August 14, 2013

3 by Cory

We recently found three reviews by Cory that we had misplaced. They were written in the summer of 2012.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
reviewed by Cory

"Ceremony is the greatest novel in Native American literature. It is one of the greatest novels of any time and place."Written by fellow author Sherman Alexie, this excerpt is found on the back of Ceremony and immediately gives the book a reputation that’s incredibly hard to live up to. Excited by the thought of “one of the greatest novels of any time and place,” I tore into the book. Upon finishing it, I wondered if we had read the same piece of literature.

Not that the book is terrible. In fact, most books fall into the category "not the greatest novel of any time and place." Ceremony certainly has its high points. It is about a Native American named Tayo with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who tries to fit in with his culture. Being Native American, Silko is one with nature and gives some of the most beautiful and serene descriptions of the land that I have ever read. She effortlessly spews vivid descriptions of mountain peaks, canyons, rivers, and everything else you can imagine. The images consume the reader. It is truly a world one can get lost in.

Silko’s writing style different, creative, and works very effectively. There are no chapters in Ceremony, just different sections of text. The narrative is told out of order, with memories, historical events, Native American myths, and the present all mixed into the novel. There is no preamble to each section; Silko simply starts the scene as if the reader knows what is happening. Because of this, oftentimes one doesn’t know exactly what is happening until a few paragraphs into the section. Though this may sound potentially confusing, it engulfs the reader into the story.

There are flaws that hold the book back from greatness, however. First of all, I couldn’t relate to the main character, Tayo. Some of his decisions he made throughout the book had me disappointed with his moral character. It was hard for me to respect or care about what happened to him.

In addition, Silko is much too harsh on White people. I understand that what a specific group of White people did to the Native Americans in the past was horrible and wrong, but this doesn’t mean everything about the entire race is evil. There are no redeeming White characters in her novel. Silko even uses her despicable Native American characters to say, “Look what the White people have done to us.” Partway through the novel, Silko introduces a myth where a witch made the evil white people for the sole purpose of destroying the Native American culture. I expected her to qualify this statement by the end of the book by having Tayo realize such a closed minded opinion is immature and that Whites and Native Americans should get along. No such realization happened.

All in all, Ceremony is a decent book. The characters are mostly three dimensional and Silko’s writing does occasionally hit emotional chords, especially if the reader is Native American. Ceremony is worth a read if you are interested in the subject matter, just don’t expect perfection.

Calico Joe by John Grisham
reviewed by Cory

Redemption is always possible. This is theme of Calico Joe, the story of a man who tries to get his professional baseball player of a father to face his shameful and heinous past and make amends. This book was a somewhat surprising turn for its author. John Grisham, once known to me as “that guy who wrote all those legal thrillers,” is now known to me as “that guy who wrote all those legal thrillers and that one baseball book.” It is a short but entertaining read.

Warren Tracy, the antagonist of the novel, is an angry and aggressive major league pitcher. Calico Joe is a rookie player who is having the best season in baseball history. Warren, jealous of the success Joe is having, hits Joe in the face with a pitch, effectively ending Joe’s short career.

My main quarrel with the book is that some characters weren’t believable enough. Having played baseball my whole life, Joe’s performance is much too good to be true, especially for a rookie. Nobody has ever had stats even close to his in the Majors, and nobody ever will. It is like reading a story about a WWII soldier who single-handedly defeated the Nazis. Instead of a baseball player, he seems more like an abstract symbol of wasted potential. Although this gets Grisham’s point across, it detracts from the story. Warren, on the other hand, has absolutely no redeeming qualities the first part of the book. His vices range from alcoholism to adultery to child abuse, and the reader feels no sympathy for him. When Warren does a complete 180 degree turn at the end of the novel, even though he was influenced by his terminal cancer, it seems a little farfetched.

Despite this, the story is still very engaging. The narrator is very relatable, sensible, and has honest intentions. The reader feels his hate for his father and his sorrow for his ill-fated childhood hero, Calico Joe. It is rewarding to see his plans all work out in a powerful climax that sticks with the reader after they put the book down.

Calico Joe reads more like a short story than a novel. It is a mere 200 pages long and follows the narrator around for the entire time. There are no subplots. By the end, I was wishing it had been longer and explored further into the character’s lives. However, it is still entertaining and fulfilling and is an excellent book to read if you aren’t looking for a time commitment.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
reviewed by Cory

In a post-apocalyptic and unforgiving wasteland, a father and his young son fight for survival against the biting cold, hunger, and even cannibals. Their destination is the west coast, but the father isn’t even sure why. He tells his son that they must survive because they are the "good guys" and good must prevail, yet the moral line between good and evil is extremely blurred in a world where everyone must fight tooth and nail for survival. They store their few provisions in a shopping cart and always keep a pistol loaded with two bullets-but they aren’t for the bad guys.

The heart of this novel is the relationship between the man and his son. They are both each other’s sole reason for survival, the one light that illuminates the dark and hopeless hell that surrounds them. Their emotional connection is extremely powerful and overcomes the feeling of hopelessness that persists in trying to suffocate them. The father, a hardened and experienced survivor, sacrifices everything to protect his innocent son, who may be the last source of innocence on earth. Their relationship is believable and touching as they struggle to find hope within each other in a hopeless world.

Despite the oftentimes heartwarming relationship between the two protagonists, The Road is relentlessly hopeless. Good things seldom happen to the duo, and when they do, danger is always right around the corner. The son oftentimes wants to share his food provisions with other starving travelers he sees on the road, but the man, who knows nothing of empathy anymore, wants to do no such thing. Innocence is lost quickly in that world and it is tragic yet clear that soon the boy will be as compassionless as his father. The son even asks his father why they bother staying alive anymore. The father doesn’t know either.

McCarthy’s writing is poetic and eloquent; he writes beautifully about terrible and depressing subjects. Through his language, he weaves a completely encompassing world that the reader is engulfed by. The love, sadness, and disasters are all painfully real and the reader experiences everything right alongside the two protagonists. The writing flows and is easy and gripping to read, even in the occasional section where nothing is happening.

The Road is an extremely powerful book about the relationship between a father and son. However, if you are looking for a light feel-good book, then you should search elsewhere, as The Road is anything but. The somewhat slow pace may be a turn-off to some readers who have a shorter attention span, yet it complements the tone and is necessary for the book to be as effective as it is. If you can handle the dark and hopeless atmosphere this book contains, then it is definitely worth a read.

Posted by library at August 14, 2013 11:53 AM
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