The Drift Of Things

 To yield with a grace to reason

Arresting Imagery In A Tale Of Soviet Life.

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air - Darragh McKeon

It took me a long time to read this book. There's a lot going on here, and it requires some concentration to keep track of all the characters in various locations as they weave in and out of each other's lives. Along with an account of the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, we also follow the lives of other Soviet citizens in the years leading up to the revolution that shattered the Iron Curtain. We see the unrest and the despair resulting from a life under a regime that uses fear tactics to keep people from speaking the truth or fighting the system. 

Here in the U.S. we love to criticize our government, and we're fortunate to have the right to do so. We're also fortunate to have a government with limited powers. In his portrayal of Soviet life, McKeon gives us a taste of what it's like to live under a government that controls every aspect of one's life. They assign you a career and a living space, withhold vital information from the public, and punish even the smallest attempts at self-determination.

When I sat down to write my review and looked over the passages I had marked, I was reminded of how masterful Darragh McKeon is at creating striking imagery, even for the most simple of events. For example, when Maria is remembering the day her marriage to Grigory ended, and she left their apartment for the last time, here is the picture: 

“She can still see the way he stood in their small vestibule, between the large mirror on the wall and the small oval one on the coat stand. Both mirrors bounced his reflection between them, so that before closing the door for the last time, Maria found herself leaving not just him but an endless multitude of him. Standing there, his shoulders wrapped in heartbreak.”(page 257) 

Alina is a single mother relegated to a life of drudgery, taking in laundry and ironing to make ends meet. This is what her meltdown looks like: 

“...she remembers she's left the iron on. She moves to unplug it, does so, and leans against the counter. A shirtsleeve lifts in a stream of breeze, and she turns to the freshly pressed shirts lined up on their hangers, and reaches over and drags them all down, dropping with them. She grabs the whole bunch of them and wrings them into a bundle and bites them, bites down hard, stifling a scream, and they lie there, twisted, until Maria comes home.” (page 332)

There are treasures like this sprinkled throughout the story, and for me these images were a large part of what made the book worth reading. I am not fond of novels written in present tense, and that's probably my only serious criticism of the book. I do still recommend it though, because McKeon's writing was masterful enough to help me overcome my distaste for the verb tense. 

I thought the ending was a little too pat, although I can understand McKeon's desire to inject some positivity and hope into what is otherwise a bleak narrative. The redemption to be found in this story is in the way it shows that amid the most dire, hopeless circumstances, there are people whose basic humanity compels them to be kind, even when it means putting themselves at great peril. 

Life Drawing - Robin Black

If this novel were to take out an ad in the personals, that ad might read "absolutely must love domestic fiction". If, like me, you tend to equate domestic fiction with chick lit, please don't make that mistake here. Life Drawing is serious literary fiction, plumbing the depths of a long-term relationship and exposing the consequences of impulsive behavior. 


As with all contemplative fiction, the plot is simply a vehicle for exploring human folly and the commonalities we share as flawed creatures. Augusta ("Gus") and Owen, a painter and a writer, have moved out to the country with the intention of rebuilding their bond in the wake of Gus's infidelity. They've made a lot of progress in that regard, but then Alison moves into the abandoned house nearby and changes the entire dynamic. 


Gus's heartache about never having been a mother, her guilt over a brief affair, and her exasperation with Owen's writer's block lead her to share too much private information with Alison. Her indiscretions culminate in a dramatic climax that was the least realistic part of the book for me. But it's brief and it's blunt, and the rest of the book is masterful enough to overcome this slight weakness. 


First-person narration can at times be cheesy or irritating, but I did not find that to be a problem in this novel. Gus is a reliable and realistic narrator. Whenever I felt irritated with her I had to step back and admit that she was making me squirm because yes, in her shoes I might have been just as petty and jealous and overreactive as she. 


Gus tells us her story after Owen has died, with the sharpened focus and glaring perspective that comes only after we have lost someone we loved, and sometimes hated, too. While we are in a relationship with another, the dailiness of life with them prevents us from seeing them clearly, because "you cannot see a landscape you are in." Only when they're gone can the clear sight come and the honesty pour out, as we mourn and mine the lessons with no further need for defensiveness.


What Robin Black has done so adeptly in Life Drawing is show how our long-term relationships can flourish only in direct proportion to how much of the past we are willing to drop. The accumulation of love, affection, security, and shared history is often accompanied by a growing pile of old wounds, insults, disappointments, guilt, and blame. Gus and Owen truly do love each other, but they're always tiptoeing around that heap of old issues, and it makes them mistrustful and combative. 


Congratulations to Robin Black for an insightful and tautly written first novel. 



What NOT To Name Your Book

How to Poo on a Date - Mats;Enzo

"How To Poo On A Date"


Would this be before or after you wee on them? And how many dates should you have before you begin pooing on each other? Because, really, I wouldn't want to engage in premature premarital pooing and have the guy think I was loose. I mean, why buy the cow if the cow pies are free, right?

Extremely Thorough And Well Written

The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe - David I. Kertzer

I highly recommend this book for serious history buffs who read a lot of nonfiction and enjoy a high level of detail about the many people who played a part in historical events. I also recommend it for more casual readers of nonfiction who have a strong interest in this subject and time period. I say that with the warning that there are a lot of people involved, and it can be difficult to keep track of them and their roles and backgrounds.

Kertzer is a meticulous researcher with expert knowledge of Italian history. The book gives much more extensive coverage of people and events than the title implies. At times it's fascinating, at other times it's a bit too thorough, but it's always extremely well written and documented. There is a wealth of notes at the back of the book, as well as numerous photographs throughout the book that greatly enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of the material.

I found it especially interesting that Pius XI and Mussolini shared some personality traits. Of course, Mussolini's manifested in a more extreme fashion, but both men were ruthless and narcissistic.

Just Doesn't Hold Together

Lost Lake - Sarah Addison Allen

Sorry kiddies. Sarah Addison Allen peaked out with Garden Spells, and hasn't written anything truly magical since.

Rate a book, pick a book - Dashboard with stars

Reblogged from BookLikes:

Rating stars are like book recommendations and they are now visible on your Dashboard! This means it will be easier to pick your next book to read.


Rating stars will help you in choosing the next read and filling up planning to read shelf :) Books marked as read with rating stars will be shown on your Dash the moment when your Followings mark them as Read and label with rating stars.


And it’s just the first step in new Dashboard look :)



- You can now add clickable links in comments under the blog posts. Please remember that it is you, who is responsible for keeping the comment under your blog posts safe and sound.

- Posts in discussion rooms received +1/-1 markers. Now you can show appreciation to your fellow interlocutors by clicking plus one next to their posts in groups.

You Can't Buy Love, But You CAN Buy Reviews

This author is trying to downvote negative reviews by giving each 'liker' of a positive review an entry in a contest for a Kindle.

Took Awhile To Connect, But I'm Glad I Stayed With It

Mr. Lynch's Holiday - Catherine O'Flynn

Thank you, Obsidian Blue, for bringing this book to my attention. I had to get over halfway through  before deciding if I was going to continue. But then I fell in love with Dermot. He grew on me, and  I had to finish. Not much of a plot, but some beautiful writing and character development as we follow the changes in a father-son relationship and the realities of expat living in a fallen economy.

Booker Shmooker. I'm Not Impressed.

The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton

I read the first 80 or 90 pages of this book and did not like it at all. The only reason for me to continue reading would have been because everyone else was gasping and gushing about how wonderful it is. Nope. Uh-uh. Not gonna get sucked into wasting my hours again. That happened to me with The Goldfinch, among others. 

So, no rating. Twouldn't be fair to rate it. My biggest criticism is for the editors, not the author. Eleanor Catton is a fine novelist who wraps herself in wordy brambles and thick vines of obfuscation and literary device. The editors' job is to prune away those riotous verbal weeds and let the reader enjoy the garden. They didn't do that. So bring your machete. And your Ben-Gay. And plenty of vittles. It's a long, tedious journey.

Michael Connelly Kicks Arse, Time After Time

The Gods of Guilt - Michael Connelly

4.5 stars, rounding up to five because there's really only one thing that kept it from being five stars. Said thing being an event near the end of the book that was too predictable due to foreshadowing. Other than that, Michael Connelly has hit another home run for me. You've all heard me sing his praises repeatedly in ways both silly and serious. And he just keeps getting better. 

I have generally enjoyed the Harry Bosch books more than the Mickey Haller books, but this one is just so right and tight in terms of flow and complexity and holding my interest that there's no reason to discriminate against it for being a legal mystery rather than a police procedural. 

Thank you, Mister Connelly, for doing everything right, sticking to what you do best and not trying to be trendy or experimental. I've started and stopped too many novels lately in which the author was attempting too much cleverness or trying to be "groundbreaking" in some way. Be like Michael Connelly. Skip the arty devices that just confuse people and stick to telling a great story. Readers will love you for it.

Comments with New Options & Book Blog Directory Update

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We’re in holiday spirit but we remember about Thursday features for you. Time for Christmas gifts!


Last week comment box received ‘publish’ button and this week brings edit option. No more typos in comments! From now on you can edit your notes under the posts.



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We love all kinds of books: paper, e-books, audiobooks and we enjoy reading about all of them. We've noticed that some of you are audiobook lovers and/or e-book fans so we've decided to add these two categories to BookLikes Blog Directory.


If you are the one, please add it to your blog profile in Settings/Blog. Click Edit Categories and select category that fits your reading preferences and reviews on your blog. Your blog will be categorized and presented on Explore page according to selected picks. Please remember to choose only the relevant categories that fit your reading taste and books reviewed on your blog.


Clever Concept, Repetitive Execution Grows Tedious and Confusing

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

Are all possible futures taking place simultaneously? This is a clever little mind-fuck of a book. I like the idea of living life as the same person again and again rather than being born as someone new in every incarnation. 


The writing is excellent and the concept is intriguing, but the book reminded me why I've never been able to finish one of Kate Atkinson's novels. I did finish this one, but only because I was listening to it rather than reading it. Remember the movie Groundhog Day? This is sort of like that, but without the humor and with a whole lot more repetition. Groundhog Day for detail-oriented obsessive-compulsives, if you will. 


One of the best reasons to read this book is to get a grasp of the daily horror and death and destruction the English endured during the German bombing blitzes of World War Two. I had previously never understood how endless it must have felt to those people. And staunch little England never surrendered to Hitler. 

Placeholder Until On-Sale Week

In the Blood - Lisa Unger

Thoroughly engrossing, implausible, predictable, and ever so enjoyable. One of the things I most enjoy about Lisa Unger's novels is the psychological insight she shares along the way. This story made me want to analyze everyone I know.. 

More review to come when publication day rolls around. 

Not A One-Note Man After All

The Maid's Version - Daniel Woodrell

Yeah, baby. Fuck yeah. Woodrell's prose is so fine I want to snort it up my nose and shoot it into my veins. 


If you've been reading my reviews for a few years, you know that I often can't write proper reviews for the books that impress me the most. I just slap five stars on it and crank out a bunch of swear words to try to express my awe. "Holy shit wow! Damn, the dude can write! Fucking exquisite!" And so on... This is another one of those. The ones I can't review because I can't express what it did to me or for me. 


After reading Woodrell's The Outlaw Album, I wrote a review essentially saying he was a one-note man who couldn't seem to write about any subject other than meth-head Ozark freaks in all their various incarnations. Woodrell must have read my review and said, "I mon prove her wrong!" And he did. I was wrong. I don't mind being wrong if it means I get to read such extraordinarily crafted prose as I found in The Maid's Version.

Reading Progress Update

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Hey all! What are you currently reading? You can now update your reading progress with two clicks and share it with your friends. You’ll see new option on Dashboard in Currently Reading Section, just look on the right. It’s Update button :-)


Once you click Update you can fill up your reading progress, save and continue reading (update).

Or you can post it and share on your blog and among your friends (update and publish).


Both options are visible once you click Update in Currently reading box.


If you choose Update, you’ll change reading progress that is visible on your blog. And you can go back to reading :)


If you choose Update and publish, you’ll be moved to writing box with book attached, your current reading progress and social media switch on (green icons on the right) if you had connected them. If you didn't connect your Facebook or Twitter, you can do it in Settings/General. To turn off social media in writing box, click on icons and make them grey (deactivated).



Discussion rooms

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P.S. Happy Thanksgiving Day!  And Thank You for being with us :-) 


Reading Progress

Under the Wide and Starry Sky - Nancy Horan

On page 251. 


I'm not much of one for historical romances, but I'm thoroughly enjoying this. Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osbourne. Fascinating historical details incorporated into the story.

Currently reading

Clever Girl
Tessa Hadley
Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Nancy Horan