Portland Reading Report Part One: On the Way There

I began my first leg of the journey with Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases. I had not read his previous book of short stories, but everyone always raved about and since there was a chance I might be having dinner with him in Portland, I decided to give his new novel a go. It’s set in Buenos Aires at the start of the Dirty War. The story revolves around a family: the father Kaddish Poznan, the mother Lillian, and their son Pato. The father and son don’t get along—old values versus new. College-aged Pato begins dabbling in the counterrevolutionary activites going on around him and one day he is “disappeared”. Englander spends over half of the novel setting this up and the second half follows the parents as they try to discover what has happened to their son. I admit that I didn’t like the book at first. I thought Pato was a spoiled brat—he’s very hard to like. I couldn’t get into the story. It wasn’t until I finished it that I realized what a powerful and well-written book this is. Funny how that happens.

I moved on to read Matt Haig’s The Dead Father’s Club after the Englander. Imagine Hamlet set in modern day England where Hamlet is an eleven year old boy. Inevitably, comparisons will be made to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, not because the main character here, Philip, is autisic (he’s not), but because Haig writes the book entirely from the perspective of an 11 year old boy. Not everything makes sense to him that adults do. Philip’s father has died in a tragic car accident and his ghost pops up to tell him that his uncle killed him and that Phillip must avenge his death in the next 11 weeks before his father’s birthday. Uncle Alan has already made his move on Philip’s mother and taken over the operation of the family’s pub. While he plots his move and tries to cope with his father’s death, he also gains a girlfriend and some friends. I found this book easy to read, but not especially as deep as I wanted. Others will disagree, but perhaps this just isn’t my kind of book.