Reading: The Currency of Connections

Dear Ones, I have read nine books since last I book-blogged and so must, I think, put aside petty concerns — like my health — and catch up a bit.

It’s July 4th as I write and my plans today are to do what I like best to do on holidays: Sit quietly at home while others run about in a must-have-fun-be-conventionally-happy holiday frenzy. People often try to get me out more, as they did with my aunt, Sissie, before me. She, too, preferred and cherished the opportunity for solitude and quiet on holidays because for her — an eternally single person who spent much of her time taking care of others, not unlike my life — a holiday meant she was able to be alone, with no one needing anything. People (me included) thought that was sad and awful, that she ought, like everyone else, be with family or friends or DOING SOMETHING on a holiday. In later years, I got it, how she said, “I’m happy,” when being pressed to agree to go or do or be other than left alone, at peace. Now, how often I find myself saying, in a delivery exactly like Kathy Bates in Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean; “I am happy, goddammit!” (Please watch the below clip beginning around 5:15 for Bates’s brilliant delivery.)

And, I am. I have a life which has allowed me opportunity to read nine books in as many days. How much happier can a person get? I’ll tell you how much happier; each of these books came to me or my attention through a special and meaningful connection, each of which I will share.

I’m only going to write about eight of the books; the other was an advance reader copy and I will talk about it closer to release date. So, here we are, going. I will TRY to be brief.

The Gypsy Moth Summer, Julia Fierro, Hardcover, 400pp, June 2017, St. Martin’s Press

Connection: Twitter. Julia Fierro and I have over one hundred people in common, and though I don’t know who followed who first (I suspect it was me following her) I started chatting with her and like all the best authors/publishing folk, she responded with kindness.

Touted as a summer read, this generations-spanning, family saga of a novel is a triumphant combination of compulsively page-turning plotting; artful, flowing prose; in-depth and engaging, desperately human, breathing, characters with audible heartbeats; and an examination of issues like race, class, and the cost and transformative (sometimes, deforming) power of love.

Julia Fierro juggles the many treasures and pleasures of this novel masterfully, speaking in close-third through a number of narrators’ points of view, giving individual voice to each, carefully illuminating truths bit by bit, page by page. For reasons into which I won’t go so as not to spoil, I fell most in love with Veronica and Dom. No doubt you will find your own friends herein and parts of yourself — parts both light and dark. Be warned, though, there are no easy happy endings here.

The Mighty Franks: A Family Memoir, Hardcover, 320pp, May 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Connection: I read about this memoir in which a young boy is taken under the wing of an eccentric aunt who adores him and wishes he were her own. Not unlike my life. I was hooked and knew I had to read it.

A complicated, convoluted and near incestuous family structure produced the author of this memoir, Michael Frank, whose extraordinarily close relationship to his aunt, Hank, a combination of Auntie Mame and Mommy Dearest, is the subject around which the narrative is built. Compellingly told, the dissolution from mutual admiration society to broken-hearted (and, perhaps, in Hank’s case, mentally ill) combatants, is beautifully written and thus easy to read but emotionally eviscerating and thus difficult to take.

The Free, Willy Vlautin, Paperback, 320pp, February 2014, Harper Perennial

Connection: This was brought to my attention by Garth Greenwell, another Twitter friend who I began stalking upon publication of What Belongs To You, the best novel of 2016, and, truly, one of the finest of all time in any genre but particularly important as a classic LGBTQ work. If you read this blog even a little, you know how I adore Garth, so, when he said he’d “thought of me” when reading this novel, there was nothing for me to do but immediately get hold of it.

It is clear from the gorgeous rhythms of the structure of this novel that its author, Willy Vlautin, is a singer, songwriter. And, too, its heartbreaking rendering of the struggles, burdens, and tragedies in the half-hopeless lives of its three damaged protagonists, lets you know that his musical genre is country.

Leroy Kervin, wounded veteran driven to further destroy himself, imprisoning his consciousness in a terrifying dream world while his body deteriorates in a hospital bed; Freddie McCall, night shift caretaker when Leroy committed his act of desperation, has lost his wife and kids, and despite working multiple jobs is about to lose his house and what little hope he has left; and Pauline Hawkins, a nurse caring for Leroy, who also must cope with a mentally ill and abusive father, and who can’t seem to stop picking up strays, are the three characters whose lives are woven in and out of a narrative near Greek in its darkness and its litany of disappointments.

Still, inside the simple and beautiful sentences, there is a breath of hope, of continued belief in something, somewhere. It is undefined, what that belief is, where such faith comes from; it remains unnamed and unspoken but is there, beneath the surface of the words, inside the story, this intangible quality of keeping on against all odds. I laughed, I wept, and I recognized myself — and, I think, all of us in this deceptively quiet novel. Let it move you.

June, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Paperback, 432pp, February 2017, Broadway Books

Connection: Twitter, again! The lovely Cary Barbor messaged and asked if I’d be interested in a few books she had and I, being me (as someone said: It’s not hoarding if it’s books!) said of course. And so she sent me those books, and a few more for good measure. This was one.

I really loved this. Don’t start it unless you have time to finish it because — cliché though this is — you won’t want to put it down.

When Cassie Danvers’s mourning of her grandmother, June, in the decrepit, crumbling home she’s been left with is interrupted by the news that she has been left millions as the sole heir of movie idol, Jack Montgomery, begins a search into the past in an effort to discover who June and Jack really were, and who Cassie and the other possible heirs — including Jack’s film star daughter, Tate Montgomery, who arrives with entourage in tow — might be in relation to them.

The story skips back and forth between June’s youth and meeting with Jack Montgomery, and Cassie’s present, and both stories are rip-roaring, exciting, tell me! tell me! mysteries combined with love stories and hate stories and gossip and secrets and surprises.

Two books in one, either of which would have been enough, but tied together with a ribbon of good-writing and clever plotting, it’s a home run, firework explosion of a summer read.

Point Blank (Alex Rider #2), Anthony Horowitz, Hardcover, 215pp, April 2002, Philomel Books

Connection: See my recent write-ups about Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders and Stormbreaker (Alex Rider #1) here.

Young Adult adventure. Second in the series. Fast. Fun. Unbelievable. And every once in a while I need that sort of superhero kind of blast of “it-will-all-turn-out-in-the-end” frivolity. Unfortunately, this one ends with a cliffhanger. Now, seems I’ll have to read #3.

One Of Us Is Lying, Karen M. McManus, Hardcover, 361pp, May 2017, Delacorte Press

Connection: Cary Barbor again! This being one of the extras she threw in, and for which I’m very grateful.

I love a good YA novel. A brain, a beauty, a criminal, an athlete, and an outcast are thrown together in detention. One dies. The remaining four are suspects. I saw all the twists coming but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this fast moving romp. Good fun, even though someone died.

The Age Of Innocence, Edith Wharton

Connection: Twitter. Again.

I’ve had a number of Wharton books for years but have never actually read them. So, when a few of the Twitterati who happen to be in the publishing industry and happen to be folks whose intellect and talent I much admire began discussing which Wharton was the best, it prompted me to dig out The Age of Innocence.

I hardly think there is anything to be said about this 1921 Pulitzer Prize Winner that hasn’t already been said by far wiser and erudite folk than am I. What makes it classic is how, despite its very specific setting in 1870s New York upper crust society, its exploration of the human condition and emotions still applies today. In fact, its depiction of the idiocies of social standards and prejudices, it is as relevant today as it ever was.

The love triangle is portrayed with such subtlety, wit, and depth of emotion bubbling but rarely boiling out into the open, one is taken along with the characters, yearning for all three of them, somehow, to get to a happy ending.

And, I suppose, in a way, they do. But at a cost.

In any event, what a pleasure to drown in the words, the glorious, evocative abundance of lovely language at a languid, careful pace. My only cavil, it felt to me, here and there, that there were commas missing where they ought to be. But, if you’ve read me, you know I am a near violent-over-user of commas. I blame it on years as an actor and director, where a breath, a pause, the pace was all important to communicating the tale being told.

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman, Paperback, 337pp, May 2015, Washington Square Press

Connection: Twitter. This one was sent to me by one of my dearest Twitter pals, Pamela, with whom I’ve actually spent marvelous, real world time. It was also recommended to me ages ago by my dear Marlene, from The Curious Iguana, my local indie bookstore (i.e. second home – click here to go there).

Let me begin by saying more than one person has suggested I am not unlike the title character of this novel; a curmudgeonly older gentleman who has been dealt a couple of raw hands by life, affects a gruff and grumbly mien, but underneath, is a softie.

I’m okay with that.

There is nothing in the least bit surprising in this book. A querulous coot’s wife dies of cancer, after which, said irascible grouch decides to kill himself, having lost the only person who saw the love and light inside him. He is repeatedly interrupted in his attempts and begrudgingly becomes engaged in the lives of a broad swath of others as, back and forth in time goes the narrative explaining how Ove became Ove.

I laughed. I cried. I read it in one sitting. I loved this book.

And not just because there may be one or two MINOR similarities between Ove and myself.

**********

Well, there it is, eight books in under 2000 words. No one is more surprised than I am that I managed that. And this aged curmudgeon is so grateful for the connections that brought these books to me. I may not have a lot of money, my health may be shaky, but what I’ve a fortune in, the currency most valuable to me? You people, my connections, this embarrassment of riches in the currency of good, fine, wonderful, funny, embracing, forgiving, seeing, loving people.

And, before I get more maudlin or exceed 2000 words, here I am, going.

Love and Light, dear ones.

 

Reading: Dogs, Fugitives, Kid Spies and Magpies

In this post I will be talking about LILY AND THE OCTOPUS by Steven Rowley, EAT THE DOCUMENT by Dana Spiotta, STORMBREAKER and MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz. But first, a word from a man who probably needs a sponsor: ME.

Real life is a bit too real for me since January.

Coincident with the illegitimate illegal installation of the psycho-narcissist as president, I was afflicted with what seemed to be a rash on my upper right arm. It has since spread over all of me from the chest down, will not abate, and after many, many trips to multiple doctors —

which, by the way, took six months because that AHCA insurance the gop seems to think need be gutted as it is too fabulous for we poor people to deserve, didn’t cover any of the doctors I needed to see, thanks to the ways in which the republican party had already fought to ruin it

— I am finally being seen by someone(s) who seem to give a damn and are determined to figure out what is the cause and treatment for this human red-spotted leopard defacing all over me; a process which, unfortunately, has required repeatedly having chunks of my skin removed and sent to labs, and from which there is still no answer although a few sort of not very pleasant possibilities.

In addition, the so-called real world is such a mess, so nearly incomprehensible to me in its almost complete-collapse into unkindness and cruel behavior, with whole swaths of gullible, terrified people enabling villainous, vile sociopaths to lead them, that I am more and more reading while less and less able to face the news of real life. So, I read four books in five days, and it was pretty damn marvelous to do so while petting and frolicking with the dogs I was sitting. Here we go.

Lily And The Octopus, Steven Rowley, original Hardcover June 2016, Paperback, 336pp, May 2017, Simon & Schuster

Perhaps reading a book about a love story between a gay man and his dying dog was not the optimum choice while pet-sitting a near ancient pup I love named Tess, who can just barely make it up and down steps any more. So, I cried when Lily died. But, I cry when I see someone eating alone in a restaurant. This was a quick read but a little too much for me in its dream and fantasy sequences which took a touching, personal story into an odd, not very clearly defined (or decided) off-ramp of fantasy-magic realism which lost me. Still, not sorry I read it.

Eat The Document, Dana Spiotta, Hardcover, 290pp, February 2006, Scribner

Mary Whittaker, a 1970s radical, goes underground after a protest action results in murder. She becomes Louise, and it is years later when she is widowed, raising her fifteen year old son alone, that her identity is revealed — in ways I won’t give away here. Her co-murderer and lover, Bobby, also goes underground, and each live lives of sorrowful solitude, unable to be completely who they were or who they have become, carrying the weight of their crimes and their passion and their lies, always a wall between them and the world and the people they try to love.

I have long meant to read this novel as Dana Spiotta has more than once been compared to Joan Didion. There was no Didion-esque resonance for me in this novel, although it was very well written, but somehow it left me feeling we hadn’t quite gotten to the heart of who anyone in the story was, other than the fifteen year old son, Jason, who was limned beautifully — albeit with a vocabulary and insight most 40 year olds don’t achieve.

Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz, Hardcover, 192pp, May 2001, Penguin Putnam

I venture occasionally into the Young Adult genre, and this is the first in a series of ten (I think) Alex Rider Adventures; which I picked up because author Anthony Horowitz has just released an adult mystery, Magpie Murders. which I had on hold at library and some reviews had mentioned the Rider series as fun and fast and literate. So, while I was waiting, I thought I’d try it.

Truth? I finished it and put the second in the series on hold at the library. Long/short: Alex Rider’s parents died when he was quite young, since which time he’s been raised by his uncle, Ian Rider, who, rather than the 9 to 5 businessman he pretended to be, was a very adept, near Bond-ian spy. Alex is recruited (cajoled, blackmailed) into service by the same organization his uncle worked for and infiltrates the same corrupt group that murdered him.

A little unbelievable? Yes. But, right now, good conquering evil, the nice guys with morals winning out over the evil, power-hungry sociopaths, and a near guaranteed happy ending — all wrapped up in a quick, not un-amusing afternoon of a read? SIGN ME UP.

Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz, Hardcover, 496pp, June 2017, Harper Collins Pubishers

I had just finished Volume One of Anthony Horowitz’s Young Adult, Alex Rider Adventure Series, when Magpie Murders came my way. Touted as an homage to Agatha Christie golden age mysteries with a parallel helping of contemporary crime novel, and following in the footsteps of the entertaining and clever Alex Rider series opener, this novel had a huge fountain pen and Rhodia notebook to fill.

I was not disappointed.

When I began reading the Christie-ish novel-within-a-novel I was a trifle worried as character after character was introduced and I feared I’d not be able to keep track of who they were — many is the mystery novel I’ve read (or started to read) in which the only real question is how am I supposed to tell these characters apart they’re so damn bland?! Not the case here. Well defined characters. Much wit. Intricate and detailed plotting. Fair clues everywhere in both the “classic” mystery and the “modern-day” crime riddle.

I could have enjoyed either of the sections of this book on their own; woven into one, interconnected, echoing, shadowing, and even — gently — mocking both genres, this was a delightful experience from start to finish and start to finish and finally, finish.

So, there we have it, four books in five days, not a dud among them. Has the bastard been marched out of the White House in handcuffs yet? No? Well, lucky for me I’ve got a large stack of to-be-reads and a library-hold list the envy of my — well, not the envy of anyone, but, I’m happy here, with my niece and nephew pups and my retreat from reality. Let me know when the entire gaggle of het-cis-white-men-bigots who are running the country have been run out on a rail.

Until then, here I am, going.