Thursday, March 13, 2008
I enjoyed reading A Fine Balance so much that I wanted to read more of Rohinton Mistry's work right away. In an interview I read online, it was mentioned that Mistry's book of short stories Swimming Lessons and Other Stories from Firozsha Baag was his most autobiographical work so I decided to start with that. The only problem I had with this book is the same problem I always have with short story collections - they make me anxious. I can't just pick it up and start reading. I have to make sure I have enough time (usually before bed) to read the story. I experience those general feelings of starting a new book - am I going to like it? Who are the characters? What is important here? So, this was a bit of a challenge for me and I'm happy to say I finished this.
The stories are all set in Firozsha Baag, an apartment complex in Bombay inhabited by Parsi Indians (correct my nomenclature if necessary). They are very domestic stories, about men and women, middle class and poor, old and young. One thing that makes this book different than other short story collections is that these stories are related. Not only are they set within the same apartment complex, the characters appear again and again. For this reason, this book is best read front to back. Each story certainly can stand on its own, but the relationships between the stories are particularly interesting. For example, we see a man befriend a young boy and learn of their passion for stamp collecting. Later on, we see this same boy as a young man and learn not only about his current life, but what he remembers of those days. One story that stood out in particular was called Exercisers, the story of a 19 year old young man whose mother is not thrilled with his choice of female friend. There was certainly a different parent/child relationship than I have been accustomed to (as there was in many of these stories) and different expectations for one's offspring. Can you imagine having an 8pm curfew at age 19? Exactly. The final story in this collection, Swimming Lessons, is the most autobiographical of all and I think we get a real sense of where Rohinton Mistry has come from. I enjoyed these stories and plan to read Mistry's other novels.
I've also finished She's Come Undone By Wally Lamb. This was a reread for me and will be discussed with my bookclub next week. I first read this novel around 10 years ago when Oprah recommended it through her book club. I didn't have much recollection of the story, only that I thought it was a good read.
This is the story of Dolores Price, beginning at age 4 until she is grown, around age 40. This story is full of dysfunction. Dolores suffers though one thing after another, until finally she is an obese and angry and sick young woman. Almost every character in the book share some level of this dysfunction. Only in the last 100 or so pages does Dolores really find her way and some healthy relationships develop in her life. While this is a very readable book, and Lamb has done an outstanding job of giving this female character a voice, I found that this time around there was just too much dysfunction. I still would consider it a good read, but there was something that was not there for me this time around. I don't know if it's because of all the other things I've been reading and watching lately, of real suffering and devastation that this just felt like overindulgence on the part of Dolores.
What books have you reread and found that they just don't live up to either your memory or your current expectations?