Sunday, December 01, 2019

What I'm Reading Now

Naomi Kritzer, Catfishing on Catnet

I'll be honest, I'll read anything Naomi Kritzer writes at this point. But this is a wonderful book. It's (sort of) the further adventures of the AI in her story "Cat Pictures, Please," which won the Hugo for the best short story in 2016.

Here, the AI is (among other things) running an online group called Catnet, where our main character, Stephania, hangs out with her friends. Steph and her mother are fleeing from -- have been fleeing from -- Steph's father for most of Steph's life, and most of the novel's plot concerns that.

But what's wonderful here is the characterization and the world-building. Kritzer captures perfectly what today's teens are like, and what their lives are like, living 80% online and only 20% in meatspace as they do. She captures too their ability to understand and to empathize and adapt, and how that is connected to their online lives -- to the fact that they know and experience reality beyond their small meatspace lives. This is good stuff.

The AI is also charming. I loved the AI in the short story, and the AI is wonderful here too.

Also the book is compulsively readable. I've read it twice now and both times I literally could not stop -- I read it straight through, even though it meant staying up far too late both times. I'll be very surprised if this one doesn't win a Hugo for Kritzer as well.

Ann Patchett, The Dutch House

This is a wonderful book. Ann Patchett is, at least for me, a hit-or-miss writer. I've liked some of her books (Bel Canto, The Patron Saint of Liars) very much, and others (Taft, Commonwealth) not at all. So I very nearly didn't even take this one down from the shelf at the library.

But it has a very pretty cover, and so I did. And the pages, which I read standing there by the New Fiction shelves, were very good. So I checked it out, and it was just a delight. Every page was delicious. It's one of those books I want to buy multiple copies of and force people to read.

Plot: a brother and his older sister, growing up in a wealthy but dysfunctional family, are ejected from their wonderful house and from that family by their father's second wife upon the death of their father. Their anger at this warps the next 30 years of their life.

But the plot is secondary. The rich eye for detail and characters, the wonderful grasp of the world of Philadelphia, New York, and their suburbs from 1940 through the 1990s, and the way families love and damage one another -- all wrapped up in this delight of a book. You must read it. No, really. You must.

Joe Hill, Full Throttle

Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. I haven't been impressed by his previous work, but this collection of short stories is not bad. A few duds -- I didn't much like the one about the haunted carousel, or the one about the tall grass that's been made into a movie (and also has an entirely unnecessary incest vibe, not to mention fetal cannibalism). But there's a wonderful story, "You are Released," in here, and a couple other very good ones.

I'd give it a B+.

W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

I really liked Maugham's Cakes and Ale, which I discussed in my last set of What I'm Reading Now. So I requested this from the library. It's a big fat novel, which is usually my jam. The first half was pretty good, though it bore a certain similarity to bits of Cakes and Ale -- the main character was an orphaned boy raised by his aunt and uncle, a Vicar, in Blackstable in Kent, who grows up to be a doctor. The second half, though, after Philip meets Mildred is both unbelievable and boring.

Why would Philip fall in love with this women who is boring, stupid, ugly, and annoying? Why would he become obsessed with such a woman, to the extent that he destroys his life and livelihood? I know we're supposed to believe that his human passion overrules his intellect, but please. What about her has aroused his passion? Nothing about her seems at all attractive, he's not even having sex with her -- unless I missed it, he doesn't ever have sex with her -- and yet we're supposed to believe that he's so overwhelmed with love and I guess lust that he can't help destroying his life because of his passion for this entirely crap woman.

(a) I don't and (2) it makes for a very boring second half of the novel because I'm just not interested in watching Philip do stupid things for a stupid reason for 400 pages.

Don't waste your time.


Athena Andreadis said...

Maugham was bisexual. Of Human Bondage is a disguised semi-autobiographical story; Mildred (who's presented as androgynous) was a man he had a crush on in an era when homosexuality was a criminal offense in Britain. Such circumstances can easily breed an obsession that has little to do with the intrinsic attributes of the object of desire.

delagar said...

Huh. I knew he was bisexual, but I didn't make that connection. That does make more sense. He loves this person, but he hates himself for loving them.

Forester does the same sort of thing in Maurice, as I recall, though Alec in that is a bit more attractive than Mildred in Maugham's book.