BOOK REVIEWS: A Memoir, Psycho Chick Lit & a Morbidly Obese Russian

Book Reviews

Book Reviews - Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

 Here’s a round up of what I’ve been reading lately:

This memoir (composed of 54 vignettes) leaves me with a real appreciation for Terry Tempest Williams and a desire to read more from her. I was hooked from the beginning when Williams inherits her mother’s journals – three shelves full of meticulously ordered, beautiful, cloth bound journals – only to discover blank pages. Williams writes about the voice passed down from mother to daughter, the path to finding one’s own voice and the “violence of silence”.  A few of the vignettes are a little abstract and mystical, but Williams’ writing has a lyrical and philosophical quality.  I’m still thinking about it days later.

Gone Girl initially feels like a “literary beach read” about a marriage gone wrong on the fifth anniversary. It has a “he said, she said” element with the spouses alternating the narration. Flynn’s writing is incisive and witty and the characters are very sharply drawn. But then, the second part of the novel takes a dark turn and veers off into what I’m tempted to call “psycho chick lit”.  From that point on, there is inconsistent character development and an unexpected, anti-climatic ending that will either disappoint or anger you. If you are the type that likes to read the book before the movie, start reading now because a movie is in the works with Ben Affleck as the husband and Rosamund Pike as the wife.

I picked up this book intrigued by its name and its critical acclaim as supposedly one of the best books of 2007. I put it down halfway through because the relentless political and cultural satire wore thin and, at times, vulgar. (Note: this book inspired this post.) I love satire, but here it overshadows the plot and the clichéd characters. I never connected with Shteyngart’s protagonist, Misha Vainberg, the cluelessly repulsive and morbidly obese son of a Russian oligarch/gangster. Yes, I smiled and laughed a little while reading it, but Shteyngart’s writing feels too self-consciously witty and clever. He even inserts himself into the story as a minor character named “Jerry Shteynfarb.”  Yet I’m still tempted to read his first novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, so I’m probably doomed to repeat this mistake.

If you’re interested in more short & casual book reviews from other bloggers, head over here.

P.S. After a long, hot summer, I’m on the prowl for good Fall books. Any suggestions?


  1. Pingback: BOOK REVIEWS: My New BFF, Kicking the Habit & The Best Fiction of 2013 | The Anonymous Blonde

  2. I read When Women Were Birds this summer also. I liked it so much I also read Refuge and am now reading Finding Beauty in a Broken World. I was going to make When Women Were Birds a selection for my new on-line book club, but decided I wanted to keep my thoughts on the book personal for now.


  3. Love your “psycho chick lit” category. I didn’t like the book, but it definitely has movie potential–especially with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. And yes to everything about When Women Were Birds. I thought the format worked brilliantly…although I wish it had ended one chapter earlier.


    • Anne, there were a couple of chapters at the end of When Women Were Birds that were so abstract (about her adopted adult son, the later years of marriage, etc.) that I couldn’t pick out the “story” in them. Those chapters felt like a personal journal intelligible only to her, as opposed to a memoir. I wondered if maybe Williams’ illness contributed to that effect.


  4. I so want to read When Women Were Birds. I really should see if I can order it in from my library.

    I liked Gone Girl, and so did my husband. It seems like people either love or hate this one. I’m glad Rosamund Pike is playing Amy vs. Reese Witherspoon. It seems like a much better fit.


    • Shana, you might find that When Women Were Birds is the kind of book that you want your own copy of. (I think those are the best kinds of books!) I found myself highlighting a lot of passages in it!


  5. Gone Girl is going to be a movie? Should be interesting. I enjoyed the book, but was disappointed in the ending.


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