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MEN AND DOGS by Katie Crouch

Oh, Katie Crouch. She always sucks me in, with her keen observations and dark humor and flawed characters whom I always have hope for, despite all evidence to the contrary. I keep coming back to her, even though I am never satisfied at the end.

CrouchI just read Men and Dogs, the second Crouch novel I’ve read (the other was Girls in Trucks, reviewed here). Unlike Girls in Trucks, Men and Dogs follows a linear plot. It’s about Hannah, a married San Francisco woman in her 30s whose husband has finally kicked her out after her serial adultery. She returns home to Charleston, where her mother and older brother still live. Her father had disappeared when she was 9 in a mysterious boating incident that was never resolved.

Hannah, like Sarah, the protagonist in Girls in Trucks, is emotionally stunted, stemming from the disappearance of her father and her inability to accept his death. Her ex-boyfriend (with whom she also connects in Charleston) points out that despite her monogamy issues, she’s the most faithful person she knows – she’s faithful to the memory of her father and the hope that he is still alive somewhere.

I like Crouch’s writing, a lot. It’s relatively sparse but funny and real. Her characters are generally memorable and realistic. But in the end, Men and Dogs just didn’t do it for me. I found Hannah a bit exasperating – she was self-absorbed and selfish and incapable of anticipating the effects of her actions on others. By the end, I really didn’t care about what happened – with her marriage, her failing business, or the resolution of her father’s death. I think Hannah’s inability to care about her own life rubbed off on me – I stopped caring too.

I enjoyed the Charleston setting, and I liked Hannah’s gay commitment-phobic brother Palmer.

In an interview at the end of the book, Crouch said that she likes creating poorly behaved characters – ones who are “absolute wrecks” – so that she doesn’t have to be poorly behaved in her own life. I found that interesting, but for me, I don’t find reading about her characters liberating. Instead, I find it kind of stressful and ultimately not enjoyable.

I’d give Katie Crouch another chance – I think – but the first two haven’t been my favorites.

Oh, hello FTC! Men and Dogs was purchased with my own hard-earned cash. No payola here (or ever).

GIRS IN TRUCKS by Katie Crouch

Crouch Girls in Trucks, by Katie Crouch, is an odd book. It is something between a novel and a collection of linked stories, all about Sarah Walters, a lapsed debutante from Charleston, South Carolina. The book follows Sarah's misadventures with men, starting with her high school crush and moving on to her her dysfunctional post-college NY boyfriend, a number of one night stands (some more memorable than others), and a couple of nice guys to whom Sarah could not commit.

What's good in Girls in Trucks: Crouch is a witty, incisive reader who nails what it's like to be the woman in any number of relationships (the passionless, the forbidden, the toxic). Her writing is spare, but it packs a punch. One short chapter, narrated by a recently deceased friend of Sarah's, is particularly devastating. I enjoyed reading this book, evidenced by my very late finish last night.

Also good: depictions of Charleston debutante society and the desperation of a bad breakup.

What's not as good: Sarah's destructive habits never die, and she isn't at at all redeemed or changed at the end of the book. I don't need a happy ending, but it's satisfying when the main character at least learns something over the course of 250 pages. Otherwise, what's the point?

Also not as good: no real purpose or direction here, other than the flitting from one relationship to the next. Sarah's relationships with her sister and father are not explored to their full potential, and the certainty with which she embraced motherhood in the end was unconvincing.

So this one was a mixed bag for me, but in the end I am glad I read it. It had been in my TBR pile for a few years (relax, Mr. FTC – I bought this one at the famed Powell's bookstore in Portland, and the receipt is still in the book) and I am happy to move it to the permanent collection.

I am sure there are readers who either loved or hated or loved/hated Girls in Trucks – weigh in!

GIRLS IN TRUCKS by Katie Crouch and BAR FLOWER by Lea Jacobson

I am catching up on some issues of Entertainment Weekly (aka my Bible). I found these two books in the April 18th issue.

The first is called Girls in Trucks, a debut novel from Katie Crouch. Here’s the review:

CrouchSometimes, looking back on things that have happened to me, I can pin down exact moments when certain situations began to unravel,” reflects Sarah, the insightful protagonist of Katie Crouch’s captivating novel Girls in Trucks. ”That’s when I should have said something about Charlotte’s drinking. That’s when I should have stopped talking to my friend’s husband.” Sarah, a reluctant Southern debutante, moves to NYC postcollege in search of love and success — but she finds mostly failure and heartache. A tad somber, perhaps. But given all the predictable tales about young women, Sarah’s genuine imperfection seems refreshing. A-

Here is an article about Katie Crouch from Creative Loafing Atlanta, who compares the book to Melissa Bank’s The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing in that each chapter read like a short story. The article also says, "The combination of Crouch’s personal experiences with universal themes such heartache and grief, makes Sarah’s story, and her pain, feel real. Although the book’s constant cycle of love and loss and the seemingly unending search for fulfillment can get tiring, it’s encouraging to have a heroine brave enough to keep at it."

Here is another review of Girls in Trucks from Literature Chick.

The second review appealed to me because of my fascination with Japan. The book is a memoir called Bar Flower, by Lea Jacobson. Here’s the review:

JacobsonNot long after graduating college, American Lea Jacobson moved to Japan to teach English. Unable to accept strict Japanese norms — hiding her underwear at the bottom of a laundry hamper, for example — she left her host home, got fired, and began working as a nightclub hostess. While flirting with businessmen and persuading them to purchase alcohol, she jump-started an addiction to booze and spiraled into depression. Jacobson’s memoir, Bar Flower, is deeply personal — she doesn’t shy away from her struggles with cutting and eating disorders — but it’s also a thorough, fascinating guide to modern Japanese culture. A-

Lea Jacobson blogs at Geisha Interrupted. Also, check out this very positive blog post about Bar Flower from the Workaholic Hostess blog.