Recent Reads: On Chesil Beach, The Art of Fielding, and The Newlyweds

It’s summertime (for grad students, at least), and that means I finally have time to read for pleasure once again, which is a glorious feeling. Here’s a look at what I’ve been reading lately:

on chesil beach, the art of fielding, the newlyweds

On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan): This was a strange little novel; it’s just over 200 pages and I’ve owned it for years but never managed to read it despite its brevity. The book takes place over the course of one night – the main characters’ wedding night – with flashbacks to how they met. To get through this book, you have to resign yourself to the fact that it’s not about a plot (nothing much really happens), but more about creating a sketch of the two main characters, of their emotions and quirks and inexperience. Overall, I kept getting the sense that I was supposed to find the book much more profound than I actually did. In fact, the only part that struck me as particularly thought-provoking came on the last page of the book, with this line: “This is how the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing.” That’s good stuff. The rest of the novel? Not so much.

The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach): At one point last summer, seemingly all of my friends were reading this book (and raving about it). Needless to say, I had high expectations going in, and this is the rare book that met them. I was a bit hesitant that this would be too much of a “baseball book” for me, but it’s not at all – yes, baseball is a huge part of the story, but the book seems to use it more as a metaphor for life in general, which I liked. The book tells the story of five people – three baseball players, the school president, and his daughter – at a small liberal arts college is Wisconsin. Harbach creates five well-defined and memorable characters, and I was totally rooting for all of them, messed up though they were. I also loved the novel’s ending, which is becoming something of a rarity for me these days; it wasn’t wrapped up perfectly neat and tidy, but the resolution was quite satisfying.

The Newlyweds (Nell Freudenberger): This novel tells the story of Amina and George, who meet online and wind up marrying, with Amina emigrating from Bangladesh to Rochester, New York to be with him. Having just taken a course on immigration law, I was distracted the entire time I was reading this novel – I kept thinking about everything I’d learned from class about citizenship and visa requirements (cough, cough, law nerd). In any case, I was initially fascinated by the strangeness of George and Amina’s relationship and by Amina’s attempts to adjust to life in the US. I finished the entire book in a day, unable to stop reading because I had to know what would happen next. Ultimately, however, I was disappointed – Amina became increasingly unlikeable, and the novel seemed largely unresolved at the end. I couldn’t help but think there was so much more story Freudenberger could have told about the fate of George and Amina’s marriage.

(Reading 27 new-to-me books is part of my 27 for 27 list. These are books #7-9. Look here for books #1-3 and #4-6)

All images via Goodreads

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