Dec 14, 2009

The Fugitive Wife, by Peter C. Brown

I really liked this book, but the whole time and after I'd finished I felt like there was something missing; I still, however, cannot figure out what that is.

The book takes place in 1900 and is about a woman from the midwest who leaves her inadequate husband after a series of errors on both their parts lead to their son's death. She makes her way out West, hoping to stay with her younger sister, but ends up following the ever-hopeful migration of humanity to Alaska in search for gold. Blessed with obstinacy and a business-like mind, Essie manages to make good for herself among the miners. Weaved into the story of the present is the story of how she and her husband, Leonard, met and married. In Alaska, the inevitable happens, and she becomes connected to a young man whose idealism led him to Alaska.

The writing is quite good and the book reads very quickly, but it came off almost as a poor man's Ivan Doig. The searing fact of Mother Nature is its own character, and the emotionally stunted characters who bloom into understanding echoes Doig's hardy, midwestern stock. The only unpredictable part of the book was Leonard himself, a man who knows he is all wrong and for all his faults and disturbing traits, ends up a surprisingly sympathetic character. But he must be sacrificed for the happy ending. All told, though, I did thoroughly enjoy reading the book, I just wish there'd been more to it.

Dec 6, 2009

The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst

This book is definitely one of the better works of recent fiction that I've read, though I feel rather spoiled after discovering Neal Stephenson, and did not take as much delight in Hollinghurst's prose as others seem to have. Part of it may have been my surprise at the subject matter; while I have no problem with a book about a young man exploring his homosexuality during the emergence of AIDS, the blurb on the back of the book made absolutely no mention of this topic, even though it is the central premise of the book. Yes, it is also about a youth being caught up in the glamor of the self-righteous political elite and his efforts to fit in without betraying who he is, but it is mainly about love. Hollinghurst has managed to write the most accurate description of romantic yearning I have ever read. Everybody has felt that intense desire to love and be loved by a particular person, and the terrible fear that they do not love you as much as you love them, and that they could leave at any time. It is a conflicting emotion almost impossible to describe by those who feel it in the moment, but Hollinhurst has managed to elucidate it almost perfectly. I was incredibly impressed.

I do wonder how readers among the gay community feel about this book. While Nick himself (the main character) is certainly sympathetic, the other gay characters in the book are presented almost as disgusting hedonists: cocaine addicts who trawl around for nameless sexual partners; one gets the sense that Hollinghurst wants us to feel that those who contracted AIDS in such a manner brought it on themselves. Perhaps they did, but then again perhaps not. Either way, it left somewhat of a bitter taste in my mouth.

Certainly this is a book I would recommend to a reader who is looking for something a little different, and for a good contemporary writer. I just wish the blurb on the back cover had been a little more accurate, so I could have been prepared for the subject and taken it at face value as opposed to being surprised by all the graphic gay sex.