I finished The Windfall last week, but I'm just now getting around to posting a review. I'm a little slower with mediocrereads (not too much slower, hopefully) now that I'm back to reading applications. I came across Diksha Basu last month, after reading her scathing NYT review of Shobha Rao's Girls Burn Brighter. I love Basu's review and entirely agree with her criticisms of Girls Burn Brighter ("all the brutality becomes, frankly, boring"). I bought Basu's book, The Windfall, at Moon Palace Books. If you like beer and books (and you live in Minneapolis), you should visit Moon Palace. There's a bar in the store, so you can browse books with a beer in hand (you can't bring your drink in the children's section-- fyi for those with kids). Halfway through my IPA, I decided to buy The Windfall, which tells the story of a middle class family living in New Delhi. Unexpectedly, this family (the Jhas) comes into an unimaginable sum of money when Mr. Jha sells his web company. In the months following their ascent to the upper crust of Delhi's social scene, the family moves from their humble, East Delhi neighborhood to an ultra rich enclave across the city. In the next 200 pages, the Jha family has a million awkward social interactions as they try to "act like rich people" (spoiler: they don't succeed in acting like rich people). Basu's book is a comedy / social satire and I entirely understand the appeal of stuff like this. That said, I could care less. I truly, honestly don't care about any of this. I'm actively disinterested in the ultra rich and the various ways they feel compelled to waste their money. I kind of felt like I was polluting my mind and soul while reading this. I've read that The Windfall will soon have its own TV show (this ranks among one of the least surprising facts I've learned this week). It's that type of book. It's been a few weeks since I've read a book that I really enjoyed. I just started Diana Evan's Ordinary People, and I'm liking it so far. Fingers crossed that I have a more positive review to post this weekend.
As soon as I finished Tampa, I took a very, very long shower. The book is disturbing and left me feeling kind of gross. Nutting's plot is based on the true case of Debra Lafave, a 24-year-old English teacher in Tampa who pleaded guilty to having sexual relations with a 14-year-old, male student. Unfortunately, that plot description was not enough to turn me away. I've seen too many readers rate Tampa with 4 stars and I wanted to give Alissa Nutting a chance. I tried to prepare for Tampa by reading lots of reviews. It was all for naught: nothing could have prepared me for this book.
A few things: (1) Nutting puts the reader into the mind of a sexual sociopath swiftly and successfully. I felt kind of sick while I was reading this (hence the need for a long shower). (2) Yeah, Nutting is a super talented writer. She's hilarious in a dark way. At points in the novel, I erupted with laughter then caved with shame in reaction to my own laughter. This gets kind of old at some point. By half way through I was no longer okay with the fact that my moral compass had seemingly evaporated over the last 100 pages. (3) In Tampa's most interesting reviews, readers argue that Nutting's portrayal of a female rapist makes for a feminist novel (or at least serves to break down stereotypical gender roles). I agree with parts of this. I read so much about male sexual abusers that it's engaging to read about a woman exerting that same (terrible, illegal, sick) power. I don't have much more to say about Tampa besides the fact that I would only recommend it with caution. And if you see anyone under 16 reading this book, tear it out of their hands.
The whole first week [of school] was depressing. I spent nine hours of it shivering, wrapped in a Gogolian coat, through a nine hour documentary about the Holocaust. At some point I thought I had grown a lump in my thigh, but it turned out to be a tangerine-- it had fallen through a hole in the pocket and ended up trapped in the lining.
I spend a lot of time listening to teenagers. I sit there, patiently, and savor the simple fact that I am no longer 18 and confused about everything. I'm now 28 and only confused about most things. The Idiot, a 2018 Pulitzer Prize Finalist, is yet another reminder that being 18 is hard. Selin, Batuman's main character, is a freshman at Harvard trying to make it through #allthethings. She chokes down her first beer (tastes like urine), feigns sleep so that her roommates don't try to talk to her (they're annoying), and has her first all consuming crush on a hot, Hungarian math student named Ivan (he already has a girlfriend). At the beginning of the novel, you can tell that Selin is a bit of a loner. She is hyper intellectual and has trouble expressing her emotions in a way anyone can understand. Generally, reviewers find Selin impossible to relate to (readers overwhelmingly label her as "strange" and "weird"). While I'm not sure if I relate to Selin, I am sure that I find her HILARIOUS. I can overlook all her intellectual pretensions just because she's so damn funny.
Batuman is a crazy gifted writer. As Roxane Gay writes in her review of The Idiot: "Man, this is just a writer showing off how well she can write." The Idiot is a dense, character driven novel. If you're someone who likes page turners/thrillers/action, this is probably not for you (you're really missing out though).
"The sofa bed was designed for someone different from me-- not just smaller but also, it seemed to me, with a different personality."
'That's the thing with girls, isn't it?' he said. 'Whenever they stand on the edge of something, you can't help it, you can't. You think, Push. That's all it would take. Just one little push.'
It took me some time to finish Girls Burn Brighter. I started it in Baltimore last week (photo taken on Federal Hill), and didn't finish it until yesterday. The book chronicles a relationship between two Indian women that is not exactly platonic, nor romantic. I would be interested to hear other opinions on this, actually...Was there romance between Poornima and Savitha or was this just a friendship? There were passages that made me wonder whether they were in love. Regardless, I tend to appreciate stories focused on relationships between women. A few of my Goodreads friends loved Rao's debut, so I had high hopes going into this. I want to be clear: there are parts of Girls Burn Brighter that I appreciate. Generally though, I found the characters' unrelenting suffering completely exhausting (and nightmare inducing). By the middle chapters, I was entirely desensitized. There was no respite from the grinding physical, emotional, and sexual pain here, making it impossible for me to maintain genuine emotion through the whole novel. Diksha Basu, author of The Windfall, perfectly captures my sentiments in her New York Times review: "The pure evil that Savitha and Poornima face is so shocking and so unbelievably constant, that the reader ends up numbed to the horror. All men are evil; mothers-in-law (of course) are evil; sisters-in-law are evil; matchmakers are evil; even strangers on train platforms are evil. Everyone is evil." Basu also mentions the problematic "exotic India" framework in Girls Burn Brighter -- I noticed this as well and chalked it up to Rao's desire to appeal to broad readership in the US (which I realize is a vaguely problematic assumption on my part). So I didn't love this book, but I can most certainly understand why lots of women enjoyed it. I will pay attention to whatever Rao publishes next.