Autumn Reading: ‘Caleb’s Crossing’ by Geraldine Brooks

April 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm 8 comments

In the first flush of excitement at being out of graduate school, I read a good deal of unabashedly fluffy stuff this past autumn. I’ll be posting reviewlets of these books for the next few weeks.

Geraldine Brooks appears to have a gift for writing pleasing books. They aren’t extraordinary, they aren’t fall-off-your-chair-amazing, and they certainly aren’t anywhere in the realm of bad, they are simply lovely. To very pleasant effect, her books combine an enjoyable writing style with intense historical research (which is, of course, so well-done that you don’t even notice how much effort she must have put into it) and plain old good plotting.

Her most recent endeavor, Caleb’s Crossing, fit firmly into my idea of what a Geraldine Brooks book is: it was a fast read, but a thoroughly enjoyable one that made me seriously think about an unfamiliar, specific historic moment. In this case, Brooks tackles the first native American graduate of Harvard University. We don’t actually know much about him or his background, so Brooks skillfully takes up his life with fictional aplomb and tells a perfectly charming story in the process.

While Brooks’ the research is laudable—it imbues the story with a realism so flawless you don’t even pause to notice it, but just accept where you are—I found her decision to take the narration away from her subject and place it in the hands of a fictional missionary’s daughter (with plenty of thoughts of her own) much more remarkable. This fresh voice rings far more true than I think the Harvard student’s would have and provides an interesting counterpoint of perspective on the story.

On the whole, Caleb’s Crossing was one of the better “fluffy” books I read this past autumn and cemented Brooks in my mind as an author always worth looking forward to.

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Entry filed under: Historical Fiction. Tags: , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Susie  |  April 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I have read all of Brooks, beginning with the plague novel (title?), so I leapt on this one when it first appeared. I, too, loved it, esp. as it fed my love for Colonial American history, which I cannot get enough of. I’m so glad you liked it as well. I read historical novels and mysteries for pleasure, and I read lots of them. Did you read her Bronson Alcott novel?

    Reply
    • 2. Corey  |  April 16, 2012 at 9:03 am

      “Year of Wonders”! I’ve been sort of saving “March,” so I haven’t read it yet, but I think it’ll be a great summer read for some reason. I can have a little Brooks marathon!

      Reply
  • 3. Lisa Hill  |  April 14, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Hmm, *sigh* I have this one on my TBR and I was not expecting it to be ‘fluffy’, – better than most or not!

    Reply
    • 4. Corey  |  April 16, 2012 at 9:04 am

      Sorry, I didn’t mean “fluffy” in a derogatory way. I think I just use it to distinguish between fiction and literature in my mind. Perhaps I should find a new word that doesn’t come across so flippant, but this book is definitely fiction, not literature, if you can follow my distinction!

      Reply
      • 5. Lisa Hill  |  April 16, 2012 at 9:16 am

        I think I can, but I get into difficulty when I try to define the difference…
        Some people get so *tense* about this distinction!

        Reply
        • 6. Corey  |  April 16, 2012 at 9:23 am

          Yeah, I have trouble articulating the difference, too! I guess some books are simply stories, however well-written and beautifully plotting (fiction), while other books elevate that to something more meaningful or artful (literature). Does that sound right?

          Although there’s also the sticky wicket of classics—are they all automatically literature or can there be classic fiction, too!

          I guess I’m not super-militant about the distinctions, but I do have a line in my head.

  • 7. Lisa Hill  |  April 16, 2012 at 9:34 am

    The kids in my classes say that literature is ‘stories you remember all your life’. Other books may be fun, funny, exciting, unputdownable and so on, but afterwards, they don’t make you remember the way you feel when you were reading them, and after a while, you can’t really remember what they were about…

    Reply
    • 8. Corey  |  April 16, 2012 at 10:34 am

      Oh that’s a lovely way to put it!

      Reply

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