Tag Archives: Literary Fiction

Review: We Begin At The End

We Begin At The End

We Begin At The End
By Chris Whitaker
Henry Holt and Co., 9781250759665, March 2021, 384pp.

The Short of It:

If you are looking to be entertained by some unforgettable characters then you’ve found your book.

The Rest of It:

Duchess Day Radley is a thirteen year-old outlaw. You see, the Radleys have a history and Duchess knows it and has no problem reminding others of it every chance she gets. She is a pistol through and through and won’t allow anyone to bully her family in any way. This includes her young brother Robin and her wayward mother, Star.

Duchess spends her days looking after her brother, mostly because her mother has a tendency to pass out drunk in the font yard. Everyone in town knows Star, and they knew her sister Sissy too, the one who was killed by a drunk driver years ago and the man who did it was just released from prison and lives right across the street.

As reputations go, Star’s is not great although her heart is in the right place. She tries to do right by her kids, but seems to always fall short. That’s why there is an entire cast of characters looking out for her, one of which is Walk, short for Walker, who is Cape Haven’s Chief of Police. He and Star go way back. He does what he can to help her out, but one night, he’s not able to and the entire town is affected by the tragedy.

Small town life. Tragedy. Unforgettable characters. The hope of new beginnings. When I picked up We Begin At The End, I just knew within the first few chapters that this was going to be a story that would stay with me for a very long time. First off, the writing is beautiful. There were some passages that I read out loud just to hear the words. What pushed this book over-the-top for me, in a wonderful way, are the characters. Duchess is all edges, hard and bristly but you can’t help but love her even when her “tell it like it is” demeanor puts a wedge between her and anyone trying to get close to her.  Walk is kind-hearted, honest when he needs to be but also a realist and loyal to a fault. I’ve got to mention Thomas Noble. He’s a gentle young man who befriends the tough Duchess Day Radley and loves her regardless of all the pushback that she throws his way. What a lovable kid. He reminded me of Owen Meany in a lot of ways. I could go on and on about the characters.

“You’re the toughest girl I ever met. And the prettiest. And I know you’ll probably hit me, but I think my world is infinitely better because you’re in it.” ~Thomas Noble

This is one of those reads that you savor. You turn the pages slowly because you don’t want your time with these people to end. You read a passage and then find yourself staring off into space pondering what you just read. This story broke my heart in so many ways but man, did I love it. It’s still early in the year but this will probably be my favorite read this year.

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: First Person Singular – Stories

First Person Singular - Stories

First Person Singular: Stories
By Haruki Murakami | Translated by Philip Gabriel
Knopf, 9780593318072, April 6, 2021, 256pp.

The Short of It:

Fans of Murakami will not be disappointed with his latest collection of stories which touch on everything he’s passionate about (baseball, talking animals, women, and music).

The Rest of It:

As many of you know, I am crazy for Murakami’s writing and was once an ambassador for one of his books which earned me two signed copies. They humbly sit on a special shelf in my loft and whenever I hear of a new book coming out, I am filled with anticipation and forced to remain patient as it often takes two years for his works to be translated.

When I heard about this collection of stories I knew I had to find a copy and the publisher was kind enough to send me a review copy. That said, are you a short story person? Usually, I am not. I’ve read some good collections but I will always choose a novel over short stories. The one thing I can say about Murakami is that sometimes his short works become novels so I pay special attention to his stories when they come out.

First Person Singular is an accurate representation of his writing style. I always struggle to find the right words to describe his writing but his stories always touch on isolation and his protagonists usually are everyday guys who dress and live simply. They are often observers of people, going about their lives. There is a simplicity to this but also a complexity when you think about how complex human beings can be.

His characters often just sidle up to a bar and have conversations with strange people, usually women. This is the case in the story which provides the title for the book, First Person Singular. What appears to be innocent chit chat suddenly becomes an accusation of something he’s done in the past. What has he done? Three years was so long ago.

In Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey, a man is enjoying a beer with a talking monkey. While chatting with this monkey, the monkey confesses that he’s stolen names of the women he’s loved. It’s such a strange, personal thing to take from a person. Can you really love someone so much that their identity is taken away from them? Yes.

One of my favorite stories, The Yakult Swallows, appears to be auto-biographical and touches on Murakami’s love of baseball. He talks about his father and how they used to enjoy a good ball game. His love for the field itself really shines in this one. He puts you right in the stands.

The thing that I love most about Murakami is his love for music. All of his novels include music in some way and many of his books have playlists on Spotify to enjoy while reading his books. In this collection, he includes a story titled, Carnaval. This story centers around Schumann’s Carnaval and while reading it I had to listen to it, which was easy enough to do and set the mood quite nicely.

Murakami’s stories can be odd but I find them to be so refreshing. I often refer to them as “palate” cleansers. They are like nothing I’ve read before and always border on magical realism and the mundane. You would not think the two could live successfully in a book but they do quite nicely when Murakami is at the helm. Weird and wonderful are words I use a lot to describe his writing too. If you know, you know but if you aren’t familiar with him, give him a try. I’ve reviewed nearly everything he’s written. My favorites can be found below and the links go directly to my review:

As for this collection, it’s a win. You’ll be thinking about these stories long after reading the last one.

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.