Saturday, December 22, 2007

"The Year of Endless Sorrows," by Adam Rapp

I have no idea why there is a garden gnome on the cover of the book. Maybe it's to try and make the reader think that, despite its title, this will be a lovable book. Well, that's a filthy lie.

The main character, a Midwestern boy who moves to New York City to pursue a writing career, has no name. Or at least, it isn't given in the novel. He gets a crappy apartment with his brother, a good friend, and some loser who demands to be called The Loach. He finds a job in a publishing company and does some crap work there. His gastrointestinal wonder of a boss makes him take out his crazy daughter, who meows when they have sex. He hurts his knee while playing basketball, and it leaves him with a severe limp throughout most of the book, though it does inspire him to write his first novel.

Loach never pays any of his bills; he just sits on the couch day-in and day-out, picking his nose, farting, staring at the TV, letting his balls hang out. The best friend, The Owl, starts going mad and drops out of the school he'd been enrolled in. Brother, Feick, abruptly moves out after becoming a critics' darling in plays and finally coming out of the closet.

The new girlfriend, Basha, gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion, but changes her mind after the procedure has begun. They go to a hotel and she bleeds a lot. Then she disappears and goes back to Poland.

Endless Sorrows was a depressing, slow ride of literary hell. I could get through the plot and "endless sorrows" if only Rapp's writing wasn't so pretentious. It was excruciatingly obvious that each line had been carefully thought-out and analyzed to provide maximum impact. It felt as though Rapp was hoping that his novel was going to be lauded for its prose, but it really just bogs down the story. For the love of God, skip this book.

1.5 stars

"Stardust," by Neil Gaiman

Tristran Thorn, (yes, it's Tristran, not Tristan) is a young man who is in love with, of course, the most beautiful girl in town, who couldn't care less about him. During an evening walk when the two see a falling star in the sky, Tristran proclaims that he will do anything for his beloved, even bring her the fallen star. So he sets off to the land beyond Wall, where no one is ever allowed to go, unaware that there are other, more dangerous, people also searching for the fallen star.

As always, Gaiman's writing is funny and imaginative. Stardust is a fanciful story that combines love, witches, pirates and even ghosts. And, as much as I liked the story, I loved the movie version even more. The colors! The scenery! The vibrant characters! Whether you prefer books or movies, get yourself a copy of Stardust.

Book, 4 stars
Movie, 4.5 stars

"The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," by Kate DiCamillo

Edward Tulane is a china rabbit who is very vain. He wears the best suits and lives in a grand home with a little girl, Abilene, who loves him dearly. Edward does not have feelings, other than disgust if something dirty touches him. One evening, after Abilene's grandmother has told a bedtime story about a princess who never felt love, she whispers into Edward's ear that she is disappointed in him. After Edward is accidentally thrown overboard on the family's ocean voyage to another country, his new journey begins. Colorful characters with sad tales of their own fill this book with tenderness and perhaps even some redemption for Edward.

Miraculous Journey is juvenile fiction, but it's lengthy at 228 pages. Readers will root for Edward to find a home and to allow his heart to feel. Pencil drawings on chapter beginnings liven the text and add depth. Great bedtime story for kids age 9-12.

5 stars