Category: General Fiction

“Clan of the Cave Bear” by Jean M. Auel Review

Clan of Cave Bear

Clan of the Cave Bear

Author:  Jean M. Auel

Published:  1980

My fascination with this book is somewhat random. Growing up, this was a popular enough book that I’d see it for sale at numerous used book stores, and always kept it in the back of my mind that I would read it someday. No particular reason why besides a title that implied there’d be some people that had some involvement with bears. I never bought it as a kid though, who knows why when I picked up so many other books that have sat on my shelves for years and either been read or are still waiting for the long payoff. When my wife was looking for a book about a primitive culture I looked this one up (really never even knowing what it was about for sure until then) and got a copy for both of us. While she’s reading the excellent Crime and Punishment I thought I’d zip through this one before she got to it. That’s a long buildup before ever discussing this book, but I’m wanting to be honest in discussing my thoughts as I read this.

First, I’m giving this book five stars. I give a lot of books I enjoy five stars, but they’re generally books I enjoyed and lived up to what I was hoping for, or took a series that was good and made it better. This was one of those rare books that made me wish I’d be a bit pickier with my five star ratings as I enjoyed this book a lot more than many other books I’ve given five stars to. I’d say it’s on par with Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub for the best book I’ve read in the past few years.

However, I could see how this book would not be for everyone. Auel has a writing style here that I LOVED. It was very simple to follow, heavily based on advancing the narrative. However, Auel also has a habit for interjecting a modern reader’s sensibility into the story, discussing things like advanced medical science, or biology of the neanderthal brain. I could see how some readers will be taken out of the story by this, but I appreciated the interjections as a good narrator explaining the inner goings of the characters and the society they inhabit. The group of neanderthal (Clan) people also have some abilities that are rooted in fantasy, but the book tries to stay as grounded as possible in reality. While that mixture of modern science with fantasy abilities all taking place in a historical fiction type of narrative is unlike anything I’ve read, Auel (for this book at least) managed to bring it all together in an exemplary manner.

Clan of the Cave Bear features a small cast of about 20 characters, of which five are significantly developed and about another five are treated as important but also fairly static (along with the other ten or so characters). Ayla is the protagonist, a Cro-Magnon girl who gets adopted by the neanderthal tribe. Iza is the medicine woman who adopts her, Creb is the shaman type character for the clan, Brun is the tribe leader and Broud is his son and in line to be the next leader. I found myself loving four of these characters and hating the fifth, which I expect will be the same reaction for most who read this book.

I can see by the average Goodreads scores, that most people find the quality of this series to be of diminishing returns as it advances. I’m tempted to forego reading more of the series and just enjoying what a great book this is on its own. However, I already know I’ll be tracking down at least the next book as this one ends on enough of an open ending that I’d like to see what happens to the characters that are still alive from the group above, as well as the offspring of those characters.

5-star

“The Risen: A Novel of Spartacus by David Anthony Durham Review

The Risen

The Risen: A Novel of Spartacus

Author:  David Anthony Durham

Published:  2016

This was the third book I received from the Brilliant Book of the Month Club, and it was by far the best. The Risen is a retelling of the story of Spartacus, historical fiction done in the style of Game of Thrones. I base the GOT comparisons on the rotating cast of perspective characters that Durham utilizes to tell this story. Unlike GOT however, The Risen avoids a lot of the tedium and pacing issues that have dogged George R.R. Martin’s more recent works.

One third of the way through, I was keeping a list of the characters and assigning an actor to each one just so I could keep them straight. Thankfully, between 300, Troy, Game of Thrones, and a host of other swords and sandals epics I had plenty of cool actors to populate the cast. The book is broken up into three sections, with (as best as I can tell) one chapter per each section devoted to each of the perspective characters. Unlike GOT, the characters are almost all on the side of Spartacus, with two exceptions: Nonus (a cowardly Roman who reminded me of Theon Greyjoy) and Kaleb (a slave to Spartacus’s main rival Crassus). The rest of the perspective characters include obvious choices like Spartacus and Castus, as well as more diverse individuals like Vectia (an elderly woman who serves as a guide), Sura (a priestess to Kotis) and Philon (a greek medic slave).

Whereas my initial interactions with some of the characters made them difficult to differentiate (Castus and Dolmos seemed particularly bland in the early going), Durham does a fantastic job of giving each character a distinct viewpoint, history and motivation for their actions going forward. Durham also does a great job of pacing his reveals within his chapters, generally by beginning each new chapter by jumping ahead in the action and then filling in the blanks in intervals throughout. When characters begin to betray each other, or fall during battle, the reader is often made to wait several pages to find out who is involved in the action. I’d find this to be a problem in a different book, but here the plot moves so quickly that it never felt like a trick.

I was also reminded of Brandon Sanderson while reading this book, as by the end of it I had a clear idea of the plotting that went into it by the author. Each character introduced was necessary to the plot and contributed to the narrative in an essential way. My favorite chapters ended up involving Kaleb (who served as a stand in for any of the millions of people who could have led to a different outcome for the Risen) and Dolmos (who reminded me of Ned Stark by the end of it). I’d recommend this book to any fans of historical fiction or fans of the Roman era in history.

5-star

“Hollywood Failure” by Will Phillips Review

Hollywood Failure

Hollywood Failure

Author:  Will Phillips

Published:  2014

I’ve mentioned my love of the website Kickstarter.com before, and Hollywood Failure is another book that we stumbled across on that site.  The author seemed funny enough in his video and indicated he had already written the book (which is usually the biggest hurdle to somebody self publishing) so we contributed some money to help his goal of publishing the book become a reality.  There’s a genre of books on Kickstarter that we (my wife and I) tend to avoid, and it’s life stories by people that aren’t famous and also don’t even lead particularly interesting lives.  It would probably be more accurate to describe this book as fitting into that genre, but had Phillips done that I know I would have skipped out on it and that would have been unfortunate because I enjoyed reading his debut work.  I’d recommend reading this book if the description sounds funny to you and then finishing this review because I’m going to give away a lot (although I do have some reservations about what audience would most enjoy it).

 **Spoilers from here on out, although the end of the book is given away on the Goodreads blurb**  Tom “The Fever” Seaver is a Production Assistant (PA for the cool kids) on an animated series where the head writer likes to shoehorn human voices onto animal characters.  Tom has goals though; not content to do bitch work for other people, he secretly aspires to writing his own comedy show.  I say secretly, because he goes about this by occasionally sucking up to writers on shows or mentioning a single script he’s worked on, not by actually trying to break into the writing field.  Throughout the book he’ll switch jobs, girlfriends and modes of transportation, all while staying the same basic person (“The Fever!”) throughout.

 Why am I assuming this is a mostly true story?  Well, the author seems to invite a little detective work by the not so subtle hiding of actor and tv show names.  The description of the first show Tom worked on obviously struck me as very Family Guy-esque.  His followup endeavor about a housewife who tries to become a rock star on the “Estrogen” network, didn’t ring any bells, but complaints about a cast member provide a description for an actor who could only be Richard Ruccolo had me checking his IMDB page and finding a show called “Rita Rocks” that matched the plot described by Phillips.  The amazing Internet movie database even lists Will Phillips as staff member, and his own IMDB page includes “Family Guy,” and two other project that Tom Seaver described working on, a CBS procedural (“Cold Case”) that got cancelled, and a web series about FBI agents (“Murder Squad”).  (Why not just search Will Phillips on IMDB?  Because there’s a ton of Will Phillips on there, damn you people with common names.)

 Am I assuming that the entire story is true based on the author choosing a setting he’s familiar with?  For the most part, yeah.  There’s a few other things that contribute to that feeling: the frequent allusions to Tom going by “The Fever” had me laughing that Will Phillips likely went by “The Thrill” growing up.  In the acknowledgements page Will mentioned having a twitter page, which I looked up afterwards and believe I’ve located (@The Thryll), and also thanked a girl named Kirsten (which is a common name) and of course there is a Kirsten that played a very important role in the story in his life.  It’s possibly that was a fake name, but I doubt it because Phillips has too much fun with the name in a very relatable way.  The gimmick car and Flair chop scene also seemed too ridiculous to be fiction, sadly for the author.

 I read a ton of books, and normally I don’t go snooping around like a detective afterward.  Honestly, that was a lot of the fun for me reading this book was getting a little gossip about barely recognizable entertainment industry figures (my money is on Ian Gomez being the kind of guy to donate a weekend to helping on a web project) and feeling like I had to earn the knowledge through some online sleuth work and my own knowledge of Hollywood.  That on it’s own would not be enough to recommend reading a 250 page novel however.

 The best aspect of this book for me was the humor.  Some of it was lowbrow, but it was proud in its juvenile humor.  Any book with an extended sequence on sharting will likely not appeal to 100% of the population, but not everything is meant for everybody.  There are also about 12 to 15 professional wrestling references, so a working knowledge of Ric Flair will also add to your enjoyment of the humor.  The sexual sequences were handled well.  I was reminded a bit of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby in the honest, self-deprecating manner they were addressed.  Some of the humor could be categorized as “bro humor,” where Tom can seem anti-gay or anti-woman depending on his anger, and his classification of Mexicans (while probably flattering) is certainly rooted firmly in stereotypes.

 The more frustrating aspects of the book are inherent in the plot (and likely the author).  Although Tom realizes his roadblocks are internal, he doesn’t overcome them.  In fact, Tom self-sabotages himself in his work, finances and relationships.  The two main arcs throughout the book are his work on a web series and his relationship with Gracie.  The situation described to the reader is that Tom could maintain and improve both of these and be happy (or at least happier) but chooses to collect unemployment and be single instead.  The climax of the book (if this sort of episodic storytelling can have one) is the end of his relationship with Gracie.  By the time Tom has lost all his money, ended another relationship and spent too long on a Pawn Stars fantasy that anybody with a brain knows will never pay off the reader is ready to check out and Phillips wisely does the same in a two page wrap up.

 For a self published book, the book was well edited (I only caught one word omitted around page 165) and a pleasant typeface.  The covers on every self published book I’ve ever read get a bit more warped than other books after reading and this was no exception.  Any hopes of more of a character arc would really be hoping for an entirely different book.  Instead of hoping for that, I appreciate the humor and series of humorous events in Hollywood Failure and found it an entertaining read.

4-star

“Doc” by Mary Doria Russell Review

Doc

Doc

Author:  Mary Doria Russell

Release Date:  2011

I’m continuing to review books given glowing recommendations by my favorite Goodreads reviewers. This installment features a recommendation by Kemper who wrote:

“The best read of the year came in the form of two books that made up one historical fiction which added a lot of humanity to legendary figures of the Old West. Doc and Epitaph from Mary Doria Russell were not only entertaining stories but had me thinking a lot about fact vs. fiction when it comes to American myths.”

After finishing Doc I am excited to find and read Epitaph as this was a very well written and engrossing read. I actually knew a lot about Doc Holliday prior to reading this. In addition to having seen a half dozen westerns that portrayed him, I’d read an actual biography about him Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. As a result I had a pretty good idea of all of the historical details that make up the life of Doc, as well as the lack of resources available to verify the legend.

Before reading this book I was expecting a life story of the famous gunfighter but Russell wisely chooses to tell a story about his lesser known Dodge City days. The benefit of this is that the story can focus on humanizing Doc Holliday, Big Nose Kate and Wyatt & Morgan Earp before they become “famous” individuals. Holliday’s battles in this book involve trying to establish a dental practice, a relationship with Kate and live with consumption. Wyatt Earp’s conflicts center on understanding cowtown politics, adjusting to new teeth and living with a woman. The main plot (which is only loosely a straight forward narrative) is driven by the mystery of the death of a former slave and his missing money.

The use of guns in this book is significantly less than one would expect from the list of characters and setting which makes any moment with action feel much more important by comparison. Again this was a wise choice by Russell as the characters all obviously make it out of Dodge and down to Tombstone, so relying on life and death conflicts would not have had the same stakes as with an all fictional cast. Russell substitutes that action with horse racing, card games and a fist fights, all of which Holliday and the Earps are more vulnerable to.

Much like Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books, the nature of this title also allows for some fun historical notes afterward by Russell that provide a Cliff notes biography of Holliday for those not looking to read a whole non-fiction book or wikipedia entry about. There is also a nice table of characters at the beginning to distinguish from the real people with those created for the novel. A cursory glance shows that Russell used her creative liberty to both populate her town with more diversity and create a villain that she could portray as evil without offending any descendants.

My only criticism of this book was a recurring structure of introducing a character with lots of historical background at the beginning of each chapter. For main characters I found this interesting enough but once the story got moving the frequent detours seemed to drag the story more than they provided benefit in the form of context. I generally try to avoid plot spoilers or reading the backs of books ahead of time, so I look forward to finding out who or what exactly Epitaph is about.

4-star

Rank the Author: Bret Easton Ellis

Making his debut at age 21 with the dark and twisted “Less Than Zero,” Bret Easton Ellis is one of the few authors to achieve both celebrity level fame and vitriol in equal levels throughout his career.  For many, his stories are written simply to shock and titillate from a misogynistic viewpoint.  For others he is the master of populating the page with terrible human beings that draw the reader into their sordid affairs.  As part of the literary brat pack (with Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney), Ellis is also often linked to Generation Xers and his more contemporary works have suffered comparatively by most critical measures.

 When deciding how to read Ellis’s bibliography, part of the fun is in the use of shared characters and settings mainly by reference.  Much like Stephen King and his small towns in Maine, characters in Ellis’s work often know about events from other books or interact with characters from Ellis’s (and even other authors) earlier novels.  For that reason, a fun way to read his works is chronological order, starting with Less than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho, Glamorama, and Imperial Bedrooms.  The Informers and Lunar Park don’t take place in the same reality as those books, so if you are going this route I would read The Informers first and end things with Lunar Park.  If you are not interested in diving into the entirety of Ellis’s catalog, here’s how I would rank his books overall, from worst to best:

 Glamorama

7.  Glamorama

Release Date: 1998

 I would describe the plot of this book as Zoolander in the style of Guy Ritchie.  Models being used as killers with numerous identity deceptions and possible double identities… even trying to recall the plot is a recipe for a headache.  The biggest problems with the book are that the beginning takes a long time to get to the plot of the book, that plot is completely outlandish, and then Ellis never seems to be willing to wrap it up.  Even hardcore fans of the author seem to agree that at 500 pages the story meanders.  Recurring metaphors don’t really work either as they are drowned out by lengthy descriptions of drug use and ménage a trios.  My only enjoyment in reading it was the numerous ties it had to other Ellis works, none of which were worth the time spent getting through this disappointing book.

the informers

6 . The Informers

Release Date: 1994

 The only other book by Brett Easton Ellis that I would describe as skippable, even for fans of his writing style.  The Informers is a collection of short stories that are seemingly unconnected (though not totally) that often withholds the name of the narrator of the stories making the actual connections more troubling to put together than they are worth.  With another set of characters that might not have been an issue, but because so many of these characters are wealthy bi-sexual males I had trouble distinguishing between them for much of the individual stories.  However, unlike Glamorama, Ellis keeps things moving at an exciting pace and several of the scenes were particularly memorable.

less than zero

5.  Less than Zero

Release Date: 1985

 I was born a year before this book came out, so by the time I got around to reading it I’d already read several books done in the same style (and even several other Bret Easton Ellis books).  The story of a handful of the most shallow characters in literature, it’s iconic and preposterous at the same time.  Clay is on vacation from college and tries to reconnect with his best friend (Julian) and his girlfriend (Blair).  The drug use in this novel is so frequent, the plot could be described as three friends deal with varying level of drug problems in the 1980’s.  The problem is that reducing it to that misses the broader picture that Ellis portrays.  Reading this book is like opening a time capsule and immersing yourself in the contents.  The detachment that the characters express have the effect of numbing you to the tragic outcomes they face, which makes the read feel more real and unique than a similar story would as told by anybody else.  Unfortunately, that can make it a difficult read for many and an unpleasant one at other times for all.  Still, this is well worth checking out and making up your own mind.  (Also, more than any other book of Ellis, the film adaptation of this is awful.  If you’ve seen it, don’t let that sour you on reading this.)

lunar park

4.  Lunar Park

Release Date: 2005

 The Charlie Kauffman entry of the Ellis catalog, Ellis inserts himself into the story and goes down the rabbit hole.  Narrated by Ellis, the famous author of Less than Zero and other books, Ellis juggles personal issues (with exes, drugs and family) while possibly confronting a supernatural one (a killer identifying himself as Patrick Bateman, the lead character of Ellis’s American Psycho).    Reading Lunar Park is greatly enhanced by reading American Psycho beforehand.  Everything about this book works just right, combining what the reader knows or expect to know about the author with how characters would respond to these freak occurrences.  I should say, everything worked just right until the ending which spiraled a bit out of control.  With a fictionalized book about a real person I don’t know what sort of ending would have satisfactorily resolved the mystery and horror of this book, but lackluster ending aside I found this to be highly enjoyable.

 imperial bedrooms

3.  Imperial Bedrooms

Release Date: 2010

 This choice will be controversial.  Taking place 25 years after Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms follows Clay returning to Los Angeles to cast a film.  Much like Lunar Park, there is ambiguity in terms of how much is truth and how much is fiction, with the truth at issue concerning the events in Less Than Zero and their depictions in a popular book and movie.  Delving into dark territory of rape, murder and snuff films, the book takes away all the sentimentality that seems to surround Less Than Zero and reminds the reader of the amoral characters at its center.  For that reason I preferred it to its predecessor, as Ellis seemed upfront about the subject matter he was tackling.  I get that for many readers, this book cheapens Less than Zero or feels like a cash in by Ellis.  While I enjoyed LTZ, I don’t hold it in such high regard that revisiting it bothered me.  When I compare the two novels, I enjoyed this one much more, hence the ranking.

rules of attraction

2.  The Rules of Attraction

Release Date: 1987

 If you have never read Bret Easton Ellis and are looking for a book that encapsulates all his strengths and oddities, look no further and start reading here.  I’m surprised that Ellis hasn’t returned to the shifting perspectives he utilizes in this book in later writings because it’s perfectly executed and provides a very memorable reading experience.  Mainly told through the perspective of three students, Paul a bisexual man who formerly dated Lauren but is now extremely attracted to Sean.  The characters often interact and will recount the same events in previous chapters from vastly different perspective to the point that one or all must be lying about what took place.  Also mixed in are fantastic chapters by other narrators including the world’s fastest trip to Europe and a very moving suicide.  (Less successful is another section of the book entirely in French.)  Along with my number one pick, this book features frequent laughs and disgusting moments intertwined.

 american psycho

1.  American Psycho

Release Date: 1991

 Although I’d recommend The Rules of Attraction to new Ellis readers, I prefer American Psycho as his best work.  However, for many the graphic nature of the writing and the extensive time spent discussing designer name brands and band discographies will immediately turn them off.  While almost every character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel is detached and amoral, taking a deep dive into the mind of a (possible) serial killer during 1980’s corporate America could also be a lot to ask of a new reader unaccustomed to Ellis’s style.  In addition to that, American Psycho (and Ellis in general) also are often accused of being misogynist.  For my perspective, I would agree that Patrick Bateman is very misogynist.  However, he’s also a sociopathic, materialistic psychopathic sadist and the book is just telling a story from his perspective.

 Those are the criticisms with the book.  They don’t mention how perfectly Ellis straddles the line between satire of an entire lifestyle and realistic conversations that take place in that place.  The result is a book filled with very funny moments drawn from the absurdity of that contrast.  Much like the excellent film that was adapted from it, American Psycho is very dark humor.  Scenes of Bateman being normal and fitting in with a crowd are followed nonchalantly by statements about him eating handfuls of sand on the beach following a party.  A coworker getting reservations at a new restaurant is an existential crisis.  The unreliable narrator is used to great effect as entries vary in length and relevance to what is occurring in his life.  Much like Ellis’s writing style, American Psycho is certainly not for everybody.  However, many other it is without a doubt Ellis’s best work.

“I”m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid Review

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Author:  Iain Reid

Release Date: 2016

I'm thinking of ending things

“You will be scared, but you won’t know why.”

That’s the entire plot description on the back of “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” an Award winning debut novel by Iain Reid. The rest of the book jacket is covered with glowing reviews and endorsements. There’s also a picture of a car covered in snow on the cover, and the words “A novel” handwritten on the bottom corner. Obviously the author and publisher feel the less you know going into this book the more you will enjoy it. While I never read the back of a book before purchasing/reading, I decided to check this one out after finishing it to see how they advertised it to readers because it’s the sort of book that will infuriate plenty of them.

I’m going to spoil the end of the book later on in this review, so here are some discussion questions for the group for if you should continue reading on through the spoilers. In order or relevance:

1) Did you enjoy either of the following movies “Shutter Island” or “Identity?”
2) Do you enjoy playing games likes Resident Evil and wish you could read a recap of the one of the levels from the perspective of the playable character?
3) Does spending nearly half a book on a two hour car ride with an unnamed narrator and her know it all boyfriend sound like a deal breaker up front?

How did you answer? If you enjoyed those two movies, I think you’ll probably enjoy this book. When I saw each of those, I was like McKayla Maroney on the podium (for those in the future, that’s a meme joke from a few years back that equals “not impressed”). It wasn’t that the stories were bad or the execution was poor. The problem with both of them was when they were released. After years of movies with (similar) twist endings, as a viewer I was conditioned to predict/expect the twist. But I was then double conditioned to be disappointed that it was the same twist I predicted. Those two films weren’t exactly Titanic, so if you missed both of them hopefully you’ll get my larger point from the context they’re mentioned. If I mention the earlier films with twist endings that were more popular, I’d just be spoiling the book by analogy.

The Resident Evil question will probably leave even more people scratching their heads. For the non-gamers out there, there is a whole genre of video games that capitalize on the horror genre. In them, the protagonist wanders out around quiet and seemingly empty structures aware that at any moment their death can be around the corner in some gruesome manner. For one excruciatingly long stretch of this book it felt like I was stuck inside one of those levels and it ended up souring me overall on its enjoyment. Even as a fan of horror movies, reading about a character wandering the halls of an empty building for 25 pages never felt at all suspenseful.

For many reviewers, the long car ride up front kept them from ever enjoying this book. I ranked that question third, because as revealed in the discussion questions section at the end of the book it was author Iain Reid’s favorite part to write and I personally did not mind it. My main critique from it was that the development of the narrator felt inorganic through so many memories being brought up. As a reader I knew right away I was being manipulated by the author. Before I knew the reveal at the end, this section (and to a lesser extent the arrival at the farm) were both fine. There were some interesting philosophical discussions and some good use of language that kept the otherwise routine undertaking from feeling tedious.

If you’re this far in and you don’t want to know what happens, I’ll wrap this up by saying that overall this book did not work for me. The ending felt predictable, with way too much buildup for a twist that was not only foreseeable but also the only logical way to wrap things up once the unnamed narrator sees the pictures at Jake’s house. While the writing was enjoyable during conversations, it did not work succeed at creating suspense in what should have been a terrifying situation.

**Spoilers Follow**

There is a subplot running through this book that never really goes anywhere. The narrator (whose name is not Steph, but could literally be anything else) is getting cryptic phone calls and mysterious voice mail from a male caller. She mentions that the caller ID states it is coming from her own phone number but she’s not sharing that with anybody. At that point I thought I saw a “Fight Club” twist coming on but hoped I’d be surprised by something else. (I didn’t mention “Fight Club” because everybody knows that twist, whereas if you’ve seen and remember “Identity” or “Shutter Island” you’ve been subjected to numerous similar twists and will see it coming). By the time the main character gets to the farm and sees a picture of herself, hears Jake do an exact impression of her, and experiences several continuity errors with the parents it’s obvious that she and Jake are one and the same.

Although that revelation is not confirmed until the final few pages, the entire sequence in the empty high school suffers as a result of that revelation hanging in the air. There is never any suspense that the narrator is in danger. The narrator directly stating “you can’t know how terrified I am because only somebody as alone in a situation like this would understand” only highlights how not terrified the reader is. Reid would be better served ignoring the twist ending unless it is more original than the one he employs here. Unfortunately the negatives in terms of predictability and lack of suspense outweigh the better scenes sprinkled throughout.

**Note – This is the second book I received as part of the Brilliant Books monthly Book subscription program. While I wasn’t a big fan of the book, I appreciate that it was a different genre from the first one and not a new release, so I have no idea what will be getting shipped to my house next.

2-star

“Rabbit Remembered” by John Updike Review

rabbit remembered

Rabbit Remembered

Author: John Updike

Release Date: 2000

Return to the world of Brewer, Pennsylvania to check in on the Angstrom clan in this nostalgia trip by John Updike. Set ten years after the excellent “Rabbit at Rest,” this book brings back the supporting cast from the previous four books by focusing on Nelson and Janice as they become aware of Harry’s illegitimate daughter Annabelle. Along the way we get updates on Nelson’s wife Pru, two children Roy and Judy and even minor characters like childhood friend Billy and Rabbit’s rival Ronnie Harrison.

I imagine reading these books when they came out was an amazing experience as each book brings back characters years apart and shines a light on their lives. This book felt the tidiest in the entire series which made it more enjoyable than “Rabbit, Redux” (which was a mess in the sense that it was all over the place) but less entertaining that “Rabbit at Rest” (which felt more free to tell its own story rather than be tied to nostalgia).

The real joy in reading this book was the nostalgia from my own life as the events in this book finally got to events that I grew up being aware of. Updike has always spent a lot of time visiting the headlines of the year in the the Rabbit book takes place. This has served well to both set the setting for the book on a macro level as well as provide political views of the characters in reaction. However most of these books were written before I was alive or cognizant of those same headlines. “Rabbit Remembered” spends time on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, Y2K and best picture nominee “American Beauty.” The result for me was a stroll down memory lane both with characters I’ve spent four books with as well as with the headlines of my own youth.

As a series the Rabbit books are fairly uneven, but the positives definitely outweighed the negatives for me. I consider book four to be the conclusion of the series, and while this novella did not detract from that ending in any way it also felt very anticlimactic in wrapping up the story of Nelson and crew in comparison. The biggest strength was in characters like Nelson and Ronnie, who originally did not appreciate Harry, finding reason to remember him and even stick up for him at times. Saying goodbye to Rabbit and the folks in Brewer was sad enough in book four; “Rabbit Remembered” is a good reminder that a trip down memory lane is worthwhile if there was enjoyment on that path in the first place.

3-star