Friday, August 17, 2012

book review: Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx

The backstory: Accordion Crimes was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 1997.

The basics: Accordion Crimes traces the lives of immigrants from a variety of countries  throughout the 1900's as a single green accordion ties the stories loosely together.

My thoughts: From the very first pages, I was enchanted with the writing of E. Annie Proulx. I vaguely recall reading Close Range in college, but I can't remember if I even liked her writing or stories. I'll remember her now. The downside to my love of her writing was her brilliant characterization, as I didn't realize when I started this book that it  was a series of (long) short stories. When the first story came to an end, I was devastated. In some ways, the book never quite recovered for me. Despite the significance of the accordion to both the characters and stories, the accordion was perhaps my least favorite aspect of this novel. As a narrative device, it worked beautifully. I loved the idea of an object passing through the lives and hands of different people, and most of the transitions were intriguing.

To fault Proulx for being disappointed with this book because I was expecting a novel is unfair. I like to know as little as possible before reading books that come highly recommended (or appear on prize lists). While Accordion Crimes is beautifully written and features several engaging stories, I failed to emotionally connect with some of them. As is so often the case for me as a reader, I enjoyed the first story best. When it ended, I was sad and struggled most with the second story. Once I got a sense of her overarching goals and structure, I was drawn into most of the other stories, but none captured the same spark as the first one.

Favorite passage:  "...for he conducted his life as everyone does--by guessing at the future."

The verdict:  While the writing was gorgeous, the stories didn’t come together enough for me. Ultimately, it didn’t feel like a novel, despite the strong thematic elements. While I’ll eagerly read Proulx again, next time I’ll try a novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 432 pages
Publication date: June 19, 1996
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Accordion Crimes from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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10 comments:

  1. You know, I've felt the same about Proulx's writing before too. I read her short story, Brokeback Mountain, which was beautiful and devastating but lacked something for me. I hope your next read is much better.

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    1. Thanks, Vasilly. I wish I hadn't read back-to-back books I thought were novels that were really short stories. Oh well.

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  2. Did you ever read Great House by Nicole Krauss? I feel that it was somewhat similar considering each "story" focused on a new acquirer of this ancient desk. However, I couldn't connect with it and ended up putting it down before finishing. Although I intend to complete it, because I am such a fan of Krauss's work, I can definitely say that I'm not so much thrilled by the thought.
    I love love love accordions and the beautiful sounds it allows a user to make, so I was interested when I read the title, but it just doesn't sound like something I'll jump at the chance to pick up.

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    1. Yes, I think there were lots of similarities between Great House and this one. The writing in both was gorgeous, but Great House came together a bit more for me in the end.

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  3. The Shipping News was very sad, but I have a feeling that you would appreciate that one. I do want to read this book, because lately I have been interested in stories that seem to have an overarching theme throughout interlinking stories. I might have to add this one to my wish list, and as usual, incredible review!

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation of The Shipping News. I've heard wonderful things about it, and as I adored the writing, I think a novel is the next Proulx for me to explore.

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  4. I have this one but haven't read it. I'm not sure I realized it wasn't a novel either so I'll try to remember that when I do get a chance to pick it up!

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    1. Kristen, it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, so at least some people consider it a novel, but really the accordion is the only 'character' to move between the stories. I hope you like it!

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  5. I read this one years and years ago, and I remember loving it. I pulled it out and set it aside recently, wanting to re-read it. I remember it being interconnected short stories, but I don't remember all the details of the characters and the accordion. I wonder if I'll love it the second time around, especially since it's obviously not a book that's stayed clear in my mind over the years.

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    1. Anna, I hope you do love it as much. I deeply regret reading this one right after another book I thought was a novel that was actually short stories, and I fear this progression hampered my enjoyment of it even more.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!