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  • Micro-Review #123: Margery
    by Jeffrey Penn May

    Aging hiker Jeremy is keenly aware that the clock of life is ticking. To prepare for senescence, he finds soulful nourishment in lonesome backpacking trips through the mountains. One day he wanders off the beaten path and comes across a young couple who lead him to a hidden, bucolic community where life moves to strange rhythms and the denizens are so odd and inscrutable that maybe he’s dreaming the whole thing up.

    This literary meditation on death and aging is strangely captivating. Despite Jeremy’s doubts and fears, he gropes toward a kind of understanding. He avoids trite or banal answers and shows us the redeeming value of being honest and vulnerable when seeking emotional wisdom. His is a gentle, contemplative journey without superficiality or pretense.

  • Micro-Review #122: World War Z
    by Max Brooks

    Forget the movie with Brad Pitt. This isn’t that. The “Oral History of the Zombie War” is more like epistolary reportage, a series of interviews with frontline battlers of the undead after the war has ended. The detail and clear-sightedness of the first-person accounts make this book a lot smarter than your average zombie tale. The author, a senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point (as well as Mel’s boy), gives us a chilling version of world-wide crisis management. This is as believable as a zombie tale can be.

    That said, the lack of a nuts-and-bolts story makes the unlinked mini-tellings feel stale after a while. The book displays great breadth of knowledge, but in terms of conventional storytelling, it’s not (if you’ll pardon the zombie pun) something you can sink your teeth into. It could stand to lose 100 pages.

  • Micro-Review #121: The Daydreamer
    by Ian McEwan

    Before he wrote dense adult novels such as ATONEMENT and AMSTERDAM, Ian McEwan tried his hand at Roald Dahl-esque children’s fiction. The result is this slim volume of stories featuring 11-year-old Peter, who goes on seven fantastical journeys of the imagination. The stories deftly portray the emotional rollercoaster of childhood. McEwan isn’t out to teach kids any lessons; he’s out to entertain without lying, and maybe get a few laughs along the way. As a result, the book isn’t just for kids; it’s a great read for adults, too. Reviewers’ comparisons to Dahl are not unfounded. THE DAYDREAMER is a wonderful book.

  • Micro-Review #120: Amsterdam
    by Ian McEwan

    Clive and Vernon are best friends in London in the 1990s. Clive is a renowned symphony composer, while Vernon runs a flagging newspaper. When a mutual lover dies after a long illness, they enter into a pact: If either of them suffers mental decline, the other will be obliged to carry out a merciful, if illegal, euthanasia. It’s pretty clear where this story is destined to go, but since the author is one of the UK’s best writers, it’s a dark, comic trip that’s well worth taking.

    Lovers of light reads be warned. This isn’t a laugh-a-minute tale. It’s a dense, beautifully written horror novel of a comedy, with abundant internal monologue and soaring linguistic descriptions of an art form (music) that you rarely see in other novels. It’s a smart, engrossing book, even if the premise and the ending seem a touch banal.

  • Micro-Review #119: The Midnight Library
    by Matt Haig

    Nora Seed is tired of pain and failure. A self-administered overdose seems like the only cure. But there’s an ethereal weigh station on Nora’s path to oblivion. The Midnight Library provides her with one last chance (actually, endless chances) to come to terms with the world. What follows is an episodic journey into many of Nora’s lives in a personal multiverse, a place full of reinvention options for the troubled.

    This is a fast, rewarding read so long as you don’t ask too many questions. The setup is fertile ground for fiction but not entirely honest. Within our troubled heroine lurks the convenient ability to be an Olympic swimming champion, a huge rock star, a glaciologist and a philosophy professor at Cambridge. That she’ll eventually get her life right is never in doubt. This renders the ending predictable and makes Nora’s pit stops in parallel worlds feel redundant. But sunshine-seeking readers don’t care; they’ve made this book a bestseller. Cynics should look elsewhere for their fiction; most of them won’t make it past page 50.

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