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Catching Up: The Women of Brewster Place, War Dances, and The Manticore

with 8 comments

I’m going to do a few quick write-ups of the last few books I read in 2010. I’m eager to get them out of the way so that I can write about one of my new favorite books, and the first completed in the new year: The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins! An excellent start to the reading year, for sure. But, first, a quick look back…

We’ll start with The Women of Brewster Place, by Gloria Naylor. The Women of Brewster Place is a collection of related short stories, all of which center one or two of the women living in Brewster Place, a low-income housing complex in the city. Many of them have come from the south, and struggle with poverty, relationships, violence, love, and family. I found the stories compelling, and I liked the way that some characters would appear and re-appear in others’ stories. The community felt very real to me, and it was interesting to see how each of the women interacted with it and with each other. But the themes of pain and loss were intense, and by the time they culminated in the final story–which was really disturbing–I felt a bit bogged down by it all. These stories did a good job, I thought, of highlighting issues that disproportionally affect African American women. Unfortunately, the tone of each was very similar, and the lack of differentiation left me feeling lukewarm about the book.

Next up is War Dances, by Sherman Alexie. I took a course in Native American Lit for a semester in high school, where I remember reading The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and liking it immensely. War Dances, though, didn’t do it for me. Throughout the short stories and poems in this collection, most of which deal with father-son relationships, I caught glimpses of the kinds of insights I’d been expecting from Alexie about Indian identity and masculinity, and some about US pop culture that I hadn’t been expecting but found funny. But, though I liked aspects of many of the pieces in War Dances, I found that I didn’t really like any of the stories or poems all that much as a whole, and even less as a collection. Something about them felt a little trite and unfinished. I’m more than willing to give Alexie another chance, based on the first collection I read and his good reputation, but certainly not on the merit of this book alone.

Finally, we get to The Manticore, by Robertson Davies, one of my new favorite authors! The Manticore is the second book in the Deptford Trilogy, following Fifth Business. In this book, Davey Staunton is seeking therapy after the mysterious death of his father. Throughout the course of his treatment, he must not only come to terms with the true nature of his relationship with his father, but he must also gain a better understanding of the roles played by other key friends and family members in the course of his life’s narrative. It is only once he discovers these characters’ almost philosophical reason for being in his life, or the impact they’ve had on his subconscious, that he may come to feel he has any control over what happens to him. The story is told almost completely through his therapy sessions with Jungian psychoanalyst Joanna Von Haller. Though the book itself might “work” without having read the first in the trilogy, the strange format really only makes sense as the second in a series, I think. I didn’t find Davey nearly as interesting as Dunstan Ramsay, the protagonist of Fifth Business, and was much more interested in his doctor, Joanna. Sadly, we don’t learn much about her or her story in The Manticore. However, Davies has this uncanny ability to write about the most mundane events as if they are the world’s most complex mysteries which, in a way, perhaps they are. The Manticore definitely held my interest in the series, and I’m eager to get to the final book in the trilogy, World of Wonders!

And that about wraps it up, I think. Whew!

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8 Responses

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  1. The Women of Brewster Place has been on my TBR list for a long time…I just need to read it now! Although it’s good to know that I should be prepared for a very emotional read, so thanks for that.

    I love Alexie’s work. I’ve read four of his books, and Flight was my favorite. Do you like Slaughter-House Five? If so, you will love Flight.

    Cass

    January 5, 2011 at 3:55 am

    • Yes, mostly just that last story…*shudder*.

      I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I think I’m the only reader I know who doesn’t really like Kurt Vonnegut at all! Eep. So no, I didn’t like Slaughter-House Five…but I am still determined to read more of Alexie’s work in the future!

      Emily Jane

      January 5, 2011 at 9:33 pm

  2. These books all sound so different. The first sounds the most interesting though it’s too bad the stories were too similar to really love it.

    amymckie

    January 5, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    • They are very different! And yeah, it’s too bad about the first book…still a worthwhile read, I say, but not amazing.

      Emily Jane

      January 5, 2011 at 9:34 pm

  3. Can’t wait to see your post on Woman in White! I’m a total Wilkie fangirl. 😀

    Eva

    January 10, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    • Ugh, I feel like I’ve been trying to write it forever! Hopefully I’ll have the time tomorrow 🙂

      Emily Jane

      January 10, 2011 at 8:40 pm

  4. […] As I mentioned briefly in my last post, The Woman in White is one of my new all-time favorite books! Mysteries and thrillers aren’t usually my thing, but I’m a total sucker for anything written in the Victorian era, so in that context I was willing to give one a try. And I couldn’t be happier that I did. […]

  5. […] Davies (here’s what I thought of the first two books in the series, Fifth Business and The Manticore). This trilogy is completely brilliant, and introduced me to one of my new favorite authors who, […]


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