Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just finished Sometimes Mine, Martha Moody's latest. I only recently have become a huge fan of this author... I think the medical perspective she brings to her books (she's a doctor) is original and truly sets these apart from other books that deal with medecine and disease a la Jodi Picoult (ps, not a fan of Picoult... liked The Pact but after I read My Sister's Keeper my senior year of high school I haven't gone back to her since... entirely too depressing).

I was tres excited that this new offering from Moody was released so soon after I read her last two books this spring. I went to the BN in Union Square on the day it was released (I had set an alarm in my phone calendar) and went I didn't see it amongst the new releases, went to customer service who was able to track down the book for me. I willed them not to judge me... they had clearly not heard of this book or this author. Their loss.

(I want to first mention that this is an example of when it is NOT a good idea to judge a book by its cover. Because frankly, this cover sucks. It's blurry, the fonts are uninspired, and the scene on the cover never happens in the novel! I don't know what Moody's previous hardcover jackets were like, or if her previous two books were even released in hardcover, but they were way more modern and enticing than this one. Too bad.)

Sometimes Mine is the story of Genie, a petite cardiologist entering middle-age. At the book's opening Genie has been engaging in a somewhat staid affair with a college men's basketball coach, Mick, for over ten years. They meet weekly for two hours in a hotel and talk on the phone. She watches and tapes all of his televised basketball games. Genie has convinced herself that her stressful and time-consuming job as a prominent cardiologist led to her failed marriage and is also the reason she would never have time for a relationship more demanding than hers with Mick.

Beyond the plot, which I don't think I should delve into any deeper, I want to commend Moody on her ability to fearless capture, with barely any hints of cliche, the depths of her characters. Mick is not a particularly likable person, but she manages to convincingly portray the sincerity and passion with which Genie loves him. Genie herself isn't a terribly likable heroine and both she and Mick suffer from the extent to which their high-pressure careers control their lives and complicate their relationships with their families and friends.

While I'll admit that books with this high a dose of realism don't appeal to me, it doesn't bother me with Moody's books. I am a person who cannot watch ER or Grey's Anatomy or General Hospital because I hate blood; I also fear getting blood drawn... hate the sight of it. But somehow reading about the fairly graphic medicaly procedures which Moody describes doesn't bother me. She does such a great job and I think this is due to her real experience as a medical professional. This experience is also what draws me to her books and characters; I respect them for their committment to such a noble profession and admire their hardworking qualities; if only every doctor should be like the earnest physicians who are the spotlight of her work.

The extensive descriptions of the game of basketball, on the other hand, were not always to my liking and I found myself glancing over them. I'm certainly a sports fan, but I've never been able to get into a book that tries to illustrate such physical games with words (Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain is another book that is near to my heart for many reasons and I found myself having a similar reaction to the racecar scenes in that novel). But I wouldn't let the sports-focus stop me from reading!

Anyway, two thumbs up for Ms. Moody and I'll continue to stalk her website until I can find out the release date for her next!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Some Book Comparisons

I've been meaning to post about this for a while, but was so busy finishing up work in the city. I'm finally home for a bit now before heading back down to school, so I'm finally able to get around to some more blogging!

About a month ago, I read these two books in a row:

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

I picked up Firefly Lane earlier in the spring on a whim and had been meaning to read it all summer. I am a big Jennifer Weiner fan (she's part of my upper-echelon of chic-lit, natch) and bought her new book the day it came out.

First of all, I did NOT like Firefly Lane. I thought it read like a romance novel; loosely defined characters, cheesey love affairs and relationships, and a soap-opera ending. I guess I should have known by the cover, but the description initially drew me in; I love stories about female relationships overtime. To me it sounded like one of my favorite novels, Martha Moody's Best Friends, which I posted about here, but it came nowhere close. I guess this would be fine if you're looking for something that doesn't make you think, but for me it was too unrealistic and melodramatic.

On to the next.

Best Friends Forever is also about a lifelong friendship between two women. But it involves a Thelma and Louise style trip and a mystery plot. Some of Weiner's other novels have touched on the mystery genre as well, and I think she does a good job keeping you reading while still delivering on the books characters and their interests.

The reason I'm writing about these two novels together is that they contain some uncanny
parallels. I'll list a few off the top of my head.

1. Both are stories about a misfit-type girl whose self-esteem is elevated by a "cool girl" who moves in across the street.
2. Both of the "cool girls" in each story grow up to become famous newscasters.
3. Both have plots involving cancer and the heartache surrounding coping with such a disease.

And those are just what I can remember. Still, I think those are pretty major plot and character points. That being said, Best Friends Forever is by far the superior novel. While its not any harder to read and still wholly delivers on the chick-lit beach book front, its characters are real, nuanced and relatable. Weiner is a terrific writer, one who is recognized for her literary talent beyond chick-lit circles. I recommend all of her books, which you can find here. I've read them all and the only one that disappointed was Certain Girls, her most recent before Best Friends Forever, but I think I just wasn't in the right frame of mind when I picked it up. It's now available in paperback.

The other book comparison that I just want to briefly mention are the similarities between J. Courtney Sullivan's Commencement, which I posted about earlier in the summer here, and Meg Wolizter's The Wife. I picked up The Wife because I'd heard really good things about the author and because I'm a sucker for books about books. The premise of the story involves a young woman at Smith College in the late 1950s who has an affair with her married professor and eventually ends up marrying; the book illustrates vingettes of their life together as he becomes a famous author and she supports him along the way. The book is satirical in many ways, and Wolitzer's commentary is cheeky and humorous; she even throws in
a surprise ending. The similarity between
these two books is pretty obvious, but being that both authors are graduates of Smith College and write about undergraduates having affairs with their professors (both girls are blonde and
relatively naive, trying to impress their professors with their writerly chops before falling in love) while the professors are
young-ish, dashing, and the seductor in
each situation. Perhaps this commonality exists because Smith is a women's college so there are few other choices of men on campus, but I can't help feeling that Sullivan read Wolitzer. I hope she has. Wolitzer is a formidable writer worth paying attention to... just like Joan from The Wife.

Phew, long post from me! Back to more leisurely Saturday reading :)