…it’s a refrain that I often find myself repeating when asked about popular books. And it’s a refrain that I will be repeating yet again below – so apologies in advance if you’ve heard this from me one too many times.
Though it’s been too long since my posts haven’t been spaced months apart, despite frequent empty promises to change that—I can assure you (as I always do) that I have two good reasons. First, I’m coming off the tails of reading two 450+ page books, and second, and perhaps slightly less legitimate, it is prime time of year for a reading rut. Long summer afternoons on the beach coupled with traffic-heavy train and bus rides provide the perfect window for diving into a book, as the same way that time off at Thanksgiving and Christmas does during the holiday season. This time of year, though, when you’re trying to figure out whether to continue to bemoan summer or eagerly anticipate the fall-iday season (I am, and always have been, in the latter camp, despite it being a particularly fantastic summer), it’s hard to find time to buckle down with a book. Most of my free time during the past few weeks, in fact, has been spent storing my summer wardrobe when the temperature drops to 50, only to have to bring it out again when it rises to 70 the next day, and so on…
Anyways, we’re here to talk about books, so that’s what we’ll be doing today. First up is Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates.
Oh, Carthage, you started so strong. I picked up Carthage years ago, and brought it on a flight back in July when I realized I had forgotten to purchase reading material prior. I had purchased it without reading the back, and, Latin scholar that I am, assumed it was about the battle and took little interest. When I finally did crack it open for that flight, I realized it was about a girl who had gone missing in her hometown of Carthage, in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Though I frequently profess my Upstate New York familial background, I’m going to take the opportunity to do it again right here. My family has a compound in the Adirondacks, and thus, the book became instantly interesting to me. One of my friends mentioned the other night that she thinks I like reading books because of their atmospheric qualities (i.e. the more I can picture myself existing in the world of the book I’m reading, the better I like it), and that if the atmosphere is right, I can be forgiving on smaller plot points. When it came to Carthage, this was exactly the case—but only for a limited time.
The book starts strong than I’d ever expect a Joyce Carol Oates novel to. You don’t have to wait particularly long for the action to begin occurring, which is always the major fault when it comes to “literary thrillers.” I breezed through the first part of the book, completely absorbed.
When I got to Part 2, I was genuinely shocked [in a good way] at how the plot developed—and I fear I can’t say much more without spoiling the entire book. It wasn’t expected, it wasn’t overly dramatic, and it was an excellent stage for character development. That said, Oates delved far too deeply into the finer points—describing the same scene, with the same two people, tweaked only slightly, multiple times over. I slogged through the end of Part 2, disappointed given the promising start. Instead of finishing the book, I will admit that I googled “Carthage ending” and was disappointed when I found out what happened, because it honestly sounded intriguing – just not intriguing enough for me to wade through hundreds more pages to get there.
NEXT UP: Swing Time, By Zadie Smith. A book I’ve had on my radar for over a year, but somehow kept falling to the bottom of my TBR list. I had started a Zadie Smith book (NW) previously, and abandoned it due to lack of interest. Swing Time’s premise, however, seemed quite intriguing to me, so I finally picked it up this past September (yes, it takes me that long to get around to posting….#NewYearsResolution).
I actually quite liked Swing Time, but I must say that the book wasn’t exactly as described on the jacket. While it does start as a tale of two young girls from the same London community, it ultimates becomes something decidedly more…frothy than I might expect from an author of Zadie Smith’s caliber. Essentially, the unnamed narrator becomes the personal assistant to a huge pop star named Aimee (not quite sure, but she seemed like a Kylie Minogue, perhaps slightly more famous). The majority of the story explores the narrator’s relationship with Aimee, and her life – or lack thereof – while working for her. It’s an interesting novel, and, beyond the Aimee plots, a meaningful novel with a number of philosophically sound musings and asides, but at points, it feels hard to get past the pop star exterior. And, dare I say it was 100 pages too long?