I am reeling. I write this in the afterglow of what is not only the last book I will read in 2011, but also the very best. Kim Echlin’s novel The Disappeared is about a girl, Anne Greves, who falls in love with Serey, a Cambodian musician forced to leave his homeland when the Khmer Rouge regime takes over. Anne is sixteen when the love affair begins, then a decade later, she goes to Cambodia to find the man she loved, and who loved her. I have rarely, if ever, found a love like Anne and Serey’s in the pages of a novel. I read it quickly, as if the book might disintegrate in my hands before I could finish. The Disappeared is so beautiful and so painful; the passion and love makes the tragedy and pain possible, or perhaps it is the other way around. Either way, this is an exquisite book. It reminds me of what a novel can be. And it will stay with me for a long, long time.
So I did just finish two YA novels, both of which I’d intended on writing about, and both of which I probably someday will, but what I really want to post about right now is CHRISTMAS!!! No, actually, it’s not. What I really want to post about is the movie I just watched the other night.
I don’t usually post about movies. I thought about it once, after I’d both read the book and watched the movie I Am Number Four, but since the central gist of my movie post would have been that I liked Diane Argon’s shirts, I held off. BUT I just want to say that I really loved Super 8. Especially the blond kid with the mouth full of braces who carries tons of fireworks around in his backpack and has, in my opinion, all the very best lines in the movie. (The character’s name is Cary, but I had to look that up.) He is actually, as of right now, one of my all-time favorite characters. For some reason, his unrepentant interest in explosives paired with his super-dorkiness is totally awesome.
What I love about Super 8, is that fact that the banter between the kids is believable and funny and endearing all at once. You kind of believe that this band of misfit kids who make monster movies might save the world, even if they do it in a slightly clumsy way. Anyway, I really liked it.
(And, for the record, the other movies I really liked this year are Bridesmaids and Win-Win.
I’ve got a sweet spot for sprawling historical fiction, novels that teach me about a historical period while engaging me in the personal dramas of the characters. I love it when those personal stories overlap and tangle with the broader cultural and political shifts of history, the way they do in novels like Middlesex and The Glass Palace and Someone Knows My Name (all awesome). I also have a sweet spot for novels that bring the magical to the real. These two elements don’t often overlap, but they do, to great results in my most recent re-read: Forever by Pete Hamill.
At over six-hundred pages, Forever is not a quick read, but it has much to teach about the history of New York over the past three centuries, and it manages to do so in a completely believable way through the eyes of a single character. Three hundred years, one character: you can see where the magic comes in. As novel winds through the changing streets of New York, the reader edges towards the climatic moment she feels and sees coming, a moment lodged in our collective consciousness, a moment that will always be linked to the city of New York: September 11th. The tension of that approaching date mirrors the tension of the protagonist’s multiple plotlines moving to a conclusion that both surprised and satisfied.
I love that in Forever I get to see George Washington ride his horse through the hills of New York, and that I get to visit prisons and tunnels and speakeasies and brothels over the decades. It’s clear that Hamill is a newspaperman, that he’s a fan of history and reporting. That attention to detail allows the reader not just to be told the history of New York, but to live it in with all its stink and all its shine. Forever is a delicious romp, one I enjoyed so much the first time through that I decided to take it for another spin.
I have two weeks of winter break now, and one of the things I most look forward to this time, and any time, I have extra time is more hours curled up in my cabin with great books. I’ve accumulated quite a stack to To Reads, but I also think I’ll probably spend some time browsing my local bookstore, as I always like to go in without knowing what I’ll come out with. It makes the book a bit of an adventure before it even starts. I’ll let you know what I find.