May 25, 2011

Fragile Beasts by Tawni O'Dell

Lately, I have been reading good, quiet books that don't really cry out to be reviewed. Such as Miss Read books (happiness! READ THEM!), a Dick Francis, and a re-read of L M Montgomery's A Tangled Web. They were all as good as expected, made me contentedly happy, and I would recommend them to anyone and everyone.

The same can not be said about Fragile Beasts. It is a super book, just not one I would recommend to everyone. It is definitely rated R due to language, subject matter, and an "intimate" scene. Nothing horrifying, mind you, but it is about teenage boys.

Fragile Beasts is the interwoven story of two boys, Klint and Kyle who just lost their father and the Spain obsessed, rich, and elderly Candace Jack. Once upon a time, this Candace was in love with a Spanish bullfighter who was killed in front of her by a bull. Don't worry--I am not spoiling anything here. The book starts out in Spain, 1958 and the first line is "Manuel Obrador knew he was dead but understood he had not yet finished dying." (I wasn't sure I wanted to continue to read at this point.) Candace says she did not stop living when he died, she just stopped participating in life. Taking in two teen age boys she doesn't know gives her life a long needed shake up. Her main reason for taking them is that her idiotic, overbearing nephew told her that she was not allowed to under any circumstances. Don't you like her already?

The book is written in the first person, with variating narrators, Kyle, Candace, and Luis, her Spanish houseman. Although this isn't a format I generally love, it works. Through the book, the boys deal with their loss, the potential reappearance of their mother in their lives, after she ran out of their lives with their sister to Arizona a few years ago, and inevitably, grow up a little. Candace learns a lot about life, kids and herself.

This book doesn't whitewash human nature. It doesn't try to prove a point (I didn't think). It just is. And that is partly why I like it so much. It deals with some pretty depressing stuff, but manages to come out of it all unscathed. It doesn't make you feel uplifted or inspire you, but it makes you feel there is hope yet for human decency.

Tawni O'Dell is an author I found while walking through the library one day--the cover of her book Sister Mine is bright yellow with a large flamboyant cowboy boot on it. I couldn't resist. Her books, the three I have read anyway (I couldn't struggle through Back Roads, her first one--too depressing), are all set in the coal towns of Western Pennsylvania and filled with people who used to or whose parents used to work for the coal company before it was shut down. Part of the reason I enjoy these books is because the people in them are so recognizable and real. If these books didn't have so much about coal in them, you could easily convince yourself they were about NNY. The people in them aren't perfect and they aren't probably going to be the next president, but there is a resiliency in them that is part of what makes America what it is.
 ".... complaining about life in the good-natured way of guys who don't mind the problems because they know overcoming them gives them something to do."  (p29)

I love this paragraph from the acknowledgements:

"Writing a novel is a solitary experience filled with frustration, bewilderment, and the constant nagging feeling that you should be doing something else. Each day you are alone in your head trying to convey a fictitious story using words you hope will stir a bunch of people you will never meet while never fully understanding why you want to do it. This is the fourth time I have sat down to pen acknowledgements for a novel, and each time my initial reaction has been to write: I'd like to thank myself for writing a book all by myself for no good reason."

I like authors who aren't pompous enough to think they are somehow making the world  a better, richer place by writing their precious books. She is as unpretentious (well here anyway) as her characters.

A good, well worth it read.


Verity Earl said...

Oh my WORD, I love that paragraph about writing a book.

Rebekah said...

Hmm, sounds like an interesting read.
Got my Paper Coterie order. The calendar is is very light print so hard to see the days of the week, etc. But I love the wall clings and journal!

Virginia said...

I'll have to give this one a go! But only after I finish the stack I have sitting on my nightstand. And Mom just sent me a new one, too. So I'll get to it in 8 or so books. :-) The one I'm currently reading will NOT be getting a review since it's one of the worst written books I've ever read. But I enjoyed your review and it renewed my researching at somehow doing an online book club for us!

Evan and Clover and Co. said...

I've read her first three, guess I'll have to read this one, too. She definitely knows her depressed area characters. And I like each book she writes better. First book WAS horrifying, but by the time I got to "Sister Mine" it was great fun. Well, still depressing in parts, but definitely less so. And that clarifying statement clearly shows that I do not have the mad skilz to be a published author.