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A Good Mid-Western Portrait
on December 20, 2012
I really liked this book. The author does a great job of contrasting so many different voices in her writing, and, I think, does it very convincingly. The characters she's created are great Mid-Western portraits. I'm from West Central Illinois, and have lived for a bit in Eastern Iowa, and I think she captures the different personalities I'm familiar with very well.
Each voice in the novel, I think, is written very well. The women sound like Iowan (or Chicagoan) women, and the men sound like some of the different types you meet here and there.
The way the narration works, jumping from year to year, snap shot after snap shot, for the most part, I think works pretty good. It captures the effect the novel puts out, that of looking back at different memories one has in life, as well as capturing the nuances of people's internal reactions to situations.
Sometimes, it gets a little old. It's definitely on the sparse side. There were some different stories I would have liked to read more about, but that might go against the point of the book.
You can tell Ms. Thompson has experience in the different areas she's writing about. The jokes about college students and academia, I think, are pretty funny. She nails the four year revolutionary mindset, pretty well. And I think she contrasts it well, like when she introduces Chip to the party of art students. I enjoyed that part a lot.
Her jokes about Midwest culture are pretty spot on too. Lots of casserole humor.
More than anything, I really appreciate her outlook on family life, as well as her take on being a 21st century American citizen.
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley looks at similar topics and situations, and essentially resolves on a pretty near "...and it all came crashing down, but what does it really matter, anyway?"
Or. at least, it seriously looks at how life can get beyond the point of redemption. And, to me, Smiley maintains that, sooner or later, one goes beyond that point.
Ms. Thompson looks at the same, or similar, questions with characters like Chip and Torrie, but resolves in a place of hope. Even though Torrie's life was filled with difficulty, she is able to branch out and find a life for herself.
And the scene at the end of the book, between Chip and Ryan, I thought was beautiful. The way they sum up your family in relation to one's country, I loved. Things aren't easy, and often filled with wild and painful things, but your family is your family, for better or worse. And, for the sake of this novel, I appreciate how the author resolved on a point of hope.
Her examination of change was also really interesting. Things come and go, and I really liked the way she showed how, just because things in America are different, doesn't mean things are dying. Just changing.
The one thing that I straight didn't like from the book was how she handled the main mother figure, Audrey. She was always portrayed in a pretty negative light. No one ever much wanted to be around her. It seemed to be the one thread in the story that didn't resolve.
That, to me, at least, seemed pretty low. But, I guess in a novel about not knowing what you have till it's gone, works out, one way or another.
On the whole, I definitely think this is a moving and human drama about normal people, one that goes into detail about how rich, painful, and nuanced, life can be, no matter who you are.