July 15, 2009

Three Reviews: Jewel, Gilgamesh, and Made in the U.S.A.

I've really been slacking on book reviews, so I have to play catch-up. I have to hurry too, because there's a sleepy baby grabbing my ankle.

Jewel by Bret Lott

This was an incredible book. It's the story of a woman's life, from her childhood in rural Mississippi pre-WWII, to her marriage and motherhood -culminating in the birth of a disabled daughter as the story begins- and old age. After this daughter (her sixth child) is born, her life is taken over by the special demands involved. Her marriage and friendships suffer. Finally she convinces her husband to move to California, where an organization for disabled children is making progress. It's difficult to describe this book accurately. It would be easy to paint as another "disabled child" story along the lines of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, but there's much more to it than that (as there was to The Memory Keeper's Daughter). This book follows recent American History, allowing glimpses into lives trying to keep up with rapid change and progress and the ups and downs of economy and culture. Five stars.

Gilgamesh by Joan London.

I'll be honest, I know nothing about the Epic of Gilgamesh. If I did, maybe this book would have had more of an impact on me. This is a story of hopelessness and pointlessness. At least that's how I see it. A girl growing up in the Australian bush pre-WWII with a mentally impaired mother and a self-righteous sister gets pregnant by an exotic visitor. After the baby is born she decides to try to find the baby's father in Armenia. So she goes there, spends a few years taking care of two thankless invalid women, hoping to find the man. One day she suddenly gets word that he'd died, and she has to go back to Australia. So she does. And raises her son in the bush. The end. No point as far as I can see. Three stars for good writing, but that's about it.

Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts

My mom's family has a big thing for Billie Letts, because they are Oklahomans and so is she. So I've read all her books, starting with Where the Heart Is when it first came out. In Made in the U.S.A., Letts attempts to get into the mind of a rebellious teenaged girl. Since I've never been one, I can't really say how she did on that score. Lutie and her little brother, Fate, are orphaned (can I just say here that I'm really darn tired of writers using all these portentous names? What's wrong with real, typical names like Haley and Zack? Emily and Jacob? Abby and Hunter?). Terrified of being shoved into foster care, they steal a car and head to Vegas, where they live in their car and struggle to get on their feet. This was a really good read. Nothing mind blowing or anything, but a good, fulfilling read. Four stars.


  1. The name thing bugs me. I think they generally need to fit into baby names that would be usual at the time of the chracter's birth, had they actually been born. If not, then there at least needs to be a purpose for their name being something else (and surely not ALL the characters need weird names!).

  2. I haven't read Jewel yet, but plan to soon. My mom loved it, and now I find out you did.

    You beat me to a review of the Billie Letts book! I finished it a couple of weeks ago, but have been too lazy to do a review. I really liked it, though. It was a bit rough in parts, so the only thing I can add to your review is that readers should be warned it contains graphic language, sex, pornography, drugs.... For me that just added a more realistic element to the book, but to some people it might be a little much. But overall, I found it hard to put down.

  3. How does "Made in the USA" compare to "Where The Heart Is" which I adored?

  4. Lit and Life: I've read everything by Letts, and nothing she's done since Where the Heart Is is as good. The Honk and Holler Opening Soon was okay, Shoot the Moon was... meh. I'd give them both three stars. Made in the U.S.A. was much better, and in somewhat of a similar vein. In fact, in both books, you've got teenagers being abandoned at WalMart. I guess she figured that led to success with Where the Heart Is and decided to go back to that literary root. As Jacki said there is a lot of sex and drugs and such in this book, so that's something to watch out for if you're sensitive to it. Otherwise Where the Heart Is still reigns supreme, but this is the next best of her books in my opinion. It's worth a read.


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