The Goodreads summary for The Relive Box by T. C. Boyle starts by describing it as a collection of “raucous” short stories. To me, raucous means rowdy, which didn’t quite fit. So, out came the dictionary, which says that – in fact – raucous means “making or constituting a disturbingly harsh and loud noise”, and this makes a lot more sense because one of the words I had written down after finishing the book and was preparing for my review was disturbing.
I also wrote down dark, cold and depressing; there is little in these stories that could be described as hopeful – maybe the end of Are We Not Men?, which left me feeling somewhat optimistic . The rest, if I’m honest, left me feeling depressed. The world they present, which is probably our not to distant future if we don’t play our cards right, isn’t one I want to live in.
Richard is in pain. What type of pain, he isn’t sure and the doctors can find nothing wrong. But still he hurts. Lying in the hospital bed, he realises that he doesn’t know who to call. His ex-wife, his estranged son, the brother he hasn’t seen in years, his parents who have decamped to Florida and who he doesn’t speak to either? He is, it turns out, a man very much alone and the pain isn’t so much to do with his heart but with his head.
A self-made man with a lot of money, Richard lives like a recluse. His life is one of routine, exercise and health food. He has trainers, nutritionists and a cleaner he doesn’t speak to but no friends. He watches stocks and shares and makes money but doesn’t leave his house for months. Now, sitting in hospital, he realises he doesn’t want to go home and he doesn’t want to be alone.
Finally, after years of inertia, Richard starts to live. It’s a strange living, one that starts in a donut shop and where he meets and makes friends with misfits, movies stars and novelists. His son comes to visit and they begin to rebuild their relationship. Along the way, he rescues a horse, a dog, and a kidnapped woman. It’s all a bit surreal and very funny. By the end I was really rooting for Richard who hadn’t quite figured it all out but you get the feeling he is doing more than existing.
You might be able to tell – I enjoyed this book. I like A. M. Homes, the way she writes. Her novels make me laugh and I love her take on the world, which is slightly off centre. I came to her books late and am slowly working my way through them. So far, this is my favourite and I can’t wait to read more.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton was no. 1 on my classic club list and a book I had wanted to read for a long time.
Set in 1870’s New York, it is the story of the upper class elite, specifically Newland Archer, his fiancé – beautiful if slightly shallow – May, her cousin Ellen – who has just returned from Europe after (scandalously) leaving her husband – and their families and friends, the majority of whom are narrow-minded, judgemental and determined to live within a strict set of rules governing behaviour for their social circle.
From the outset, this means an unwillingness to accept Ellen when she arrives back in New York – especially as she has made the mistake of wearing an unsuitable address for her first public appearance, causing a stir and much comment. Eager to help her cousin, May asks Newland to be nice to her, hoping others will then follow suit. Eager to help his fiancé, Archer goes one step further, announcing their engagement – tying his well-respected family to theirs in the eyes of the public.
It’s only then that Archer starts to get to know Ellen. And like her. She is a free spirit, unwilling (unable it seems) to bend her will to the world around her. She follows her heart, has the strength of her convictions, and a love of life.. She is, in fact, a female version of everything Archer secretly wishes he was but finds he can’t be. Because of this, he starts to question the decision to marry May, who lives life on the surface. She is a woman who is happy in their world and finds nothing in it she would like to change.