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The Piano Teacher (Elfriede Jelinek)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
In 2004, the controversial Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her novels and plays addressing violence against women, sexuality, and politics. I first read her work in 2008. I went on a feminist rant and whined that I wanted to read something gutsy written by a girl. A friend recommended Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher, translated from the German. I read the book and then I bought the movie on DVD.

Given the Nobel, I went into both the book and the film expecting to be impressed. (Whether that was a correct or incorrect expectation is a topic for another day.) But after all, a Nobel is a daunting achievement. Well, rest assured, this writer is daunting. She has no mercy. She’s not just gutsy – she’s all guts. And she is decidedly not for everyone, maybe not even for most. If you crave an inspiring, empowering girl-meets-world book – run away. If you want a feel-good movie, run away faster. This is a dark story. If you don’t have an agenda, stick around – it does get interesting.

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Posted in Literary Fiction

The Yellow Birds (Kevin Powers)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:

The Yellow Birds is the debut novel of Kevin Powers, a veteran of the Iraq War with an MFA in Poetry. The book enjoyed billing this past season as the first great literary fiction to emerge from this war, but it seems many reviewers graded it on a curve (presumably) because of its subject matter and source. Politics aside, The Yellow Birds is not this generation’s war classic. It is, however, a new author’s formidable display of talent and potential – a tight, lyrical first chapter followed by a fractured narrative of 10 more chapters, much of it beautifully written, some of it problematic. Powers proves his enviable ear for language, and applies it well in many places, but overall the work lacks cohesion, and the lovely lyricism can be overwrought, especially when it stands in place of clear plot points and authentic characterization.

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Posted in Literary Fiction