Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hersey and McCarthy

Hiroshima by John Hersey

It doesn't quite feel right to describe this as a "good book" because of the subject that it deals with in harsh details, but it certainly is captivating. Hersey's journalistic approach presents the stories of five people who were in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. He recounts where they were, their struggle in the days, weeks, and months following the attack, and, in an updated version of the book, revisits his characters forty years after to summarize how the rest of their lives played out.

It is a sobering account of the lives of people who lived through certain hell and told with such vivid description. Some of the characters lives are truly ruined by the event while others show an unprecedented triumph of the human spirit. It is an incredibly up-close, ugly picture of that kind of war, but one that should be understood.

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

This is probably one of the strangest books I've read, but it has a great hook at the beginning and finishes well at the end, the middle was a little sluggish - perhaps intentionally.

The story follows a man who was injured in a mysterious accident and receives a huge financial settlement as compensation. As he deliberates on what to spend this money on, he has this lightbulb-above-the-head moment, a certain clarity of what he wants to do with his money. He begins to re-enact places and events in his life. For example, his first re-enactment is this apartment complex with a lady below him who cooks liver and a pianist practicing a piece of music over and over. He re-creates this using actors and props to simulate the smell of the liver wafting through his window and the sound of the piano up through the floor boards. He goes on to re-enact an event in a tire shop, murders on the street, and a bank robbery. The attention to detail and small seemingly insignificant things is obsessive.

The writing and commentary is sharp and biting, but I didn't find it quite as smart as, say, Chuck Palahniuk in Fight Club or Survivor - but it has that sort of tone. I really enjoyed this and, if nothing else, it's certainly different than anything else you are likely to read. I think it has really interesting things to say about happiness and the memory of happiness.

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