What struck me as most honest and sincere was the fact that these people were hungry, whether they’re eating each other, dried candle wax or boiled bark, there is an underlying slow death that floats like a cool mist around every corner. You never knew when the enemy was going to turn his gun on you, say for instance, if they found out if you could read or not. I’m trying not to spoil this novel for you. There are tons of memorable moments from a house in the woods that’s filled with young girls (use your imagination) to a small hunters lodge that gets truly grizzly when it’s filled with too many people. Then there is Lev and Kolya who are both funny and charming, shy and gregarious.
All of this may seem like surface paint, and nothing more than a façade but it’s not. I’m interested to hear what you both thought about the structure of this book, not only from these four/five lives we follow for five hundred pages but the riveting historical facts that Frey weaves into the tapestry of this fine novel. I was stunned by the little thumbnail sketches that really amounted to nothing more than Frey showcasing his talents and made up for the wanderings that other writers tend to do within a character. With these people who come and go he manages to fill out his primary characters with throw away people as background which really only take up a few pages every so often.
Jonathan, I must say you tricked me, not once but several times, in that I convinced myself that the plot was moving in a certain direction only to find out that you were taking your characters elsewhere. This is a very good thing. But the first puzzlement that surfaced while I was playing dodge-ball with this text was why William obsessed about Lulu so much. When Lulu’s face is described early in the book by a reference to Mr. Potato Head (very funny, I must say) I knew what was working on William was more than just Lulu’s looks.
This story is about a chance encounter on a Manhattan street between a man and a woman that, it turns out, have some history. The POV of the guy is what we hear and he is plainly obsessed with his old acquaintance Mary, who he hasn’t seen in quite a while. But “plainly” is not an accurate word since right off we are treated to a methodical description of Mary’s appearance that is so sensual that it would make the god Eros proud. And there is a nice observation in the science of dalliance when the guy realizes that this random encounter will end just as quickly as it began unless he makes a segue to another encounter, this one planned rather than aleatory.
Back to reading against type: it’s a shame that more men are not likely to pick up this book because if they did, maybe they would gain a greater appreciation of how marriage can be viewed by the other gender. This story is told in first person, it’s Julia’s story and the marriage is seen from her perspective. We see, Joe, her husband from the outside. I share what I believe is the Jaces’ frustration that we never hear Joe’s side of the story. By the time I got halfway through the novel I was already taking Joe’s side even though I believe that it was the author’s intention that I not do so.
Fortune and poor judgment thrust Harry into situations not designed for the squeamish; eventually, I had to stop reading the book on the train to work because the several scenes were so cringe-inducing that my groans and facial gymnastics were attracting more attention than I really wanted. As well, I agree with your assessment of the development of Harry in many ways. In a way, much like in Harry’s relationships on the page, he is a hard man for a reader to like. Even his “good deeds” have a motivation that is questionable at best and lecherous at worst.
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