Review: ‘Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins

When “Alias” was in its first season, Jennifer Garner kicking the very first of many asses she would kick throughout the series without breaking a stiletto heel or tweaking her blue bobbed wig, my friend Hank said: “This should be required viewing for all young girls.”

Which brings us to our kitchen a few nights ago. I was chopping vegetables and thinking about that statement from … what … five years ago-ish and what girls like.
“Do you think that there are girls who like Bella, and want to be like her? Or do you think most girls who read Twilight are just like Team Edward or Team Jacob?” I asked my boyfriend.
He didn’t say anything for a second.
Then: “Am I supposed to answer that?”
“No. Of course not,” I said. “I didn’t realize I’d said it out loud.”

I was in the brain-space of The Hunger Games, one of those YA It-novels by Suzanne Collins, the anti-Twilight when it comes to pop culture things for the kiddies. AKA something that should be required reading for all young girls. Especially the kinds who are attracted to gleaming incisors and put themselves in the place of an anemic snooze of a female lead. Hey ladies, I say to them: How about a little something called “Team Katniss?”

The country is divided into 12 districts ruled by the richie riches of the Capitol. Every year a boy and a girl between 12 and 18 are randomly selected from each district to get dropped in a landscaped arena to battle to the death. Winner gets to live like a Hilton. Loser gets knifed, arrowed, or hand-to-hand combat-ed into worm food. This is all televised like a lethal Real World-Road Rules Challenge.

Katniss is a hunter and, literally, the family’s bread winner since the death of her father and subsequent emotional collapse by her mother. She and her best dude Gale spend their days hunting game, gathering berries and plants, then trading with the townspeople for other necessities.

When Katniss’s barely legal sister gets selected for the Hunger Games, Kantiss volunteers to take her place. And her District 12 partner is the baker’s son, less savvy than Katniss, but a real sweetie. After the opening ceremonies, where Katniss and Peeta wow the home viewers with their red carpet flare, the games begin.

I was curious to see how Collins would handle keeping Katniss likable as she kills off other players. She keeps the opponents a mix of faceless and loathsome and in some cases there is a degree of separation between Katniss and the death that would be technically credited to her. Bravo. On the other hand, when it comes to some of the trickier situations in the book, and Katniss gets in a jam, Collins takes the easy route which was a little disappointing. (See also: Rule changes in the game, and necessary supplies parachuted to the contestants).

This novel is really visual. It’s super easy to get caught in a scene, to be able to imagine the lay of the land. I’m still working on a theory about why this is easier with YA books than with A books.

And Katniss, with her sharp hunting skills, makes for a good female lead unless you’re totally into PETA. She doesn’t go gaga for the dudes who dig her. She does her job and does it well and saves Peeta’s life a hundred times. She’s a little humorless, but it is in line with her very serious role in her family. Mostly she’s a mental chess player with smooth moves and good instincts. Not at all the kind of girl who would pine after a werewolf. More like the kind of girl who would shoot a werewolf, make a stew, and feed an entire village lunch. And with that, I promise to stop comparing all YA novels to the Twilight series.

This review was first posted at Minnesota Reads on October 29, 2010.

Feature: Marc Price, comedian

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Marc Price was trying to get a three-way phone call through to Julie McCullough, his partner in comedy for “The Beauty and the Dweeb” tour.

It rang a couple of times and then went to voicemail.

“Normally she takes my calls,” claimed the actor who played Skippy Handleman on the 1980s sitcom “Family Ties.”

On that show, starring Michael J. Fox, Skippy was gaga for the totally-out-of-his-league Mallory Keaton, played by Justine Bateman. Twenty years later, Price still has the tongue-lolling sound of a man who will forever be smitten with pretty ladies who have buff boyfriends. That is the theme of this tour with McCullough, a Playboy playmate who briefly played Julie on “Growing Pains.”

“It’s one of my greatest ideas ever,” Price said in a phone

interview. “Going on the road with Julie McCullough is something people are going to talk about. She looks at me more like a friend who wants to (insert graphic image involving bull moose here).”

The duo will perform a free show at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Black Bear Casino in Carlton.

Price said he and McCullough work for producer/actor Budd Friedman and were landing similar gigs when they decided to join forces.

McCullough, with her southern drawl, pulls fodder from her Playmate past; Price plays up his inner and outer nerdy next-door neighbor. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to flirt up McCullough — even when she isn’t around to roll her eyes at his antics.

They made out once, Price insisted, during tryouts for “Killer Tomatoes from France,” a sci-fi comedy horror from the early 1990s. McCullough doesn’t remember this, he admitted. And maybe the rollicking romance he has planned for them during the tour isn’t going to happen after all.

“I’m starting to give up on it,” Price said. “The whole plan was she would fall in love with me. It eased into the friend zone. It’s not for lack of trying. I don’t understand what the problem is.”

Price is most famous for his role on “Family Ties.” He played the bespectacled best friend of Alex P. Keaton (Fox). He did end up playing Mikey in “Killer Tomatoes eat France” and also had a gig as the host of “Teen Win, Lose or Draw” on the Disney Channel during this same time period.

McCullough had a strong Playboy presence in the late 1980s: as one of the “Girls of Texas” (1985), Playmate of the Month (February 1986), one of the “Farmer’s Daughters” (September 1986), and a post-“Growing Pains” compilation in 1989. Recently, she has been on the E! reality show “The Girls Next Door” and on an episode of “Scott Baio is 45 … and Single.”

Comedy always has been Price’s thing, and he has opened for Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld. His late father is Al Bernie, a stand-up comedian who introduced Price to the New York City comedy scene in the 1970s. He names his father’s friends and his father’s favorite comics as influences in his own comedy career: Milton Berle, Don Rickles, George Burns, George Carlin and David Brenner.

This is why Price favored the character of Skippy — his family still calls him that, by the way — to something like the heartthrob on “Charles in Charge” played by Baio, whom McCullough actually did date.

“Getting laughs was always a score for me,” Price said. “I’d rather that than play the stud guy. That’s what I loved. Whenever they wrote something, the weirder, more demeaning and awkward, the better.”

This story appeared in the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune on October 23, 2010.

Review: ‘Rat Girl’ by Kristin Hersh

Two weeks ago, if you had asked me to tell you everything I knew about the band Throwing Muses, I would have gone dough faced and dead eyed. “Canadian punk band?” I would have un-educatedly guessed. Somehow this foursome escaped my musical reckoning in the mid-80s.

I would have been wrong. But that wrongness at least says this: One does not have to be a Throwing Muses Head to want to metaphorically rub lead singer Kristin Hersh’s memoir Rat Girl all over her body in hopes of absorbing a fraction of the smarts, words, and ideas directly into one’s blood stream. Because science is not yet that sophisticated, I settled for turning the book into an origami version of itself, with at least 30 percent of the pages dog-eared.

This memoir, shelved in the bi-polar section of your local bookstore, is (for the amusement of using an out-of-character word) so lovely.

This is not the gelatinous mess that is a typical celebrity memoir — to be expected as Throwing Muses is not a typical band. (I can say that now. I’ve downloaded plenty of its backlog in the past few days. For free. Hersh captures 1985, the year Throwing Muses went from a bar band to label magnet in a series of vignettes and song lyrics, snippets pulled from the journals of a 19-year-old.

Blue-haired Hersh is squatting in a dead guy’s house, taking college-level classes at a university where her father, whom she calls “Dude,” teaches hippie-based courses that start with deep relaxation exercises of the soul-scorching kind. She breaks into backyard pools in the middle of the night to swim laps to combat her insomnia. Her best friend Betty is of AARP membership age, a former Hollywood starlet who imagines she is one wrong turn from an onslaught of paparazzi.

Throwing Muses play gigs at local clubs they aren’t even old enough to patronize, and sometimes get stuck paying a cover charge if they walk outside before their set.

Ever since she was hit by a car, Hersh hears music in the white noise around her. And when a song strikes, she must immediately work it out on her guitar.

Throughout the rest of the year she will move with her band mates into an apartment in Boston, space shared with other artists, and with Harvard thugs for neighbors. Hersh is diagnosed as bipolar. Throwing Muses will attract a following and get good chatter from local press. Fans will leave gifts on their door step, and a dude with an international phone number will express an interest in signing the band. And, despite any hint that Hersh has ever seen a naked man, she gets pregnant with the band’s baby.

These single serving stories don’t make a quote-unquote plot. They are carefully worded, and artfully selected moments in a life — many that inspired lyrics. They reveal Hersh to be genuinely surprised that Throwing Muses have fans, and even a little ambivalent about it. Her three band mates just make cameos, but they are drawn so tenderly. Not the way one would write about family, but with the soft touch one would use to write about a partner with whom they are truly smitten. (But Hersh kind of treats everyone like this. From the old ladies on the bus, to the junkies at their shows, her default seems to be liking people as much as is possible for a loner).

Rat Girl is light on glitz and glamour. (Hersh describes her style as homeless, and her hugest goal is to tour with her band and live out of a van). It is ripe with introspection and imagery. Hersh’s voice is so unique and her life so interesting that I imagine reading this book is a lot like what music hounds in the 80s felt when they first heard the band.

BTW: I judged this book first by its awesome cover.

This review was originally posted on Minnesota Reads on October 24, 2010.

Review: ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ by Dave Eggers

I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for the first time in 1999, and it went a little something like this: Pop rocks. Coke. Shake. Brain.

Dave Eggers’ memoir-with-benefits was this thing that totally changed my understanding of what a good book could be. So influenced was I, that it necessitated instigating a Top 5 Favorite Books list, where just having A Favorite Book, or Two Books Tied for Favorite Book, would no longer do. If I recall correctly, I ushered in Y2K with this as my answer to a question no one would ever ask me: 1. The Sun Also Rises (Hem); 2. The Great Gatsby (Fitzy); 3. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Eggers); 4. The Awakening (Chopin); and 5. The Edible Woman (Atwood).

In the past decade, I’ve never really monkeyed with that list. I could probably still defend my picks in front of a jury of my peers, although I can’t say I’d make the same list right now. But I wouldn’t make a list right now because I’ve probably read like 600-plus books since I was 24, and to sort them would be akin to having a freshly sharpened axe driven into my skull by the Strongest Human Being in All of the Land.

Every other book on that list had been subject to a re-read, and in some cases re-(to the nth power)read. But I dared not touch the Eggers again. Until now. My boyfriend listened to it recently, was chuckling over some Eggers family hilarity, then picked me up a copy from the library.

I expected this to be spiritual. Like eight hours alone in the attic of your youth, flipping pages of a yearbook and trying on the old letter jacket. If the song “Mambo No. 5″ still smells like August on a highway cutting through Durango, Colorado to me, imagine the power of the words from one of my favorite books in conjuring up some residual 20-something bullshit.

Yeah. Nada.

The reading public’s introduction to the future Mr. McSweeney’s was this: The story about how Eggers parents both died of cancer within a few months of each other when he was in his early 20s, leaving behind an elementary school-aged blank slate for Eggers, etc. to raise. Dave and young Toph Eggers make a dynamic duo, technically a father-ish kinda-son relationship, that leans more big brother buddy and little dude.

Eggers runs a tight ship: No one swears around Toph. But they also consider the slide-ability of the hard-wood floors when rating an apartment. There is wrestling. There is Frisbee. There are massive freak outs when Toph has his first non-Eggers babysitter, or isn’t at the right door when Dave picks him up after a bar mitzvah. There are tender hair tousles, and cute insults. And the whole thing makes you wish that you had a supercool older brother who had taken you into his tutelage and taught you how to be hilarious. Or that you had your own blank slate to teach the trick involving the 360 degree spin before catching the disc.

In the meantime, it’s about being a 20-something in the 1990s and having friends, ideas, dreams, world domination fantasies, and connections to Adam Rich of “Eight is Enough.” Not to mention the fun cult ref drops like Vince Vaughn (Eggers went to high school with him), Puck and Judd from “The Real World: San Francisco” (Eggers was a finalist for a part as one of the seven strangers who would learn what it’s like when people stop being polite … and start being real).

Reading this book 10 years later is like reading one of those letters you write to yourself when you are a senior in high school. “Dear Christa … By now you have probably written a trilogy of bestsellers that not only have a strong mainstream presence, but are also critically acclaimed by book snobs everywhere.”

Except this is Eggers’ measuring stick. “By now you will do exactly what you wanted to do … create a website that appeals to literary sorts, publish a handful of novels, and have a sort of celebrity that is uncommon to people who work with words.” And now Toph is in his mid-20s, and highly Google-able for his own projects. Instead of a book about big plans, it is his to-do list, and he has done a remarkable job of emptying it.

It’s like his journal of non-embarrassing things. Which is a far better thing than if this book had sent me sailing back to 1999, which would have been a headache teeming with embarrassing things.

This review originally ran on Minnesota Reads on October 21, 2010.

Review: ‘Red Hook Road’ by Ayelet Waldman

I come to you with, curiously, no complaints about Ayelet Waldman’s Red Hook Road.  I believe the fiery ginger has written her best novel to date, possibly the best novel she can write, and it is pretty damn good.

This is what literary limbo looks like. It’s a place where you read a book, enjoy said book, probably won’t try to jam it down anyone’s pants with a breathless “You. Must. Read. This.” But if anyone asks your opinion of the work, you will beam like a Glo-Worm, and maybe throw in an appreciative sigh. List 101 things you liked about it — the pace, the characters, the tone. It’s so neutral that you can safely pass it along to your mother as an emergency birthday gift with positive results and without being accused of only reading books about men who -ectomy their own leg bones to use as weaponry.

Kudos, Waldman.

The prelude is a perfectly painted portrait of a wedding day. The party and extended family arranged for a photograph. And those minor hiccups that differentiate this special day from the special day of a kazillion other couples: the flower girl can’t find her flowers, the best men are hung over and still smell of a stolen toke or two. The father of the bride is wearing tennis shoes. The happy couple are childhood sweethearts — a boat builder and a decent violin player. Becky summers in this little town in Maine that her ancestors built; John is a townie whose mother cleans Becky’s family’s house. The photographs are taken, the guests move on to the reception and wait the arrival of the newly minted Mr. and Mrs. Tetherly. Instead, John’s brother Matt shows up, disheveled and crazed. He had been following the limousine. There was an accident. Becky and John are dead. Corpses in wedding ware.

The rest of the novel is divided into four chapters, each marking another year after the tragedy. It is a textbook of grief from different vantage points. Becky’s mother Iris, and her need to control her environment, John’s mother Jane, and her resentment toward these upper-crust meddlers. Becky’s sister Ruthie, a second-place sibling who throws herself into school, a trajectory similar to the one her mother took. She is unable to find closure or an outlet for her pain. Matt, who takes up John’s dream to rehabilitate an old sail boat with the intent of moving to the Caribbean and providing tours and leisure aboard the salvaged boat. (Then, later, falling into a super-secret relationship with Ruthie). Becky’s father, at mid-life, makes a return to boxing. Becky’s grandfather, an ancient violin virtuoso, finds it impossible to grieve after all the shit he has seen and people he has lost. He discovers that the flower girl, Samantha, has a ridiculous ear for music. He spends his time encouraging her gift.

The pacing of this book is perfect. As if Waldman — who’s virtual identity is that of a rapid-fire speaker, a no-nonsense loud-mouth (in a good way, IMO, but not in everyone’s), whose opinions fly out of her finger tips like silver bullets — took a deep breath and began slowly weaving a tale.

I would imagine there would be a tendency to be emotionally manipulative with the story. To really wring out the reader, and leave her cold-clocked and heaving. But Waldman takes the long way around the cheap route, finding middle ground between loving the characters, empathizing with them, but not bleeding the tear ducts dry. She handles the subject, grief, in a realistic way. While each of the characters has a different response, there is overlap in their emotions that keeps it from feeling false.

It is the last chapter, or Coda as it is called in the novel, that is … gross world alert … beautiful. It is the perfect finish for the story, one that doesn’t answer every loose end with a neatly gift-wrapped finale. It reads almost like poetry, or a self-contained short story, and packs a pretty big Wow.

Red Hook Roa might make my Top Ten of 2010, somewhere around No. 8 or No. 9. Mostly, it is a rainy day one-sitter when you just want to run your eyes over words, and emerge eight hours later satisfied.

This review was originally posted at Minnesota Reads on October 17, 2010.

Feature: Jeremy Messersmith, musician

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Season 4, Episode 2 of the computer geek-meets-a bumbling James Bond television show “Chuck”:

Our T-shirt and jeans hero is looking for something that might be wrong in his relationship with the sexy girl-next-door slash super-spy Sarah. Meanwhile, Chuck’s sister is armed with an old photo album and flips through memory lane during a fit of insomnia.

The spare folk vocals of Jeremy Messersmith play in the background of this three-minute heartfelt plot wrap-up. His song “A Girl, a Boy and a Graveyard” is the mood-setter during this moment of the episode that aired on Sept. 27.

Imagine what that kind of prime-time, network television saturation could do for a Minneapolis musician’s popularity.

“This is the first time a mass audience has had a taste of one of my songs,” Messersmith said in a recent phone interview. “It’s fun getting re-Tweeted in different languages. That’s all the result of being on ‘Chuck.’ My website traffic quadrupled.”

Catch Jeremy Messersmith live when he plays a free all-ages show at 7 p.m. Saturday at Beaner’s Central in West Duluth.

The concert is part of “The Current Road Trip,” a series that brings Twin Cities music — the kind found on Minnesota Public Radio’s all-music station 89.3FM — to other areas of the state. DJ Barb Abney is traveling with Messersmith. There will be some music, some banter and some fan interaction.


Jeremy Messersmith’s exact level of celebrity is hard to pinpoint. Around his adopted home court of Minneapolis, the thin and Buddy Holly-bespectacled musician is recognizable in public. He just knows a lot of people, he admitted. But when it comes time for cross-country tours like the one last summer: “Outside of Minnesota, nobody gives a shit,” he said. He can draw a bulky crowd in Chicago and New York, but “I’m opening for jazz trios in Washington, D.C. That’s just the way it is. I’ve put in a lot of time to be able to make music in the Upper Midwest.”

This doesn’t seem to be a big deal to him. When Messersmith was in college, he imagined he would be a guitar teacher. And, actually, he is a teacher. He has classes in composition at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul. Now he just wants people to listen to his music and then pass it along to someone else.

Jeremy Messersmith is the kind of artist you contact through a publicist. But he responds to an interview request himself, and he includes his home phone number.

He is super-accessible to his fans. He hand-delivered a large order of Messersmith memorabilia to a fan — $80 worth of records and posters. There was no one home when he got there. He delicately put the stuff in the mailbox, he said. Later he received a horrible e-mail from the buyer, complaining about the way it was wadded up and the lack of delivery confirmation.

“I think I will not do that anymore,” Messersmith said.

His Twitter feed is a quirky day-to-day and fun-side-of-professional stream, which gives him the feel of a sort of Wil Wheaton of the music world, a comparison he doesn’t object to. Messersmith posts things like:

“I have the top selling iTunes song with the word ‘Graveyard’ in the title. Nothing like setting the bar low! #loweredexpectations.”

And this two-parter:

“I love St. Paul. Sitting outside and a dude came up and said, “Hey, I’m hungry. Can I have your sandwich?” #politeness”

Which was followed up with:

“So I gave him the rest of my lunch then went over and sang with an old dude playing beatles covers on his guitar. #bestlunchbreakever.”

His new album recently cracked into the iTunes Top 150 iTunes pop charts — the only nonlabel artist in the mix. Yet, if you go to his website, he is offering up “Reluctant Graveyard” for whatever you want to pay — a tactic employed by plenty of artists in recent years, including

Radiohead and Amanda Palmer’s ukulele covers of songs by Radiohead.


This thing on “Chuck” wasn’t his first go-round creating a soundtrack for pop culture. MTV has a large sound library, including Messersmith’s complete works. Over the course of nine episodes of the first season of the faux-reality show, “My life as Liz,” Messersmith said he heard almost all of his songs.

“Miracles” was playing during a pivotal moment on the duckling-to-swan moment on the show “Ugly Betty.”

“‘Miracles’ was played when Betty was getting her braces off,” Messersmith said. “Which was a monumental moment … like when Forest Gump got his leg braces off.”

And fans of America’s favorite self-described guidos and guidettes got a taste of the Messersmith when his song “Love You to Pieces” was played on Season One of “Jersey Shore.”

“When ‘Jersey Shore’ needs to be reflective, they’ll play a clip from one of my mellower songs,” he said.

TV aside, Messersmith has three albums: “The Alcatraz Kid,” “The Silver City” and “The Reluctant Graveyard.” Next up, Messersmith plans to confuse his fans.

“I’ll probably pursue some intellectual tangent,” he said. “It will only make sense to me. Everyone will be like, ‘I remember when he was good.’ ”

This story originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Oct. 7, 2010 (without the word “shit” in it. I prefer it with the word “shit” in it).

Review: ‘My Hollywood’ by Mona Simpson

On their first date, Paul and Claire have already divvied the responsibilities of keeping their careers and managing a child: The former as a TV comedy write; the latter as a classical composer.

“50/50,” Paul tells her — which in retrospect becomes the laughable math of a man who will spend 14 hours a day with other writers, trying to create comedy. A sound stage where he looks more at home than when he is at home, and a steady stream Diet Coke coursing through his bladder. Claire’s not exactly hitting her quota, either, with deadlines for commissions to write, and milk to make. Not to mention she feels like a misfit among her mommy peers.

Enter Lola, a Filipina nanny charged with watching their baby, William. Lola is trying to earn as much cash as possible to send back to her family in the Philippines. She wants better lives for her children, stresses on education, followed by career, all shrouded in virginity. So she mails money, mails money, mails money, subsisting on a single luxury: A cup of coffee a day.

My Hollywood is Mona Simpson’s juxtaposition of these two cultures: The Santa Monica wives with their absent husbands, diamond earring envy, and play groups. A posse that compares nanny salaries divided by duties, and plant “your kid might be autistic” seeds.

Lola, meanwhile, is one of the leaders of a group of immigrant women who watch the children, and sometimes reluctantly iron shirts. They have a similar “keeping-up-with” mentality, knowing what each nanny makes and what she has to do for the check. There is job jockeying, and gossip about the employer families. Here they have a special insight, as the behind-the-scenesters who empty laundry hampers and are privy to the misplaced bank statements and love letters.

In another corner: Helen and Jeff are the best couple friends of Claire and Paul, and a sort of measuring stick. Jeff is in a similar industry as Paul, and is more successful; Helen wants to make babies, and seems to be up to her sexual organs in red hot romance with her husband. Lola watches their son Bing on the weekends, and does it so well that they dangle dollar signs in front of her in an effort to steal Lola’s permanent services. She can’t be swayed. Emotionally, she has big love for little Williamo; Rationally, she multiples those dollar signs to determine just how much money she has given up to remain loyal to the tot.

Claire struggles with finding balance between composing and mothering, and is allotted just two phone calls per day to her husband while he is at work. He is, however, always at work. She understands that his work is more financially lucrative, and her art — her one true love — suffers under second billing.

Writing-wise, this book is a curiosity. Simpson does a bang up job of separating the voices of her dueling protagonists. Lola maintains an accent so strong that Williamo slips into it on the playground. But Claire’s voice is the trickier mimic. It’s not always easy to know what she is thinking about, and the decoder ring is pages from a reveal. For instance, she briefly mentions throwing her underwear away. It takes to the end of the chapter to figure out that she is incontinent. Sometimes entire paragraphs include a set of unrelated sentences. This requires very careful reading, and a willingness to wait for answers, rather than tossing out “WTFs” willy-nilly. It’s a style that takes a little getting used to, moreso than Lola’s fragmented English. Sometimes it is a senseless frustration with little reward. Sometimes it feels like a technique that should be stolen, attempted, and honed.

Idea-wise, there are plenty of conversational cues for all sorts of gin-soaked book club sorts, starting with the similarities and differences between the employees and the employers; Lola’s emotional commitment to the children, verses being a signature on a check to her own family and the way that plays against Claire’s love of making music, and stilted emotional connection to her son; The way Lola is treated as a possession that can be passed off to another family; What happens when you fail at what you love to do.

In one scene, Claire has just received a terrible review in the New York Times, the newspaper of record for everyone within her social scene. She treads lightly, knowing they all know. But when she meets up with Helen, her friend doesn’t even address it. Claire keeps waiting for her to say something. Meanwhile, Helen has just had a miscarriage. Yet Claire continues to obsess over her friend saying nothing about the review. Their grief is probably similar, but Claire cannot jack herself from her own gravitational pull long enough to empathize.

The best paragraphs of the story follow: Claire begins cutting and arranging flowers. Baking. Looking for the thing that might be her thing, now that she has had a public failing with her actual thing. The idea that she has used up her music allowance, it won’t regenerate. She’ll have to find a new identity.

Plot-wise, this book is a bit of a snooze. So much of it is repetitious day-to-day, and coupled with Simpson’s style, there is often not enough of a reward to justify it. And there are too many characters on the periphery. In most cases, they would be ignorable, but they continue to crop up throughout the novel, so they must be kept track of. Aside from a handful of comic moment at parties, this book is just too much of a trudge.

This review was posted on Minnesota Reads on Oct. 11, 2010.