Thursday, August 21, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Boat by Nam Le

Nam Le took the literary world by storm with the publication of his debut collection of short stories The Boat. Collecting together seven stories that present disparate views on the world, The Boat presents Le’s versatility with narrative voice and subject matter.

The opening story “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” is the most self-conscious and potentially autobiographical of the stories, featuring a young writer named Nam who is working Iowa Writer's Workshop master's when his father comes to visit. Urged to mine his personal story for material, Nam writes his father’s story prompting a conflict between the two, and contemplation on the nature of truth and memory. As a reader, this is the story which felt most contrived which may have been Le’s intention. It reads like a writing exercise from the very program he writes about and has none of the emotional depth of the six other stories. The critics raved about this story and its ties to the other stories (a character in “Love and Honor…” suggests to the fiction Nam Le: “You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing. But instead, you choose to write about lesbian vampires and Colombian assassins and Hiroshima orphans — and New York painters with hemorrhoids.”). Le covers several of these topics in later stories: Colombian assassins in “Cartagena,” Hiroshima orphans in “Hiroshima” and New York painters in “Meeting Elise.”

The strongest story in my opinion is “Tehran Calling.” In a few short pages, Le produces many fully realized characters that all have incredibly distinct voices. The sense of menace experienced by Sarah during her visit to Tehran leaks from the page and affects the reader’s mood and pace of reading. I became jumpy while reading and the feeling of unease remained even when I returned to the story a second reading. The characters are sympathetic yet repulsive at the same time, a difficult feat for any writer and astonishing in one as young as Le.

Nam Le shows his muscle in The Boat and it will be interesting to watch how he matures as a writer. From the promise shown here, he is without doubt a writer with great promise.

ISBN10: 030726808X
ISBN13: 9780307268082

288 Pages
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: May 2008
Author Website:


Thursday, August 07, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Upside Down Inside Out by Monica McInerney

Eva Kennedy started working in her uncle’s Dublin delicatessen to help out her family, but what began as a helpful gesture led to the abandonment of her artistic aspirations. Now her uncle is looking to retire and has offered her the opportunity to take over the shop. Eva’s in a panic- can she handle the responsibility and, if she accepts, does that mean she’s given up her dreams of being an artist forever?

When she finds out that her boyfriend Dermot was only taking her out in an effort to buy her uncle’s shop, Eva makes a snap decision which takes her to Melbourne, Australia to visit her old friend Lainey. While there she meets Joseph Wheeler and the sparks immediately fly. Unfortunately Lainey introduced Eva at a party as Niamh, a famous Irish singer and artist, and Joseph, who in reality is a famous London designer, is incognito as a British backpacker. With so much confusion can they trust the feeling that they are falling for each other and can they turn a holiday romance turn into something real?

It must be stated at the outset that the plot of Upside Down Inside Out is thoroughly implausible. Once readers accept that this novel falls into the category of “summer read” (fun, light reading), belief can be suspended and the novel enjoyed for the charming story it is, rather than beating it up for its weaknesses. Monica McInerney has created memorable characters in Eva and Joseph and set them within a wonderfully paced story. These flawed yet lovable characters will quickly capture the heart of readers.

Upside Down Inside Out bears many of the characteristics of an author’s early novel; underdeveloped, stereotypical secondary characters, subplots handled with a heavy hand, and uneven pacing near the novel’s end as McInerney tries to tie up plot points too quickly. Despite these flaws, McInerney’s talent with words is evident and she crafts some delightful scenes.

ISBN10: 0345506243
ISBN13: 9780345506245

Trade Paperback
362 Pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: June 24, 2008
Author website: