In which I continue with reviews of the 11 in 11 by 11/11/11 project books I read in June.
In the middle of the range–books that were excellent but not mind-blowingly so–were three books. Dunk, by David Lubar, was as good as I’d expect from that author–and that’s very good indeed. Chad’s admiration for the skills of the Bozo, the guy in the dunk tank who taunts and ridicules passersby so they’ll pay to take a fling at him, leads him to want to be the Bozo–to have that gift of gab. What he learns is that the Bozo’s talent isn’t just about hurting people, but about making a connection with them, good or bad. Lubar’s brilliant twist on this is that Chad is the kind of guy who in another book would be the juvenile delinquent, the loser, the thug; he gets us inside Chad’s head so that his attitude is understandable but never excused.
Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons was a late addition to the list, replacing a book I changed my mind about reading. Stella Gibbons is probably best known for the brilliant Cold Comfort Farm, and if you don’t feel like reading it, you might try the movie–Kate Beckinsale before she became an action hero, Ian McKellen as family patriarch and itinerant preacher of a weird Protestant sect, and source of many obscure quotes in our family. Ahem. Nightingale Wood is a hybrid between 1930s literary fiction and romance novel, and I think it would have been better if it had stuck to one or the other. The romance aspect is especially troubling because the romantic hero is kind of a selfish git and not really someone you can root for; the secondary romance, though, is very satisfying.
Finally, Billie Letts’ second novel, The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, suffers only by comparison to her first, Where the Heart Is. Like that one, it’s got quirky characters, an unusual setting, and a redefinition of the meaning of "family," and Letts is really good at that…but she’s done it before, and while the situation is different, the core of both stories is the same. I realize that this sounds like damning with faint praise, so I want to be clear—this was a very enjoyable book. I liked reading it and was never dissatisfied with the plot or characters or prose. It just didn’t grab me like I think it could have.
Next: the exceptional books.