Monday, December 13, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

 January 10, 2011        1 p.m.

Discussion Leader:  Edna Ritzenberg

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) leads a quiet life in the village of St. Mary, England, until his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But will their relationship survive in a society that considers Ali a foreigner?

Reviews from the NoveListPlus database:

Change is threatening the little world of Edgecombe St. Mary. Lord Dagenham is about to sell off part of his ancestral estate to developers, and Pakistanis have taken over the village shop. Major Ernest Pettigrew is definitely old school, but he has been lonely since his wife died, and though he is is prey to various unattached ladies it is with shopkeeper Mrs. Ali that he forms a bond, nourished by their mutual interest in literature. Meanwhile, his ambitious son Roger comes to town with a sleek American girlfriend and starts renovating a nearby cottage. And the village ladies are busy hatching plans for the annual Golf Club dance, for which this year’s theme is “An Evening at the Mughal Court.” There is a great deal going on in these pages—sharply observed domestic comedy, late-life romance, culture clash, a dash of P. G. Wodehouse, and a pinch of religious fundamentalism. First novelist Simonson handles it all with great aplomb, and her Major, with his keen sense of both honor and absurdity, is the perfect lens through which to view contemporary England. -- Quinn, Mary Ellen (Reviewed 02-15-2010) (Booklist, vol 106, number 12, p37) 
Publishers Weekly:
In her charming debut novel, Simonson tells the tale of Maj. Ernest Pettigrew, an honor-bound Englishman and widower, and the very embodiment of duty and pride. As the novel opens, the major is mourning the loss of his younger brother, Bertie, and attempting to get his hands on Bertie's antique Churchill shotgun—part of a set that the boys' father split between them, but which Bertie's widow doesn't want to hand over. While the major is eager to reunite the pair for tradition's sake, his son, Roger, has plans to sell the heirloom set to a collector for a tidy sum. As he frets over the guns, the major's friendship with Jasmina Ali—the Pakistani widow of the local food shop owner—takes a turn unexpected by the major (but not by readers). The author's dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as Simonson nudges the major and Jasmina further along and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major's beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy. (Mar.) --Staff (Reviewed January 4, 2010) (Publishers Weekly, vol 257, issue 1, p1) 
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ Sixty-eight-year-old Maj. Ernest Pettigrew has settled into a genteel life of quiet retirement in his beloved village of Edgecombe St. Mary. Refined, gentlemanly, unwaveringly proper in his sense of right vs. wrong, and bemused by most things modern, he has little interest in cavalier relationship mores, the Internet, and crass developments and is gently smitten by the widowed Mrs. Ali, the lovely Pakistani owner of the local shop where he buys his tea. After the unsettling death of his brother, Bertie, the Major finds his careful efforts to court Mrs. Ali (who shares his love of literature) constantly nudged off-course by his callow son, Roger; a handful of socialite ladies planning a dinner/dance at the Major's club; and the not-so-subtle racist attitudes his interest in Mrs. Ali engender. VERDICT This irresistibly delightful, thoughtful, and utterly charming and surprising novel reads like the work of a seasoned pro. In fact, it is Simonson's debut. One cannot wait to see what she does next. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/09.]—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI --Beth E. Andersen (Reviewed December 15, 2009) (Library Journal, vol 134, issue 20, p101) 
Set-in-his-ways retired British officer tentatively courts charming local widow of Pakistani descent.Shortly after being informed that his younger brother Bertie has suddenly passed away from a coronary, Maj. Ernest Pettigrew answers his door to find Mrs. Ali, proprietress of his village food shop. She's on an errand, but when she steps in to help the somewhat older man during a vulnerable moment, something registers; then they bond over a shared love of Kipling and the loss of their beloved spouses. Their friendship grows slowly, with the two well aware of their very different lives. Though born in England, Mrs. Ali is a member of the Pakistani immigrant community and is being pressured by her surly, religious nephew Abdul Wahid to sign over her business to him. The major belongs to a non-integrated golf club in their village and is girding himself for a messy battle with his sister-in-law Marjorie over a valuable hunting rifle that should rightfully have gone to him after Bertie's death. He also must contend with his grown son Roger, a callow, materialistic Londoner who appears in the village with a leggy American girlfriend and plans to purchase a weekend cottage for reasons that seem more complex than mere family unity. Add to that a single mum with a small boy who bears a striking resemblance to Abdul Wahid, and you have enough distractions to keep the mature sweethearts from taking it to the next level. But the major rallies and asks Mrs. Ali to accompany him to the annual club dance, which happens to have an ill-advised "Indian" theme. The event begins magically but ends disastrously, with the besotted major fearing he has lost his love forever. His only chance at winning her back is to commit to a bold sacrifice without any guarantees it will actually work. Unexpectedly entertaining, with a stiff-upper-lip hero who transcends stereotype, this good-hearted debut doesn't shy away from modern cultural and religious issues, even though they ultimately prove immaterial. (Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2009) More information:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot LIvesey

 Monday, December 13, 1 p.m.
 Discussion Leader: Ellen Getreu

Her father and aunt lovingly raise Eva McEwen, whose
mother has died in childbirth. Eva has two ghosts, a girl
and a woman, whom she calls “the companions” that only
she can see. Though the “companions” are there more for
her protection than to cause harm, they also seem to be
able to manipulate a variety of events in her life.

Reviews from the NovelistPlus database:

Eva McEwen is the engaging central character in Livesey’s newest novel, set in Scotland in the early 1900s. Eva draws her first breath as her mother’s life ebbs away under the strain of a laborious birth. Raised by her father and the practical Aunt Lily, Eva grows to be quite a respectable woman, but throughout her life she keeps a closely guarded secret about the “companions” who come and go in her life at their leisure. These specters most commonly take the form of a woman and a young girl, and they can be helpful as well as mischievous, often underhandedly manipulating events in Eva’s life. Eva’s undaunted tolerance of these apparitions and their activities is tinged with a subtle humor, but with the added melancholic flavor of a lonely girl who cannot be fearful of entities whose realm is also home to her departed mother. An enjoyable read that explores the esoteric essence of life, death, and undying love. (Reviewed July 1, 2001) -- Elsa Gaztambide
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ After Criminals and The Missing World , it should be no surprise that the immensely talented Livesey continues to juxtapose strange events with mundane daily activities, sending a jolt through her ordinary characters and settings. The wonder is that she can draw readers into her world so gently that the barriers between reality and the fantastic quickly fall. The first time the narrator Eva McEwen sees her "companions" she is six, and living near the Scottish town of Troon with her middle-aged father and her aunt, who came to raise Eva after her mother died in childbed. Though much loved, Eva is lonely, and when a woman who "shone as if she had been dipped in silver" and a young girl with long braids and freckles appear one afternoon in the garden, she is at first unaware that they are not corporeal. The companions, as she comes to call them, are not visible to others, however, and their purpose in her life seems unclear. Twice they save her from fatal harm; twice they destroy a romance; often they are comforting; sometimes they signal their presence by moving furniture. Eva works as a nurse in a Glasgow infirmary during WWII, but the burden of her secret keeps her from achieving intimacy with anyone. When she does confide in a man she loves, a brilliant surgeon, heartbreak ensues. She seeks solace in her mother's native village of Glenaird, where she marries and has a daughter. But in a poignant denouement, the significance of the companions is made clear. With remarkable control, Livesey presents the companions in matter-of-fact detail, eschewing frissons of horror and providing a lucid explanation of their presence. Her restraint and delicacy, and the reader's identification with the appealing Eva, result in a haunting drama. Agent, Amanda Urban. (Sept.) Forecast: An author tour and strong word of mouth should spark this novel's sales. Every mother who yearns to protect her child will relate to Eva and react emotionally to Livesey's moving story. --Staff (Reviewed July 30, 2001) (Publishers Weekly, vol 248, issue 31, p57)
Library Journal:
(The following is a combined review for TRYST; POLLY'S GHOST; and EVA MOVES THE FURNITURE) The ghost story as romance has no better example than (o.p.), in which Hilary, a British soldier killed in battle, falls in love with Sabrina, the young bookish woman who comes to live in his house with her professor father and spinster aunt. Get out your hankies when you near the end. The mainstreaming of ghost stories can further be seen in the novels of several contemporary writers, leading perhaps to a new subgenre, the domestic ghost story. is the story of Polly Baymiller's attempt—even after her death from giving birth to her seventh child, Tip—to cherish and comfort him in the midst of loneliness, sorrow, and the pains of everyday life. Another mother who yearns to be part of her child's life from beyond the grave is found in . Eva McEwen first sees the woman and child ("the companions") when she is a child and well before she realizes that no one else can see them. The role that these two (ghosts?) play in Eva's life varies between a benevolent protectiveness and occasional hurtfulness. Livesey has many cards up her sleeve, and it's not until the very end that the reader (and Eva) understands what part the pair play in Eva's life. --Nancy Pearl (Reviewed October 15, 2002) (Library Journal, vol 127, issue 17, p120)
/* Starred Review */ A haunting and haunted fourth novel from Livesey (The Missing World, 2000, etc.), this about a woman whose life is accompanied by invisible "companions" who shape her destiny in ways both helpful and harmful.Narrator Eva McEwen's mother Barbara dies on the day of Eva's birth in 1920. When she's six, playing outside her home in the Scottish lowlands, Eva meets a silver-haired woman and a freckled girl she soon realizes can't be seen by others. Raised by her elderly father and his sister Lily (the first in a series of characters rendered with extraordinary subtlety and depth), the lonely girl takes comfort from her invisible friends but also realizes that "the presence of the companions in my life was like a hidden deformity: ugly, mysterious, and incomprehensible." The figures rescue her from menacing gypsies, but they also fling furniture around her room and get her fired from her first job. When Eva becomes a nurse in Glasgow during WWII and falls in love with plastic surgeon Samuel Rosenblum, the companions destroy her chance to marry him. Or do they? Livesey's precisely calibrated narrative, characteristically cognizant of human complexities and contradictions, reminds us that we are both subject to forces beyond our control and responsible for our lives. It may be that Eva chose to let Samuel go, though she grieves for him even after she marries kind schoolmaster Matthew and bears a daughter, Ruth. Guilt over leaving her father and Aunt Lily further shadows her life, and her mother Barbara's absence remains an aching wound. The radiant yet unsettling climax suggests that Barbara also had companions, and that Ruth will make her own choice about whether she needs this otherworldly support. This isn't a ghost story, but rather a searching examination of how we deal with our ghosts. Livesey's scrupulous prose, lyrical yet classically exact, is the perfect vehicle to convey her multilayered insights.Pitiless, deeply moving, and terrifying: another flawless work from an uncompromising artist. (Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2001)

Margot Livesey talks about her writing, focusing on her 2009 book The House on Fortune Street.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

  • Discussion leader: Edna Ritzenberg
  • Monday, November 15, 2 p.m.  (please note time change)
Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a novice, pious nun leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor, Thomas Stone. They meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies giving birth to twin boys: Shiva and Marion.

Reserve your copy of Cutting for Stone on

Reviews from the NoveList Plus database:

Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country ) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brother’s long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Verghese’s weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel. (Feb.) --Staff (Reviewed October 27, 2008) (Publishers Weekly, vol 255, issue 43, p32)
Library Journal:
Focusing on the world of medicine, this epic first novel by well-known doctor/author Verghese (My Own Country ) follows a man on a mythic quest to find his father. It begins with the dramatic birth of twins slightly joined at the skull, their father serving as surgeon and their mother dying on the table. The horrorstruck father vanishes, and the now separated boys are raised by two Indian doctors living on the grounds of a mission hospital in early 1950s Ethiopia. The boys both gravitate toward medical practice, with Marion the more studious one and Shiva a moody genius and loner. Also living on the hospital grounds is Genet, daughter of one of the maids, who grows up to be a beautiful and mysterious young woman and a source of ruinous competition between the brothers. After Marion is forced to flee the country for political reasons, he begins his medical residency at a poor hospital in New York City, and the past catches up with him. The medical background is fascinating as the author delves into fairly technical areas of human anatomy and surgical procedure. This novel succeeds on many levels and is recommended for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/08.]—Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta --Jim Coan (Reviewed January 15, 2009) (Library Journal, vol 134, issue 1, p85)
There's a mystery, a coming-of-age, abundant melodrama and even more abundant medical lore in this idiosyncratic first novel from a doctor best known for the memoir My Own Country (1994).The nun is struggling to give birth in the hospital. The surgeon (is he also the father?) dithers. The late-arriving OB-GYN takes charge, losing the mother but saving her babies, identical twins. We are in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1954. The Indian nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, was a trained nurse who had met the British surgeon Thomas Stone on a sea voyage ministering to passengers dying of typhus. She then served as his assistant for seven years. The emotionally repressed Stone never declared his love for her; had they really done the deed? After the delivery, Stone rejects the babies and leaves Ethiopia. This is good news for Hema (Dr. Hemalatha, the Indian gynecologist), who becomes their surrogate mother and names them Shiva and Marion. When Shiva stops breathing, Dr. Ghosh (another Indian) diagnoses his apnea; again, a medical emergency throws two characters together. Ghosh and Hema marry and make a happy family of four. Marion eventually emerges as narrator. "Where but in medicine," he asks, "might our conjoined, matricidal, patrifugal, twisted fate be explained?" The question is key, revealing Verghese's intent: a family saga in the context of medicine. The ambition is laudable, but too often accounts of operations—a bowel obstruction here, a vasectomy there—overwhelm the narrative. Characterization suffers. The boys' Ethiopian identity goes unexplored. Shiva is an enigma, though it's no surprise he'll have a medical career, like his brother, though far less orthodox. They become estranged over a girl, and eventually Marion leaves for America and an internship in the Bronx (the final, most suspenseful section). Once again a medical emergency defines the characters, though they are not large enough to fill the positively operatic roles Verghese has ordained for them.A bold but flawed debut novel. (Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2008)

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    Discussion leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman

    Date: October 18, 2010      Time: 1 p.m.

    Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan returns home to Jackson, Mississippi from college in 1962, armed with a degree in English, ready to become a writer. She is advised to begin sharpening her skills on writing about what disturbs her.

    Reserve Your Copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett (ALIScat)

    Reviews from the NoveList Plus database:

    Publishers Weekly:
    /* Starred Review */ What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing “about what disturbs you.” The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies—and mistrusts—enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it. (Feb.) --Staff (Reviewed December 1, 2008) (Publishers Weekly, vol 255, issue 48, p1) 
    Library Journal:
    /* Starred Review */ Set in Stockett's native Jackson, MS, in the early 1960s, this first novel adopts the complicated theme of blacks and whites living in a segregated South. A century after the Emancipation Proclamation, black maids raised white children and ran households but were paid poorly, often had to use separate toilets from the family, and watched the children they cared for commit bigotry. In Stockett's narrative, Miss Skeeter, a young white woman, is a naive, aspiring writer who wants to create a series of interviews with local black maids. Even if they're published anonymously, the risk is great; still, Aibileen and Minny agree to participate. Tension pervades the novel as its events are told by these three memorable women. Is this an easy book to read? No, but it is surely worth reading. It may even stir things up as readers in Jackson and beyond question their own discrimination and intolerance in the past and present. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/08.]—Rebecca Kelm, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights --Rebecca Kelm (Reviewed January 15, 2009) (Library Journal, vol 134, issue 1, p83) 
    The relationships between white middle-class women and their black maids in Jackson, Miss., circa 1962, reflect larger issues of racial upheaval in Mississippi-native Stockett's ambitious first novel.Still unmarried, to her mother's dismay, recent Ole Miss graduate Skeeter returns to Jackson longing to be a serious writer. While playing bridge with her friends Hilly and Elizabeth, she asks Elizabeth's seemingly docile maid Aibileen for housekeeping advice to fill the column she's been hired to pen for a local paper. The two women begin what Skeeter considers a semi-friendship, but Aibileen, mourning her son's recent death and devoted to Elizabeth's neglected young daughter, is careful what she shares. Aibileen's good friend Minnie, who works for Hilly's increasingly senile mother, is less adept at playing the subservient game than Aibileen. When Hilly, an aggressively racist social climber, fires and then blackballs her for speaking too freely, Minnie's audacious act of vengeance almost destroys her livelihood. Unlike oblivious Elizabeth and vicious Hilly, Skeeter is at the verge of enlightenment. Encouraged by a New York editor, she decides to write a book about the experience of black maids and enlists Aibileen's help. For Skeeter the book is primarily a chance to prove herself as a writer. The stakes are much higher for the black women who put their lives on the line by telling their true stories. Although the expos is published anonymously, the town's social fabric is permanently torn. Stockett uses telling details to capture the era and does not shy from showing Skeeter's dangerous naivet. Skeeter's narration is alive with complexity—her loyalty to her traditional Southern mother remains even after she learns why the beloved black maid who raised her has disappeared. In contrast, Stockett never truly gets inside Aibileen and Minnie's heads (a risk the author acknowledges in her postscript). The scenes written in their voices verge on patronizing.This genuine page-turner offers a whiff of white liberal self-congratulation that won't hurt its appeal and probably spells big success. (Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2009)
    More Information:

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

    Date: September 13, 2010
    Time: 1:00 PM
    Discussion leader: Jane Isaacson Shapiro

    Dublin born writer Colum McCann spins a story hinged on French high-wire acrobat, Philippe Petit's illicit 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. This event is the touchstone for stories of ten varied, intense lives; a street priest, heroin-addicted hookers, mothers mourning sons lost in war, young artists, and a Park Avenue judge. Their lives are ordinary yet unforgettable; overlapping and sometimes converging.

    Reviews from the NovelistPlus Database

    Booklist Review/*Starred Review*/ After the rigors of Zoli (2007), his historical tale of Romani life, best-selling literary novelist McCann allows himself more artistic freedom in his shimmering, shattering fifth novel. It begins on August 7, 1974, when New Yorkers are stopped in their tracks by the sight of a man walking between the towers of the World Trade Center. Yes, it’s Philippe Petit, the subject of the Academy Award–winning documentary Man on Wire and one of McCann’s many intense and valiant characters. The cast also includes two Irish brothers: Corrigan, a radical monk, and Ciaran, who follows him to the blasted Bronx, where he encounters resilient prostitute Tillie and her spirited daughter Jazzlyn. Gloria lives in the same housing project, and she befriends Claire of Park Avenue as they mourn the deaths of their sons in Vietnam. McCann’s hallucinatory descriptions of a great city tattooed and besmirched with graffiti, blood, and drugs in the midst of a financial freefall are eerie in their edgy beauty, chilling reminders of how quickly civilization unravels. Here, too, are portals onto war, the justice system, and the dawning of the cyber age. In McCann’s wise and elegiac novel of origins and consequences, each of his finely drawn, unexpectedly connected characters balances above an abyss, evincing great courage with every step. -- Seaman, Donna (Reviewed 05-01-2009) (Booklist, vol 105, number 17, p61)
    Publishers Weekly ReviewMcCann's sweeping new novel hinges on Philippe Petit's illicit 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers. It is the aftermath, in which Petit appears in the courtroom of Judge Solomon Soderberg, that sets events into motion. Solomon, anxious to get to Petit, quickly dispenses with a petty larceny involving mother/daughter hookers Tillie and Jazzlyn Henderson. Jazzlyn is let go, but is killed on the way home in a traffic accident. Also killed is John Corrigan, a priest who was giving her a ride. The other driver, an artist named Blaine, drives away, and the next day his wife, Lara, feeling guilty, tries to check on the victims, leading her to meet John's brother, with whom she'll form an enduring bond. Meanwhile, Solomon's wife, Claire, meets with a group of mothers who have lost sons in Vietnam. One of them, Gloria, lives in the same building where John lived, which is how Claire, taking Gloria home, witnesses a small salvation. McCann's dogged, DeLillo-like ambition to show American magic and dread sometimes comes unfocused—John Corrigan in particular never seems real—but he succeeds in giving us a high-wire performance of style and heart. (June) --Staff (Reviewed March 9, 2009) (Publishers Weekly, vol 256, issue 10, p24)
    Kirkus ReviewsThe famous 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers is a central motif in this unwieldy paean to the adopted city of Dublin-born McCann (Zoli, 2007, etc.).Told by a succession of narrators representing diverse social strata, the novel recalls Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), except that where Bonfire was deeply cynical about Reagan-era New York, McCann's take on the grittier, 1970s city is deadly earnest. On the day that "the tightrope walker" (never named, but obviously modeled on Philippe Petit) strolls between the Twin Towers, other New Yorkers are performing quieter acts of courage. Ciaran has come from Dublin to the Bronx to rescue his brother Corrigan, a monk whose ministry involves providing shelter and respite to an impromptu congregation of freeway underpass hookers. Corrigan chastely yearns for Adelita, his co-worker at a nursing home. Claire, heiress wife of Solomon, a judge at the "Shithouse" (Manhattan criminal court), has joined a support group of bereaved mothers whose sons died in the Vietnam War. With much trepidation, she hosts the group—including Gloria, Corrigan's neighbor and the only African-American member—at her Park Avenue penthouse. Two of Corrigan's prostitute flock, Jazzlyn and her mother Tillie, are picked up on an outstanding warrant, and he accompanies them to their arraignment in Solomon's courtroom, where the newly arrested sky-walker is among those waiting to plead. Cocaine-addled painters Blaine and Lara, once again fleeing the Manhattan art scene, also flee the accident scene after their classic car clips Corrigan's van from the rear as he's driving Jazzlyn home. (Tillie, having taken the rap for her daughter, is in jail.) Peripheral characters command occasional chapters as well, and this series of linked stories never really gels as a novel. Unfocused and overlong, though written with verve, empathy and stylistic mastery. (Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2009)

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    The Wives of Henry Oades: a novel by Johanna Moran

    Discussion leader: Edna Ritzenberg
    • Tuesday, August 3, 11 a.m.
    An English accountant and his two wives are the subject of this novel, based on a real-life 19th century California bigamy case. Henry Oades, assuring his wife that his New Zealand posting will be temporary, takes his wife and four children on this difficult journey. During a Maori uprising the wife and children are kidnapped and the home torched. Assuming they have been killed, Oades relocates to California and starts a new life with Nancy, a sad 20-year-old, pregnant widow. “ 

    HW Readers Packet for The Wives of Henry Oades
    Reviews from the NoveList Plus database

    Publishers Weekly Review
    An English accountant and his two wives are the subject of this intriguing and evocative debut novel based on a real-life 19th-century California bigamy case. A loving husband and attentive father, Henry Oades assures his wife, Margaret, that his posting to New Zealand will be temporary and the family makes the difficult journey. But during a Maori uprising, Margaret and her four children are kidnapped and the Oades's house is torched. Convinced his family is dead, Henry relocates to California and marries Nancy, a sad 20-year-old pregnant widow. When Margaret and the children escape, eventually making their way to California and Henry's doorstep, he does the decent thing by being a husband to both wives and father to all their offspring, a situation deemed indecent by the Berkeley Daughters of Decency. Moran presents Henry's story as if making a case in court, facts methodically revealed with just enough detail for the reader to form an independent opinion. But it's Margaret surviving the wilderness, Nancy overcoming grief and the two women bonding that give the book its heart and should make this a book group winner. (Mar.) --Staff (Reviewed October 26, 2009) (Publishers Weekly, vol 256, issue 43, p29)

    Library Journal Review
    When Henry Oades is posted to New Zealand in 1890, he considers the move a chance for adventure. Content with life in London, Margaret reluctantly accompanies him with their children. When their isolated cottage is attacked by the Maori, Margaret and the children are abducted and presumed dead. Fleeing from his memories, Henry resettles in California, where he marries Nancy, a young widow with a baby. Six years later, Margaret and her children, having finally escaped captivity, arrive at Henry's Berkeley farm. Weathering threats, harassment, and lawsuits, Nancy and Margaret slowly develop a supportive relationship that enables their blended family to survive. Told mainly from the wives' perspectives, the story hinges on readers' empathy with their unusual predicament. Other characters are somewhat flat. Even unflappable Henry remains a bit of an enigma. Still, Moran's debut, based on the true case of Henry Oades, acquitted of bigamy three times, will intrigue historical fiction fans and provide plenty of discussion points for book clubs.--Kathy Piehl (Reviewed November 15, 2009) (Library Journal, vol 134, issue 19, p61)

    Kirkus Reviews
    Two women discover they're both rightfully married to the same man. Serious, sometimes horrific developments are lightened by touches of understated, salty wit in Moran's fact-based historical, a fresh and unusual story that moves from New Zealand to California in the 1890s. British accountant Henry Oades, his wife Margaret and their two children leave England for a temporary posting in New Zealand, where Margaret gives birth to twins. Their domestic contentment is suddenly shattered when a band of Maori, in a revenge attack, burn down their home and abduct Margaret and the children. The distraught Henry plans pursuit but hurts himself badly in a fall. After a slow recovery he must accept the fact that his children cannot be traced and the bones found in the house's ashes were Margaret's (though readers already know they were not). Moving to America, he becomes a dairy farmer and six years after the catastrophe marries widowed Nancy Foreland. But Margaret has survived, as have all but one of the children. Freed from years of slavery, they make their way home and then to California, where they reunite with the surprised Henry and Nancy. Two wives and one husband living under the same roof attract the wrath of the Daughters of Decency; harassment follows, then a series of trials, but the curious family emerges even stronger. A beguiling, promising debut, combining clipped narration and capable technique with tender appreciation for the female characters in particular. (Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2009)

    Further Information

    Johanna Moran's website
    Discussion Guide Questions at
    Interview with Johanna Moran

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

    • July 7, 11 a.m.
    • Discussion Leader:  Ellen Getreu

    Summary (from the Doubleday web site)
    The first novel in Stieg Larsson’s internationally best-selling Millennium trilogy.
    It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

    It’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age—and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it—who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism—and an unexpected connection between themselves.

    It’s a contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives. (From the publisher.)

    Larsson's Millennium trilogy includes The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

    Booklist Review The first U.S. appearance of another major Swedish crime writer is cause for celebration but also disappointment: Larsson, an acclaimed journalist as well as the author of the award-winning Millenium trilogy, of which this is the first volume, died in 2004. The editor of a magazine called Expo, which was dedicated to fighting right-wing extremism, Larsson brings his journalistic background to bear in his first novel. It is the story of a crusading reporter, Mikail Blomkvist, who has been convicted of libel for his exposé of crooked financier Wennerstrom. Then another Swedish financier, a rival of Wennerstrom, wants to hire Blomkvist to solve the decades-old disappearance of his niece from the family's island compound in the north of Sweden. If Blomkvist works on the project for a year, his employer will deliver the goods on Wennerstrom. Blomkvist takes the job and soon finds himself trying to unlock the grisly multigenerational secrets in a hideously dysfunctional family's many closets. Helping him dig through those closets is the novel's real star, the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, a ward of the state who happens to be Sweden's most formidable computer hacker and a fearless foe of women-hating men. Larsson has two great stories (and two star-worthy characters) here, and if he never quite brings them together—the conclusion of the Wennerstrom campaign seems almost anticlimactic after the action-filled finale on the island—the novel nevertheless offers compelling chunks of investigative journalism, high-tech sleuthing, and psychosexual drama. What a shame that we only have three books in which to watch the charismatic Lisbeth Salander take on the world! -- Ott, Bill (Reviewed 08-01-2008) (Booklist, vol 104, number 22, p5)

    Publishers Weekly Review/* Starred Review */ With its rich characterizations and intriguing plot, the first book of the late Stieg Larsson's completed trilogy, involving disgraced Swedish journalist-publisher Mikael Blomkvist and the eponymous, pierced and tattooed, emotionally troubled young hacker-investigator Lisbeth Salander, clearly deserves the acclaim it's received overseas. Martin Wenner's almost indifferent, British-accented narration would seem an odd choice for a novel filled with passion, sex and violence, but as the oddly coupled Blomkvist and Salander probe the four-decade-old disappearance of Harriet Vanger, heiress to one of Sweden's wealthiest clans, the objective approach actually accentuates the extreme behavior of both and the strange subjects of their investigation. Wenner's calm, controlled manner aids the listener in keeping track of the numerous members of the Vanger family, a task that the printed book simplifies with a reference page. A Knopf hardcover (Reviews, July 14). (Sept.) --Staff (Reviewed November 24, 2008) (Publishers Weekly, vol 255, issue 47, p53)

    Library Journal Review/* Starred Review */ Ever since Knopf editor Sonny Mehta bought the U.S. rights last November, the prepublication buzz on this dark, moody crime thriller by a Swedish journalist has grown steadily. A best seller in Europe (it outsold the Bible in Denmark), this first entry in the "Millennium" trilogy finally lands in America. Is the hype justified? Yes. Despite a sometimes plodding translation and a few implausible details, this complex, multilayered tale, which combines an intricate financial thriller with an Agatha Christie-like locked-room mystery set on an island, grabs the reader from the first page. Convicted of libeling a prominent businessman and awaiting imprisonment, financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist agrees to industrialist Henrik Vanger's request to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of Vanger's 16-year-old niece, Harriet. In return, Vanger will help Blomkvist dig up dirt on the corrupt businessman. Assisting in Blomkvist's investigation is 24-year-old Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant but enigmatic computer hacker. Punkish, tattooed, sullen, antisocial, and emotionally damaged, she is a compelling character, much like Carol O'Connell's Kathy Mallory, and this reviewer looks forward to learning more of her backstory in the next two books (The Girl Who Played with Fire and Castles in the Sky). Sweden may be the land of blondes, Ikea, and the Midnight Sun, but Larsson, who died in 2004, brilliantly exposes its dark heart: sexual violence against women, a Nazi past, and corporate corruption. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/03.]Library Journal --Wilda Williams (Reviewed August 15, 2008) (Library Journal, vol 133, issue 13, p69)

    Kirkus Reviews First U.S. publication for a deceased Swedish author (1954–2004); this first of his three novels, a bestseller in Europe, is a labored mystery.It's late 2002. Mikael Blomkvist, reputable Stockholm financial journalist, has just lost a libel case brought by a notoriously devious tycoon. He's looking at a short jail term and the ruin of his magazine, which he owns with his best friend and occasional lover, Erika Berger. The case has brought him to the attention of Henrik Vanger, octogenarian, retired industrialist and head of the vast Vanger clan. Henrik has had a report on him prepared by Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous Girl, a freaky private investigator. The 24-year-old Lisbeth is a brilliant sleuth, and no wonder: She's the best computer hacker in Sweden. Henrik hires Mikael to solve an old mystery, the disappearance of his great-niece Harriet, in 1966. Henrik is sure she was murdered; every year the putative killer tauntingly sends him a pressed flower on his birthday (Harriet's custom). He is equally sure one of the Vangers is the murderer. They're a nasty bunch, Nazis and ne'er-do-wells. There are three story lines here: The future of the magazine, Lisbeth's travails (she has a sexually abusive guardian) and, most important, the Harriet mystery. This means an inordinately long setup. Only at the halfway point is there a small tug of excitement as Mikael breaks the case and enlists Lisbeth's help. The horrors are legion: Rape, incest, torture and serial killings continuing into the present. Mikael is confronted by an excruciating journalistic dilemma, resolved far too swiftly as we return to the magazine and the effort to get the evil tycoon, a major miscalculation on Larsson's part. The tycoon's empire has nothing to do with the theme of violence against women which has linked Lisbeth's story to the Vanger case, and the last 50 pages are inevitably anticlimactic. Juicy melodrama obscured by the intricacies of problem-solving. (Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2008)

    (from the NovelistPlus database)

    Further reading:

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

    • Discussion Leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman 
    • Monday, June 7, 1 PM
    Three characters’ lives propel this novel of lost souls. Eighteen-year-old Lucy Lattimore, her parents dead, flees her hometown with a charismatic high school teacher, soon to find herself involved in a dangerous embezzling scheme. Miles Chesire is searching for his unstable twin brother, Hayden, a man with many personas who’s been missing for 10 years. Ryan Schuyler is running identity-theft scams for his birth father, Jay Kozelek, after dropping out of college to reconnect with him.

    Publishers Weekly Review/* Starred Review */ -- Three disparate characters and their oddly interlocking lives propel this intricate novel about lost souls and hidden identities from National Book Award–finalist Chaon (You Remind Me of Me ). Eighteen-year-old Lucy Lattimore, her parents dead, flees her stifling hometown with charismatic high school teacher George Orson, soon to find herself enmeshed in a dangerous embezzling scheme. Meanwhile, Miles Chesire is searching for his unstable twin brother, Hayden, a man with many personas who's been missing for 10 years and is possibly responsible for the house fire that killed their mother. Ryan Schuyler is running identity-theft scams for his birth father, Jay Kozelek, after dropping out of college to reconnect with him, dazed and confused after learning he was raised thinking his father was his uncle. Chaon deftly intertwines a trio of story lines, showcasing his characters' individuality by threading subtle connections between and among them with effortless finesse, all the while invoking the complexities of what's real and what's fake with mesmerizing brilliance. This novel's structure echoes that of his well-received debut—also a book of threes—even as it bests that book's elegant prose, haunting plot and knockout literary excellence. (Sept.) --Staff (Reviewed June 8, 2009) (Publishers Weekly, vol 256, issue 23, p1)

    Library Journal Review -- Miles Cheshire is driving from Cleveland to Alaska in search of his disturbed twin brother, Hayden, another leg of a crusade that has consumed him for more than a decade. Ryan Schuyler is 19 when he discovers that he is adopted and his real father, a con man who deals in fraud and identity theft, now wants Ryan to live with him. Orphaned Lucy Lattimore leaves town with her former high school history teacher when his dreams of riches and travel fill the hole in her life. This chillingly harsh work by Chaon (You Remind Me of Me ) will make you question your own identity and sense of time. His characters live on the outskirts of society, even of their own lives. Yet we are compelled to read about them, driven to see it through. This novel is unrelenting, like the scene of an accident: we are repulsed by the blood, but we cannot look away. For fans of pulse-pounding drama, Chaon never fails to impress. (With an eight-city tour; library marketing.) [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09.]Library Journal --Bette-Lee Fox (Reviewed June 15, 2009) (Library Journal, vol 134, issue 11, p59)

    Kirkus Reviews -- A sprinter who excels at the 100-yard dash may never attempt a marathon. A poet who composes haiku might not be able to sustain an epic. Though writers of short stories are almost invariably encouraged to become novelists—a contract for a debut story collection is typically a bet hedged against the longer work to come—some authors who master the former don't seem as well suited to the latter. Maybe it's a question of scope, or even artistic stamina, but the novel requires a different mindset. It isn't just a longer story.Ohio's Dan Chaon, whose two collections established him as one of America's most promising short story writers, returns this fall with a second novel, Await your Reply, easily his most ambitious work to date. As in his stories and previous novel (You Remind Me of Me, 2004), this book focuses on family dynamics, the quest for identity and the essence of the Heartland—in some ways, Chaon is to the Midwest what Richard Russo is to the Northeast—but the structure has an innovative audacity missing from his earlier, more straightforward work.The novel initially seems to be three separate narratives, presented in round-robin fashion, connected only by some plot similarities (characters on a quest or on the lam, a tragic loss of parents) and thematic underpinnings (the chimera of identity). One narrative concerns a college dropout who learns that the man he thought was his uncle is really his father, who recruits him for some criminal activity involving identity theft. The second involves an orphan who runs away with her high-school history teacher. The third features a twin in his 30s in search of his brother, likely a paranoid schizophrenic who occasionally sends messages yet refuses to be found.It's a tribute to Chaon's narrative command that each of these parallel narratives sustains the reader's interest, even though there's little indication through two-thirds of the novel that these stories will ever intersect. And when they do, the results are so breathtaking in their inevitability that the reader practically feels compelled to start the novel anew, just to discover the cues that he's missed along the way.The novel and the short story each aspire to a different kind of perfection. We think no less of Alice Munro because she reigns supreme in the shorter form (though her short stories are longer than most). We continue to hail William Trevor and Lorrie Moore primarily for the exquisiteness of their stories, though both have attempted novels as well (shorter than many). More recently, Donald Ray Pollock's hard-hitting Knockemstiff, a debut collection of interrelated stories, could have easily been marketed as a novel. And Aleksander Hemon's return to stories with Love and Obstacles could pass as a follow-up novel to his brilliant The Lazarus Project. With Chaon, one senses that there's no going back. His stories established his early reputation. He did that. Now he's doing this. (Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2009) 

    Further information:

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

    April 26, 2010
    Book discussion leader: Edna Ritzenberg

     Reserve your copy of Mudbound on ALISCat

    from the Novelist Database:

    Booklist Review: /*Starred Review*/ "When I think of the farm, I think of mud," says Laura, the main character in this sophisticated, complex first novel. Jordan sets her narrative in the rural Mississippi Delta in the immediate post—World War II period. Thematically, the novel charts the evolution of a wifely role—the evolution of Laura's new life—when she marries at a relatively late age and moves from her comfortable existence in Memphis (her father was a professor and she an English teacher in a private school) to a rough Delta farm when her new husband decides to forgo his engineering profession to live out his dream of cultivating the soil. The narrative is told in alternating first-person accounts (each voice rendered distinctive and authentic to the character), as Laura, her plain and steady husband, her dashing brother-in-law, and other individuals now significant in Laura's new life (one of whom is the returned GI-son of their black tenant farmer) tell their sides of the devolving events in Laura and her husband's move to this remote and rigid environment. In addition to the material deprivation Laura must endure, racism in the area is full-blown and horrible, most apparent in the face of her father-in-law, who has come to live with Laura and her husband. When her brother-in-law returns from his postwar wanderings about Europe, at first he brings a bright, new light to shine on Laura. She falls in love with him, but, ultimately, the light illuminates only ugliness. -- Hooper, Brad (Reviewed 11-15-2007) (Booklist, vol 104, number 6, p30)

    Publishers Weekly Review: Jordan's beautiful debut (winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for literature of social responsibility) carries echoes of As I Lay Dying , complete with shifts in narrative voice, a body needing burial, flood and more. In 1946, Laura McAllan, a college-educated Memphis schoolteacher, becomes a reluctant farmer's wife when her husband, Henry, buys a farm on the Mississippi Delta, a farm she aptly nicknames Mudbound. Laura has difficulty adjusting to life without electricity, indoor plumbing, readily accessible medical care for her two children and, worst of all, life with her live-in misogynous, racist, father-in-law. Her days become easier after Florence, the wife of Hap Jackson, one of their black tenants, becomes more important to Laura as companion than as hired help. Catastrophe is inevitable when two young WWII veterans, Henry's brother, Jamie, and the Jacksons' son, Ronsel, arrive, both battling nightmares from horrors they've seen, and both unable to bow to Mississippi rules after eye-opening years in Europe. Jordan convincingly inhabits each of her narrators, though some descriptive passages can be overly florid, and the denouement is a bit maudlin. But these are minor blemishes on a superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism. (Mar.) --Staff (Reviewed November 5, 2007) (Publishers Weekly, vol 254, issue 44, p40)

    Library Journal Review: /* Starred Review */ Jordan's poignant and moving debut novel, winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize, takes on social injustice in the postwar Mississippi Delta. Here, two families, the landowning McAllans and their black sharecroppers, the Jacksons, struggle with the mores of the Jim Crow South. Six distinctive voices narrate the complex family stories that include the faltering marriage of Laura and Henry McAllan, the mean-spirited family patriarch and his white-robed followers, and returning war heroes Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson. In every respect, the powerful pull of the land dominates their lives. Henry leaves a secure job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to buy their farm, never noticing that the refined and genteel Laura dreams of escaping the pervasive mud and dreary conditions of farm life. Ronsel, encouraged by his war-hero status as a tank commander, wants to break away from the past and head North to a better future, while his parents, knowing no other life but farming, struggle to buy their own land. Jordan faultlessly portrays the values of the 1940s as she builds to a stunning conclusion. Highly recommended for all public libraries.--Donna Bettencourt (Reviewed December 15, 2007) (Library Journal, vol 132, issue 20, p100)

    Kirkus Reviews:   Family bonds are twisted and broken in Jordan's meditation on the fallen South.Debut novelist Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for this disquieting reflection on rural America, told from multiple perspectives. After steadfastly guarding her virginity for three decades, cosmopolitan Memphis schoolmarm Laura Chappell agrees to marry a rigid suitor named Henry McAllan, and in 1940 they have their first child. At the end of World War II, Henry drags his bride, their now expanded brood and his sadistic Pappy off to a vile, primitive farm in the backwaters of Mississippi that she names "Mudbound.". Promised an antebellum plantation, Laura finds that Henry has been fleeced and her family is soon living in a bleak, weather-beaten farmhouse lacking running water and electricity. Resigned to an uncomfortable truce, the McAllans stubbornly and meagerly carve out a living on the unforgiving Delta. Their unsteady marriage becomes more complicated with the arrival of Henry's enigmatic brother Jamie, plagued by his father's wrath, a drinking problem and the guilt of razing Europe as a bomber pilot. Adding his voice to the narrative is Ronsel Jackson, the son of one of the farm's tenants, whose heroism as a tank soldier stands for naught against the racism of the hard-drinking, deeply bigoted community. Punctuated by an illicit affair, a gruesome hate crime and finally a quiet, just murder in the night, the bookimparts misery upon the wicked—but the innocent suffer as well. "Sometimes it's necessary to do wrong," claims Jamie McAllan in the book's equivocal denouement. "Sometimes it's the only way to make things right."The perils of country living are brought to light in a confidently executed novel. (Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2008)

    Further Information:

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

    Discussion Leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman

    Monday, March 1, 1 p.m.

    That Old Cape Magic is a novel of deep introspection, of a middle-aged man confronting his parents and their failed marriages, his own troubled one, his daughter's new life and, finally, what it was he thought he wanted and what in fact he has.

    Richard Russo, a Pulitzer Prize winner, tells a story, which has moments of great comedy and even hilarity alternating with others of rueful understanding and throat-tightening sadness, and an ending that is surprising and uplifting.

    Reserve your copy of That Old Cape Magic through ALISweb

    HW Readers Packet for That Old Cape Magic


    Publishers Weekly Review:

    Crafting a dense, flashback-filled narrative that stutters across two summer outings to New England (and as many weddings), Russo (Empire Falls ) convincingly depicts a life coming apart at the seams, but the effort falls short of the literary magic that earned him a Pulitzer. A professor in his 50s who aches to go back to screenwriting, Jack Griffin struggles to divest himself of his parents. Lugging around, first, his father's, then both his parents' urns in the trunk of his convertible, he hopes to find an appropriate spot to scatter their ashes while juggling family commitments—his daughter's wedding, a separation from his wife. Indeed, his parents—especially his mother, who calls her son incessantly before he starts hearing her from beyond the grave—occupy the narrative like capricious ghosts, and Griffin inherits “the worst attributes of both.” Though Russo can write gorgeous sentences and some situations are amazingly rendered—Griffin wading into the surf to try to scatter his father's ashes, his wheelchair-bound father-in-law plummeting off a ramp and into a yew—the navel-gazing interior monologues that constitute much of the novel lack the punch of Russo's earlier work. (Aug.) --Staff (Reviewed June 29, 2009) (Publishers Weekly, vol 256, issue 26, p106)


    Library Journal Review: /* Starred Review */

    Joy and Jack Griffin head to Cape Cod to attend a friend's wedding, where their daughter Laura announces her own engagement. Sensing the malaise in their 30-year marriage, the Griffins decide to reconnect by visiting the B & B where they once honeymooned. Their arrival in separate vehicles seems symbolic of the discord in their hearts and minds. Jack, still coming to terms with his father's death and bristling at his mother's constant criticism, feels restless in his career as a college professor, wondering whether he should have left a lucrative screenwriting gig in L.A. Joy, chafing at Jack's implicit displeasure with her sunny disposition and maddening family, longs for an empathetic listener. Russo lovingly explores the deceptive nature of memory as each exquisitely drawn character attempts to deconstruct the family myths that inform their relationships. The Griffins may not find magic on old Cape Cod, but readers will. Those who savored Russo's long, languid novels (e.g., Pulitzer winner Empire Falls ) may be surprised by this one's rapid pace, but Russo's familiar compassion for the vicissitudes of the human condition shines through. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/09.]--Sally Bissell (Reviewed August 15, 2009) (Library Journal, vol 134, issue 13, p74)


    Kirkus Reviews

    A change of pace from Pulitzer-winning author Russo (Bridge of Sighs, 2007, etc.).In contrast to his acclaimed novels about dying towns in the Northeast, the author's slapstick satire of academia (Straight Man, 1997) previously seemed like an anomaly. Now it has a companion of sorts, though Russo can't seem to decide whether his protagonist is comic or tragic. Maybe both. The son of two professors who were unhappy with each other and their lot in life, Jack Griffin vowed not to follow in their footsteps, instead becoming a hack screenwriter in Los Angeles. Then he leaves that career to become a cinema professor and moves back East with his wife Joy. Most of the novel takes place during two weddings a year apart: one on Cape Cod, where Jack had endured annual summer vacations and convinced Joy to spend their honeymoon; the other in Maine, where Joy had wanted to honeymoon. Plenty of flashbacks concerning the families of each spouse seem on the surface to present very different models for marriage, and there is an account of the year between the weddings that shows their relationship changing significantly. It isn't enough that Jack feels trapped by his familial past; he carries his parents' ashes in his trunk, can't bear to scatter them and carries on conversations with his late mother that eventually become audible. Will Jack and Joy be able to sustain their marriage? Will their daughter succumb to the fate of her parents, just as Jack and Joy have? Observes Jack, "Late middle age, he was coming to understand, was a time of life when everything was predictable and yet somehow you failed to see any of it coming." Readable, as always with this agreeable and gifted author. (Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2009)

    Further reading: