In a review earlier this week I noted that many of the best observational novels about America can come from outside. This is yet another. This beautiIn a review earlier this week I noted that many of the best observational novels about America can come from outside. This is yet another. This beautifully crafted story slides from one thing into another so smoothly, taking you for a ride you don't expect, making you feel and think. Enough has been said in other encapsulations that I don't want to muddy the waters with plot, but only say, this is truly special....more
Amy Dickinson has seemingly done it all. She's lived in big cities, has an enviable career with her advice column and also her appearances as a paneliAmy Dickinson has seemingly done it all. She's lived in big cities, has an enviable career with her advice column and also her appearances as a panelist on Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me (one of my favorite NPR shows), has raised her daughter virtually single-handed. But here she shares her inner life, beginning with the small town she was raised in, has returned to, and now inhabits with many of her relatives. Well, actually she lives in the next town over with her husband and his enormous family, and this book addresses the challenges and rewards of being absorbed into a household that is completely different from yours.
There is so much wisdom here, not to mention humor. She does her writing in the house her mother lived in after her father's departure, a bequest from a neighbor, and the events surrounding her mother's final years and the subsequent emptying of that house were, for me, the best part of the book. Reminiscent of They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson, the book tells how she is able to clear the house of her mother's prized belongings and still honor the woman she loved and misses so much. It is evident to see where she gets the empathy necessary to succeed in writing her column....more
Oh dear. I'm afraid I'm just the wrong audience for this book. After a strong beginning, it devolved into just another romantic fairy tale. Its strengOh dear. I'm afraid I'm just the wrong audience for this book. After a strong beginning, it devolved into just another romantic fairy tale. Its strengths lay in the depiction of the devastating coastal fires that ravaged a drought-ridden Maine in 1947. Despite some glaring anachronisms, the era is well represented, and Grace is truly a woman of that age. There were several jarring mistakes in what followed, and half way in, I found myself skimming over too much attention to clothes and not enough to character....more
The Confusion (from the Latin confundere, to mingle) of Languages (based on the Latin for tongue, lingua).
Cassie and Margaret meet in Annam, Jordan,The Confusion (from the Latin confundere, to mingle) of Languages (based on the Latin for tongue, lingua).
Cassie and Margaret meet in Annam, Jordan, in 2011, the year of the Arab Spring and also of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Their military husbands working in the American Embassy, have been assigned to Rome, assured their wives will "do fine" as long as they have each other and follow the laws of their host nation. The first chapter narrated by Cassie, sets the scene. We learn that she and Margaret have been rear ended in a fender bender, which poses different results under Jordanian law, and Margaret has left her in charge of her lively (and totally unsentamentalized) one-year-old son while she goes to settle things. Over the ensuing hours, during which Margaret fails to reappear, Cassie fills in her backstory and we learn Margaret's through Cassie's reading of her journal (this could be construed as a weakness in the plot structure since people do not write diaries novelistically). As their histories unfold, the reader becomes more and more frustrated by the results that lack of communication can produce, not only between people who do not understand a foreign language, but also between those sharing a common tongue.
At times, the book reminded me of Hilary Mantel's Eight Months on Ghazza Street, a novelization of her experiences in Jeddah highlighted by insecurity in living in the confines of a different culture. With this book, Siobhan Fallon's storytelling skills matched with first hand knowledge of the Jordanian atmosphere in 2011 have resulted in a book that is compulsively readable, wise in its observation of the human heart, and hauntingly memorable. ...more
This is a diary, actually a blog, of a stay at home Dad whose wife works several days a week in Milan. He is the support of their three small daughterThis is a diary, actually a blog, of a stay at home Dad whose wife works several days a week in Milan. He is the support of their three small daughters (2, 4, 8), and describes his profession as that of a cartoonist, formerly, a city planner. While I found it sweet that we see this family through the lens of a father instead of a mother as is more common, it became a bit repetitive for me, and having been through similar experiences with 3 generations (I am a great grandmother), I was charmed by the daughters, remembering similar experiences with my own. ...more
Lately I've given up on the current trend in thrillers (sadistic serialists, dead children) and sought out protagonists with quirky backstories and skLately I've given up on the current trend in thrillers (sadistic serialists, dead children) and sought out protagonists with quirky backstories and skills. Jessica is an FBI agent with a background as an illusionist, having been born into that world. Not your usual setup. The situation here is original with an overthetop Mr. Bad who, of course, seems to be ubiquitous, hilariously evil and brilliant, and has unlimited resources. Can't wait to see what Mayne comes up with next....more
Originally published as a "newspaper novel" over a 2-year period, this engrossing novel consists of 66 short chapters, creating its strength and paradOriginally published as a "newspaper novel" over a 2-year period, this engrossing novel consists of 66 short chapters, creating its strength and paradoxically, its weakness. Its strength in that the length made possible the depth of the examination of a 50ish woman dealing with two of life's greatest challenges at the same time. The inherent weakness lies in the fact that due to its original form, there was quite a bit of repetition that would not have been present in a conventionally published novel. Although are many characters, focus is primarily on Mitsuki, who, along with her more affluent but less stable sister, is caring for her egotistical dragon of a mother whose increasing dementia is causing her to make more difficult demands, but is never satisfied ("Her mother would never be happier no matter how much she tried to do for her, and this realization produced in her sense of futility that added to her exhaustion."). Her entire life she had been second fiddle to her more beautiful older sister, but now found herself shouldering most of the burden of caring for their mother. In addition, she discovers her husband, on sabbatical in Viet Nam, has another, younger woman in his life, and her sense of worth, fragile to begin with, is eroding at an alarming rate.
Although the mother's death is dealt with in the first chapter, the rest of Part I lays out the backstory of these three woman, their complex history, and, most notably, the cultural mores of Japan family life in the post-WWII era. In the second half, Mitsuki uses some of her inheritance to spend several weeks in a mountain inn, taking stock of her future as dictated by her past, and as inspired by her emerging independence. I loved this book, all nearly 500 pages, despite the repetitions....more
Sometimes the most American books are written by outsiders, in this case -- an Irish author who was shortlisted for the Booker. Bill (he specifies thaSometimes the most American books are written by outsiders, in this case -- an Irish author who was shortlisted for the Booker. Bill (he specifies that is the name on his birth certificate, not William) is the final limb on his family tree, living in the mansion his immigrant grandfather erected after parlaying his ice delivery business into refrigerator manufacture. But by the late '70's, the foundries are cold and dead, the town, moribund, and Bill is the lowest rung on the dying newspaper ladder at the local daily, called The Truth. He and his coworkers eat tuna melts and put the paper out, working against the increasing popularity of tv news. He does make one reference to the fact that this story is told at a remove of 30 years, noting the further decline of print news in the day of the Internet. A lurid mystery sets both entities in motion, trying to be the first to get updates public. There are this long stretches in which characters muse over the death of the American Dream, which is the point of the book. Involving and heartfelt....more
The publicity for this book calls it a "noir," which I disagree with. Told in alternating chapters by two complex female characters, it is an examinatThe publicity for this book calls it a "noir," which I disagree with. Told in alternating chapters by two complex female characters, it is an examination of parenting and identity creation in the Internet age. First is Lady (must say I hated this name, and it took me a while to get used to it as a proper noun), living in her "Hollywood Hills adjacent" mansion, complete with pool, view and guest cottage. Deciding to write her memoir, she hires Esther Shapiro, who is attempting to live life as her irresponsible, destructive, alcoholic mother as an art project, under the pseudonym S Fowler. That Lady hires S without checking any references, allows her to live in the cottage, and entrusts her adorable, precocious 2-year old to her is the novel's only weakness. Also in the household is Lady's 18-year old son Seth, who has never spoken a word, but is not delayed, on the spectrum, or genius. You can readily see where that will end up.
But the themes explored and addressed in these pages are many and done so well. Both characters speak in distinct voices - even without the chapter title, you know who is talking. And the dialogue, whether it's between adults or in several occasions, a 2 year-old, even when with Seth via tweets or iPad messages, is authentic and smooth. Also, there is some gorgeous writing. ("This project was turning into a 'ceci n'est pas une pipe' situation." "Tequila was making me feel like a ballerina assassin.") In full disclosure, I was not a fan of California, her earlier book, but with this one, Edan Lepucki has hit her stride and has gained a fan....more