Book Reviews

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Move over Jane Austen, there are new “It Girls” in town. After getting their fill of the witty, drawing-room banter of impoverished spinsters with no prospects in the Regency period, readers and viewers are ready for the lusty power plays of spirited wealthy heiresses and socially manipulative dowager countesses and their secret sidekicks, butlers and ladies’ maids. In short – it's a whole new century!

Imagine an American Jane Austen writing about 19th century America, but more tragic than comic, and with a strangely helpless man at its center – and there you have Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Like Ms. Austen’s novels, Ms. Wharton’s work is focused on the mores and manners of the aristocracy.

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up in what appears to be an idyllic English boarding school – but not everything is what it seems. The children at this school are groomed for a specific and special purpose. They are genetically engineered clones, bred to end their lives as organ donors for the rest of the population.

It is almost impossible to review a book like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go without giving away major plot points. This is because the author gives you all the information you need to know from page one. The plot is not what makes this book remarkable; this is a book about characters, and the ways they react to extraordinary circumstances.

Kathy narrates the story, relating her memories of her childhood, and her friendship with Ruth – a manipulative but sensitive classmate – and Tommy, a kindred spirit with a volatile temper. The narration moves from memories of the children’s years at Hailsham, the boarding in the English countryside, to their time spent together after graduating, to Kathy’s present, as she reviews the path her life has taken.

What scares you most about yourself? Is it the other person you hide just beneath your facade? The one you pretend doesn’t exist – the one capable of performing acts you could never commit on your own? That primeval fear is confronted in Stephen King’s new book, Full Dark, No Stars.

First, let’s clarify what Full Dark, No Stars is not. It isn’t a classic Stephen King horror story filled with vampires, scary monsters or zombies. It won’t have you looking under your bed at night for a pair of glowing eyes or wondering what’s lurking in your closet while you cower beneath your covers. Instead, you’ll be pondering a much darker thought, “Am I the real monster disguised in a costume of skin and hair?”

Talk about synchronicity. When I decided that I was going to re-read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time for the Library’s Building Bridges Book Club, I already happened to be reading Henry Louis Gates’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, a collection of profiles of prominent African-American men.

The first profile in Gates’ book is of James Baldwin, whose writing Gates fell in love with while in high school (Gates even got in trouble with his teacher for using too many commas in imitation of Baldwin’s architectural style) and whom he finally got to meet as an adult.

Baldwin had been so highly regarded as one of the voices of Black America in the early ‘60s that Time magazine featured Baldwin on its cover when The Fire Next Time was published. But by the time Gates met him, Baldwin had been bypassed in favor of more radical voices. 

Baldwin fell into the shadows in his later years because the time called for strong and strident voices, whereas he had always been very careful in his language and balanced in his thinking. For Baldwin, there were no easy answers – he’d likely do poorly in the current sound-byte political climate – and his style reflects that careful consideration and reflection on ideas.

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