Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best of 2011 Countdown: #3

Bronze Medals!  It's like Belgium at the Winter Olympics!  (I actually have no idea how Belgium performs in the Olympics.  They could be horrible.  I just like the idea of Belgium.)


Karen Russell

I have a deep love and appreciation for the Florida Everglades. In fact I lived in Pembroke Pines, Florida, for quite a while…and sadly that huge town was once part of the Everglades. When they were building it up one would see alligators chugging along the backyards of new homes. I hope they took a contractor or two with them on their travels. The Everglades are a rich, mysterious, beautiful place. The locals that live nearest the heart of Everglades National Park (also known as Shark Valley, no...there are no sharks but plenty of gators) can be, in the nicest terms…characters. I think Susan Orlean did a great job of writing about the people that live in and around Everglade City in The Orchid Thief.  Anyway, the Everglades is a truly special and amazing place and if you’re going to write about such a place, man you better nail it.
Yeah, Russell nails it in Swamplandia! So many great things have been said about this novel (yes, another first novel on our list – though Russell did write an outstanding book of stories called St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves – based on Liz’s life), that I will only say a few things. One, you aren’t going to find a more original plot. You will not find a group of characters like these who not only are strange but completely human and lovable. [Gianna is strange and lovable but possibly not human, I'm strange and human but not exactly lovable.] The book revolves around the Sawtooth family who own a struggling alligator wrestling farm, and if you don’t come out the other end of this book adoring this family, you have a heart of stone. You won't find a smarter, wittier book this year. You just won’t. Okay, I will leave it at that, but you haven’t heard the last about this book.

The Sense of an Ending
Julian Barnes

I think this is the third or fourth time I've written about The Sense of an Ending on our little blog. What more is there to say?  Is it a surprise that the Man Booker Prize-winning novel is my #3 pick of 2011?  Probably not.  This book is pretty much perfect.  Short, tightly plotted, great characters, and a holy shit ending that smacks the reader upside the head.  It's a book that begs for discussion.  It's a literary novel that will appeal to book groups.  Did I mention that it's really, really, really good?

The Sense of an Ending is part Dead Poets Society, part A Separate Peace, part The Graduate.  It's a story about friendship and love and the secrets kept.  It's a story about betrayals and the over-intellectualizing of emotions and human relations.  Four friends, particularly Adrian and Tony, bond while in prep school.  Adrian, the genius of the bunch, goes to the elite university, while Tony goes to the respectable college.  There Tony meets a girl, one who is more cultured, more worldly, and in his mind, too cool for him.  He also meets her family.  Tony and his girlfriend visit Adrian at school.  Months later, after Tony and the girl break up, she begins dating Adrian.  Flash to the present: Tony is notified that he's inherited Adrian's journal after his friend's death.  What the journal reveals about Adrian remains a mystery though; the ex girlfriend from 20 years earlier won't relinquish it.  The plot twists keep moving a philosophical novel, and here is Julian Barnes at his absolute best.

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