Thursday, August 2, 2012

Review: Juliet in August

Summary: With writing reminiscent of Alice Munro, Carol Shields, Larry McMurtry, and Elizabeth Strout, Juliet in August uncovers the incredible drama beneath the inhabitants of a sleepy prairie town.

Juliet, Saskatchewan, is a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of town—a dusty oasis on the edge of the Little Snake sand hills. It’s easy to believe that nothing of consequence takes place there. But the hills vibrate with life, and the town’s heart beats in the rich and overlapping stories of its people: the rancher afraid to accept responsibility for the land his adoptive parents left him; the bank manager grappling with a sudden understanding of his own inadequacy; a shy couple, well beyond middle age, struggling with the recognition of their feelings for each other. And somewhere, lost in the sand, a camel named Antoinette. -- Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
As many of you already know, I am a huge fan of Amy Einhorn books. In fact, I can always count on this imprint for unique books and quality writing. The most recent Amy Einhorn book that I read is called JULIET IN AUGUST by Dianne Warren, and it was no exception. While the book was different (in a good way) and the writing was stellar, I don't know if I can actually say that I loved this novel in its entirety. But I did like it a lot.. and there were parts that I loved.

JULIET IN AUGUST is a beautiful novel about some individuals who live in a Saskatchewan town called Juliet. This small and quiet town borders the desert and it appears that not much happens here; however, there are many special residents whose lives are filled with drama and intrigue. Take for instance, the adopted man who feels he has to assume responsibility for his family's ranch or the banker who finds that his job is just as stressful as his home life. There is also the lonely, widowed woman who still lives with her brother-in-law even after the death of her husband, as well as the large family who is living on the brink of poverty and just trying to make it through each day. Through alternating chapters, JULIET IN AUGUST offers a glimpse into these people's lives and weaves together their stories.

Overall, I enjoyed JULIET IN AUGUST, especially the author's writing style; and I most definitely liked how she brought the small town of Juliet to life. Her descriptions of Juliet were so well done that the town actually became another character to me; and I loved how she juxtaposed this quiet small town with the goings-on of its inhabitants. It was apparent that Ms. Warren captured the essence of small town life and its secrets.

I also liked the way the author chose to tell this story. While all of the chapters in this book were definitely linked, I appreciated how each one almost seemed as if it could stand-alone. This might sound funny, but the book struck me as an assortment of related short stories that were woven together through a few events and characters -- kind of similar to Olive Kitteridge, yet obviously very different!

Another thing that I liked about JULIET IN AUGUST was how Ms. Warren made these characters and their actions so real to the reader. I found myself getting caught up in their lives as well as their troubles and rooting for their happiness. While I appreciated each of the characters and how they fit into the novel, there were definitely a few that I liked more than others -- but isn't that always the case in books where there are multiple story lines?

Despite all of these positive things, I still didn't fall head over heels for JULIET IN AUGUST. On one hand, I liked how quiet the story and writing were, but on the other hand, there were times that I thought the book was almost too stark. I'm probably not explaining this very well, but there were times that I found myself losing interest in some of the characters and their stories. Fortunately, the author managed to have enough happen towards the end of the novel that I definitely wanted to keep reading and see how these stories eventually played out.

JULIET IN AUGUST might make a good book club pick for groups who enjoy literary fiction and are looking for something a little different. The characters in this novel are quite interesting in their own right, and the book does touch upon some serious issues including grief, depression, dysfunctional relationships, love, poverty, and guilt. In addition, there are many symbols and themes woven into the story that might be interesting to discuss.

I enjoyed JULIET IN AUGUST, but I'm pretty sure it won't be a book that I remember for years down the road. What I will remember, though, is that Dianne Warren has a wonderful way with words.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Serena said...

These types of books intrigue me..I like stories that have chapters that could stand alone.

bermudaonion said...

There's a desert near Saskatchewan? I really wasn't paying attention in geography class! I'm intrigued by format of this book - each chapter being a separate story. Sounds good!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I had to laugh about what Kathy said about Saskatchewan - I had the exact same reaction! LOL

Julie P. said...

Maybe desert isn't quite the right word, but check out this youtube video:

A lesser known attraction in Saskatchewan near the village of Sceptre. If you love deserts and sand dunes as I do, you'll find this site fascinating. It can't be classed as a desert but the dunes are impressive nonetheless.

Beth F said...

I loved, loved, loved this book. I liked the starkness and quietness. I liked how it could be read in different ways. Great, balanced review.