What they’re reading …

Milla Riggio
James J. McCook Professor of English

“At the end of the summer, I have been reading two books at the same time. The first is a set of stories called Love and Hydrogen, written by Jim Shepard, a Trinity graduate who was a special student and advisee of mine. Now at Williams College, Jim has written several novels. In this set of stories, he combines his interest in aerospace in the title story – a fictional version of how the huge blimp, The Hindenburg, exploded and burned while in the air – with his ability to empathize with the lives of people very different from himself. In this book, Jim gets inside the sensibility of what we might call the “losers,” those who are inarticulate about their own lives, who sometimes live or at least express themselves vicariously, but whose life experience has a sorrowful, tragic, lost-to-the-world cast. Reading this book by an ex-student has been a good way to prepare myself to meet my new and returning Trinity students this fall.

“The second book, which I have just finished, is an “internationally acclaimed” British novel: Ian McEwan’s Atonement, published by Random House. This 350-page book manages the neat trick of covering a span of about 65 years while spending almost the first half of the book on the events of one day. McEwan also presents multiple points of view in a novel that, finally, chronicles the sensibility of the [protagonist] novelist herself – how a novel can come to be written as an act of penance for a “crime” caused by the rampant fantasies of a young girl learning how to construct her own world through her imagination. I found the epilogue of the book a little anti-climactic, as McEwan had, in fact, engaged me deeply in the stories of the people he is writing about. By luring the reader with the idea that the novelist had given a prettier ending to the story of the couple that had been wronged than reality might have dictated – and then leaving that story dangling – McEwan ended the novel by focusing more on the process of writing, on the construction of the novel, than on the life histories which his novelist has had to realize are of primary importance. There is a dazzling quality to this approach, but I had come to care too much about the people. I wanted more certainty and more information than the end of the book provided. In that sense, I suspect the book achieved its own aims with me as a reader! And the encounter of people we had met as children, now dealing with their own grandchildren, did make for a powerful, retrospective portrait of the process of life itself. It’s an excellent book. You will enjoy it.”


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