Review of “On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan

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On Chesil Beach is a short novel about Edward and Florence, two newlyweds who experience destructive/disastrous sexual dysfunction on their wedding night. The majority of the novel takes place over a two hour period, and McEwan writes about the events of their wedding night in agonizingly minute detail. The novel is tight and concise, but McEwan develops the couple’s story via some of the most lyrical sentences I have ever read.

On Chesil Beach was not a pleasant book. It was one of the most uncomfortable books I have ever read. McEwan forces the reader to experiences the same level of discomfort and anxiety that Florence and Edward feel. While the reading experience was not enjoyable, I really appreciated the way that McEwan can make the readers emotionally and physically identify with the characters. McEwan’s books may not be for everyone, but he has undeniable talent and skill.

Although the characters of Edward and Florence are fully developed in their own right, they are symbolic of all young people of the time period. British society during the late 1950s-early 1960s was a time of sexual repression. Both Edward and Florence knew almost nothing about sex, but were expected to be able to successfully consummate their marriage. Edward was expected to be “experienced,” while Florence was expected to be “pure” (and somehow still be able to satisfy her new husband?). The novel is as much a critique of the destructive social conventions of the time as it is a study of interpersonal relationships and character development.

On Chesil Beach is a brilliant novel, but it is also a novel I doubt I will ever want to experience again. This was my first encounter with McEwan (and I have heard that many of his novels are like this), and I plan to read more of his work soon.

Review of “Ceremony” by Leslie Marmon Silko

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Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony was a struggle. It’s hard to explain why. As I was reading the novel, I could appreciate that the text was beautifully written, but I could not emotionally connect to the characters or situations. Objectively, the novel is significant and well-written. I understand the importance of Silko’s work and the need to promote/read Native American literature. The story is also deeply interesting. Tayo, a WWII veteran, is suffering from PTSD. Tayo eventually heals, but only after many trials and difficult situations. His recovery is aided almost entirely by his interactions with nature.

In Ceremony, Silko is deeply concerned with environmental issues. Silko discusses the importance of the environment, and the destructive nature of humans. While this aspect of the novel was already familiar to me (I’m adequately acquainted with environmental issues), I was deeply touched by the manner in which her argument was presented. If you are interested in environmental issues, I would definitely check out this novel.

Overall, Ceremony is an important novel about PTSD, the environment, and Native American culture. I could not personally engage with this novel, but it is considered one of the most important works of Native American literature. Maybe I’ll just have to read it again, and see if a change of mood/scenery improves my reading experience.

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Review of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

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Before reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I expected it to be simple and juvenile (after all, it’s YA, right?). I was pleasantly surprised.

Junior’s struggle to become independent and establish his own identity while also fitting in with both his tribe and his white friends at school is something everyone can empathize with. I have frequently found myself caught between my family’s belief system and what I personally believe is right. Although my choice to register as a Democrat while my parents are Republicans is vastly different (and less important) than Junior’s “part-time Indian” dilemma, I was able to connect the book to my own personal life experiences, and this is something that I always value while reading.

Alexie is unafraid to address very important issues. In addition to the detailing the struggles of Junior (addressing topics such as masturbation/sexuality, talking to girls, etc.), Alexie also addresses more political issues related to Native Americans, such as alcoholism, poverty on the reservation, racial discrimination, lack of opportunity and job availability, etc. The book is deceptively simple. It is a small book that addresses many important issues, and I can’t believe Alexie was able to do this and still make the book so enjoyable and appropriate for young readers.

Although the novel addresses very serious issues, it somehow manages to still be funny. Some of the situations in the novel are genuinely funny, while others are the kind of funny that makes you regret you ever laughed. It’s the kind of funny that makes you feel ashamed for laughing. The story is told from the perspective of Junior, who is a genuinely funny character, but some of the humor seems to be a way that Junior attempts to cope with his situation. In this sense, the humor makes the book much more serious.

As a future teacher, I would love to use this book in the classroom. It is fresh and unique, and I think that it addresses many topics that would be relevant to high school students. In high school, everyone struggles to figure out who they are and establish their own identity. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian provides an important perspective of this topic. It also addresses many other topics and situations that would benefit high school students (and all other readers in general).

Review of “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride

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James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird is a National Book Award-winning novel about the exploits of abolitionist John Brown. The story is told from the perspective of Onion, a former slave who was forcefully emancipated by John Brown. Onion is one of the most interesting and entertaining narrators that I have encountered in literature. Onion’s narrative voice as memorable and unique as Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn. I read this book for class; many of my classmates seemed annoyed by Onion’s narrative voice, but I thought it was the most intriguing aspect of the entire novel.

Although the novel is about historical figures and events, it manages to tell the story in a way that feels entirely fresh and unique. The novel is hilarious, and Onion, as a former slave, has an interesting opinion of John Brown’s actions. I was expecting the novel to be more serious than it was. I suppose I thought it would be “high brow” and more “literary” since it won the National Book Award, but McBride told an important story in a way that was honest, original, and heart-wrenching. This novel made me feel things. It was also very entertaining and funny. It is obvious that McBride conducted a significant amount of research while writing this novel, and I learned so many new things while reading. I think it is particularly interesting that McBride chose to portray some historical figures honestly, even though it might make them look unsavory (who would have thought you could dislike Frederick Douglass?!) If any of you are interested in history (or just reading a good, fun novel), I would highly recommend this book.

Review of “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

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It is difficult to write about my experience with Mrs. Dalloway. I loved the novel. I found it overwhelming, intoxicating. It is one of the most difficult yet rewarding reading experiences that I have had this year. I loved everything about it. I loved how Woolf’s intelligence and understanding of human nature bled through the pages. I loved the characters, and I loved learning about character’s through Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness technique. This novel is a study of character (and character development), and is an exploration of the aftermath of WWI on British culture. Although the war is not discussed in detail, it is evident that all characters (not just Septimus) are suffering from the horrors of WWI. By now, I have read both Mrs. Dalloway and The Waves, and I prefer Mrs. Dalloway. I think that The Waves is a true literary breakthrough/innovation, but there is something about Mrs. Dalloway that makes me want to call it her masterpiece. This is a book I will revisit over and over again.