Friday, March 04, 2005

50 Book Challenge #14 & 15: Blankets & Atonement

I was laid up with a headache all day, so I got nothing done on my 3L paper. However, staring at a page is less pain-inducing than staring at a screen, so I did finish two more books.

Blankets is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel about growing up poor and religious in the snowy Midwest. Most of the book takes place in winter, and the tone is chilly as well, reflecting the isolation of the narrator. Between poverty, unpopularity, fundamentalist Christianity, a brutal father, molesting babysitters, and uncertainty about the future, the young Craig Thompson has plenty of reasons to be unhappy. His first girlfriend, Raina, introduces him to something better, but even his fledgling love for her cannot overcome the pain that both families have inflicted on the pair. Bittersweet and acutely perceptive, Blankets is a fine read.

Atonement is another unhappy book. Unlike Blankets, which has a certain timelessness that puts me in mind of Wes Anderson films, this beautifully written novel is set in England in the time immediately before WWII. Period mores are important to some of the plot developments, but I don't want to give too much away; this book is best experienced fresh. My only quibbles came toward the end; I was sufficiently drawn in by the book to feel angered by Briony's repeated acts of cowardice, and the epilogue yanks away any partial satisfaction you may have gained from her efforts at atonement by revealing that [SPOILERS] the happy ending was a fabrication for the benefit of the readers of her book within a book. Even the narrator admits that letting us know that is not a very good ending, but McEwan gives it to us anyway. Bleak realism is one thing, bait and switch another: Atonement is a good book if you don't mind getting suckerpunched.
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