Sunday, June 26, 2011

Relative Reads: The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (part 1)

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
published May 2003
657 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Talcott Garland is a successful law professor, devoted father, and husband of a beautiful and ambitious woman, whose future desires may threaten the family he holds so dear. When Talcott's father, Judge Oliver Garland, a disgraced former Supreme Court nominee, is found dead under suspicioius circumstances, Talcott wonders if he may have been murdered. Guided by the elements of a mysterious puzzle that his father left, Talcott must risk his marriage, his career and even his life in his quest for justice.

My thoughts:

My mom read this on her 3-month sabbatical in Arizona over the winter, and when she came home told me I MUST read it next. Guess it's time to get started, huh.....*grin*

June 6 - Wow. Now this is a book that has substance. When my mom originally told me about it, she said that she initially didn't know if she would enjoy it, because she didn't know if she would be able to CARE about any of these characters, and I understand what she meant - so far, the cast is large, and not especially warm and cuddly. They are, however, extremely intriguing. I find myself curious about each relationship, each interaction, how the disparate personalities will attempt to find middle ground. And the mystery has hooked me - I want to KNOW what arrangements creepy Uncle Jack is talking about.

And the writing is excellent. I said it before - it feels like it has substance. I believe that the author chose each word of the narrative specifically - each has a purpose. I've already marked a number of excerpts - here are just a couple:

"I stare at the instrument, thinking - not for the first time - what a nasty, intrusive, uncivil thing the telephone really is, demanding, irritating, interrupting, invading the mind's space. I wonder why Alexander Graham Bell is such a hero. His invention destroyed the private realm. The device has no conscience. It rings when we are sleeping, showering, praying, arguing, reading, making love. Or when we just want desperately to be left alone. " (p. 16)

"I have always loved cemeteries, especially old ones: their satisfied sense of the past and its connection to the present, their almost supernatural quietude, their stark reassurance that the wheel of history turns indeed. " (p. 57)

June 25 - I've decided to create multiple posts for this book - because:

A. It is taking me a L O O N G time to read (not the fault of the book - work exploded into disaster 2 weeks ago, and I had the wedding of my friend Allison to play the piano for this weekend, so my reading time has been limited)

B. I think I might have quite a bit to say, and I don't want one post to just wind up being interminably long.

I've now finished with the first section, and while I don't think this would be a book that every reader would embrace, I am finding that I am enjoying it very much. This is the kind of novel that the reader has to commit to - nothing about this first section could be classified as a "beach read". There is some action, but the author spreads it out. There is a lot of character exposition - I feel like I really KNOW these people, and am starting to be able to understand their motivations and actions. The author also gives Misha, his main character, the opportunity to wax philosophical around nearly every corner, and this, I think, it what might really strain the patience of a lot of readers. However, I find that for me it rings true to the understanding I have of this character - I believe his arrogance and sense of self-rightness would lead him to talk in just exactly this way.

The relationships are difficult in just about every instance. It seems that no one really likes anyone, in this family, and it is not something I can relate to at all, so it's another aspect of the novel that is challenging for me. Misha and Kimmer's marriage, as well, is in almost every way different from my own. His feelings about his son, however, do resonate with me, and finding that one small piece of the character I understand has made him open up to me in a way that makes me feel sympathy for him, even while I honestly still don't really like him that much.

And, once again, I am savoring the writing. I think from a technical perspective, this is probably the best written novel I have read in recent memory. I have marked so many passages - here a just a couple more:

"As the Cape falls farther and farther behind, I can feel my fears and confusions fading with it, receding in importance as the Vineyard looms ever larger off the starboard bow, first a distant gray-green shimmer, next a dreamlike vision of trees and beaches, now near enough to make out the individual houses, all gray-brown and weathered and beautiful. I gulp down its image like an alcoholic tumbling gratefully off the wagon as the ferry thrums steadily across the waves..." (page 191)

"Love is an activity, not a feeling - didn't one of the great theologians say that? Or maybe it was the Judge, who never ceased to stress duty rather than choice as the foundation of a civilized morality. I do not remember who coined the phrase, but I am beginning to understand what it means. True love is not the helpless desire to possess the cherished object of one's fervent affection; true love is the disciplined generosity we require of ourselves for the sake of another when we would rather be selfish; that, at least, is how I have taught myself to love my wife." (page 215)

See - still long, and this is only part 1! I have no idea how long it will take me to read this novel, but I am very much looking forward to what it has in store next. Stay tuned for part 2!


Zibilee said...

I have been curious about this book for the longest time, but this is the first time I have ever seen a review of it. It does sound as if it has a lot of heft, and I just love those kinds of reads. I also like books that have exceptional writing, so I am thinking that I may have to get off the fence and try this! Thanks for the great review!

mar10123 said...

The passage you quoted from p. 16 (the telephone) is the exact same passage I read to the book group in AZ!