Short Takes

Short takes: Book reviews, in brief

December 14, 2013 

Fiction

Stella Bain

Anita Shreve; Little, Brown, 265 pages

Anita Shreve, the bestselling author of “The Pilot’s Wife” and “The Weight of Water,” has joined the ranks of writers who want to plumb the depths of shell shock’s despair and disruptions.

“Stella Bain” attempts to solve the mystery of a woman who regains consciousness in a French field hospital in March 1916 with little memory of her past.

Her journey of self-discovery allows us to encounter the horrors of the first World War, groundbreaking treatments in psychotherapy, early acknowledgments of domestic violence, and the glimmer of first-wave feminism. Shreve even references, briefly, a gay love story. But the historic backdrop and foreshadowing of social revolution cannot overcome a critical shortcoming of her latest tome: It’s difficult to work up much of a sweat over Stella.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Nonfiction

Trees in Paradise: A California History

Jared Farmer, W.W. Norton, 592 pages

Disneyland was built on a 1,600-acre orange ranch; to make way for Mickey, 4,000 Valencia trees were bulldozed and uprooted. This is one of the jillion tree-related facts crammed into Jared Farmer’s new history, “Trees in Paradise,” which connects the stories of four trees to California’s culture: redwood, eucalyptus, orange, palm.

Farmer can be a stronger historian than he is a storyteller. The workings of the orange industry are detailed, but apart from the dirty history of smudge pots, not enlivened. In other sections, there are paragraphs of description cobbled together in Zagat-like barrages of primary sources.

Overall, however, the wealth of research makes this an important addition to the California bookshelf. Farmer shows us how devoted, destructive, foolhardy, ambitious, greedy, enriched and showy Californians can be – not just in relation to trees but also in general.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service