The Book of Polly
by Kate Hepinstall
Review by Kathy
This book is a delight, a laugh out loud, tear up a little, hold your breath in suspense delight!
The story is told from the point of view of Willow, the child born to a 58 year old steel magnolia who discovers she is with child within days of her husband’s death. All children fear the death of a parent, but Willow’s fear of being left an orphan is not irrational, considering the circumstances. While she has two much older siblings, they are long out of the house and Willow is like an only child. Polly is a strong, proud, snarky woman who feuds with her neighbors and her daughter’s teachers while scaring her daughter’s friends. Yet she lovingly attends to her garden and it is one of the few places she and Willow can share a space without conflict. This is a woman who loves deeply but cannot express it. Continue reading
Review by: Robin
Kyung-Sook Shin is one of South Korea’s most widely read and acclaimed novelists and this is her first book to appear in English. The story revolves around the search for a missing older woman who was left behind in the Seoul train station when she was separated from her husband in the rush to board a departing train. As the chapters unfold we learn the woman’s “back story” as remembered by her oldest daughter, oldest son, husband, and, later in the book, herself. The stories touch on all aspects of her life in a poor rural South Korean village and span the time from her youth during the Korean War and its aftermath, her marriage, the birth and rearing of her children, and her decline into older age.
While the story provides an excellent view into a family’s life in Korea, this reader found it difficult to enjoy. The use of the omnipotent second person narrative voice (used in 3 of the 5 chapters) was off-putting. Perhaps 2nd person is used more widely in conversational Korean and I was unable to adjust to the translation or maybe the author used it deliberately to impose the guilt and regret felt by the characters onto the reader. Whatever the reason, the relentless use of “you” (even though the narrator’s “you” was referring to one of the characters in the story) felt like an accusatory pointing finger which made me uncomfortable. I also had little sympathy for the martyred “Tiger Mom” and her selfish, insensitive children and spouse. So for me, this was a B- read; it was well written and interesting, but it only rarely touched my heart.
About this Review: This review was originally submitted as part of Adult Summer Reading.
Review by Pam Blittersdorf
In The Leftovers, Tom Perrotta uses a startling premise to produce a realist portrait of the fault lines that fracture modern society. The story is set in a small suburban town somewhere on the east coast. It is a few years after the Sudden Departure, when millions of people, instantly and without explanation, vanished from the Earth. Was it the Rapture spoken of in the Bible? But then, many who vanished were not Christians. Mr. Perrotta leaves that question to hang, while he explores the effects of the traumatic event on a town full of ordinary people.
This isn’t a book with a lot of plot twists. People move through their lives. Some try to keep things normal while others form cult movements. A messianic figure may have a genuine gift or he may be a charlatan; his unborn child may or may not be the savior of mankind. Some funny stuff happens in between the darker moments. One memorable character is the woman who lost her husband and two kids. She watches Sponge Bob Squarepants because it was the show her vanished children liked. She is obsessive, but organized about it. At first, she goes through a marathon of cartoon watching, but soon begins to ration the number of daily episodes to keep them fresh. Her attempts to rebuild a social life are the ungainly efforts of any recently divorced person, writ large. It is safer to retreat but hard to be alone, even if all you can do is have a guy watch cartoons with you.
Perrotta has been called the Balzac of the suburbs, a Cheever for our times, and a lot of other heavy titles that reviewers like to hang on authors, as if to see whether they can bear the weight. I haven’t read his other books, though I gather The Leftovers is something of a departure for him. But the book conveys humor and affection for people, even while it shows them as deeply flawed. The author gives us the common threads that we share with his characters, which is what makes the book so readable.
Now an HBO TV series entering its 2nd season.
Check availability on The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
About the reviewer: Pam Blittersdorf is the former head of reference at Tredyffrin Public Library who now calls Massachusetts home. Pam is an avid bike rider.