Tin Man by Sarah Winman
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction
Publication Date: July 2017
The Good: As soon as I finished the first chapter, I knew I’d love this book. It starts with Ellis’s mother winning a raffle at a pub and defying her abusive husband by choosing a painting of sunflowers as her prize instead of the bottle of liquor he wanted. I knew we were in for some quiet, realistic drama. Tin Man did not disappoint. It’s definitely full of quiet drama.
A lot of that drama comes from the main characters’ love lives. I have very rarely said this, but . . . I didn’t mind the love triangle. You’re shocked, I know, but the love triangle actually makes logical sense! Ellis loves both Annie and Michael. There are valid reasons why Ellis and Michael can’t be together. It’s all kind of heartbreaking, and I’m not going to talk about it because of spoilers.
The structure of the novel is brilliant. It jumps around to show the characters at different points in their lives. You find out early on that Michael and Annie have died as adults, and the friendship between the characters was strained at the time of their deaths. I immediately wanted to know what happened. What could damage such a strong friendship/love triangle? This story doesn’t have any explosions or car chases, but there is still a lot of tension. It was hard for me to put the book down.
My favorite aspect of the story is that most of it is set during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. I wasn’t alive back then, but the author made me understand the fear of possibly catching a deadly disease. The world was not nice to gay men in the 80s. The book captures the characters’ confusion, desperation, terror, and loneliness in a believable way.
The Bad: Occasionally, the writing is too pretentious and sentimental for my tastes. The characters are the kind of people who wander (or bike) aimlessly around town and think about how crappy their lives are. They quote poetry at each other and wonder about the sound of a heart breaking. It all made me roll my eyes. I’ve told you before that I’m a coldhearted witch. Parts of this book are just too gag-inducing for me.
“And I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. Like the sound of an exhausted swallow falling gently to earth.” – Tin Man
The Bottom Line: I didn’t love it as much as professional literary critics seem to, but it’s a quick, captivating read that melted my icy heart (a tiny bit).
Some Possible Solutions: Stories by Helen Phillips
Genre: Adult Short Story Collection
Publication Date: May 2016
The Good: The author has a huge imagination, and she’s absolutely fearless when it comes to writing. These stories are bizarre. They push boundaries. They demand that you use your brain. The characters live in worlds that are similar to ours, but just different enough to make the reader feel unsettled. There something sad and off-kilter lurking beneath the surface of these tales.
My favorite story is “The Knowers.” It’s a sci-fi examination of the different ways we deal with grief. Would you want to know the exact day you’re going to die? If you knew your death date, how would that change your relationship with your family? It’s a thought-provoking story.
The Bad: I didn’t understand the majority of these stories. They are all very, very weird. I felt like I was constantly missing the point. If I was supposed to get something out of reading this collection, I didn’t get it.
The Bottom Line: I’m confused. I think I’d understand the stories better if I reread them, but I have no desire to do that. I like some weirdness in my books, but this one is too weird.