novel. Between that and the cheap price, my expectations were low.
It ended up being pretty solid.
It begins with a piece set in the 1980s. A group of pre-teen friends sneak into an abandoned factory in New England that was originally built over 100 years earlier. It’s spooky, rumored to be haunted, and a perfect temptation for a pack of boys. But something goes terribly wrong and one boy does not make it out alive.
The story then picks up 30 years later, the survivors all men and loosely connected but still struggling with the memories of their trip to the factory. A series of mysterious events bring them together and they must link up to defeat a supernatural being who was summoned by a surprising source.
It’s all a little Stephen King-lite, from the setting to the reliance on childhood traumas and the connections between different worlds. It’s not as good as King would have done, but it’s also about 1/3 of the length of one of his books, making for a nice, quick read. And a satisfying one at that.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
It’s funny to read a book like this nearly a decade after its release. A novel of post 9/11 New York that was released in 2005, it came under great criticism at the time by some who felt it handled the events and aftermath of that day too casually. Thirteen years later, though, I found many of those early criticisms off the mark.
The book centers on Oskar Schell, a nine-year-old who lost his father in the Twin Towers. He’s an odd, but charming kid, and after he comes across a strange looking key in his dad’s possessions, embarks on a journey around the city to find what it was his dad left behind, hoping it will provide some kind of closure. Weaved within Oskar’s story is the story of his family, and how his grandparents fled Dresden during World War II and arrived in the States.
A lot of people found using a child as the narrator of post-9/11 New York troublesome. I loved him. He seems like your average, overly smart, socially awkward kid that is pushed just a little more into the world of the bizarre by his father’s death. Poor Oskar has a lot on his shoulders, and despite his protests, is struggling to keep it together when everyone around him seems to be falling apart.
There was also criticism of this book for Foer’s use of various design tricks in the book. Blank pages. Pages with single words or phrases. Others that run the words together until they read as thick, black, illegible lines. Most of all, there was criticism of the final section of the book, which features shots of a man who jumped from the Towers placed in reverse, so he seems to be flying back up into the building rather than toward the ground. I found all of these a little distracting, but don’t think they ruined a good story.
TransAtlantic – Colum McCann
I loved McCann’s New York, quasi-post-9/11 epic As The Great World Spins, and this came with high praise from brother in books David V. So expectations were high. And it largely delivered.
From a plot standpoint, it’s an odd book. In its first third, it follows three historical moments: Alcock and Brown’s first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland, Frederick Douglas’ mission to raise funds and awareness of American slavery in Ireland before the Civil War, and George Mitchell’s efforts to forge peace in Northern Ireland in the mid 1990s. From there McCann follows a series of women who crossed paths with those men in Canada, Ireland, the US, and Northern Ireland across three centuries. There are common threads through the segments – a line of four generations of women – but each largely functions as a set piece to itself.
This is a beautifully written book. I couldn’t help but imagine McCann reading passages in his Irish voice as I read them.
It’s not a perfect book, though. He spreads himself rather thin in trying to go so many places and introduce so many people in just 300 pages. I often wondered where it was going and how it would all come together. That never really got resolved for me. This feels like a book made for book clubs, where you can sit and discuss and argue about what it all means and how all the parts fit together. Not that that is a bad thing, or that I need books with clearly progressing plots. There’s just no clear, easy resolution or feeling of closure when you reach the final page.
I really enjoyed this book. Even with the plot issues, it is one of my favorites I’ve read this year.