I did not love it. I liked it. I was able to conquer my attention span and read 1,000 pages. That was more enlightening than the book itself. Tolstoy of course – a master. You see him in Levin. You find the most honorable writing in tribute to the Russian peasants. They are like the true heroic figures of this novel. All the society crap Anna was destroyed by. So sad. So predictable and timeless. All countries’ societies are the same. How people treat people. Drive some to suicide. Vronsky was very typical in many ways. A typical man with ambition and a sex drive. I hate how he left his horse to die and didn’t seem to care. In a way he treated Anna the same. But not on purpose. Unconsciously. The peasants with their scythes clearing the million acres of fields. Laughing. Not caring. Working. Living. Beautiful the way Tolstoy describes them. Levin aspires to live with them before he gets married. Maybe even after. Anna’s son and the scene where she returns to see him one final time – this scene is truly magnificent. Tolstoy’s gem. The best thing I got from this book was humbled (as a writer). Also delighted. By the tour of Moscow, St Petersburg, and the descriptions of hunting and farming in the Russian countryside.
Read 2 times. Last read October 27, 2020 to February 2, 2022.
I love the way this book wraps up, it was well worth it, after having struggled somewhat through hundreds of pages of half-drunken petty vainglorious power struggles within the web of social strata in 19th century Russia. [No spoilers here]. Traveling home to ‘the fatherland’ from the Swiss sanitarium by train, our prince makes the random acquaintance of Rogozhin, the second point in the tragic love triangle, to start the narrative. They have a lively conversation and there is little concern that such a well-meaning and honest/transparent man as our beloved so-called ‘idiot’ could get tangled up in such complicated and dangerous affairs. But the saying goes ‘if you hang around a barber shop long enough, you’re bound to get a haircut.’ And he is noticed by those who wish to take advantage, as a clear and easy mark. Everyone’s hoping to get ahead. Everyone but him. The prince only uses his royal stock to survive, as he is close to destitute at the start, and becomes quite naturally embedded in society circles in and around St Petersburg. He welcomes it, seeking out the company of not so distant relatives, the Epanchins, upon coming home. A wise thing to do back then, if you hoped to survive. He is in fact much wiser than they give him credit for. Most write him off for an idiot the moment he offers up a single honest remark in their company, making the judgment that he is oblivious to social cues and cannot know his place. The younger ones, however, like Kolya and Aglaya, can cut through the bullshit and know him for treasure and gravitate toward him. Even the madwoman Nastasya takes him for a gem amongst the innumerable sharp pebbles that make up her circles. He has the gift of a loving and compassionate nature, and the curse of falling spells at the worst possible time aka ‘dinner parties’ (known all too intimately by our beloved author who had epilepsy). Witnessing him navigate the world is a bit of a heartache for this reader. I confess I may not have completed the text were it not for my familiarity with the other great texts of our beloved author. One of my favorite characters was Nastasya, another Lebedev, and a third would be Ippolit, the 18 year old boy dying of consumption who knows his time is up. If you read Dostoyevsky’s biography, you will find a lifetime full of tragedy: the loss of 2 of his children (one just after birth, the other from an epileptic seizure), his first wife, and both his parents when he was just a teenager. He himself was sentenced to 4-5 years in the work camps in Siberia for the terrible crime of joining a literary circle and reading banned letters! Could anything be more Russian? He himself was condemned to death by firing squad and was already out on the square trying to make sense of his own life and untimely death before the Tsar called it off last minute. True story! Ippolit and the prince to me represent the tragic figures who sound out the author’s own strange and terrible experiences in life, and then let us listen to the voices as they echo through the canyons, trying and perhaps honestly failing to make sense of them. Having read the final page of this 600+ enormity, I am left with a sense of relief and gratitude for life, which comes without clear instructions for how exactly to live it, yet here we are provided a stern and dire warning: don’t ever think you can escape the influence of society.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh Katya Mills‘s reviewFeb 12, 2021 · edit liked it Our antiprotagonist gets progressively mired in her chosen selfish sedentary life for a year. Like a life experiment with a careless interest in self-transformation, in NYC, 1999. She lies to her psychiatrist about her use of prescriptions for no apparent reason, as the psychiatrist has no moral or ethical compass to begin with, just a professional hiding behind a lot of jargon and bullshit. Ever met anyone like that? The character closest to real is her best friend Reva yet she is the most annoying and pathetic of them all. Materialistic. Superficial. Zero self-worth. Dependent on guys who use her. They both are. Maybe this is why they are friends. I liked the book, laughed a lot. Some very funny one liners. But not as much as Eileen. Maybe the main character was too sad and jaded. A product of her environment. Maybe it came too close to how life can feel in 21st century America when it’s at its worst. When you give up and are rich enough not to have any responsibilities, and you care but not really.
i got some distance and six months later went back to reread the latest book i wrote. TROUBLE’99. i read the first half on friday and the second half on sunday. i don’t think i would have changed much. i was really happy about the first half. the character development and the plot and the struggle and the setting were all crystal clear. dialogue was good. no typos or obvious grammatical issues. in the second half you saw an intensification of the problems my characters faced, both internal and external pressures mounting: socioeconomic hardships leading to sacrifice of values, addiction, conflict, suffering. a reader hoping for them to see a way out of their dilemma will be disappointed. they struggled to make enough money busking and selling weed to get off the streets. for them this was a great success. Kay freed herself from an unhealthy relationship with Aden. the hardships they all faced together clearly strengthened their friendships.
yes i allowed for a little light to enter the story, but mostly they marinate in their problems. i admit as a stand alone TROUBLE’99 fails. this book is intended to be the first in a series, so there will be a sequel.
my point in writing these somewhat dark tales of hard reality these past several years is to highlight very real social injustices. to give names and faces and make these people real. it’s so easy to walk down any city street in America and ignore a large segment of our population. to recoil and turn away from those faced with addiction and homelessness and great depths of mental illness and trauma. i know many readers read books to escape reality and go somewhere that fills the heart with joy. my books may not always offer that kind of escape. they may take you somewhere you never wanted to go. but if you are looking for an adventure of a different kind, if you are hoping to have your heart stirred with understanding if not compassion for the downtrodden and alienated among us, my work may interest you after all. #katyamills
The Luzhin Defenseby Vladimir Nabokov, Michael Scammell (Translator) Katya Mills‘s reviewOct 27, 2020 · edit liked it It took me 9 months to finish this book but that’s not terribly unusual. Anything written by a master like Nabokov can be taken up like a special chocolate your traveling cousin brought you from overseas, kept in the freezer and partaken once in a while for an instant of exceptional flavor. I would only read 5 pages at a sitting and I had other books and magazines vying for attention. Nabokov’s writing style will never disappoint a careful reader, unless perhaps the translation is weak (and you’re not likely to come across that problem if you live in an English, German, or Russian-speaking land, for he lived in many countries and translated his own work). The story revolves around a boy who takes up chess and becomes obsessed by the game, easily chosen over a community of peers who have little to offer and mostly pick on him for his appearance and demeanor. There is an obvious antagonist in Valentinov who takes Luzhin around to coffeehouses in great cities around the world, setting up matches, promoting him widely and checking him into hotels and pulling him by the collar without any heart for how he may feel about his insular life as a budding chess master. Valentinov reminded me of Elvis infamous ‘doctor’ always in recess with his bag full of ‘medication’. Luzhin naturally decompensates under the rigors of traveling and the hyper focused spotlight of competition, performance, and obsession with the game. You could call his nervous breakdown the Luzhin ‘Defense’ as it ultimately acts as a defense mechanism to protect his ego from being swallowed whole in this world. The remainder of the novel is reminiscent of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (another book I am reading very slowly lol) as both protagonists are half-baked moving about with watchful eyes of worried loved ones. Line by line I certainly wasn’t feeling drawn into the ‘suspense’. This was a character driven book. Clearly not one of Nabokov’s most popular. It is a touching study of what it must feel like to exist inside the mind and heart of a man who was fated to play the part of a pawn on the chess board of life.
I am excited to have found Ottessa and I very much respect her as a contemporary. She has a unique voice and her characters are so flawed and human, all of them. I found this story to be incredibly compelling out the gate! I was happy to be inside Eileen’s head, as she has some wild imagination in her train wreck of a life. The characters around her were no less compelling, especially as she sized each one of them up. I will be reading more books by this author, the next being My Year of Rest and Relaxation. I’m currently reading this book in paperback, which is a pleasant change after so many e-books. Only problem is I have to use a headlamp after dark. Anyways, it’s the kind of thing I could see Eileen doing. Wearing a headlamp while reading in the attic, and her dad coming up there to call her names and her wishing he would get struck in the head by a falling icicle. The only major disappointment of this story to me was the ending. I don’t know exactly why I was disappointed. Something about the use of the narrator as an older woman looking back on her life didn’t work for me. And just the outcome of the story didn’t work for me. It wasn’t really credible or natural an ending. Nevertheless, I was left feeling happy I picked the book up and for sure would recommend it to some people but not my parents. They don’t like the stories I write, either. So that’s a real compliment.