Thursday, March 13, 2008

More Mistry

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?


Iliana said...

I really can't think of one book that didn't live up to my first reading experience - then again, I don't typically re-read. Sorry to hear She's Come Undone wasn't as good the second time around.
I loved A Fine Balance and actually have Family Matters waiting for me. I just need to be in the mood. A Fine Balance was so emotional for me.

lazy cow said...

That's a hard one. I either read a book once and never revisit it, or manically rearead my favourites more than a dozen times! I do remember feeling something lacking in the Lamb book the first time around, and saying to myself that it wasn't a keeper. At the moment I'm reading Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, which I abandoned 1/2 way through in 2002 as being too slow. Now I'm loving the measured prose! It may have something to do with the fact I was 8 months pregnant the first time around :-)

Cornflower said...

You've certainly made me want to discover Mistry for myself, Tara. Thankyou!

Jeane said...

There's several YA or juvenile fiction books I really liked as a teenager but going back to re-read them I was disappointed. I can't remember exactly which titles right now, though. Just change of perspective, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I refer you to the quote I used this week (I know you've seen it as you commented on it) about not reading a book out of its right time for you. I just reread a mystery that I had suggested my mystery book group tackle and found that I did not like it the second time around. Much more tiresome than I remember. I think our tastes just change.

nutmeg said...

I don't know if this is exactly on topic but I am currently reading the Anne of Green Gables books - having only seen the mini-series version (and not reading the books beforehand). I am in awe of Montgomery for creating such a character and I have to say that I do believe that the actress in the mini-series did a great job of bringing her to life. So, for me, the books are definitely living up to my expectations.

Lisa said...

I can't really think of a reread that hasn't lived up to my previous enjoyment of the book. In regard to Swimming Lessons, I have actually read several short story collections lately in which all of the stories are connected in some way. Olive Kitteridge is one such short story collection that reads somewhat like a novel. It was a really good read, and I highly recommend it.

Tara said...

Iliana, I also have Family Matters. It will need the right mood, I agree.

Lazy cow, Isn't that interesting, how a book just needs to be read in the right time. I'm guessing the anxiety of finishing your pregnancy didn't warm you much to a slow moving book.

Karen, I'm glad. He's one of my favorite new-to-me authors.

Jeanne, I've had that happen as well which is why I'm reluctant to revisit most of them.

Kay, that is absolutely spot-on.

Nutmeg, I own all of these but will admit to never reading them, yet have watched the programs. Someday, I keep saying. Glad to hear they're as good as you hoped.

Lisa, thank you for the recommendation. I guess most of the short story collections I've read or read parts of were each separate stand-alone stories. The connections make them more appealing to me.

Cath said...

Pleased to hear how good the Firozsha Baag anthology is. It's still sitting on my library pile but I plan to get to it very soon.

Where rereading is concerned I don't tend to do a lot. When I do though I tend to be fairly lucky in that the book is generally just as good the second time around. I can't think of one that wasn't to be honest.

Nan said...

Whew! What a great review, Tara. You got me so interested that I've just emailed the library to see if they can get it for me. I do love short stories, and it is a bonus when they connect.

I wouldn't read the Lamb book for love or money. :<)

I do a fair bit of re-reading, and have been happy with the second and third readings in most cases.

Tara said...

Cath, oh good! I'd love to know what you think. I don't do much rereading either - generally only when the bookclub list dictates it.

Nan, thank you - you are too generous. Just so you know, there is some sadness in this book - not anything like the other book I read by Mistry, though. And an interesting story having to do with learning to use a different toilet that the one to which a person is accustomed to. I think you'll enjoy this - I love learning about everyday life in other parts of the world.

Bybee said...

I'm curious about Mistry as well. The Canadians in book group were talking about him one day.

She's Come Undone was strange, the way the main character stalked that one this a theme in Oprah picks?

heather (errantdreams) said...

Sadly, I think the Oprah club and the trend it started burned a lot of folks out on sad and tragic stories.

The salad dressing in your last post looks wonderful! Yum!

Tara said...

Bybee, the Oprah theme did seem to be down and out women for a long while didn't it? I'll be interested to see what the bookclub thinks tonight.

Heather, I actually like reading sad and tragic stories, but I think it got pretty repetitious for her fervent fans. Thanks!