Time Capsule of Love: The Twoweeks by Larry Duberstein

The Twoweeks by Larry Duberstein is written artfully, almost archly, in onion-like layers. The beginning and ending form the outer layer, which wraps around the book; the beginning makes a lot more sense after you’ve read to the end.
At the beginning, readers have no idea who Jake & Cecily, Hetty, Iris etc. are except that they’re adult children driving together with their own children through the snow to spend time with the extended family in Vermont during Christmas week, 2008. And just when readers have gleaned something about these travelers from their banter in the car, they drop completely out of the narrative (except Jake and Hetty as children) until their brief reappearance at the very end. Cal and Lara – the parents, the real main characters – take over the story.
Cal and Lara’s reminiscences about and parsing of events before, during, and after the experimental two weeks they spent together over three decades ago (each married to someone else at the time) form the second layer of the book. Journal pages recording Lara’s memories about each day of “the Twoweeks,” as they called it, which were stored and forgotten for decades, and only just unearthed from a dusty box in the barn form the innermost layer of the book, form the center of the narrative.
The Twoweeks is written in experimental style, almost more like a play than a novel. We seem to be expected to be completely familiar with Cal and Lara’s current situation, although the novel doesn’t concern itself much with that. Readers listen to Cal (an actor) and Lara (a poet) correct and contradict each other’s memories of the Twoweeks –that shared time outside of normal life – as they read (we along with them) in the present, pages that present Lara’s perspective at the time. It’s a love story of sorts, but The Twoweeks is actually a pretty unsentimental dissection of what turned out, to everyone’s surprise, to be a grand passion, although it does gloss over the pain the actual divorces must have inflicted. The divorces are long in the past; everyone has survived and moved on.
So what, exactly, did I think of The Twoweeks? After I got over being annoyed with the author for not developing his characters in the traditional, novelistic way, it grew on me! I went from seeing Cal as self-centered, clownish, and full of himself to seeing him as a flawed but well-meaning person, basically mirroring Lara as she goes from seeing Cal as someone to get out of her system and forget to recognizing him as (if she believed in such a thing) her soulmate. By the end of their Twoweeks, I was wishing them both the best.

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of The Twoweeks through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. (In this case, calling it the “Late” Reviewer program would be more appropriate. Sorry, LibraryThing!)

The Twoweeks
Dubersteien, Larry
The Permanent Press
November 2011
978-1-57962-224-4

Waiting on Wednesday — The Beginner’s Goodbye

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Beginner’s Goodbye

Anne Tyler

Publication Date: April 3

I’m so excited to see a new book by Anne Tyler is coming out! She has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Her novels have lately been about older people; they usually center on family issues; and she doesn’t seem to have an online presence, but I hope younger readers will still give her books a try. Her writing is such a pleasure!

Giveaway! Win a copy of Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book (U.S. only)

My first giveaway! This will be a random drawing for  a copy of Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book, which won the 2011 Audie award for best multi-voiced performance. In addition to receiving a review copy from Straight to Audio Productions through Audiobook Jukebox, I received a copy to give away. This audiobook on CD is brand new, still in the shrink wrap!

To enter the drawing, please leave a comment on this post or on my review of Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book before February 29. One entry per person will go into the drawing. Click on box that says “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” because that’s how I will let you know if you win! Open to U.S. residents only.

Navel Hazing in Utah: Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book

Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book is an audiobook original that’s something like an old-fashioned radio show, minus sound effects and dialogue. Nancy Neptune, the main character, is a female shock jock temporarily exiled to radio station KNVL in Utah. Nancy’s peppery language, disheveled appearance, and addictions (cigarettes, coffee, and beer) startle the staid inhabitants of Navel, Utah (dry, non-smoking, and caffeine-free) even before she launches right into the same kind of off-color promotional stunts that got her into trouble back in Hackensack.
Whenever I listen to a full-cast audiobook production, it takes me a while to adjust to the dramatization. Because I’m accustomed to the single-narrator style of audiobook, the voices of the different actors in a full-cast production sound exaggerated at first, until I get used to them. Each of the characters’ voices has to be distinct enough to be immediately recognizable, and the cast of Jitters does that very well, especially with Nancy’s broad North Jersey accent, Rocco Campanili’s tough-guy attitude, and the drag queen voice of Jackie Wu. The characters all take turns telling the story from their overlapping points of view, punctuated by brief radio broadcasts from KNVL. (Jitters won the 2011 Audie Award for best multi-voiced performance from AudioFile, beating out such titles as Room from Hachette Audio and The Importance of Being Earnest from L.A. Theatre Works.)
The humor in Jitters is as broad as Nancy Neptune’s accent and as offensive as Nancy Neptune herself (one of her nicknames is “the Queen of Obscene”), but the audio book made me laugh pretty often once I got into the wacky spirit of it. Jitters mines just about everything for comedy, including polygamy, inbreeding, amputations, tragic accidents, masturbation, cross-dressing, obesity, and the good, clean living of the residents of Navel, Utah.
Author Adele Park judiciously spares book bloggers and audiobook reviewers from ridicule in Jitters. Either that, or she’s just saving us for the upcoming sequel

I received a review copy of this audiobook from Straight to Audio Productions through Audiobook Jukebox, plus a copy to give away.

Other opinions on Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book (all good):
Alaskan Bookie
Audiobook Fans
Lakeside Musing

Jitters: A Quirky Little Audiobook
Parks, Adele
Multi-Voiced Cast
Straight to Audio Productions, 2010
Unabridged on 6 CDs, 6.5 hours
978-0-615-35682-2
$24.00

Better Than Medical School: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is much longer, but much, much better, than The Kite Runner. Cutting for Stone and The Kite Runner were both books I read only because so many people asked me if I had, because I’m abysmally ignorant about politics and world history, and felt that my ignorance about an unfamiliar setting like Ethiopia or Afghanistan would make it harder to get immersed in the story. Also, the title Cutting for Stone made me think of stonemasons (BO-O-O-RING) when it really refers to surgery, as in bladder stones.
Cutting for Stone is a big novel that’s a good choice for a book club read, because it is packed with discussable subjects, including the exotic setting of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia (pronounced by natives as “Ethyo-pya”, not “Eee-theee-op-eee-ya”); political upheavals; terrorism; hospitals as institutions; doctors as professionals and as people; emigration and foreignness; how the culture of medicine compares from one country to another or one hospital to another; twin-ness and family; the many mystical moments in the story, and the meanings the author has layered into the narrative.
Cutting for Stone is essentially the story of Marion Stone, who becomes estranged from his twin brother, Shiva, and throws himself early into the study of medicine, planning to become a surgeon, as they go from conjoined babies who had to be surgically separated at birth and who slept together head to head as boys, into identical-looking teenagers with utterly distinct talents, personalities, and ease of being in the world. Marion and Shiva (like the author himself) are raised by Indian doctors in Ethiopia. Their adoptive parents, Hema and Ghosh, work and live at the run-down Missing Hospital. The title Cutting for Stone comes from the Hippocratic Oath, but also refers to Thomas Stone, the hospital’s third doctor for many years – the surgeon-father whose absence looms large over Marion’s childhood and whose presence in Addis Ababa is known only by the sons he left behind and the medical knowledge he passed on to Marion’s adoptive parents who then passed it on Marion and Shiva.
This would have been a very different book if brilliant, graceful, spiritual Shiva had been the one narrating – piecing together the pasts of their  absent parents and adoptive parents, guessing others’ thoughts and parsing their actions, while making his way through life – but Shiva would not have felt the need to write the story. Where Marion plans and works ever harder at his studies, Shiva succeeds effortlessly at everything but doesn’t seem to notice. Marion says of himself, as an adult surgeon, in the book’s prologue:

“…I am not known for speed, or daring, or technical genius. Call me steady, call me plodding; say I adopt the style and technique that suits the patient and the particular situation and I’ll consider that high praise….Knowing when not to operate, knowing when I am in over my head, knowing when to call for a surgeon of my father’s caliber–that kind of talent, that kind of “brilliance,” goes unheralded.”

This would have been a very different book if brilliant, graceful, spiritual Shiva had been the one narrating – piecing together the pasts of their  absent parents and adoptive parents, guessing others’ thoughts and parsing their actions, while making his way through life – but Shiva would not have felt the need to write the story. While Marion plans and works ever harder at his studies, Shiva succeeds effortlessly at everything but doesn’t seem to notice. Throughout his adolescence and long years of medical training, Marion is uncomfortable in his own skin and prickly by nature. Although he struggles to find a mystical communion with his mother through her few belongings, his nature leads him to observe and describe his life clinically. As a reader, I also felt like a detached observer and wasn’t gripped by the novel until close to the end. Only a few of the other characters come fully to life. This may have been the author’s intention, but I found myself wishing for more fully-drawn characters and that Marion would get a life. Also, be forewarned, if you tend towards queasiness, the descriptions of surgeries are long and very detailed.
Cutting for Stone is a good novel, well worth reading, that will appeals to a variety of people, and would be great for a book discussion group.
This is the first book completed for my TBR Pile Challenge. I was given a friend’s copy of the book to get me to read it, and now I can tell her I finally did!

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