Saturday, May 12, 2012

Echolocation, by Myfanwy Collins, reviewed

I didn’t know much about the plot when I began reading this novel, but immediately got sucked into the story. Geneva and Cheri were raised as sisters by their Aunt Marie after Cheri’s mother, Renee, ran off years before. Now, suddenly, Renee returns home with an infant in tow. (Cheri also had just recently returned home after the death of Marie.) Now the three surviving women must deal with their estrangements and personal issues head on—and hands on.

This is literary fiction with plot, action, and tension. Collins’ prose is elegant, but also lean and mean; as beautiful as the writing is, she doesn’t shy away from the dark, the gritty, and the cold part of life. Her use of short sections from the different characters’ POV (including some secondary characters) show their thoughts and motivations, of course, but also drive the story forward efficiently and quickly. Collins continued to surprise me throughout the book, as the story went places I hadn’t expected.

This is also a very visual novel. I was right there with the characters, stomping through the snowy woods to the old quarry; waiting out the ice storm in the safety of the family’s store/home as ice pellets hit the windows; having a drink in a seedy bar. And, of course, in the climactic scene. Though the three lead women were flawed, I cared about them, and couldn’t put the book down until I saw how it all turned out.

5 stars

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Imperfect: An Improbable Life, reviewed

With Imperfect: An Improbable Life, Jim Abbott (along with Tim Brown) has written an honest, revealing memoir about his life and career. Born without a right hand, Abbott used that as his drive to prove himself on the baseball diamond (and therefore in life). He didn’t want pity; if he could win at baseball, it proved that he was as good as everyone else. He just wanted to be known as a baseball player and pitcher, not a “one-handed pitcher.” Abbott writes, “Baseball—and success in it—was so important it brought upon me a distorted view of winning and losing…The games’ outcomes became personal.”

The book’s structure is well done. In between the chronological chapters of Abbott’s life from childhood to teen to college student to Olympic gold medalist and beyond are short chapters showing the innings of the no hitter he pitched in 1993, the pinnacle of his major league career. In addition to building suspense (even though you know the result), it also puts the no hitter in perspective as far as the battles Abbott fought just to be on that mound in Yankee Stadium that day, the long journey of his life and each step along the way. You get the sense of his satisfaction, which is so much more than just not allowing a hit or winning an important game.

Of course, the theme of this book is inspiration—what and who inspired Abbott along his journey. But the book also shows Abbott’s inspiration to the disabled children who would invariably show up at his games. Just the fact that Abbott made it to the majors is inspiration enough; but he went out of his way to spend time with and encourage these kids (and their parents) who sought him out. Jim Abbott is a true hero and inspiration, an athlete who understood the power of his celebrity, and how a little encouragement and acceptance can go a long way, and change someone’s life.

4 Stars