Sunday, May 13, 2012

Three Book Reviews -- Richard Russo x 2, plus Insane Asylum non-fiction

Three book reviews for you today -- and quite different they are!

"Bridge of Sighs" by Richard Russo
Five out of Five Stars

Louis "Lucy" Lynch, the main character in this book, is now sixty years old, married for forty, and has lived in a small rural town (built around a toxic tannery) all his life. They're planning a trip to Italy to try and reconnect with an old childhood friend, but whether they actually make that journey, I'll leave to you to find out.

The actual "Bridge of Sighs" is in Venice, Italy (a place I used to live) and spanned the Palace River, connecting the Old Prison and interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace to the New Prison, which was situated directly across the river. It's also a painting Lucy's childhood friend has painted, and it's rife with symbolism.

The book goes back and forth between flashback and current time, and while I find books about town life interesting, some may find the book too low-key for them. It's a coming-of-age story, but when the main character remains in his small home town for sixty years without doing much outside of it, you have to learn to flow with the narrative. I quite liked it, but it may not be for those wanting a quicker pace.


"Straight Man" by Richard Russo
Four out of Five Stars 

This book could be down-right hilarious.  William Henry Devereaux, Jr. (not to be mistaken for his father, William Henry Devereaux Sr., with whom he has a complicated relationship) is the chair for his college English department -- and it's not really a post he aspired to.  His adventures with his fellow English professors is diverse, sometimes complex, sometimes as simple as realizing the other professor is just an idiot who got the job who knows how.

You'll have to read it, but the pivotal point of the book occurs when William, who has been trying to get a budget for his department, wanders upon the lake where a TV photo op is about to take place, and suddenly seizes a goose by the neck and threatens to kill a duck a day until he gets a budget.

What follows is not a massacre (thankfully) but a lot of high-jinx told with a dry sense of humor. 

Why this didn't get five stars -- I got tired of hearing about his inability to pee.  I think the entire story would have been just fine without the constant questioning of why he couldn't hit a urinal.  Also, the epilogue could have been completely left out, as the loose ends weren't so important that they needed an epilogue.

Still, a good book.

"The Lives They Left Behind:
Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic"

Five out of Five Stars

This work of non-fiction is quite incredible in its scope and the amount of research that went into it. Darby Penney, a national leader in the human rights movement for people with psychiatric disabilities, and Peter Stastny, a psychiatrist and documentary filmmaker, took on this extraordinary project.

In 1995, after 126 years of operation, the Willard Psychiatric Center in upstate New York was closed. It had been home to 54,000 people. While the closing of the facility was taking place, over 400 suitcases were found in an attic, full of belongings of patients who had never left the facility.

Penney and Stastny took ten of those suitcases, examined their contents, and with a LOT of investigative work, pieced together information about the lives of the people behind the suitcases.

Throughout the book, the history of state-run hospitals is covered, along with information about psychiatric set-backs and break-throughs. The stories of these ten people, as well as the story of the hospital itself, will touch you.

The book is full of black-and-white photos.

Highly recommended.

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Lori Anderson creates jewelry for her web site, Lori Anderson Designs, and wrote the blog An Artist's Year Off.  She is the creator of the Bead Soup Blog Party.

1 comment:

  1. I might pick up "The Lives They Left Behind." My father being schizophrenic and mental illness running in my family, I get teary eyed reading stories about patients with mental illnesses but that looks like an interesting read.


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