Monday, June 11, 2007

 

A Student of Living Things

After reading "The Messenger of Magnolia Street," I had some difficulty getting into a new novel, which just happened to be "A Student of Living Things" by Susan Richards Shreve. I was attracted to this book by the cover, which shows a photograph of frog and snake specimens, and the title - A Student of Living Things. Just sounds good rolling off the tongue and can mean something deeper than simply being a biologist, which is the profession of the main character, Claire Frayn.

When I started reading, I noticed a staccato quality to the writing. It stood out for me because of its contrast to the rolling and mellifluous writing in "The Messenger of Magnolia Street." Once I got through the first chapter, I was drawn into the story. Briefly, it's about an intellectual Washington, D.C. family that suffers the loss of one of its members during a shooting and how each family member copes with the situation. Shreve does a good job of painting her characters with limited, but spot-on, description, which is sprinkled throughout the story. The character Bernard, who is on the perphery of the main action, is a good example. He is a tender-hearted guy who has lost his right leg below the knee and he gurgles in the back of his throat. Instantly, you can picture such a guy, filling in the specifics of your choice.

"A Student of Living Things" is a fine novel with a subtle understory of violence in Washington, D.C. after 9/11. It shows how going through death can bring one back to being a student of living things.

Here's a nice summary of the book from the blog Reading Frenzy.

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