Bite-sized reviews

Sometimes, a book is best reviewed in miniature. Think of it as an apéritif for the mind:

(Carol Topolski, Fig Tree, 2008, 272 pp)

The story of a the Gutteridges, a young couple that moves into a staid English suburb, and the atrocity that occurs in their home with the murder of their young daughter. It reads a bit like a Law and Order episode; one stark event occurs at the very beginning of the novel and is delved into and expanded upon throughout the story through the eyes of the couple as well as a community that has to deal with the consequences. Topolski uses her psychology background to great effect, as the story progresses we are shown the background of the Gutteridges that offers a chilling explanation for their pathological, obsessive love.  A major problem with what is a fairly solid debut novel is that it comes across as being student work quite often, especially at the end of the novel, which left me very dissatisfied. The Gutteridges seem to become more flat as the novel moves on, and it doesn’t seem entirely intentional.

(Rivka Galchen, Fourth Estate, 2008, 256 pp)

A creative and interesting debut marred by indulging too often in its own cleverness. Leo Liebenstein is an anxious, middle-aged psychotherapist living in New York with his younger charismatic Argentinian wife, Rema. When Rema enters their apartment one day holding a puppy, Leo is certain that his wife has been replaced by an almost-identical duplicate. This realisation marks the start of Leo’s quest to locate the missing Rema while avoiding her persistent clone. He is aided by Harvey, one of his psychiatric patients who has a strange connection to the mysterious the Royal Academy of Meteorology and driven by the mysterious figure of Tzvi Gal-Chen, whose presence and meteorological findings may play an important role in discovering Rema’s location. His quest and growing obsession with Gal-Chen takes him to Rema’s family home in Argentina, where his journey takes a strange turn. Galchen mixes the clinical, distantly intellectual voice of Leo with descriptions that focus on the mundane sensations of married life and the memories they invoke. The book excels in these moments, such as when Leo and Rema discuss fastenings on Tzvi Gal-Chen’s shirt in a photo they’ve acquired, or when Leo reminisces about his mother while in Argentina.  It’s when the story goes too far into its own quirks that the story falters, especially when Leo’s obsession with the Royal Academy of Meteorology grows. It could have also done with a small chop; it is too long and  sputters towards the end. Galchen is definitely a writer to watch; she has taken a story of a man’s possible breakdown and the issues that arise when marriage becomes too expected and takes it to weird and wonderful heights.

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Filed under american, fiction, short review

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