It took me a while to really catch the rhythm of this novel. The first half is completely non-linear, with dozens of shifting perspectives and crisscrossing chronology. The reader knows something terrible happened (at least one thing, that is); but Hoffman keeps us on the line a long time before we get the details. The details are sickening and horrifying, but by that time I cared about this town and these characters so much that I was compelled to keep reading. The author has a lot to say about how we live, about violence against women, about storytelling. It’s really quite intelligent, mysterious and gratifying.
How does an author write about something/someone who no longer exists? In Matar’s case, with incredible beauty and delicacy. His words seem not so much written, as poured gently. “I felt dizzy, as if comprehending the scale of things for the first time and with it the vast yet intricate reality of the physical world and my precarious presence in it….I wanted this world to be still. I wanted to fix it and be fixed in it.” Matar provides a touching story of a boy whose father disappears. We assume it’s a political kidnapping based on the few clues the author provides, but we don’t get all the answers — exactly Matar’s point. He wisely tells a story without depending on plot points. Instead, we get what’s left to his son. “I never have him whole. I am always standing too close to take him in properly.” It’s this feeling of what’s left unsaid that marks Matar’s strength as an author. perfectly paced from beginning to end, this is a short, graceful read.
THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Vanessa Diffenbaugh does an amazing job at balancing the beautiful and the ugly. The book’s title led me to believe I would read something charming and romantic. Instead, I found a tale of neglect and abuse. But underneath the sad tale is a protagonist grasping at the one source of beauty in her life, flowers. The “language” of flowers comes to represent all the emotions she can find – truth, despair, attraction, envy – but for the reader, ultimately leads to redemption. I just love how Diffenbaugh keeps all of this working, while still telling an engaging, even gripping, story. There were a few too many tidy conveniences for my taste, especially toward the end; but, overall, I found this book stayed with me for weeks after I finished reading it.