Tag Archives: Psychology

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (review by Andrew R. ’17)

Bone GapBone Gap by Laura Ruby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, while almost effortlessly unique in its setting and characters, too often gets bogged down in the tropes of other genres—especially star-crossed romance and magical realism—to feel entirely convincing or satisfying by the last page. The rural Illinois town that protagonists Finn and Roza inhabit is summed up in consistent, symbolic motifs, which Ruby invokes whenever possible: bees, cornfields, gossip, and (most effectively) the “gaps” of the title. As successful as these images are, other aspects of the novel fall flat, ultimately distracting readers from the complexity of the setting. Classic scenes of teenage social cruelty, for instance, feel painfully out-of-sync with a rural setting that is otherwise frozen in the past, and incessant references to Craig Thompson’s graphic novel Blankets quickly grow stale—especially since Ruby seems oddly reluctant to refer to that novel by name. Perhaps most disappointing are the author’s halfhearted attempts at magical realism in certain scenes, which more frequently reek of coincidence than true enchantment. Roza and Finn’s shared story has plenty to commend it, especially to fans of less traditional YA fiction, but its restless shifting between disjunct genres rendered it difficult both to follow and to enjoy. – Andrew R. ’17

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I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas R. Hofstadter (review by Andrew R. ’17)

I Am a Strange LoopI Am a Strange Loop by Douglas R. Hofstadter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In I Am a Strange Loop, Pulitzer Prize-winning professor Douglas Hofstadter proves that nonfiction doesn’t necessarily have to be built on fact; without much more than a lattice of elaborate metaphors and classical allusions to support the credibility of his arguments, he makes a case that’s both cogent and convincing. It boils down to this: in a brain comprised of complex neural symbols, the concept of “I” (also referred to as the “soul” or “self-symbol”) is a self-referential feedback loop of indefinite duration. Hofstadter presents a host of comparisons to better illustrate his abstract point, invoking repeatedly the ideas of a spring-loaded domino circuit, a video camera that points to its own screen, and, most effectively, a famous self-referential theorem by the mathematician Kurt Gödel. (Three chapter are spent providing mathematical context alone.) It’s in these creative metaphors that Hofstadter is most at home, and every time he spins off on a bizarre tangent you can be sure he’ll twist it to make his point even more forceful. In the end, his most abstract ideas were a little hard to swallow, but it’s easy to respect and value his arguments without totally agreeing with them. – Andrew R. ’17

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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (review by Andrew R. ’17)

Flowers for AlgernonFlowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Daniel Keyes’ beloved short story “Flowers for Algernon,” a mentally retarded adult named Charlie Gordon undergoes a miraculous surgery that nearly triples his IQ, plunging him headfirst into a world of intellectuals even as he comes to terms with his life before the operation. Here, in Keyes’ later novelization of the same narrative, Charlie’s IQ still rockets up at a dangerous pace—but instead of having to accept his shameful past as an adult with the mind of a child, the newly-created genius must also navigate a crushing tide of memories and feelings that his old brain could never have handled. Watching Charlie stumble through his new life, even more confused and emotionally shredded than he had been with his old IQ of 70, is just as tragic as a novel as in the short story format. My only issue is that it was much more difficult to suspend my disbelief about the miraculous surgery and its effects for three hundred pages than it was for thirty. Those who have never read either “Flowers for Algernon” should pick one and get started immediately, but I’m not sure it’s worthwhile to read both variations on the same theme. – Andrew R. ’17

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