The Revenant – Michael Punke

The Revenant – (noun) One who has returned, as if from the dead.

The Revenant is a book that I did not expect to like, but after about the first chapter, I was hooked. I, like many other people, saw the movie before realizing it was a book. I jumped up and down when I saw that Leo DiCaprio won his first Oscar. And I was excited when I was browsing in my local bookstore and found my recent favorite movie in book form on their shelves. I’m not normally the type to watch the movie before I read the book because I don’t like my imagination to be skewed by graphics and actors, but this time I couldn’t help it.

First things first, that bear attack. (This isn’t a spoiler, if you didn’t know about the bear attack, then you’ve been living under a rock). I remember turning to my husband after like 10 pages and saying, “Holy $h!t the bear attack already happened!” On second thought, let me back up…

Hugh Glass is the protagonist of the story (that’s Leo). After a short career on a boat, he sees an ad in the paper to work for a fur trapping company. He decides to pack up, join a group of men, and walk through the wilderness in search of beaver pelts. After getting attacked by the grizzly, the leader of the group delegates the job of a proper burial after Glass’ imminent death to two of the men. Fitzgerald (that’s Tom Hardy, for those familiar with the movie) and a kid named Bridger are the ones left behind. Fitzgerald had ONE freaking job, and that was to take care of Glass and make nearly half a year’s salary for doing it, but instead he decides to bail and steal everything Glass owns in the process. Glass was slipping in and out of consciousness, but he was aware enough to know what had been done to him. This excited a need for revenge that kept him alive.

This is where the story gets weird. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t like it because it’s in the “Western” genre (which is a big no no for me) but Punke does such a fantastic job at telling the story. He’s a master at showing the reader instead of telling them what to feel. It’s the difference between: “His foot hurt really bad every time he took a step” and “His worn down moccasins left no barrier between his foot and a prickly cactus, and he winced with each step down on his festering toe”. See what I mean? This is honestly what kept my hooked toward the end once the bulk of the action was over. After that, the plot just became too convenient. I mean, Glass narrowly escaped death 6 or 7 times while the rest of the men around him died. It became trite.

One last thing…I’m not going to spoil it, but the ending is nothing like the movie. I’ll just say this: if you want some intense, revenge-fueled, fist-to-fist battle, Leo-draped-over-a-horse-playing-dead death match, then you’ll be just as disappointed as I was. I’d still recommend it, though.

 

Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes

Spoiler alert! This book is nothing like the movie.

I actually had no idea that the movie was based on a book, but I picked it up when I saw it in my local thrift store because I’d been so in love with the movie’s story line. You know, the bad ass divorced woman who goes to Italy and buys a beautiful Tuscan house on a whim? Yeah, that’s not how it happened. Which is fine, her real story is still bad ass enough, but I can’t say I’m not disappointed. So, without further ado, here’s my review:

In my opinion, a story should transport you to another world. It should make you feel as though you’re in the author’s shoes looking at their setting and you almost feel a longing for that place when the story is over. That is precisely how Under the Tuscan Sun made me feel. Frances Mayes transported me into her stone house in the middle of a Tuscan valley, and I felt as though I could go into my backyard and pick olives by the time I was done reading. Sadly, I live in Idaho and around here you’re warned against eating whatever grows on the trees.

Mayes had previously lived in San Francisco, but decided to uproot her life after a divorce left her traumatized. She found new love and together they pined for a house in the Tuscan valley, surrounded by olive trees, blackberry bushes and, most importantly, locals who would soon become friends. The couple decided on a historical, albeit crumbling, stone house and set to renovating it. It was hard work, but her romantic writing style made me want to take on the same challenges.

Mayes’ memoir is written in the present-tense. It’s an achievement for a writer to pull that off because it can often be clunky and hard to comprehend. Under the Tuscan Sun is the exception. Using the present-tense was one of the best decisions she made because she pulled it off in such a way that you feel like you’re walking the stone streets to the market with her, taking a siesta and sandblasting your house. Her style is romantic and it is reminiscent of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck because of how she had to release herself from materialism and use her resources. I have to say, I was jealous when I read that she’d been stepping on pine nuts in her driveway, not realizing what they were. In the states, I pay upwards of $20 a pound for them!

While the book made me want to pack up and become an ex-patriot, I do have a critique. I wish it had ended sooner. The last half of the book felt repetitive and long-winded. I felt as though I could have skipped the last few parts and not missed anything. I’m glad I didn’t, though, because there were some great recipes and a story about a severed goat’s head (you’ll have to read to find out).

Overall, I would recommend this book. If you have any desire to travel or live out of the country, this book will make you wonder why you haven’t done so already.