Ten novels, varied in mood and style with LOVE lost and LOVE found at the heart of each narratives.
THE ADVERSARY by Michael Crummey
In a nutshell: This is a dark story about brother and sister who were rivals in a small outpost in Newfoundland in the late 18th century. It is a novel of hate and poverty and violence and religion and revenge and abuse of power. Once again Crummey masterfully creates a vivid setting and striking characters but it is his style and language that astounds. This wasn’t always an easy read – I often re-read sentences and paragraphs and rewound to pages previously read to settle the narrative in my mind. But I persevered and was often gripped by startling events (murder, prostitution, weather, and a plague) that took place in the small fishing community. There’s many a page that readers encounter an unfamiliar or strange piece of vocabulary (e.g. loped in Bogland (p. 95); cheving the fores (p. 96); purblind shankers (p. 97); fundament (p. 98). This is what you expect from this fine author.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF ABED SALAMA: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy by Nathan Thrall (nonfiction)
A catastrophic bus accident that left a school bus with Palestinian children on fire for over thirty minutes before emergency workers arrived serves as the foundation for a story of Palestinians striving to live under Israeli rule. The author of the book, Nathan Thrall is a Jerusalem-based journalist follows the journey of Abed Salama whose young son, Milad was burned in the crash. The chaos of the crash and the search for missing children (including Abed Salama’s nightmare quest) provide Thrall with the opportunity to investigate and report on the struggle of Israel/Palestine. The author cites over 20 pages of resources that have helped him to tell the story of bureaucratic obstacles, separation walls, ID passes, checkpoints that Abed Salama encountered and Palestinians struggle with day by day. It is also a story of husbands and wives, family members young and old, neighbours who depend on each other to survive in a complex brutal world. For sure, A Day in the Life is brilliant anatomy of a’s Jerusalem tragedy (In truth, the narrative and historical events and introduction of characters, often meander from the central narrative I was expecting from the title of the book.) Abed Salama’s story is nothing but heartwrenching and Nathan Thrall’s mammoth reporting goes inside and outside of the Jerusalem tragedy to help readers make sense of the politics and history of Palestine lives which is hard to make sense of. (Note: Interviews with the author and the father can be found on YouTube)
DIFFERENT FOR BOYS by Patrick Ness; illus. Tea Bendix (YA)
Patrick Ness is the author of a knockout novel entitled A Monster Calls and seeing his name on a book jacket appeals to me. The title of this book for Young Adolescents invited me to pick up this book about friendship, masculinity and sex, different for boys like Anthony Stevenson who has lots of questions about his sexual identity and the boys he keeps company with. This is an honest powerful story of loneliness and intimacy.7 pages) Two features that make this short novel (97 pages) is 1. redacted, black-0ut prose (avoiding swear words) and 2) captivating black and white drawings by Tea Blendix that enhance the mood and emotions of the characters. I highly recommend this title to support boys – and girls, and others – questioning their sexual identities and longings, loyalties and betrayals and the quest to find a place of comfort and satisfied heart when feeling ‘different’.
FARRELL COVINGTON AND THE LIMITS OF STYLE by Paul Rudnick
Paul Rudnick is very funny. As a playwright (Jeffrey; I Hate Hamlet) and screenwriter (Addam’s Family Values, In & Out; Sister Act) his snarky way with words and his witty dialogue are quite hilarious. In this gay novel, he introduces two main characters over the span of about 50 years. Farrell Convington is outrageously rich and deliciously handsome and we (and Nate Reminger)) first meet him at Yale university delving into the world of gay identity and gay lifestyles.. There is no doubt that Farrell and Nate quickly bond together and their devotion remains constant as their lives move from university in the 1970’s, to New York, To Hollywood and the Amalfi coast. Narratives take us into the world of theatre, movie making, sex clubs and into the late 20th century when the AIDS epidemic is destroying so many lives. For Farrell, money holds no bounds and we are immersed into the world of the superrich, even when he needs to combat a ferocious conservative and homophobic father. The story is a blend of Succession, Will & Grace, and The Normal Heart. Some narratives are certainly drawn from Rudnick’s own experiences in getting his work produced on Broadway and Hollywood. I’m certain the friendship circles created in this story are based on real-life characters. Even though there were times that I thought I’d put the book down because I found that the world of the rich wasn’t particularly accessible but I ended up being intrigued, entertained and engaged with this sprawling story. And I laughed.
THE IMPOSTERS by Tom Rachman
I picked up a copy of this book after listening to a radio interview with the author Also, I remember liking Rachman’s first novel, The Imperfectionists. I was intrigued by the multi-character approach to the book and the premise that this book is about a writer writing about writing. Dora Frenhofer is a once-successful author, who is willing to embark on one more project before he mind goes. Each of the narrataives that comprise The Imposters is centred on a person from Dora’s life (Chapter 2: The novelist’s missing brother; Chapter 3: The novelist’s estranged daughter; Chapter 4: The man who took the books away.) Each chapter reads like a short story and it was often an effort to find an explicit thread to Dora Frenhofer’s life and decide whether these were ‘real’ incidents or made-up ‘imposter’ characterizations. I hung in there and enjoyed the chapters as much as I would a short story collection (some better than others). Passages from Dora’s ‘diary’ introduce each chapter, giving this a sense of first-person authenticity of a fictional writer’s life. This was a hit and miss venture for me but intriguing to piece together the puzzles of stories that take place in New Delhi, New York, Australia, Syria and London.
THE LOVER’S DICTIONARY by David Levithan (2011)
I’m fond of David Levithan’s writing. His books are mostly for the YA age group (Boy Meets Boy, The Realm of Possibility, Every Day). I came across this title written n 2011 and was intrigued with the premise. Each page lists a dictionary word (definition not provided) and these words (e,g,,dispel, dissonance, doldrums, serve as titles for inside-the-head thoughts about falling in love and maintaining that relationship. Each word gets a separate page, some accompanied by only one or two sentences as the nameless narrator thinks about possibilities, arguments, compromises, confidences, passions, uncertainties, hugs and tears that are part of the territory of being a couple working their way through love. An intriguing premise, an honest confession.
Excerpt: ineffable, , adj. “Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to hae a dictionary represent life. No matter now many words there are, there will never be enough.”
THE NEW YORK STORIES by John O’Hara (Short Stories)
Though he was a novelist (Appointment at Samarra, Butterfield 8). John O’Hara is credited for being the most prolific of short story writers who is credited for creating the short story style of the New Yorker magazine. I was scheduled to see a revival of the musical Pal Joey in NY and so I decided to read this 30+ story anthology which helped shape the musical and the movie. Interesting enough, the stories are presented in alphabetical order, rather than their date of publication from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s. I read the stories chronologically and as with most short story collections, enjoyed some pieces more than others (e.g., Pleasure’; ‘Late Late Show’: ‘The Portly Gentleman’). I enjoyed being in the world of the Big Apple and join in stories of class, theatre, bars, booze, sex, and partake in exploits of interesting, but flawed scoundrels that were/ are unique, I’d say, to New Yorkers. In most cases, the endings of these narratives, didn’t pack a punch for me but the details of clothing, food, drink and show-biz and snappy dialogue captivated me. (Note: I didn’t get to the production of Pal Joey)
THE POSTCARD by Anne Berest (translated from the French by Tina Kover) (fictionalized autobiography)
A postcard is delivered to the Berest family Parisian home in January 2003. . On the front, a photo of the Opera Garnier. On the back, the names of Anne Berests materanal great-grandparents Ephraim and Emma and their children, Noemie and Jacques – all killed in Auschwitz. . Learning about the mysterious postcard in 2018, Ann is determined to discover the mystery of the postcard. Who sent it? Why in 2003? What clues does it provide about the Rabinovitch family’s heritage in Russia, Latvia, Palestine and Paris. This is powerful story about a family devastated by the Holocaust and digging into the truths of what happened to the family members. Berest does a yeoman’s detective job of uncovering these truths through conversations with her mother, a private detective, a graphologist and people of the villages that her grandmother Myriam inhabited. The family stories and the Jewish History of citizens in Occupied France (both autobiographical and fictionalized) are moving and unsettling. As the author digs into mammoth research to help her reconnect with her past and her own Jewishness, The Postcard is ‘un roman vrai’ (a true novel) that is revelatory for both the author and the reader. Rich and details of names and places (maybe too many details?), this book is a indeed an engrossing reading experience.
THE SECRET SCRIPTURE by Sebastian Barry (2008)
Sebastian Barry is a playwright and novelist whose books have won many prizes. (He is the winner of the 2023 “Pleasure of Reading Prize’.) I was telling a colleague how much I fascinated I was reading Sebastian Barry’s 2023 release, Old God’s Time , and she recommended that I get The Secret Scripture by this renowned Irish writer. What a writer! Oh, those Irish. The wordsmithing is astonishing. The narrative events astound. The Irish setting and Irish characters are so very intriguing. In this novel we meet Roseanne McNulty, a patient in a Mental hospital who at 100 years of age has decided to record her life events. The manuscript of these stories are kept beneath the floorboards of her bedroom. The hospital that she is living in will be demolished in a few months and her caregiver, Dr. Grene has been asked to evaluate tha patient to determine if she can return to society. Meanwhile, Grene discovers a document by a local priest that tells a story different from the one that Roseanne recalls. Buried secrets, tragic family events, killings, lost loves, madness are woven throughout this unforgettable novel.
“I knew I had to leave school immediately on my father’s death, because my mother’s wits were now in an attic of her head which had neithe door nor stair, or at least none that I could find .”(p., 92)
“Unfathomable. Fathoms. I wonder is that the difficulty, that my memroies and my imaginings are lying deeply in the same place? Or on top of of the other like layers of shels and sad in a piece of limestone, sto that they have both become the same element, and I cannot distinguish one from the other wih any easy, unless it is from close, close looking?” (p. 219)
TOM LAKE by Ann Patchett
When Lara’s three daughters return to the familys cherry orchard in northern Michigan, they beg their mother to recount stories about being an actress, about falling in love with a famous actor, about meeting their father, Joe. The narrative moves from past to present as Lara tells her daughters about her acting in the play Our Town at a theatre company called Tom Lake. The revealed stories help Lara (and her daughters) think about happiness, regret, dreams and fate. The novel is a story of family dynamics and examination of relationships past and present. It is a novel of the stories we have to tell and choose to tell to help others understand who we are and how we became who we are. The novel intrigued me because of the summer stock theatre world (I’m quite fond of Our Town).