The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
Oedipa Maas has just been notified that she has been appointed to be the executrix for Pierce Inverarity's will. She is stunned and lost about how to go about this task of sorting out the affairs of an ex-boyfriend. What follows is a bit of a wild trip--was the whole thing a complex, well-planned hoax aimed at Oedipa, perhaps for revenge? The "ending" made it seem as though the fact that Oedipa showed up for this auction was the answer to The Question. "She won't be easy" was the only thing the deceased Pierce Inverarity ever told Metzger the lawyer about her, and she wasn't. Actually, in the end, I felt that a joke had been played on ME.
There were some very funny moments in this twisted and fascinating plot. The names of the characters are priceless, too. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I was definitely drawn in. If this "review" is too cryptic, go ahead--it's only 152 pages. However, be warned: it's not a quick, easy read. I read lots of it twice, but it made me no wiser.
The Sea, by John Banville
Banville's captivating writing style leads the way into a personal history of loving and grieving, two stories at opposite ends of a life. Banville's main character, Max Morden, ponders how well he's known anyone and what has been relevant in his relationships--he is struggling, during this hard time, to describe the eternal substance of his past relationships, what feelings he's taken away, which memories he will cherish forever.
Banville gives Morden's perceptions and vulnerabilities a well-developed history as the narrative recalls the circumstances of Morden's dismal childhood. There was his strange early friendship with a girl from a different class and then the sudden loss of that one joy, the disappearance of his father and subsequent economic and emotional turmoil of his teenaged years with his mother, then his relationship with Anna, his wife, and then her death. And at last, there is his relationship with his daugher, Claire, who is trying very hard to be a relevant character in her father's life.
Morden does not magically recover at the end of the book, but rather enters another phase of his life, as he continues to cope with the way things are now and begins to sort out the "what now" question. Banville has taken on a very difficult subject and made it appealingly readable.
I'm nearing the end of another read, so it won't be so long between reviews, next time. I must note, too, that the contrast between Pynchon and Banville made me dizzy, at first. They turned out to be an odd pair to read back-to-back.