Friday, August 31, 2007

What I Can't Read Now

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog will notice that until five minutes ago STRAWBERRY FIELDS by Marina Lewycka was in the "What I'm Reading Now" spot in the sidebar at right. Normally, books move from there into the "Books I've Read Recently" column just below it.

But not this time.

I reviewed Lewycka's debut novel, A SHORT HISTORY OF TRACTORS IN UKRAINIAN, for Entertainment Weekly and loved it. So I was thrilled when STRAWBERRY FIELDS was sent me by an enterprising publicist at Penguin Press. Here's the description on Powell's Books: of the most enchanting, merry, and moving picaresque journeys across the length and breadth of England since Chaucer's pilgrims set off to Canterbury.
Enticing, huh? I started reading the book a few days later and was immediately drawn into the tale of foreign migrant workers at a strawberry farm in southern England. It is enchanting, merry and moving.

And then I came to the part where two young Chinese women eagerly accept a shady Slav's offer to go to Amsterdam as nannies to a wealthy family, and are bundled into a car--after he pockets their passports. My heart sunk; I knew what would happen to them and couldn't bear to read the horrifying details. Following that, a hapless Pole winds up in a pestilential chicken factory-farm, which is so gruesomely observed that I thought I'd be ill.

I was reading at bedtime. Bad choice. I tried again in the daytime, but didn't fare any better. I should have read the book's press release all the way through, because on page 2 there's this:
Along the way, the workers' fantasies about England keep rudely bumping into the ignominious [Powell's adds "brutal"] and sometimes dangerous realities of life on the margins as an émigré in the new Europe. Some of them meet terrible ends...
So, excellent as it is, I'm putting STRAWBERRY FIELDS aside for the indefinite future. But I heartily recommend it to those who aren't hyper-squeamish and/or grappling with PTSD.

As for me, I just picked up AROUND THE WORLD WITH AUNTIE MAME by Patrick Dennis. It's perfect low-anxiety reading, with such sly delights as:
The Ritz telephone operator was just recovering from the impact of my St. Boniface Academy irregular French verbs...

Today she was looking very Parisian in a Molyneux suit, pearls, fox furs, hennaed upsweep, and a face that was at least ten years younger than the one I'd seen her wearing two years earlier.

1 comment:

Mr. Obie Joe said...

This reminds of a similar experience with a memoir, Ace of Spades. Because the book involved issues of race, the publisher hoped we would hype it. That would have been a possibility until we encountered several scenes in the book which indicated the author's remarkable anger problem. At one point he describes his fantasy of the degradation of a child because the child's older sister called him a name. Sheesh.