Reviewing 3 Novels I Read During Summer 2020
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Reviewing 3 Novels I Read During Summer 2020

"The Book Of X," "My Sister The Serial Killer," And "In The Distance."

Reviewing 3 Novels I Read During Summer 2020

I did some reading this summer. Here are my thoughts on "The Book Of X," "My Sister The Serial Killer," And "In The Distance."

“The Book Of X” – Sarah Rose Etter

Rating: 3/10

This is one of the most disappointing books I have ever read. In a strange setting where three women – grandmother, mother, and child – were all born with their midsections literally tied in a knot, the metaphor of the knot does not land. The "knot" is clearly meant to portray the burden of pain that all women face, the pain of menstruation and childbirth, the pain of being perceived as weak; as prey, the pain of being vulnerable to rape and pregnancy. This would be all fine and dandy if the novel actually remained consistent on what the knot was and what it represents. Sometimes the knot appears so huge that Cassie appears pregnant and men are automatically disgusted. Sometimes the knot is so small that it can be hidden under clothing. Meanwhile, the men in this world work in the Meat Quarry, digging meat out of the ground to sell, while Cassie's mother obsesses over cleaning (i.e. gender roles – subtle, right?) As a portrait of the unique female struggle, the novel very nearly succeeds. It just didn't quite dig deep enough for me. As the plot moves forward, it becomes apparent that the knot is far more than a perceived flaw, it gradually begins to threaten Cassie's health and nearly kills her. An operation fails to make her life easier when she is left scarred, but everything seems to be downhill from there. The novel ultimately romanticizes suicide, portraying the final act as Cassie's only escape from her suffering. I understand all of these metaphors, especially as they relate to the female experience, but I still found them heavy-handed and empty. The novel is unsettling, and not in a good way. The quality of the writing is exceedingly poor and borders on outright pretentiousness, dressed up in the "surreal." The surreal aspects are used as a red herring to distract from the mediocre storytelling. I am not impressed and I would not read this book again or thrust it upon anyone else to trudge through.

"My Sister, The Serial Killer" -- Oyinkan Braithwaite

Rating: 6/10

This was a really fun and easy read. A very unusual premise: A wealthy, spoiled Nigerian female serial killer – who is curiously lackadaisical – is aided in her crimes and shielded from scrutiny by her shy but eager older sister. I personally enjoyed the simplicity of the writing, the intentional lack of detail, and the detached nature of Korede, the killer sister. The two sisters reckon against the patriarchy at every turn, first conspiring to depose of their abusive father. The novel is subversive at every turn, and Ayoola is an interesting protagonist. She does not flinch in the face of deposing Korede's victims, rather, she is a willing enabler, even allowing Korede to threaten a man she fancies. The whole thing is just an overall raucous, addictive, fanciful flight.

"In The Distance" -- Hernan Diaz

Rating: 8/10

"In the Distance" is a momentous feat. A pure, anti-Western, depicting the death of the American Dream before it begins -- at the height of the California Gold Rush. It feels epic in scope and scale. It took a long time for this novel to grow on me. I felt that the first third was quite derivative and repetitive, and many scenes tested the limits of my imagination. I became frustrated with its listlessness, the never-changing rub of the narrative. I was quickly bored, as little seemed to change for Håkan. As I read on, this 'boredom' became the novel's most ardent appeal. I soon empathized with this wild man, this ideal anarcho-primitivist, a beast incapable of societal assimilation. Every time Håkan encounters society or the civilized world, he recoils, retching in disgust, noting only the discordant chaos, the mess of it all, the overwhelming stench. The novel also paints a curious, striking image of solitude. Loneliness is portrayed as something soothing, constant, and reliable – not tainted with the fear of dissolution, or the threat of sudden disappearance or betrayal, as humans are. Every ally in Håkan's life meets an untimely violent end, every notion of peace or comfort (or even "home") is eventually torn away by humanity or the forces of nature. I found the trajectory of the novel to be fitting and accurate. I would have been disappointed if Håkan had ultimately reached his goal. I found it realistic that he eventually forgot what he cared about, forgot what he was working toward. He becomes a machine of the wilderness; an automaton, an animal scrounging for survival in the listless void. It's very good. A slow burn, meaningful; haunting, and definitely worth reading. I agree with another reviewer who notes, "It's like Cormac McCarthy, except good."

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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