Buy, Borrow, Bypass: August 9, 2013

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Tampa by Alissa Nutting

It is hard to escape the buzz surrounding this book. It’s so scandalous! I admit, the buzz got me interested in this one about Celeste Price, the beautiful (she tells you how beautiful she is repeatedly) Florida teacher who has a penchant for boys on the verge of manhood. Celeste uses her job as a junior high English teacher to find and trap her prey. The book follows Celeste’s affairs, near-misses with being caught, and eventual downfall. Can you say overhyped? I can’t tell if the entire novel is meant to be some sort of satire or black comedy or if it’s a story told in earnest. What I can tell is that the whole thing is a bunch of unbelievable hooey. Celeste has the sexual nuance of a “Porky’s” movie and is a ridiculous mustache-twirling villain akin to Snidely Whiplash. Her victims seem to lack any sort of personality. And the few adults she has to deal with are dunderheads. If you are looking for any sort of character development or story about what it’s like to be a victim to your own perverse urged, don’t look here. This is one of those books that will do well because of the frank descriptions of sex, but if you want an actual story, go read Zoe Heller’s (much better book on the same topic) What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal.

Verdict: Bypass

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The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Take one Golem created by an evil Jewish scholar/magic man. Take one Jinni with a hole in his memory, suddenly released from a bottle after who knows how many years of captivity, toss them in turn-of-the-century (the 1899 one, not the 1999 one) New York City, stir and enjoy liberally without thinking too much about it. I say not thinking too much about it, because if you are like me, your brain can get in the way of lovely stories like this. I had the same problem when I watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” when I try to figure out the sexual mechanics of otherworldly beings. Like how can the Golem feel tingles in her lady parts but not feel a needle sticking out of her arm? How do vampires get erections if they have no blood flow? See how the over-thinking can get in the way? If you just put all that aside, what you’ll find here is a lovely story about two outsiders thrust into an unfamiliar world chafing at the need to hide their supernaturalness. While some of the danger and tension in the novel feels a little contrived, the relationship between the Golem and the Jinni is genuine and beautiful.

Verdict: Buy. The book. I listened to this one, but took a look at my sister’s hard copy and it’s a think of beauty. A pretty, pretty book for a pretty, pretty story.

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We Sinners by Hannah Pylvainen

This one reads like a series of interconnected short stories and not the novel it bills itself as. Why this matters to me, I haven’t quite figured out, but when I do, I’ll take to the pixels of Book Riot to puzzle it out. In the meantime, what we have here, is a story of a deeply religious family and how that faith plays out in each member’s life. There are a lot of Rovaniemis, eleven in fact, and they belong to a weirdly-strict form of Finnish Lutheranism that doesn’t allow for TV, alcohol, or fingernail polish. Also, you should have as many babies as God sees fit, so now you know why there are nine kids in the family. Most of the chapters come from the point of view of one of the family members and tells the story of that character (and the family) a little further along in time. We see various members struggle with their faith, how to explain their faith to outsiders, their sexuality, and the pains of leaving the church. The last chapters, strangely, change to points of view of people outside the Rovaniemi family giving the “novel” the feeling of a short story collection, which again is probably my weird hang up. Up to the closing chapters I was all in, fascinated by the lovely, talented, and torn Rovaniemis. However, I felt slighted by the last two chapters which seemed tacked on and didn’t provide any sort of conclusion to the family’s story. Still, this one is pretty decent.

Verdict: Borrow

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