Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Ruth Ozeki

            Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being is an interesting, refreshing novel.  Ruth, a writer, and her husband, Oliver, moved to a small island off the Pacific coast of Canada. One day, while on the beach, Ruth discovers a barnacle covered plastic bag; inside the bag were a watch, old letters, and a diary. The diary was written by Nao, a Japanese teenager who spent most of her remembered youth in California before being forced to return to Tokyo. At her school in Tokyo, Nao was bullied and eventually stopped attending school. Nao revealed how her father, who was unable to find a job, had attempted suicide several times and how she herself planned to commit suicide in the near future. But first, Nao wanted to write a tribute to her very interesting great grandmother, Jiko, a 104 year old Buddhist priest. Ruth loses herself in Nao’s diary. Through research, she verifies the existence of Nao and her family, as well as many of the details included in the diary. However, no one knows what happened to Nao and her family during the tsunami. Perhaps the bag holding Nao’s belongings floated to the beach of the island as a result of the tsunami, even though Oliver and the other islanders believe that the tsunami debris would not reach them.

            In my opinion, A Tale For The Time Being started slowly. But subsequent to the slow start, the pace of the book  picked up, and its subject was simply fascinating.  Oliver told Ruth that, as a result of the tsunami, Japan actually moved closer to their island; Nao’s diary – and Ruth’s losing herself in that story – actually seemed to bring Japan even closer than the movement resulting from the tsunami. This is a very interesting book!

Highly Recommended

Thursday, July 25, 2013

THE GOLEM and THE JINNI by Helene Wecker

By Helene Wecker

            In The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker’s debut novel, we are introduced to, well, a Golem and a Jinni.  We learn the backstories of each and how each reached nineteenth century New York City. Both the Golem and the Jinni struggle to fit in among the many immigrant populations settling in New York at that time. Both struggle with their own respective adversities. Eventually, their paths cross. Despite their differences, the Golem and the Jinni become friends, each trying to understand the other’s unique struggles. Amidst their differences, the Golem and the Jinni find love.

            The Golem and the Jinni is well written. At times the book feels disjointed, but by the end of the book, all the disparate parts converge.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

BEAUTIFUL MAN & Other Stories by Jack Mauro

& Other Stories
by Jack Mauro

            BEAUTIFUL MAN & Other Stories (Beautiful Man) is a collection of twelve short stories written by Jack Mauro. Short story is not my genre; I have never read –  much less reviewed –  a collection of short stories. These stories, however, all deal with relationships, a subject about which I am always eager to read. Having issued that caveat, I share my thoughts about this collection.

            In a way, the book appears to be about what the title suggests, with a beautiful man in almost every story. However, ˆBeautiful Man is a collection of stories about dysfunctional relationships. In this collection, Mauro does an exceptional job of presenting the nuances of humanity. ‘Presenting’ does Mauro a disservice, however; he probes these nuances, delving into some of the darkest in people.

            Some of the short stories demonstrate dysfunctional relationships created by conflict. In one of the stories, for example, two adult sons, along with their wives, plan a Christmas treat for their mother, Mo: an hour ride in a horse drawn carriage. Conflict arises immediately over the question of who sits where: “the most important thing about this misbegotten treat for Mo is who will face whom and who will flank Mo.” pp. 112-113. There is also conflict within the story about who will pay for the ride for Mo, as one brother can afford it while the other brother does not have the same amount of money and cannot afford it. Neither son nor neither daughter-in-law are cognizant of the fact that Mo is aware of this latter conflict and has already paid for the entire ride herself.  It becomes clear that the characters, caught up in these various conflicts, are out of touch with the reality surrounding Mo.

Some of the other stories reflect dysfunctional relationships created by silence or omission. The main character of one of the stories works very hard  to set up his dream, a place called the “Music and Coffee”. His girlfriend does not like the project; his friend helps with all the hard work to make the Music and Coffee a reality. It is a big success. One year later, the Music and Coffee was vandalized. Because there was no break in, he knows the vandal was either his friend or his girlfriend, the only two who have access to a key. Nonetheless, he chooses to simply ignore this and continue the Music and Coffee. In another story, the father of an adopted daughter vows to protect the girl from her mother. The beautiful couple had been unable to have a child of their own; they adopt the little girl when she is one year old. The father realizes that the mother is lavishing love and excessive gifts on the girl, not out of love but so the girl will not be upset when she is supplanted by a child that the couple might conceive themselves. The couple was told that there is no medical reason precluding them from conceiving a child. The father realizes that he is the one to blame; it is, he realizes, a “visceral refusal of his body to give her a child….” p. 103. He vows that his wife will never have his biological child. He decides that he will leave his wife, but only after she becomes unable to conceive any longer.

            And yet other dysfunctional relationships demonstrated in Beautiful Man result from unsupported surmises.  In the book’s final story,  a cousin, Mary, comes to visit from Ireland for a few weeks. Although her cousin, Colin, has a sexual relationship with her throughout her visit, he is derisive of her. She is plump, plain, dull, country, inconvenient and irritating, and soft and pliant. Colin shows Mary a music video on the computer, and he is surprised to learn that she had already seen it. While he drives Mary to the airport for her return trip home, Colin notices the differences between her actual Irish accent and his faux brogue. Much to his surprise, Colin gets an inkling of Mary’s having seen right through him. Mary considers telling him about “boys she has known in Bantry, boys with real accents, boys with no evil in them because they have nothing to prove,…[b]oys who made love to her and did not feel as though they were bestowing a favor. But she does not, because he would not be interested.” p. 272.  When Colin puts his arms out to hug her, Mary refuses; when he hugs her anyway, Mary does not reciprocate. Colin sees a “pretty girl” passing in the airport, and he sees in her face that she sees the truth of the situation.
            Mauro masterly captures the nuances of many of our relationships. He captures what many of us do not want to face, much less talk – or read – about.  Nonetheless, Beautiful Man is an interesting and powerful collection of stories.

Highly Recommended.         

The copy of BEAUTIFUL MAN & Other Stories that I reviewed is a 2012 iUniverse book; all page references are to this version. The book was provided by the author for my honest and independent review.