July 23rd and all is not well, even so, or perhaps, because of this, thus far this month I have read only 8 books — which is not a lot for a July filled with house/pet-sitting, during which I often devour a book a day. But, the world right now . . . I’ll leave it at that since this is a reading post, not a personal post like the last two, which, inevitably, kill my stats. It’s almost as if you all are saying, “Shut up about YOU, Charlie, and talk about the BOOKS!” I get it, and so, I’m going to talk about 7 of them here, but I’m saving for later the 8th, Idra Novey’s delicious Those Who Knew — due out in November. My friends, I was lucky enough to be trusted with an arc which I five-starred; and unlike some four and five stars, this one I really and truly, enthusiastically meant. Idra Novey writes the kind of books that remind you why you LOVE reading. So good. But, you’ll have to wait until September for me to share my in-depth feelings about Those Who Knew, which needs a post all its own. Maybe a few posts. Now, onward.
The Lonely Witness, William Boyle, Hardcover, 272pp, May 2018, Pegasus Books
“Gritty noir” seems to be the consensus on this one. I read it because somewhere, someone compared it to Ross Macdonald, a comparison I think not fully apt. While both have in common exploration of twisted, tortured relationship and family dynamics, Macdonald’s main characters — mostly Lew Archer — have a compassionate approach, a hardboiled that encompasses both the hard and the boiled — as in warm, heated, passionate; Boyle’s characters are markedly colder which also makes them — almost every one in this novel — unlikable and thus unrelatable. Well written, yes. Well plotted, mostly, although requiring a level of suspension of disbelief bordering on asking too much. But, for me, a bit too bleak and sorrowful, which may well be the point as it is as much a study of a decaying and dying neighborhood and way of life as it is a crime story.
Circe, Madeline Miller, Hardcover, 349pp, April 2018, Lee Boudreaux Books
Okay, confession, I know next to zero about mythology. I read Circe not because I knew anything at all about Circe — in fact, other than the name, I knew nothing at all of the story — but because I LOVED the author’s Song of Achilles. Seems Circe was the first witch. Also turns out — no surprise here — she was in need of MeToo and NoMore. It’s not only hetero-human men who suck, but, too, the gods and demi-gods; which, pretty much figures since such myths have been — by and large — told and re-shaped and re-told by hetero-men. Madeline Miller is making strides to remedy that, which is great, but for me, this was a bit overlong. Perhaps, if I was more familiar with or more interested in mythology, it would not have seemed so. But, with Song of Achilles, I knew not much of the origin tale either and I found that book riveting and compelling. I think, maybe, this one — in an effort to continue in the genre groove of the first novel — felt as if the author tried too hard with a story that interested her not enough.
L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, David Lebovitz, Hardcover, 368pp, November 2017, Crown Publishing Group
Funny story; at the library one day to pick up my reserved books, I walked by the new releases shelf and saw this book. I picked it up, perused briefly, almost checked out, but reasoned that I already had way too many books checked out and more on reserve, and since this was a compilation of recipes and a rehabbing a home story — two things I love — I decided I would go to my local indie, THE CURIOUS IGUANA [click here] and use my gift cards account (I have a lot of very good friends) to order it. I get there, the next day, and cannot remember the title, the author, the anything except the cover was sort of tan and it was about an American chef who decided to buy an apartment in France. Don’t you know, Lauren, one of the brilliant, helpful booksellers there, got on the computer and found it for me. I love my indie store, its employees, and book-people in general.
Now, was it worth all the trouble Lauren went to for me? Yes. And no. It was not enough of either thing: recipes or rehab story, and while the rehab was in large part an adventure in one misfortune and people behaving badly after another, it is hard to sympathize with a fellow who can afford a Paris apartment, has a supportive French lover, and a book contract. And, when things go disastrously, he can then afford to have it all re-done, this time by a competent contractor. And, all of it, like the rehab, took too long, and like a recipe with ingredients sloppily measured, it just doesn’t taste right.
The Perfect Couple, Elin Hilderbrand, Hardcover, 466pp, June 2018, Little, Brown and Company
This is my second Elin Hilderbrand novel, the first having been The Identicals, which I read in February and enjoyed. These are the equivalent of Lifetime Movies, in fact, as you read them you can picture the pretty unto plastic B-actresses and actors playing the fairly-predictable circumstances to breathless conclusion.
Summary: dead maid of honor, a bad-girl-party-girl, maybe murdered, washes up on the beach on the morning of the wedding of her best friend, a good-girl from modest background with a fatally ill mother, devoted daughter now set to marry into a wealthy family with a sketchy-behaving dad and a somewhat pretentious author on the down-trend mother. Rich groom, salt of the earth and too good to be true, whose best man/buddy, a should-have-been heir screwed out of his inheritance who is a sort-of party-boy but not really, even earthier and saltier than his buddy, the groom, and there are crossed attractions everywhere, and much uproar and secrets and hiding things from the law enforcement fellows, and true love and all that in 466 very fast, quite entertaining pages.
Caveat: I hated the ending. But up until then I was having a great time reading just what I expected, done quite nicely. Yeah, a beach read.
Clock Dance, Anne Tyler, Hardcover, 304pp, July 2018, Knopf
I confess, eyes to the ground, a little shamed, I have often found Anne Tyler’s books to be a bit twee for me, and her last, A Spool of Blue Thread, I put down early on. So, I was wary coming at Clock Dance, but determined to keep an open mind.
Surprise, I enjoyed it and wondered if perhaps I should re-examine Anne Tyler’s oeuvre now that I’m older and dealing with the theme in this novel and what, in retrospect, I realize has often been her theme; giving one’s self permission to live one’s authentic life, letting go of cultural expectations, the past, and the roles one has played for loved ones, sometimes — often — to the detriment and compromise of one’s own happiness.
In Clock Dance, we follow Willa from childhood, young adult betrothal and marriage, motherhood, widowhood, and, finally, the real gist and glory of the novel, her service as mistaken-identity grandmother to Cheryl, the nine-year-old daughter of one of Willa’s two equally neglectful and distant sons’ ex-lovers. When Willa flies from her home with her second husband in Tuscon to Baltimore after a phone call from a stranger who is a neighbor of Cheryl and her mother, who’s been shot, she enters one of the quirky worlds at which Anne Tyler specializes, with a cast of characters riddled with peccadilloes and peculiarities, stumbling, tripping, and — as Cheryl’s mother, released from hospital but still having difficulty getting around does — scooting up the steps on one’s butt, a stair at a time, trying to reach one’s own space.
And also, as is often the case with Anne Tyler, while the characters are comical, the dialogue and narration often funny in that offbeat-observation sort of way, the underpinnings of the lives are built on foundations of compromise, disappointment, dishonesty, secrets, and the ache of the mistakes and missteps made in the effort to somehow make bearable the painfully and always fatal quotidian slog of survival.
As I said, coming to the end of my sixth decade and owning a few offbeat-quirks of my own, finding peace with being who I am as the slog winds down, the clock readying to stop, I am now appreciating Anne Tyler more than I did before.
History of Violence,Édouard Louis, translated by Lorin Stein, Hardcover, 208pp, June 2018, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
I read this author’s buzzy and much-anticipated The End of Eddy in 2017. It, like this, was a blend of biography and fiction,the degree to which either applies unknown to the reader. Many novels fall into the roman à clef category and many biographies and autobiographies — most, even — contain elements of fiction, whether those be fabrication, supposition, exaggeration, the altering of names or combining of people, messing with timelines, imposing motivations and meaning where there are none, on and on.
And so, we go into this telling of Louis’ rape and near murder on Christmas Eve, its nearly equally brutal aftermath, and the cold unto horrifyingly unsympathetic and homophobic description of it Louis overhears his mostly-estranged sister delivering to her husband, knowing that at least the seed of repugnant tragedy at its core is Édouard Louis reality.
Even as short as this book is, it is too long. From the racism and disregard shown by the police, to the tortured self-examination Louis subjects himself to as if searching for a way to blame himself for the violent crime and the inadequate response to his reporting of it, sharing of it with others, this book is am appalling, gruesome experience. It is especially disheartening and terrifying in this age of a resurgence of — hell, almost a celebration of — bigotry and homophobia and the election of a serial sexual assaulter to the presidency.
It breaks the heart. And, too, if it’s mostly a novel, shame on the author for using such an execrable premise, and if it’s autobiography, then, dear god, aren’t we better than this by now?
I guess the answer is no. We’re not. And that, I guess, is what broke my heart even more.
A Scandalous Deal, Joanna Shupe, Mass Market Paperback, 373pp, April 2018, Avon
Lady Eva Hyde has three dead fiancés, one rapidly deteriorating, famous-heralded architect father who has wasted away his fortune, and a determination to be respected for her own work as an architect. She sails for New York where Phillip Mansfield is building the most luxurious hotel possible from a design he thinks is by Lady Eva’s father, but which is in truth her work. She must convince him to allow her to serve as her father’s representative on the job until he recovers — which she must not let Phillip know is never going to happen. She faces all the problems one might expect her to face in the Gilded Age in New York when a woman in her early 20’s is assuming a position of any authority.
Okay, here’s the thing: fast, fun read. Entirely too modern of dialogue and situations. It defies belief and/or reason that the most expensive hotel ever built would go on without face to face meeting with the assumed architect. Even more unbelievable, even in 2018 unbelievable, that a woman (or man) in their early twenties — no matter the level of genius — could or would be allowed to be the main architect on, again, the most expensive, luxurious hotel ever built. That’s no just a scandalous deal, it’s a freaking ludicrous deal.
So, fun, fast, and utterly ridiculous. But, well, I liked it anyway. Except for all that heterosexual sex. I mean, really, okay straight people should have equality I suppose, but enough they have opportunity to do it, must they also flaunt it in our faces? Enough already.
So, there they are, the seven July-so-far reads about which I can currently speak. I’m in the middle of three more, but I’ve a lot going on, coming up, looming, and who knows from day-to-day whether or not some orange dumbass in the oval office will manage to get us all blown to bits, so I don’t count on finishing any books. Just gotta roll with the endless assaults by the serial-sexual-predator installed by the russians.
Thank you for taking the time to read me, and here’s wishing you happy book-loving, and here I am, going.