When I was in college, I read Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec. I was absolutely stunned that Perec’s 500 page tome takes place in a single moment. The Dinner by Herman Koch follows a similar pattern, and while it’s not as long as the aforementioned, it still manages to build tension and stay interesting.
The premise of the book is simple: four adults, two brothers and their wives meet for dinner together. The tension over their meal builds, as they anticipate the impending conversation about their children. There’s a hint that something horrible has happened, and Koch slowly shares details that illuminate the events that transpired. Over the course of their meal, the parents come to realize that their three sons are capable of heinous acts and their parental instincts take over as they attempt to formulate a plan to deal with the repercussions of their sons’ actions.
Koch has a real talent for developing characters and building anticipation. The narrator, Paul, is unreliable af, but I found myself trusting him. Although I didn’t find any of the characters to be sympathetic or likable, I still found myself invested in their story. And, yes, the book was slow paced, but I really enjoyed Koch’s writing and didn’t mind that the book essentially builds to a single conversation.
The Dinner. Herman Koch, Horgarth, 2013.
Confession: I haven’t read anything in nearly a month. I usually read on a consistent basis, then get into reading slumps where I can’t find anything interesting. I’m hoping a trip to the library tomorrow will cure this problem.
The Curious Incident is a super quick read. While the plot isn’t that interesting, I thought the book was really endearing. More importantly, the book gives a better understanding of how people with autism think. The writing style is very simple, yet important to the novel, as it’s narrated by a boy with autism.
The writing style is very reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, so I would recommend reading one if you liked the other.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time. Mark Haddon. Vintage Contemporaries, 2004.
I almost never recommend historical books, especially if they’re non-fiction. Mostly because historical non-fiction is almost always written for historians. While I read a lot of excellent books published by academic presses, I would never tell my friends to read them because, quite frankly, academic reading is much more rigorous than leisure reading.
Erik Larson’s work is the best of both worlds. Seriously. Larson was trained as a historian and a journalist, which means he knows how to dig for evidence and analyze what he finds, and write a narrative. Devil is actually two stories- the first is of the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the second of H.H. Holmes, America’s first known serial killer. Larson weaves accounts of Holmes’ murders against the backdrop of the designing of the World’s Fair.
The chapters on Holmes are, at times, gruesome, but I found them to be well-balanced with the story of the World’s Fair. This book does have a lot of detail in it, but I could not put it down. If you liked Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, I think you might like this one, although if you’re not a fan of Capote, you might still enjoy the history of the Chicago World’s Fair.
As a side note, have you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I’ve been trying to read it for over a week, but I keep losing interest. I think the dragging on may be part of his style and important to the book, but I’m not sure I can finish it. What do you think, should I hang in there, or move on to the next book?
Erik Larson. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Vintage Books, 2004.