As is my norm, I am behind on sharing my books with you. So here we go…
Normal People – Sally Rooney
I hate when a book lets you down. I was really enjoying this book as I worked my way through it. And then the final quarter or so ruined most of that good will.
Normal People is centered on two Irish teens from opposite sides of the track. Connell is the popular, good looking, athlete. Marianne is the strange acting, odd looking, social outcast. But Marianne is from a wealthy family while Connell is the son of a single mother, still a big problem in new millennium Ireland. Worse, his mother cleans houses, including Marianne’s. Connell and Marianne often make awkward small talk when he picks his mother up at the end of her shift in Marianne’s home. One day talk turns to something more and soon they are in the midst of a rather torrid, but secret, relationship.
Rooney lets the relationship play out over the coming months. As it becomes more intense it reaches a point where Connell has to choose whether to make it public or keep it private. He chooses privacy by inviting another girl to a big dance, which effectively ends the relationship just before they go off to college.
In college the couple drifts together and apart several times. It turns out that Marianne and Connell are the only people each of them trusts enough to be their true selves around. While they love each other intensely, they also have difficulty with the dealing with the strength of their love as well as communicating clearly with each other.
As I said, for most of the book, I was fine with these ebbs and flows. Rooney tackles a lot of interesting elements that go into any relationship, especially one between two young people.
But where she lost me was when Connell and Marianne both slid into self destruction and (possibly) mental illness. There’s no getting around it: the end of the book is a big bummer. Which is fine; I don’t need a happy ending to make me think a book is good. But, man, this one was such a bummer it ruined what was otherwise a fine book for me.
Slaying the Tiger – Shane Ryan
It takes some balls to patrol the area where John Feinstein normally holds station. But when you are another cocky Duke grad, I guess you can pull it off.
Ryan spent the 2014 PGA tour chasing what he saw as an emerging generation that was ready to take over for Tiger Woods. He focuses on Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler along with a few others.
For the most part, he nailed it. Those guys have indeed dominated golf since the end of Tiger’s glory days. His only miss is Brooks Koepka, who he only mentions in passing. But this was before Koepka had won a tournament and staked his claim to being perhaps the best of this group.
Ryan tells a good story. He finds interesting angles, takes bold stances, and pissed several people off with this book. I don’t know that his work was all that much different than what Feinstein would have done on the same assignment, but it was nice to read a different crack at a familiar format.
The Incendiaries – R.O. Kwon
I had a hard time with this book, and I think it was purely because of the structure.
Kwon begins with a group of young people meeting on the top of a building and watching the bombs they planted destroy other buildings. From there she goes back in time, laying out how several characters got to that point. To do so, she bounces between them, switching perspective as she jumps through them. That and her refusal to use quotation marks made this very difficult for me to read for some reason.
It’s a wild story at it’s core: a romance that dissolves when the woman is drawn into a campus religious group led by a charismatic man who claims to have spent time in a North Korean prison camp. As he pushes the group to take action to end abortion in the US, he drives away this woman’s boyfriend who fled a deeply religious past in California when he chose a school on the east coast.
But there are so many structural issues that I couldn’t get past that I never really enjoyed the story. It bored me more than intrigued me.
Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
I blew through this book in about 24 hours. Some of that had to do with the format: the book is presented as an oral history, and those always read fast. But more of it had to do with the subject and the quality of the story.
The book presents the lives of Daisy Jones & The Six, two fictional 1970s artists who came together to record one of the biggest fictional albums of the decade. She traces the rise of The Six, a Pittsburgh area band fronted by singer Billy Dunne, who presents as the classic rock ’n’ roll lead singer, and Daisy Jones, an It girl who has the world in the palm of her hand and just happens to make great music herself. Jenkins Reid takes us through the early successes and struggles of both sides until a one-off single together turns into a Rolling Stone story turns into a partnership on an entire album and massive tour.
All the usual VH1 Behind the Music elements are here. The drugging and boozing and rehabbing, the sex, the intra-band conflicts, the struggles with balancing fame and family, the insecurities that come with being incredibly successful, and the challenges of being a strong woman in a world that wasn’t quite ready for them yet.
It is impossible to read this book and not think of Fleetwood Mac. There are also elements of The Eagles and the final days of the Beatles in here.
Reid combines it all into a delightful read. None of it is necessarily high literature. But it is awfully entertaining, especially the final third or so when the band falls apart and a particular relationship comes to a very interesting point.