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Jamesland Hardcover – September 9, 2003

38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like her critically acclaimed Round Rock, Huneven's sophomore effort explores a tightly knit community of troubled eccentrics. In the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz, a motley handful of residents attends Helen Harland's casual and inclusive services at the local Unitarian church. Helen-who can't interest her boyfriend in her preaching profession, and who battles the church board over matters such as men holding hands in the sanctuary-has her own struggles with faith, yet finds herself inspiring it in some of Los Feliz's other lonely souls. There's Alice Black, hot off a string of bad love affairs (including one with the husband of a local movie star) and living in a house belonging to her great-aunt Kate. The intermittently lucid Kate, now ensconced in a rest home, is still pursuing a life-long writing project related to her illustrious ancestor, the philosopher William James. And then there's crazy Pete Ross, a failed husband, father and chef now living with his mother, a nun, as part of his therapy. Spunky Helen maneuvers dinners and other get-togethers where people seemingly at odds grow (warmly and predictably) to know and love one another. More intelligent and quirky than the usual melodrama, this novel succeeds in exploring the slow and halting journey to self-acceptance. But this level of realism also becomes problematic: the narrative is slow-going, and the author's fondness for flashbacks further decelerates the plot. The theological conversations and the extensive information about William James may also be a turn-off for some readers. For those who are patient, however, this is a gentle, well-turned story of the search for redemption.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Shambling, disheveled Pete Ross is haunted by a question: "How do people live in this world?" Once a successful restaurateur with a loving wife and child, his world imploded after his restaurant failed; he has recently been released into his mother's care after an extended stay in a psychiatric facility. Bartender Alice Black, long on the run from her storied heritage as a descendent of William James, is entangled in a dead-end relationship with a married man. Both Pete and Alice find themselves attending the church services of new minister Helen Harland, who is refreshingly down-to-earth but also depressed by her hidebound parishioners' resistance to her new programming ideas. The three enter into a most unlikely friendship centered on Pete's mouthwatering meals and their scintillating, hilarious discussions about, well, how people live in this world. In some small measure, the friendship helps each of them to move ahead and to throw off restrictions imposed by fear, confusion, or pride. In her second novel, following Round Rock (1997), Huneven brings to the page a fiery intelligence about a whole host of topics, including dream psychology and gourmet cooking. With its wry, generous take on human nature, this is, ultimately, a deeply moving novel. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (September 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375413820
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375413827
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #783,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michelle Huneven was born in Altadena, California. She received an M.F.A. at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. For many years her "day job" was reviewing restaurants and writing about food for the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Gourmet and other publications. Her first novel, Round Rock (Knopf 1997), was a New York Times notable book and a finalist for the LA Times First Fiction Award. Her second novel, Jamesland (Knopf 2003) was also a New York Times notable book, a finalist for the LA Times Fiction Prize, and a winner of the Southern California Bookseller's Award for Fiction. Her third novel, Blame, (Sarah Crichton Books, FSG, 2009), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Michelle has also received a GE Younger Writers Award and a Whiting Award for Fiction. She presently teaches creative writing at UCLA and lives with her husband, dog, cat, and African Grey parrot in the town where she was born.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Olivas on July 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Michelle Huneven, relying on an exquisite use of language and a sharp sense of humor, has created a wonderfully bizarre love story that blooms from the City of Angels. Dysfunctional much of the time, but secure in their desire to improve themselves and find love in the right places (even if they hang around the wrong places a bit too long), Pete and Alice have every reason to disturb and rankle the other. But within the healing orbits of an unusually honest minister (Helen) and Alice's eccentric aunt, Kate, we can rejoice in their respective baby steps toward something resembling a "normal" life. Thrown into the mix is--almost literally--the ghost of William James and an assortment of Los Angeles inhabitants such as a jive-talking, white cross-dresser and a beautiful, aging movie star. Huneven, who simply is a brilliant writer, begins this novel with a haunting image that carries through until the final pages. This is a spectacularly successful work of fiction that deserves to be read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David J. Gannon on November 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Huneven writes novels of those consigned to the margins of society. In her first, very excellent, book, Round rock, the aspect that marginalized it's characters was alcoholism. The aspects of marginalization in this also excellent novel are more diverse--the thread that holds this book together is place--in this case, Los Angeles.

Jamesland is the story of three people living "on the edge" to varying degrees and for various reasons. Helen Harlan is an ordained minister of distinct spiritual inclination consigned to a largely secular, spiritually disengaged Unitarian congregation in LA. What should be a source of great personal satisfaction and a springboard to self actualization is instead a source of perpetual angst and dissatisfaction.

Alice Black is a lady of very modest means whose life has been a long exercise in personal unhappiness, attained largely through a series of disastrous liaisons with married men who treat her like dirt. She is slowly but surely becoming a mildly deranged recluse in her aunts old, rambling home. Pete Ross is a former chef of note who one day turned on his family in a burst of violent rage and destroyed not only his marriage but his sanity as well. Recently released into the custody of his mother-a nun-he is trying to reengage with reality and society.

As the book opens these three circle one another like moths at a porch light--flying around one another in close proximity without actual contact. Slowly but sure their universe begins to contract to where they do make contact. The book is, essentially a chronicle of how they come together and regain their bearings.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I first read an excerpt of this book in one of Los Angeles's local free newspapers, and I was shocked to discover that the book takes place in the neighborhood of Silver Lake/Los Feliz. I'm always fascinated and intrigued to read authors depictions of local areas, so I approached Jamesland with a great deal of interest and enthusiasm. The suburbs of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village and the city of Glendale form a kind of urban background to the action of the novel. There are also a couple of pivotal scenes taking pace at the LA River, and Griffith Park, where Huneven really manages to capture the beauty and colour of the surrounding areas - the flora and fauna, and the sunsets with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background. The gym where Pete works out, the gourmet café where he buys his food and the bar where Alice works all have a ring of familiarity.
Familiarity with all the locales aside, Jamesland is still a good, quirky and whimsical read. And very reminiscent of British author Patrick Gale in style, tone and plot. Like Heneven, he too, speckles his work with dotty, eccentric, likable characters, and uses the centerpiece of church and rectory life to present his story. Transpose Los Feliz for an English country town, and you have a story that is very evocative of Gale's Facing the Tank. It really surprised me how much both authors writings are alike.
The question "how to people live in this world?" is the thematic heart of the novel - a world that is rife with betrayals, sadness and injustices. The three main protagonists, Pete, Alice and Helen are forced to face this central question as they are forced to re-evaluate the choices they've made and remake their lives.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By C M Magee on December 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Jamesland opens with Alice, great-granddaughter of philosopher William James, having an odd waking dream of a deer in her house. Alice fixates on the deer as a portent of a coming change in her life, and the very next day her life begins to change slowly and inexorably. The book does not dwell on the supernatural, though it does have a bemused dialogue with the otherworldly throughout. Mostly it is about three forty-somethings whose social and professional lives are deteriorating and reconfiguring. I'd call it a mid-life crisis, but these characters have that quality, peculiar to Californians, of being youthful, unserious adults. The book is mostly set on the East Side of Los Angeles in neighborhoods that I know well. It was great to read a book that addresses a somewhat larger Los Angeles than usual. Movie stars are around, and Hollywood is nearby, but they are just parts of the great stew of the city, things that are noticed but after a while not accorded any greater importance than things like Griffith Park or the LA River. The only other book that I have read that successfully turns LA's flashy side into just another bit of peripheral scenery is T.C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain. Huneven is well-known in Los Angeles as the food critic for the LA Weekly, and the way she writes about food in this book is magnificent. Pete (who along with Helen, a modern sort of minister, are the other two wayward adults) is a former near-celebrity chef who is recovering from a nervous breakdown, suicide attempt combo. His character is both abrasive and charming, the type of person who makes you nervous the moment he steps into the room. His background as a chef is the venue for Huneven's descriptions of foods.Read more ›
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