Saturday, May 14, 2011


I don't know why, but I've had a rather high fail rate among my library picks recently. I went to the library a few weeks ago, full of ideas. Of course, they were all checked out or unavailable. I got some alternatives.

The first to fail was Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. I'd liked Cider House, of course, and wanted to try something else. This was set in a logging camp and opened with a gripping account of the death of a young boy. But after that, I just couldn't get into it. Also, not to sound shallow, but the book was falling apart, and I kept having to hold the pages and the binding together.

So I turned to The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan. I was savvy enough to know that the title couldn't possibly be literal, but naive enough to get drawn in enough to pick the book up anyway. It sounded like it might be good. It's about a girl whose older sister was a hippie in the 1960s and died under mysterious circumstances in Italy several years earlier. Adrift after high school, she goes to retrace her sister's footsteps.

The first half of it was slow-moving and emotionally devoid. Phoebe (the main character) has had a lot of sad things happen to her, and from her lifestyle, it's obviously affected her deeply, but we don't feel it. She seems flat. It's hard to conjure up much empathy for her, and by the time she's obtaining her passport and plane tickets, I wanted her to just quit fucking whining already.

But when she made it to Europe, I just wanted to smack her. I went when I was slightly older than her, and it was so terrific and incredible that I've wanted to return ever since. I remember vividly the sense of possibility around every corner, the feeling of your mind and senses being blown wide open, the way that everything seemed extraordinary. Phoebe doesn't see any of this. She's a one-note singer, looking for hippies everywhere and asking if they remembered some random girl who had passed that way years earlier, as if it's even remotely likely.

So I gave up on that book. I looked in my book bin, and only two still appealed to me. Riches Among the Ruins by international financier Robert Smith is the one I'm reading right now. I saved Pelican Road (can't remember the author) as well, and a few others I'd picked up at a library visit earlier this week: a book by Carolyn Chute, and a book about the Vikings. The rest are going back today. Better luck next time, right?