Monday, June 9, 2008

Ursula, Under

I have reviews on the brain. No surprise there: I'm revved up because my publicist emailed me this morning to let me know that two new reviews of Summer Snow have been posted: one at TitleTrakk and one at Novel Reviews. They're good ones!

Anyway, I can't help loving a review. Even a bad one. I suppose there is something inherently conversational about art of any sort (it's intended for an audience, after all), and I just plain enjoy hearing what someone has to say about my meager offerings. Although, I could have done without one teenager's take on Leaves ("it sucked!"). Oh well, someone's bound to hate my stuff.

Enough blabbing. Today, in the spirit of reviews, I thought I'd write a quick review of the most recent book I've read: Ursula, Under. I had the pleasure of hearing Ingrid Hill speak at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing and I bought her book while I was there. It's taken me a while to complete... but more on that later. I'd like to do more book reviews as time goes on, so maybe this will just be the first in a long line. We'll see.

From the publisher:
One of the most widely praised and rapturously entertaining first novels in recent years begins with a little girl falling down an abandoned mineshaft in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her name is Ursula Wong, she’s part Chinese, part Finnish, only two years old, and soon the dangerous effort to rescue her has an entire country glued to the TV. As it follows that effort, Ursula, Under re-creates the chain of ancestors, across two thousand years, whose lives culminate in the fragile miracle of a little girl underground: a Chinese alchemist in the third century bc, the orphaned playmate to a seventeenth- century Swedish queen, Ursula's great-great-grandfather who was the casualty of a mining accident that eerily foreshadows Ursula’s dilemma, and many more. A work of symphonic richness and profound empathy, Ursula, Under dramatically demonstrates that no one is truly alone.
My review:
Ursula, Under is indeed a rich tapestry. Filled with fascinating historical vignettes and a collection of diverse stories, the book weaves through several generations to prove the deep worth of one little girl. The prose is lovely in places, and each individual story is captivating in its own right. However, I had a difficult time staying interested in Ursula, Under and it took me weeks to finally finish the book. I read several books while I was reading Ursula (including Angela Hunt's newest books, Doesn't She Look Natural? and She Always Wore Red, a light Kristin Billerbeck novel, Mischa Berlinski's Fieldwork, and I started Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay.) Usually I read two books at a time, but it's rare for me to complete so many before finishing one I've started. I chalk this up to the fact that Hill had so many sub-stories going on in Ursula, that I forgot to care about the main plotline: a little girl in a well. The book read like a series of short stories instead of a novel, and each time we came back to the present day plot, I had to remind myself what was going on. Don't get me wrong, the book was enjoyable. But ultimately, I wasn't emotionally involved and therefore didn't feel compelled to stay up for "just one more chapter..."

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