Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best of 2011 Countdown: #5

TOP FIVE.  That's basically a guarantee that these books aren't crap, right?


The Storm at the Door
Stefan Merrill Block
Random House

Inspired by Block’s own grandparents (The Story of Forgetting was inspired by his family as well), this novel is in turns inspiring and heartbreaking.
In short, The Storm at the Door is about love, art, and madness. [...like Gianna's feelings for Liz.]  It is also about learning when to let go, and when to hang on. [When Moses was in Egypt land, let this Lizzie go.] It is the story of Katharine and Frederick. Katherine is completely taken by Frederick; he is talented, he is passionate. He thinks he will be a great writer. Yet their lives turn ordinary, and while Frederick’s drinking increases, so does his erratic behavior and inability to support his family.

He is diagnosed with manic depression (which he may or may not actually have) and placed in a hospital known for its famous patients (the hospital is based on McLean, where Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, John Nash, Susanna Kaysen, David Foster Wallace among others were all patients at one time or another – Lowell figures prominently in this book).
Stefan Merrill Block

My original blog about this book is here but I do want to mention again that The Storm at the Door is somehow better than The Story of Forgetting, which I never would have imagined I would say since I am so attached to that novel. But The Storm at the Door is more realized--a bigger, stronger, more mature book. I compared it a year ago to one of my favorite books, Revolutionary Road, and almost a year later I still feel it is good enough to be compared to Yates.

If you like Karen Russell, Kate Christensen, Chad Harbach and of course Richard Yates you must read Stefan Merrill Block.

I am not going to make a huge deal about this book. I am not going to make a fool of myself like I did with The Story of Forgetting. I mean, I really think people thought I lost my mind I talked about that book so much (by the way I totally lost my mind because of that book). Okay. Story of Forgetting was very good. It was excellent. This book is better. It’s more mature and the writing is better. It’s heartbreaking, in fact. Like Stefan’s first book this novel is based in part on his family (his grandparents' marriage), which makes it all the more interesting. Think Revolutionary Road. Yes, it is that good.


Craig Thompson

I appreciate graphic novels as a format that resonates with some readers.  I normally am not one of them.  My favorite books tend to be ones that I can lose myself within, beautiful writing that lingers with me for days and weeks afterward.  I'm a word person; I actually have a tendency to dream in prose rather than with voices and people (a sure sign that I'm mentally...not well, but you knew that, right?).  I like art, and I like the idea of graphic novels, but I always feel like I can read one in a couple of hours and be finished with it; they normally don't linger with me.  There are, however, certain graphic novels that shift my thinking and open my mind to the possibilities of this medium.  Persepolis was one.  Asterios Polyp was another.  And now there's Habibi, which may be the most accomplished literary graphic novel ever created.

Craig Thompson spent almost a decade creating Habibi, a book that draws from Arabian Nights and the Koran.  It is a story that's timeless and also current, a love story and a family story and a survival story.  A mystical story.  A story of language and beauty.  A story of hardship and sacrifice.

The artwork and script in Habibi is exquisite, and the author actually taught himself Arabic in order to create the book.  It's the story of Dodola, a girl sold into a marriage to a much older man, and Zam, a baby found in a basket in the rushes.  Dodola escapes from her husband when he dies, and the teenager finds Zam and rescues him. The two orphans find refuge in an abandoned boat in the middle of the desert.  Though both must sacrifice greatly for their survival, their love for each other doesn't falter.  The book transcends time to link the harems and adventures of ancient Arabia to the oil-funded urban sprawl of the contemporary Middle East.  "Habibi," by the way, means "my beloved," and that's sort of the way I feel about this wonderful book.  I implore you to find a copy and spend time with it.

1 comment:

  1. And Bookpage picked the jacket of THE STORM AT THE DOOR as one of the year's best.

    Thanks, ladies!

    David Ebershoff