Election Day

In most of New York, polls were open from noon – nine o’clock p.m. I arrived at my polling station around 12:15 and cast the eleventh ballot. The vote was close in my district (the 23rd Congressional District of New York), and the board of elections has not yet declared a winner. For some reason, my polling station does not give out “I Voted” stickers–what a bummer!

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Gifts of the Body by Rebecca Brown

The Gifts of the Body

I have a keen interest in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, so I admit I was predisposed to like this book, and I was not disappointed. It is certainly of that time and therefore may seem dated, but it’s a valuable lens into the final months, weeks, and days of individuals who died from the disease.

The narrative follows an unnamed home health care aide who assists people with AIDS with cooking, cleaning, and chores but also provides necessary companionship. Her patients have some diversity. Though most are white men, she also aids an elderly woman who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion during a mastectomy and an African-American patient who was a well-traveled professor before becoming ill.

As the book charts the deteriorating health of the patients and presents a vivid depiction of end-of-life issues for AIDS patients and their friends and families, it also documents the relationships that develop between care workers and patients as well as the emotional strain that can come from loving a person who is near death. It is a realistic and heart-wrenching account.

BOOK REVIEW: Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

In the future UK, society is ruled by the System, a truly representative democracy, and policed by the Witness, an institution with total powers of surveillance, the citizenry completely sacrificing privacy for the promise of security.

Diana Hunter was brought in by the Witness for interrogation but died, the first time a suspect died in government custody. Assigned to the case, Inspector Nieth reviews neural recordings of Hunter’s memory. Instead of finding Hunter, Nieth encounters three personas: a financier from Greece who had a mystical encounter with a shark, an alchemist from ancient Carthage who discovered the universal solvent, and an ex-painter from Ethiopia living in London working on a video game. Untangling the disparate narrative strands, Nieth learns truths about the System—and herself.

Some reviews I’ve read criticize the length of the book (~700 pages) is too long and the book would have been tighter and more effective if it had been edited for length. Additionally, more than one talked about the author using obscure and obfuscating vocabulary. I agree with these criticisms. Furthermore, there are too many long sections in which characters list a litany of questions.

I honestly didn’t think I would be able to finish this book. I was downright bored at times and had to force myself to continue partly because I am obsessive about finishing books I begin and finding out what happened but also because I hoped there would be some big payoff. The last fifteen percent of the book was more interesting (though confusing) but it didn’t have the big denouement I had hoped for (and expected).

BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici

The Book of Mirrors begins when literary agent Peter Katz reads an excerpt of a manuscript by Richard Flynn dealing with events surrounding the murder of Princeton University psychology Professor Joseph Wieder in 1987. Katz is intrigued and interested in the complete manuscript but by the time he responds to Flynn, Flynn has died of lung cancer. Katz hires unemployed investigative journalist John Keller, an old friend, to look into the events recounted by Flynn. When Katz becomes disillusioned with the investigation, retired detective Ray Freeman, the detective originally assigned to the case, picks up the baton. All three men encounter a cast of characters circling around the events of 1987, all of whom have their own agendas and reasons to lie.

The book illustrates the Rashomon effect in the context of a mystery, concluding that no one has an unvarnished account of the past because we all see it through the lens of our own experiences and obsessions. This is a frequent theme that has been treated elsewhere with more sophistication and less overtness. Additionally, there was a hint of a more interesting manipulation of memories at plan but those suggestions were not born out.

I also found that some of the competing accounts were too divergent to be believable. For example, one character maintained he had a sexual relationship with another while she denied it. One character maintains his wife had a history of prostitution though there was no evidence of that. Finally, the book left some key questions unanswered. The authorship of a critical manuscript was contested but never resolved. An earlier murder was solved but the guilt of the convicted defendant in doubt and this was also never resolved.

While I found the book rather unsatisfying with uncomplicated characters and a somewhat superficial plot, it was a quick and engaging read and might be suitable for someone with that criteria in mind.