The Loved One

This wasn’t particularly engaging. Englishmen in LA, furiously protecting their reputation by not accepting jobs that are beneath them, e.g. as mortician for dead pets. When Dennis the frustrated poet turns to the dead pet business, his associates are disappointed, and at the end raise money to send him back to England.
Death is packaged up like any other commodity, duel tracks of the human morticians at Whispering Pines and the pet morticians at Happy Hunting Grounds. Dennis falls for Aimee, whom he plies with unoriginal poetry and eventually asks to marry when she appears to have a job that will support him. Disgusted, she turns to Mr. Joyboy, whose dinners at home with his mother and parrot leave much to be desired. On the eve of their wedding (Aimee & Joyboy), Aimee kills herself on Joyboy’s cart at the mortuary.
Bizarre, without redeemable qualities.

Measure for Measure

I’ve had an itch to get back on the Shakes horse this year. For some reason, I picked M4M to start with. I’d forgotten how readable the plays are, once you get used to the language. It’s not quite “awesome first sentence” material (“Escalus.” “My lord.”) but once you get into the swing of the playful wording, it’s a fun read.
The Duke gives the keys to the kingdom to Angelo so that Angelo can crack down more forcefully on morality laws and the Duke won’t get blamed. The Duke dresses as a Friar, then comes back into the city (Venice) to see how things unfold. Angelo condemns Claudio to death for getting his girlfriend pregnant. Before they can get married, Claudio is clapped into jail and scheduled to be hung the next morning. Lucio is a friend of Claudio’s who goes to Claudio’s sister Isabella (just joining the convent as a nun) to alert her to the situation. Isabella pleads with Angelo for Claudio’s freedom, and Angelo agrees to free Claudio if Isabella sleeps with Angelo. Learning of this wretched bargain, the Duke proposes to send a whore in Isabella’s place. That accomplished, the Duke waits at the prison for the commuting of Claudio’s sentence. Instead, a bizarre note from Angelo appears that says “no matter what you hear to the contrary, Claudio must die at 4am, send me his head as proof before the afternoon.”
The Duke arranges for an already dead prisoner to be beheaded, and sends that head to Angelo, saving Claudio. He does not tell Isabella, but instead lets her think Claudio is dead, the better to petition against Angelo. The Duke resumes his Duke-ness, shedding the friar costume, and pretends to return to the city. Isabella petitions him, laying out all the facts. Lucio (who has trash talked the Duke to the “friar/duke” and trash talked the friar to the Duke) is constantly shushed by the Duke in this sequence. To wrap everything up, Angelo is sentenced to marry the whore, then die. Claudio is pardoned. The Duke then commutes Angelo’s death sentence, and proposes marriage to Isabella, the soon to be nun.

The Door Into Summer

So good you don’t even notice it’s science fiction. It’s more along the lines of a mystery a la Ross Macdonald or Raymond Chandler. At one point I had to flip to the copyright page to see when exactly Heinlein penned this one- 1957! And he totally nails all sorts of things– presages the ipad with newspapers that flip when you press the lower section, the line of robots that help with cleaning (Ahem, Roomba!).
Our hero is sent into the Long Sleep (cryogenically frozen), after being swindled out of his share of the business he created, as the inventor of several robots. He discovers that time travel has been invented, and creates a situation where he can go back in time right before he enters into the Sleep, to set things right.
One nitpick is that I’m getting quite tired of happy endings.

Freedom

God bless writers who take the appropriate amount of time to ease into their next book after their previous was an knockout hit. Franzen’s first foray back into his readers’ clutches nine years since The Corrections stole our hearts and minds (and the National Book Award). Much different than Elizabeth Gilbert’s attempt to jump back on the horse and flail about (Committed rings flat verses her wildly popular Eat Pray Love).
I had a bit of out-of-body experience, watching myself not particularly into the characters until Franzen skilfully guided me into caring for each one. Walter was a cardboard cutout at the beginning, and then Franzen imbued him with vitality, humor, intelligence.
The story revolves around Walter and Patty, a couple in their 25th year of marriage, fixing up their St. Paul Victorian, raising 2 children (Jessica and Joey), but dives deep into the past with Patty’s autobiographical therapy manuscript, Mistakes Were Made. Patty, a collegiate basketball player, was in love with Richard, Walter’s roommate, and used Walter to get to Richard. On the brink of being spurned by Richard during a road trip in Chicago, Patty hurries back to Walter’s arms and they are married within the year. Two kids pop out, Patty a stay at home mom, great with kids but not so fantastic with adolescents. She lets Joey do whatever he pleases, which ends up in his leaving the house to move in with his girlfriend and her family next door (Connie). Jessica is the perfect daughter. By the end of the book, the reversal of affections has completed, with Joey & Walter getting along, and Jessica & Connie closer than ever.
Patty has a run-in with Richard years later, 3 indiscrete acts, which Walter finds out about when Richard leaves Patty’s memoir on his desk. This frees Walter up to pursue Lalitha, the beautiful 25 year old Indian woman who is his assistant and madly in love with him. He goes nuts in an anti-growth rant, discovers that he is a folk hero to the anarchists out there, does his tour of awareness for OverPopulation, camps with Lalitha across the country. Tragically, Lalitha dies in a car wreck in West Virginia.
My mind is still whirling, it is impossible to capture this book in a synopsis.