Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Amy and Isabelle: a novel by Elizabeth Strout


Discussion leader: Ellen Getreu
Monday, February 6, 1pm

A compelling first novel, Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle tells the story of alienation from a distant mother and a parent’s rage at the discovery of her 16-year-old daughter’s sexual secrets. Gossip ridden Shirley Falls doesn’t help matters as Amy is discovered behind steamed up windows of a car with her math teacher. Amy discovers the fragility of happiness through the many other dramas that come to her little town. Witty and often profound, this first novel is a promise of more to come from a new, talented writer.


 Reserve your copy of Amy and Isabelle on ALISCat


BookList:

 

/*Starred Review*/ In a New England mill town during the summer, probably, of 1969, a lot of things were going on while Amy and her mother, Isabelle, were circling around the harsh knot of their ties to each other and their terror of them. Isabelle's pinched existence as a single mother belies a spirit that only occasionally flares into desire or pleasure; Amy's shy, desperate adolescence finds furtive solace in the caresses of her math teacher. Each woman has a kind of alter ego; for Isabelle, it's Fat Bev, large and talky but kind, one of the women at the mill's office where Isabelle is a secretary. For Amy, it is Stacy, her foul-mouthed best friend, who is pregnant and angry. A cast of characters find and lose each other, cling to kindness and to the comfort of the daily routine, however uninspired. Strout traces all of this with a precise evocation of pure feeling or glowing truth: "memories danced inside her like a living thing." Sexuality smolders and explodes; women have female troubles; mysteries never get solved; but through it all, Strout's intense scrutiny of what makes us our mothers' daughters is both beautiful and unsettling. Marvelous writing makes the quietest gesture ring loudly: the crashing of a Belleek cream pitcher is the sound of hearts breaking and healing. ((Reviewed November 15, 1998)) -- GraceAnne A. DeCandido


Publishers Weekly:

Stories of young women who suffer the sexual advances of an authority figure (in this case, a high school math teacher) seem ubiquitous these days. But in Strout's gently powerful, richly satisfying debut, the damage shows less within the heart of the teenaged girl in question than in the wreckage of the previously tranquil relationship she had enjoyed with her mother. Amy Goodrow, 16, is the shy only child of Isabelle, a single mother. Isabelle's shame over the secret of her daughter's illegitimacy and her hunger for respectability keep her painfully isolated from the community of the New England mill town where she has made her home. Even before Amy's relations with her teacher become known, her beauty and her burgeoning sexuality arouse uncomfortable feelings of competitiveness in Isabelle, as well as dread at the prospect of her daughter's flight from Isabelle's carefully constructed nest. Amy, meanwhile, is in love; Strout lays out her teacher's charms as clearly as his caddishness, and her portrait of a young woman stumbling on the shattering power of lust--her own and others'--balances delicacy with frankness and breathtaking acuity. In the end, it is Isabelle who stays with the reader; devastated by her daughter's betrayal, riven with regrets over a life left largely unlived, she must somehow make amends to herself. This beautifully nuanced novel steers a course somewhere between the whimsy of Alice Hoffman and the compassionate insight of Anne Tyler and Sue Miller, and is sure to delight fans of all three. Agent, Lisa Bankoff at ICM. (Jan.)

Library Journal:

 

YA-Isabelle Goodrow thought her move to the small mill town of Shirley Falls would be temporary-just until she decided in which direction she wanted her life to head. Now her daughter, Amy, has fallen in love with her high school math teacher, and he takes advantage of the teen's infatuation. When the relationship is discovered, Isabelle is furious with her daughter but also a little jealous that Amy has found sexual fulfillment while she has not. As mother and daughter try to rebuild the trust and closeness they once shared, the private secrets of many citizens of Shirley Falls are revealed. YAs will relate to the complexities of mother/daughter relationships and to having a crush on a teacher. This is a beautifully written novel with characters so real that readers will miss them at the book's resolute ending. Their interactions are riveting.-Katherine Fitch, Rachel Carson Middle School, Herndon, VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Kirkus:

/* Starred Review */ A lyrical, closely observant first novel, charting the complex, resilient relationship of a mother and daughter. Isabel Goodrow had settled in the mill town of Shirley Falls when her daughter Amy was an infant, reluctantly admitting to those who asked that both her husband and her parents were dead. Amy has grown up knowing little about her father and, thanks to her closeness to Isabel, also knowing little about the rough give-and-take of life. Now, Amy's innocence is under assault from various quarters, and her mother finds herself losing touch with the daughter who has been the focus of her existence. Amy, at 16, has a poised, delicate beauty, and finds herself—at first with alarm, then with a barely suppressed excitement—responding to the flirtations of a new teacher. Part of the novel's power derives from Strout's ability to set Amy and Isabel's painful struggles within the larger context of a small town. Some elements of the life there seem timeless: the steady flow of gossip, the invisible but nonetheless rigid social hierarchies, the ancient disruptions of life (illness, adultery, violence). New elements, however, signal a darker time: UFO's have been sighted, and a young girl is missing and may have been abducted. Strout nicely interweaves these elements within the record of Amy and Isabelle's increasingly charged relationship. She catches, with an admirable restraint, and particularity, Amy's emergent sense of self, the wild succession of emotions in adolescence, and Amy's stunning discovery of sex. She also renders a wonderfully nuanced portrait of Isabelle, a bright, often angry woman who has only imperfectly replaced passion with stoicism. Matters come to a head when Amy and her teacher are discovered in compromising circumstances, and when members of her father's family suddenly get in touch. In less sure hands, all of this would seem merely melodramatic. But Strout demonstrates exceptional poise, and an uncommon ability to render complex emotions with clarity and a sympathetic intelligence, evoking comparisons with the work of Alice Munro and Anne Tyler. (Author tour) (Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1999)


Further information:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

 Date: December 19, 2011  

Time: 1 p.m.

Discussion leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman


A 5-year-old narrates a story about his life growing up in a single room where his mother aims to protect him from the man who has held her prisoner for seven years since she was a teenager.

Reserve your copy of Room on ALISWeb 

View Readers' Packet prepared by the staff of the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library






 Book Reviews from the NoveList database

BookList:
Five-year-old Jack has never known anything of life beyond Room, the 11-square-foot space he shares with his mother. Jack has learned to read, count, and process an imaginary world Outside through television. At night he sleeps in a wardrobe in case Old Nick comes to visit, bringing supplies and frightening intrusion. Worried about his curiosity and her own desperation, his mother reveals to Jack that the Outside is real and that they must escape. She tells him that she was kidnapped by Old Nick and has been held secluded in Room for seven years. Jack is brave enough to carry out their plan, and the two of them are compelled to adjust to life Outside, with its bright lights and noise and people touching. What is reconnection for his mother is discovery for Jack, who is soon overwhelmed by the changes in his mother and a world coming at him fast and furiously. Room is beautifully written as a first-person narrative from Jack’s perspective, and within it, Donoghue has constructed a quiet, private, and menacing world that slowly unbends with a mother and son’s love and determination. -- Bush, Vanessa (Reviewed 09-15-2010) (Booklist, vol 107, number 2, p29) 
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ At the start of Donoghue's powerful new novel, narrator Jack and his mother, who was kidnapped seven years earlier when she was a 19-year-old college student, celebrate his fifth birthday. They live in a tiny, 11-foot-square soundproofed cell in a converted shed in the kidnapper's yard. The sociopath, whom Jack has dubbed Old Nick, visits at night, grudgingly doling out food and supplies. Seen entirely through Jack's eyes and childlike perceptions, the developments in this novel--there are enough plot twists to provide a dramatic arc of breathtaking suspense--are astonishing. Ma, as Jack calls her, proves to be resilient and resourceful, creating exercise games, makeshift toys, and reading and math lessons to fill their days. And while Donoghue (Slammerkin) brilliantly portrays the psyche of a child raised in captivity, the story's intensity cranks up dramatically when, halfway through the novel and after a nail-biting escape attempt, Jack is introduced to the outside world. While there have been several true-life stories of women and children held captive, little has been written about the pain of re-entry, and Donoghue's bravado in investigating that potentially terrifying transformation grants the novel a frightening resonance that will keep readers rapt. (Sept.) --Staff (Reviewed July 12, 2010) (Publishers Weekly, vol 257, issue 27, p) 
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ Five-year-old Jack and his Ma enjoy their long days together, playing games, watching TV, and reading favorite stories. Through Jack's narration, it slowly becomes apparent that their pleasant days are shrouded by a horrifying secret. Seven years ago, his 19-year-old Ma was abducted and has since been held captive—in one small room. To her abductor she is nothing more than a sex slave, with Jack as a result, yet she finds the courage to raise her child with constant love under these most abhorrent circumstances. He is a bright child—bright enough, in fact, to help his mother successfully carry out a plan of escape. Once they get to the outside world, the sense of relief is short lived, as Jack is suddenly faced with an entirely new worldview (with things he never imagined, like other people, buildings, and even family) while his mother attempts to deal with her own psychological trauma. VERDICT Gripping, riveting, and close to the bone, this story grabs you and doesn't let go. Donoghue (The Sealed Letter ) skillfully builds a suspenseful narrative evoking fear and hate and hope—but most of all, the triumph of a mother's ferocious love. Highly recommended for readers of popular fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/10.]— Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty. --Susanne Wells (Reviewed August 1, 2010) (Library Journal, vol 135, issue 13, p67)
Kirkus:
/* Starred Review */ Talented, versatile Donoghue (The Sealed Letter, 2008, etc.) relates a searing tale of survival and recovery, in the voice of a five-year-old boy.Jack has never known a life beyond Room. His Ma gave birth to him on Rug; the stains are still there. At night, he has to stay in Wardrobe when Old Nick comes to visit. Still, he and Ma have a comfortable routine, with daily activities like Phys Ed and Laundry. Jack knows how to read and do math, but has no idea the images he sees on the television represent a real world. We gradually learn that Ma (we never know her name) was abducted and imprisoned in a backyard shed when she was 19; her captor brings them food and other necessities, but he's capricious. An ugly incident after Jack attracts Old Nick's unwelcome attention renews Ma's determination to liberate herself and her son; the book's first half climaxes with a nail-biting escape. Donoghue brilliantly shows mother and son grappling with very different issues as they adjust to freedom. "In Room I was safe and Outside is the scary," Jack thinks, unnerved by new things like showers, grass and window shades. He clings to the familiar objects rescued from Room (their abuser has been found), while Ma flinches at these physical reminders of her captivity. Desperate to return to normalcy, she has to grapple with a son who has never known normalcy and isn't sure he likes it. In the story's most heartbreaking moments, it seems that Ma may be unable to live with the choices she made to protect Jack. But his narration reveals that she's nurtured a smart, perceptive and willful boy—odd, for sure, but resilient, and surely Ma can find that resilience in herself. A haunting final scene doesn't promise quick cures, but shows Jack and Ma putting the past behind them.Wrenching, as befits the grim subject matter, but also tender, touching and at times unexpectedly funny.(Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2010)





Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Monday, November 21    1 p.m.

Discussion leader: Edna Ritzenberg

The novel is set against the backdrop of Rome where the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English-language newspaper struggle to keep the paper, and themselves, afloat.  As the era of print news gives way to the Internet age, the future of its employees is unclear.  Stumbling upon the rich history of the paper, they learn the surprising truth about its founder's intention.

Reserve your copy of The Imperfectionists on ALISCat

Readers' Packet prepared by the H-WPL Staff

Reviews from the NoveList database:

Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ In his zinger of a debut, Rachman deftly applies his experience as foreign correspondent and editor to chart the goings-on at a scrappy English-language newspaper in Rome. Chapters read like exquisite short stories, turning out the intersecting lives of the men and women who produce the paper—and one woman who reads it religiously, if belatedly. In the opening chapter, aging, dissolute Paris correspondent Lloyd Burko pressures his estranged son to leak information from the French Foreign Ministry, and in the process unearths startling family fare that won't sell a single edition. Obit writer Arthur Gopal, whose “overarching goal at the paper is indolence,” encounters personal tragedy and, with it, unexpected career ambition. Late in the book, as the paper buckles, recently laid-off copyeditor Dave Belling seduces the CFO who fired him. Throughout, the founding publisher's progeny stagger under a heritage they don't understand. As the ragtag staff faces down the implications of the paper's tilt into oblivion, there are more than enough sublime moments, unexpected turns and sheer inky wretchedness to warrant putting this on the shelf next to other great newspaper novels. (Apr.) --Staff (Reviewed November 30, 2009) (Publishers Weekly, vol 256, issue 48, p25) 
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ At the Caffe Greco in Rome, circa 1953, Atlanta financier Cyrus Ott makes an offer that can't be refused. He will establish an international English-language newspaper to be run in Italy by Betty, the woman he once loved, and her husband, Leo, a hack writer for a Chicago daily. Within the building's walls an entire history of the print news business plays out over a 50-year span as writers, editors, and accountants grow in professional stature, squander their reputations, and fade into obsolescence. A former editor for the Paris branch of the International Herald Tribune , Rachman makes outstanding use of his credentials to place readers in the center of a newsroom so palpable one can hear the typewriters clacking and feel the uncomfortable undercurrent of professional jealousy among the writers jockeying for position. Navigating the minefields of relationships, parenthood, loneliness, and failure, each realistically imperfect character, developed through intimate, candid detail, becomes a story unto himself (or herself). VERDICT With its evocative Italian setting and its timely handling of an industry in flux, this polished, sophisticated debut can be relished in one sitting or read piecemeal as a satisfying series of vignettes linked by historical references to the Ott family empire. Buy it, read it, talk it up. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/09.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL --Sally Bissell (Reviewed January 15, 2010) (Library Journal, vol 135, issue 1, p92)
Kirkus:
An English-language newspaper headquartered in Rome brings together a strongly imagined cast of characters in journalist Rachman's first novel. Lloyd Burko used to be a stringer living in Paris. He's still in Paris, but now he's just an impoverished former journalist who pretends to have a computer and whose latest wife has moved in with the guy across the hall. Arthur Gopal is languishing as an obituary writer until a death in his own life enables his advancement by erasing his humanity. Hardy Benjamin is a business writer, savvy and knowledgeable about corporate finance but utterly hapless in romance. What they have in common is the never-named paper, whose history is doled out in brief chapters beginning in 1953. The novel's rich representation of expatriate existence surely benefits from the author's experiences as an AP correspondent in Rome and an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris; his thoroughly unglamorous depictions of newsroom cubicles and editorial offices will resonate with anyone who's had a corporate job. But, while the newspaper is its unifying factor, the narrative's heart beats with the people who work there. Rachman's ability to create a diverse group of fully formed individuals is remarkable. Characters range from a kid just out of college who learns the hard way that he doesn't want to be a reporter, to an Italian diplomat's widow. Some are instantly sympathetic, others hard to like. Each is vivid and compelling in his or her own way. The individual stories work well independently, even better as the author skillfully weaves them together. Cameo appearances become significant when informed by everything the reader already knows about a character who flits in and out of another's story. The novel isn't perfect. The interpolated chapters about the paper's past aren't very interesting; the final entry ends with a ghastly shock; and the postscript is too cute. Nevertheless, it's a very strong debut. Funny, humane and artful. (Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2009)


Further reading:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer

 
 Monday, October 17 
1 p.m.

Discussion leader: Ellen Getreu

Packer's sterling collection of stories is framed by two novellas: "Walk for Mankind" about teenager Richard Appleby and his bittersweet relationship with Sasha Horowitz, a rebellious, risk-taking 14-year-old, who has a clandestine affair with a drug dealer; and, "Things Said or Done" set three decades later, when Sasha, now 51 and divorced, has become her father's caretaker.


Reserve your copy of Swim Back to Me on ALIScat


 Book Reviews from the Novelist database:


BookList:
For readers of short fiction, these three short stories and three novellas will be delightful. Packer, author of the novel The Dive from Clausen’s Pier (2002), proves as adept with shorter forms as she is with novels. As expected from a winner of the Alex Award, the young characters that appear in this collection, though few, are well rounded and memorable. But even more memorable are the adults: the Yale graduate who can’t hold a job and is descending the teaching ladder, the apprehensive husband whose pregnant wife lost her first child to SIDS, and the second-time-around wife whose life is disrupted when her new husband disappears. Many of these people live in California, and readers will be almost blinded by the white sunlight and will feel the verdant shade of the forest in Packer’s powerfully described settings. These resonant, memorable stories evoke difficulties in family life and will appeal to those who enjoy such disparate writers as Lee Smith, A. S. Byatt, and ZZ Packer. Delicious! -- Loughran, Ellen (Reviewed 03-01-2011) (Booklist, vol 107, number 13, p28) 
Publishers Weekly:
Packer's sterling collection is framed by two novellas. In the opener, "Walk for Mankind," teenager Richard Appleby describes his bittersweet relationship with Sasha Horowitz, a rebellious, risk-taking 14-year-old, who has a clandestine affair with a drug dealer. Sasha's behavior is a reaction to her controlling and hyper-charming father, an English professor who's spiraling downward professionally and personally. "Things Said or Done" is set three decades later, when Sasha, now 51 and divorced, has become Richard's [sic] caretaker, forced to deal with his self-destructive, narcissistic personality while recognizing the ways in which they are alike. Packer's talents are evident in these psychologically astute novellas, and also in the stories in between. "Molten" conveys a mother's grief over her adolescent son's senseless death; "Dwell Time" features a protagonist's happy second marriage—until her husband disappears. In the affecting "Her First Born," a new father finally understands his wife's attachment to the memory of her first child, who died. The only misstep is "Jump," whose lead character, a rich man's son who fakes an underprivileged background to work in a photocopy shop, lacks credibility. Packer (The Dive from Clausen's Pier) presents complex human relationships with unsentimental compassion. (Apr.) --Staff (Reviewed December 13, 2010) (Publishers Weekly, vol 257, issue 49, p) 
Library Journal:
This new collection from Packer (The Dive from Clausen's Pier ) is framed by two stunning first-person narratives that introduce readers to two academic families briefly converging in and around Stanford in the 1970s. In each case, the narrator comes from the second generation. The opening story, "Walk for Mankind," captures the viewpoint of the teenage son of an established Stanford history professor, while the closing piece, "Things Said and Done," gives voice to the adventurous daughter of a visiting instructor taking a step down from Yale for a one-year appointment in Palo Alto. In each instance, Packer pulls the strings in such a way that the itinerant father, doomed by his difficult personality to a life perpetually lived off the tenure track, becomes the focal point. Unfortunately, or perhaps inevitably, the other four stories in the volume, though well crafted and engaging, have the feel of problems solved rather than lives fully lived. VERDICT Whereas some great short story writers stumble with the sprawl of a novel, Packer, who occasionally works on a smaller scale, appears to be a novelist at heart. Still, these California stories are expansive and open-ended. It's hard to let them go. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/10.]— Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA --Sue Russell (Reviewed January 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 1, p92) 
Kirkus:
/* Starred Review */ A novella and five stories limn with acuity and empathy the intricate negotiations and painful losses of family life.To Richard, the 13-year-old narrator of "Walk for Mankind," his new friend Sasha's parents, Dan and Joanie Horowitz, seem happier and much more fun than his morose father and his well-intentioned, much-resented? mother, who left her husband and son to move out to Oakland because she "needed to do something useful with my life." But Sasha's escapades with sex and drugs over the course of the 1972-3 school year reveal fissures in the Horowitzes' cheerfully bohemian fa??ade even before Dan loses his job at Stanford—and before the collection's final story, "Things Said or Done," revisits Sasha decades later. There, on the eve of her brother's wedding, she copes with impossible Dan, the novella's charming scapegrace now revealed as a terminal narcissist, and quietly seethes over the disengagement of Joanie, who long ago checked out of the drama. Families are fragile in these gently unsparing stories; the death of a child drives both "Molten," a scarifying snapshot of raw grief, and "Her Firstborn," the tender story of a young father-to-be haunted by the knowledge that his wife's previous marriage was destroyed by the crib death of her 5-month-old son. It's characteristic of Packer's subtle artistry that "Her Firstborn" climaxes with a sentence whose emotional force derives from the insertion of a comma. Her prose is deceptively simple, her insights always complex. "Dwell Time," another portrait of a second marriage, shows a woman realizing that her new husband has not shed all his demons with his divorce and deciding that she will try to live with them. Acknowledging the hurt and sorrow our loved ones bring us, the author never forgets to trace the joys of intimacy as well.Touching, tender and true—short fiction nearly as rich and satisfying as Packer's two fine novels (Songs Without Words, 2007, etc.).(Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2010)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Discussion leader: Jane Isaacson Shapiro

Monday, September 19
1 p.m.

Author Paula McLain brings Hadley Richardson Hemingway out from the formidable shadow cast by her famous husband.  The Hemingway marriage began with a whirlwind courtship and several fast and furious years of the expatriate lifestyle in 1920s Paris.  Hadley and Ernest traveled with the literary giants of the time including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Though eventually a woman scorned, Hadley is able to acknowledge without rancor or bitterness that "Hem had helped me to see what I really was and what I could do."


Reserve your copy of The Paris Wife on ALISCat.

View the Hewlett Readers' Packet, prepared by our staff
Book Reviews from the Novelist Database:
 
Publishers Weekly:
McLain (A Ticket to Ride) offers a vivid addition to the complex-woman-behind-the-legendary-man genre, bringing Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, to life. Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, Hadley is intrigued by the brash "beautiful boy," and after a brief courtship and small wedding, Hadley and Ernest take off for Paris, "the place to be," according to Sherwood Anderson. McLain ably portrays the cultural icons of the 1920s—Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra and Dorothy Pound—and the impact they have on the then unknown Hemingway, casting Hadley as a rock of Gibraltar for a troubled man whose brilliance and talent were charged and compromised by his astounding capacity for alcohol and women. Hadley, meanwhile, makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a game and brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband's career. The historical figure cameos sometimes come across as gimmicky, but the heart of the story—Ernest and Hadley's relationship—gets an honest reckoning, most notably the waves of elation and despair that pull them apart. (Mar.) --Staff (Reviewed December 6, 2010) (Publishers Weekly, vol 257, issue 48, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ A young Miss Hadley Richardson, with high spirits and lovely auburn hair, meets a handsome aspiring writer named Ernest Hemingway. They marry and make their way to Paris, living in a squalid apartment and spending time in caf√© society with fellow expatriates Gertrude Stein, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Sylvia Beach. Though the post-World War I years offer a great deal of creative freedom for these idle Americans, self-indulgence is the code of the day. Will Hadley choose to step aside as literary success—and another woman—come to take their place in Ernest's life? In her second novel (following A Ticket To Ride ), McLain creates a compelling, spellbinding portrait of a marriage. Hemingway is a magnetic figure whose charm is tempered by his dark, self-destructive tendencies. Hadley is strong and smart, but she questions herself at every turn. Women of all ages and situations will sympathize as they follow this seemingly charmed union to its inevitable demise. VERDICT Colorful details of the expat life in Jazz Age Paris, combined with the evocative story of the Hemingways' romance, result in a compelling story that will undoubtedly establish McLain as a writer of substance. Highly recommended for all readers of popular fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/10.]— Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty., OH --Susanne Wells (Reviewed November 15, 2010) (Library Journal, vol 135, issue 19, p60)
Kirkus:
/* Starred Review */ An imaginative, elegantly written look inside the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson.Hadley, literary history tells us, was Hemingway's rescuing angel; eight years older than he, she was the woman who lifted him from his postwar depression as a wounded veteran and helped restore his battered confidence. He, of course, was smitten; she was too, charmed by "his grin, elastic and devastating." "To keep you from thinking," McLain's (A Ticket to Ride, 2008, etc.) narrator puts it, "there was liquor, an ocean's worth at least, all the usual vices and plenty of rope to hang yourself with. But some of us, a very few in the end, bet on marriage against the odds."  Marriage it was, and from there McLain's story becomes one of battling those long odds. After a sojourn in Toronto, the two head off to Paris—whence the title—at novelist Sherwood Anderson's suggestion, not just to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate but also to plunge headlong into the most active literary scene on the planet. By McLain's account, true to history, Hadley at times verges a touch on the naive but, for the most part, is tough and sophisticated; she holds her own with Ezra Pound ("He's very noisy...but he has some fine ideas") and Gertrude Stein, hangs tough with the bulls in Pamplona, and keeps up with Hemingway when he was young and vigorous and had not yet settled into his boozy "Papa" persona. McLain's Hemingway is outwardly a touch less obdurate than even Hemingway's own depiction of himself, especially at the climactic moment in which his manuscripts go missing, in which McLain puts a slight twist on history; clearly it marks the beginning of the end, whereupon the tale takes on the contour of a Jill Clayburgh vehicle. The closing pages, in particular, are both evocative and moving, taking in the sweep of events over a third of a century and providing a resolution that, if not neat, is wholly in character.A pleasure to read—and a pleasure to see Hadley Richardson presented in a sympathetic light.(Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2011)


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Tuesday, August 16, 11 a.m.
Discussion leader: Edna Ritzenberg

Reserve your copy of Just Kids on AlisCat.org

Download the Hewlett Readers' packet for Just Kids

It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation.  Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography.  With innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed city and set up camp at the infamous Hotel Chelsea.  fueled by their dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during their early hungry years.  Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy.




Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Tuesday, July 12, 11 a.m.
Discussion leader: Ellen Getreu

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.
Reserve your copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on ALISweb

Book Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner

…one of the most graceful and moving nonfiction books I've read in a very long time. A thorny and provocative book about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks also floods over you like a narrative dam break, as if someone had managed to distill and purify the more addictive qualities of "Erin Brockovich," Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The Andromeda Strain. More than 10 years in the making, it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write. It signals the arrival of a raw but quite real talent…[The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks] has brains and pacing and nerve and heart, and it is uncommonly endearing.

The Washington Post - Eric Roston

Skloot's vivid account…reads like a novel. The prose is unadorned, crisp and transparent…This book, labeled "science--cultural studies," should be treated as a work of American history. It's a deftly crafted investigation of a social wrong committed by the medical establishment, as well as the scientific and medical miracles to which it led. Skloot's compassionate account can be the first step toward recognition, justice and healing.

Publishers Weekly

Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about “faith, science, journalism, and grace.” It is also a tale of medical wonders and medical arrogance, racism, poverty and the bond that grows, sometimes painfully, between two very different women—Skloot and Deborah Lacks—sharing an obsession to learn about Deborah’s mother, Henrietta, and her magical, immortal cells. Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line—known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta’s death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Skloot’s portraits of Deborah, her father and brothers are so vibrant and immediate they recall Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family. Writing in plain, clear prose, Skloot avoids melodrama and makes no judgments. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society’s most vulnerable people. (Feb.)

Booklist

Writing with a novelist's artistry, a biologist's expertise, and the zeal of an investigative reporter, Skloot tells a truly astonishing story of racism and poverty, science and conscience, spirituality and family driven by a galvanizing inquiry into the sanctity of the body and the very nature of the life force. Starred review.

Library Journal

This distinctive work skillfully puts a human face on the bioethical questions surrounding the HeLa cell line. Henrietta Lacks, an African American mother of five, was undergoing treatment for cancer at Johns Hopkins University in 1951 when tissue samples were removed without her knowledge or permission and used to create HeLa, the first "immortal" cell line. HeLa has been sold around the world and used in countless medical research applications, including the development of the polio vaccine. Science writer Skloot, who worked on this book for ten years, entwines Lacks's biography, the development of the HeLa cell line, and her own story of building a relationship with Lacks's children. Full of dialog and vivid detail, this reads like a novel, but the science behind the story is also deftly handled. VERDICT While there are other titles on this controversy (e.g., Michael Gold's A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman's Immortal Legacy—and the Medical Scandal It Caused), this is the most compelling account for general readers, especially those interested in questions of medical research ethics. Highly recommended. [See Skloot's essay, p. 126; Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/09.]—Carla Lee, Univ. of Virginia Lib., Charlottesville

The New York Times Book Review - Lisa Margonelli

…Rebecca Skloot introduces us to the "real live woman," the children who survived her, and the interplay of race, poverty, science and one of the most important medical discoveries of the last 100 years. Skloot narrates the science lucidly, tracks the racial politics of medicine thoughtfully and tells the Lacks family's often painful history with grace. She also confronts the spookiness of the cells themselves, intrepidly crossing into the spiritual plane on which the family has come to understand their mother's continued presence in the world. Science writing is often just about "the facts." Skloot's book, her first, is far deeper, braver and more wonderful.

Kirkus Reviews

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later. In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine-all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre-civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field. Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance betweensociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics. Tie-in with multicity author lecture schedule. Agent: Simon Lipskar/Writers House




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Monday, May 9, 2011

The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle

Monday, June 6, 1 p.m.

Leader: Edna Ritzenberg

Reserve your copy of The Tortilla Curtain on ALIScat






 Reviews from the Novelist database:

BookList:
PEN/Faulkner award winner and author of various novels, including The Road to Wellville (1993), Boyle avoids any potential pitfall of his prior achievement by veering in another direction and seriously examining social and political issues in this timely novel. He establishes an obvious dichotomy by interweaving the scrapping, makeshift, in-the-present lives of illegal aliens Candido and America Rincon with the politically correct, suburban, plan-for-the-future existence of wealthy Americans Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher. The Rincons' lives, though full of fear and hardship, contain far more passion and endurance than the Mossbachers' mundane and materialistic lifestyles. An initial, pivotal car accident briefly unites, and ultimately separates, Delaney and Candido, provoking question after question concerning immigration, unemployment, discrimination, and social responsibility. Surprisingly, Boyle manages to address these issues in a nonjudgmental fashion, depicting the vast inequity in these parallel existences. This highly engaging story subtly plays on our consciences, forcing us to form, confirm, or dispute social, political, and moral viewpoints. This is a profound and tragic tale, one that exposes not only a failed American Dream, but a failing America. ((Reviewed June 1 & 15, 1995)) -- Janet St. John
Magill Book Review:
Magill Book Review: Middle-aged Candido Rincon and his pregnant, seventeen-year-old wife, America, illegally enter the United States because of the lack of work in Mexico, but adversity constantly hinders them. Rincon is struck by a car, beaten and robbed, and accidentally starts a brush fire that consumes their savings. America grows increasingly desperate and gives birth to their daughter in a makeshift hut. Living high above the Rincons in a shiny new development are Delaney Mossbacher, a nature writer, and his second wife, Kyra, a real-estate agent. Kyra cares only for property values, making sales, her young son, and her pets. After her two dogs are taken off by coyotes, her cat disappears in the fire, and she has some tense encounters with Mexicans, Kyra wants a wall erected to protect Arroyo Blanco. Delaney is at first outraged at the racist motives of his wife and neighbors, but events soon also turn him against the invaders from the south. T. Coraghessan Boyle explores similar conflicts between cultures in such earlier novels as Water Music (1982), World's End (1987), and East is East (1990), but The Tortilla Curtain is not as stylish, satirical, or insightful as Boyle's previous work. Taking John Steinbeck's treatment of economic nomads in The Grapes of Wrath (1939) as his model, Boyle reveals his compassion for the Rincons, but his ironic view of smug suburbanites is itself smug. Still, Boyle is too good a writer to fail completely. The scenes of man in conflict with nature, during the fire and a subsequent mudslide, are powerful. As he shows in World's End in particular, Boyle is a master at exploring man's tenuous hold on the civilization he has constructed in the face of ruthless natural forces. -- Essay by Michael Adams.
Publishers Weekly:
Boyle's latest concerns two couples in Southern California--one a pair of wealthy suburbanites, the other illegal immigrants from Mexico. (Sept.)
Library Journal:
Go tell it in the valley: Boyle's newest novel is, according to the publicist, "a timely, provocative account" of immigration in central California. With a 100,000-copy first printing and a 25-city tour, you know the publisher expects this book to be big.
Kirkus:
The inestimably gifted Boyle (The Road to Wellville, 1993, etc.) puts on a preacher's gown and mounts the pulpit to proclaim a hellfire sermon against bigotry and greed--in this rather wan updating of The Grapes of Wrath. If Boyle is to be believed, Los Angeles County has gradually evolved into a kind of minimum-security prison, with the prosperous Anglos living in fear of their lives behind the walls of their suburban security compounds. Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher moved as far from the city as they could, and settled in a tastefully "authentic" tract development just above Topanga Canyon. Au courant to a fault, Kyra brings home the bacon as a hot-shot real estate agent, while Delaney stands in as Mr. Mom--cooking their lowfat meals, seeing after their pets and their son, and writing a monthly column for a nature magazine. Below them, in the Canyon itself, Candido and America Ricon have crossed the Mexican border illegally and seek refuge of their own in the makeshift camp they've erected. Candido meets Delaney at the beginning of the story when Delaney runs him down with his car, and this pretty much establishes the tone of their relations throughout. Candido, as hapless as his namesake in Voltaire, wants only to work and look after his pregnant wife, but he's thwarted on every side by an exasperated white society with no room for him. Implausible circumstances keep bringing Delaney and Candido back to each other, and the tension that builds between them becomes an image of the ferocity that smolders within the city around them--exploding in an apocalyptic climax that combines a brushfire and a riot, with an earthquake thrown in for good measure. A morality play too obvious to be swallowed whole: Boyle's first real lemon so far. (Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1995) Further information:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Great House by Nicole Krauss

Monday, May 9   1 p.m.
Leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman

Reserve your copy of Great House by Nicole Krauss on ALIScat

Download the HW Readers' Packet, prepared by the Library Staff



BookList:
/* Starred Review */ Krauss, in her follow-up to the best-selling History of Love (2005), tells her story entirely through the voices of her characters. All of the elements of literary fiction are conveyed through the monologues of five people: a writer from New York, an angry Jewish father from Jerusalem, an American woman studying in Oxford, the baffled husband of a Holocaust refugee, and an √©minence grise who wraps things up—but not too tightly. Readers follow the trail, set forth in straightforward narrative and flashbacks, of an immense desk, which casts its shadow (sometimes literally) over the lives of all five characters. The plot is intricate and rewards careful reading. Krauss’ masterful rendition of character is breathtaking, compelling, and reminiscent of ZZ Packer at her very best. In addition, the points of view of the various narrators, taken as a whole, present a broad picture of plot and motivation. Thematically strong, Great House examines the daily survival of Jews and demonstrates the destructiveness of lies and secrets within families. This tour de force of fiction writing will deeply satisfy fans of the author’s first two books and bring her legions more. -- Loughran, Ellen (Reviewed 09-01-2010) (Booklist, vol 107, number 1, p40) 
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ This stunning work showcases Krauss's consistent talent. The novel consists of four stories divided among eight chapters, all touching on themes of loss and recovery, and anchored to a massive writing desk that resurfaces among numerous households, much to the bewilderment and existential tension of those in its orbit, among them a lonely American novelist clinging to the memory of a poet who has mysteriously vanished in Chile, an old man in Israel facing the imminent death of his wife of 51 years, and an esteemed antiques dealer tracking down the things stolen from his father by the Nazis. Much like in Krauss's The History of Love, the sharply etched characters seem at first arbitrarily linked across time and space, but Krauss pulls together the disparate elements, settings, characters, and fragile connective tissue to form a formidable and haunting mosaic of loss and profound sorrow. (Oct.) --Staff (Reviewed August 9, 2010) (Publishers Weekly, vol 257, issue 31, p) 
Library Journal:
In this latest from Krauss (The History of Love ), a huge old desk with many drawers becomes the symbol of love and loss for a host of characters from different countries and time periods. There is the New York woman who has written all her novels at the desk, which she was keeping for a Chilean poet who has since disappeared. Then there are the poet's daughter, who comes back years later to claim the desk; the antiques dealer who tracks down meaningful items from people's pasts; the brother and sister who live isolated in a Jerusalem home filled with other people's furniture; the elderly couple in England who live with the desk and a horrible secret; and the dictatorial father who desperately tries to understand his creative son. VERDICT While each character's story is engrossing, the connection among them is at times impossible to follow. Still, Krauss deals with heavyweight themes—the Holocaust, the different ways people cope with suffering, the special cruelty of fathers, the costs of creativity—with meditative, insightful prose that makes for an intense and memorable reading experience. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/10.]— Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA --Joy Humphrey (Reviewed August 1, 2010) (Library Journal, vol 135, issue 13, p69) 
Kirkus:
A many-drawered writing desk resonates powerfully but for different reasons with the various characters in this novel about loss and retrieval from Krauss (The History of Love, 2005, etc.).This brain-stretching novel travels back and forth across years and continents. In 1972 New York, a young novelist named Nadia spends one magical evening with a Chilean poet, Daniel, who then returns to Chile. Daniel leaves in her care a desk he claims belonged to Federico Garcia Lorca. Shortly afterward, he dies at the hands of Pinochet's secret police. In 1999 a young woman named Leah announces to Nadia that she is Daniel's daughter and wants his desk returned. The reclusive Nadia lets Leah, who resembles Daniel, ship the desk to her home in Jerusalem but is emotionally devastated afterward—the desk represents her writing life. Her sense of herself as a woman and a writer deeply shaken, she decides to visit Jerusalem. Meanwhile in Jerusalem, a retired lawyer yearns to connect to his son Dovik, who has left his own legal career in England to move in with his father after his mother's funeral. Barely speaking, Dovik remains a frustrating mystery to his father. Back in 1970 in London, an Oxford professor finds his jealousy pricked when his wife Lotte, a writer and Holocaust survivor, gives her writing desk to the young poet Daniel, an admirer of her work. Only later, learning that Lotte gave up a baby for adoption before she married, does he realize that Daniel became a surrogate for her lost son. In 1998 in London, Leah is living with her brother when she goes to New York in search of the desk. While the disparate characters do not necessarily interact, their choices affect one another over the course of decades.Brainy and often lyrically expressive, but also elusive and sometimes infuriatingly coy; Krauss is an acquired taste.(Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2010)


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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

Monday,  March 7, 2011      1 p.m.

Discussion Leader: Ellen Getreu
 
Like Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, but modern! With middle aged and elderly women! Betty Weissmann is 75 when her husband decides that they have irreconcilable difference and seeks solace in the arms of another woman. Not only is Betty abandoned, but she is also kicked out of her beautiful apartment "until the divorce settlement comes through". Stunned, grieving, she retreats with her daughters (sensible Annie and emotional Miranda) to a cottage by the ocean, and that's where the adventure really begins!



Book Reviews from the NovelistPlus database


BookList:
It may be hard to envision a novel of manners set in our ill-mannered times, but accomplished author Schine has captured the essence of Sense and Sensibility and dropped it into today’s Manhattan and Westport. The Weissmanns, elderly mother and two mature daughters driven to penury by divorce and career reversals, must rely on the beneficence of Cousin Lou for the shabby roof over their heads. Annie, still modestly employed as a librarian, has both salary and an apartment to sublet, so it falls to her to provide the income for the three. Alas, the other two spend money as if it were still the old days. Mother Betty affects widowhood as it is easier than the pending divorce. Sister Miranda finds inappropriate love. The wide-ranging cast of characters—fools, scoundrels, poseurs, the good-hearted, and secret heroes—provides interesting interplay.Wild coincidences abound, so that Manhattan, Westport, and Palm Springs are but mere extensions of the classic drawing room. There is sadness but also love in this thoroughly enjoyable, finely crafted modern novel. -- Hoover, Danise (Reviewed 01-01-2010) (Booklist, vol 106, number 9, p47) 
Publishers Weekly:
A geriatric stepfather falls in love with a scheming woman half his age in Schine's Sense and Sensibility –flecked and compulsively readable follow-up to The New Yorkers . Betty Weissman is 75 when Joseph, her husband of nearly 50 years, announces he's divorcing her. Soon, Betty moves out of their grand Central Park West apartment and Joseph's conniving girlfriend, Felicity, moves in. Betty lands in a rundown Westport, Conn., beach cottage, but things quickly get more complicated when Betty's daughters run into their own problems. Literary agent Miranda is sued into bankruptcy after it's revealed that some of her authors made up their lurid memoirs, and Annie, drowning in debt, can no longer afford her apartment. Once they relocate to Westport, both girls fall in love—Annie rather awkwardly with the brother of her stepfather's paramour, and Miranda with a younger actor who has a young son. An Austen-esque mischief hovers over these romantic relationships as the three women figure out how to survive and thrive. It's a smart crowd pleaser with lovably flawed leads and the best tearjerker finale you're likely to read this year. (Feb.) --Staff (Reviewed December 21, 2009) (Publishers Weekly, vol 256, issue 51, p36) 
Library Journal:
Drawing on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility , Schine (The New Yorkers ) has written a witty update in which a late-life divorce exiles Betty Weissmann and her adult daughters, Annie and Miranda, from a luxurious life in New York to a shabby beach cottage in Westport, CT. Annie is the serious daughter and Miranda the drama queen. Both women find unexpected love, while Betty, a sweet, frivolous spendthrift, struggles with her newly impoverished state. What comfort the Weissmanns enjoy is owing to the generosity of Cousin Lou, a Holocaust survivor and real-estate mogul, whose goal in life is to rescue everyone, whether or not rescue is needed. While beautifully preserving the essence of the plot, Schine skillfully manages to parallel the original novel in clever 21st-century ways—the trip to London becomes a holiday in Palm Springs; the scoundrel Willoughby becomes a wannabe actor. VERDICT Austen lovers and those who enjoyed updates like Paula Marantz Cohen's Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale should appreciate this novel. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/09.]—Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS --Andrea Kempf (Reviewed January 15, 2010) (Library Journal, vol 135, issue 1, p93) 
Kirkus:
Already recognized for her own witty romantic comedies of manners, Schine (The New Yorkers, 2008, etc.) joins the onslaught of Austen imitators.Upper-middle-class, mostly Jewish New Yorkers take the place of British gentry in this Sense and Sensibility riff. After 48 years of marriage, 78-year-old Joseph Weissman leaves his 75-year-old wife Betty for Felicity Barrow, a younger woman with whom he works. Although Josie (as his stepdaughters call him) repeatedly swears he wants to be generous to Betty, Felicity manipulates him into closing Betty's credit-card accounts and forcing her out of the Weissmans' Upper West Side apartment she herself paid for decades ago. Fortunately, kindly Cousin Lou lends Betty his abandoned cottage in Westport, Conn., and Betty's daughters, outraged on their mother's behalf although they don't stop loving Josie, move in with her. Romantic, never married but often in love, 49-year-old Miranda is in dire financial straits herself, as scandals concerning the memoirists she represents threaten to bankrupt her literary agency. Sensible Annie, briefly married and long divorced, has successfully raised two sons while working at a privately endowed library. Now living in stoic loneliness, she has begun to fall in love with famous author Frederick Barrow, who happens to be Felicity's brother and whose grown offspring jealously guard his affections. In Westport, Annie is hurt when Frederick practically ignores her at a gathering at Cousin Lou's. Meanwhile, Miranda has an affair with the handsome young actor next door and falls seriously in love with his two-year-old son. Feisty Betty begins to refer to herself as a widow. In true Austen fashion, love and money conquer all, although Schine adds some modern sorrow and a slightly off-putting disdain for her male characters, who range from narcissistically foolish to, in what passes for the romantic hero, pragmatic and unoffending. Infectious fun, but the tweaked version never quite lives up to the original. (Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2009)



Further Reading:

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

  • Monday, February 7, 2011         1 p.m.
  • Discussion leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman

In the mid-twentieth century in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime. From his earliest days as a "practice baby" through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney's Burbank studios, and the delirious world of the Beatles' London, Henry House remains handsome, charming, universally adored--and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust.

Reserve your copy of The Irresistible Henry House on ALIScat

Download the Readers' Packet, prepared by the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library staff

Reviews from the NovelistPlus database:

BookList:
In 1946 Martha Gaines ran the practice house—a home-economics program for teaching young women how to be mothers—at Wilton College. Many babies passed through the house, but only Henry captured Martha’s heart, and she decided to keep Henry to raise as her own. At the tender age of 10, Henry finds out who his real mother is, and his life takes a turn from which he can’t recover. Hating Martha for lying to him, Henry begins planning his escape from the practice house and ultimately from Martha. What follows is a fascinating chronicle of his wandering life—from a boarding school for troubled teens to a cramped apartment with his birth mother in New York, the artists’ bull pen at Disney studios, the streets of London, and finally back home to Wilton College, where he can make peace with what Martha did to him so many years ago. Grunwald has created a wonderfully well-written story about a charming, lovable man who must learn to trust and love the women in his life. -- Kubisz, Carolyn (Reviewed 02-01-2010) (Booklist, vol 106, number 11, p26) 
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Like T.S. Garp, Forrest Gump or Benjamin Button, Henry House, the hero of Grunwald’s imaginative take on a little known aspect of American academic life, has an unusual upbringing. In 1946, orphaned baby Henry is brought to all-girl’s Wilton College as part of its home economics program to give young women hands-on instruction in child-rearing (such programs really existed). Henry ends up staying on at the practice house and growing up under the care of its outwardly stern but inwardly loving program director, Martha Gaines. As a protest against his unusual situation, Henry refuses to speak and is packed off to a special school in Connecticut, where his talents as an artist and future lover of women bloom. After he drops out of school, Henry finds work as an animator, working on Mary Poppins , then on the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine . With cameos by Dr. Benjamin Spock, Walt Disney and John Lennon, and locations ranging from a peaceful college campus to swinging 1960s London, Grunwald nails the era just as she ingeniously uses Henry and the women in his life to illuminate the heady rush of sexual freedom (and confusion) that signified mid-century life. (Mar.) --Staff (Reviewed October 5, 2009) (Publishers Weekly, vol 256, issue 40, p3) 
Library Journal:
For several decades beginning in the 1920s, some college home economic departments had practice houses, complete with practice babies for students to learn scientific principles of child and home care. The babies were orphans who spent a year tended by students before being adopted. Grunwald explores what life might have been like for one such baby. Henry House, the tenth Wilton College practice baby, earns his title of irresistible by learning early how to please eight different mothers. He's a master at keeping women engaged while never showing a preference. He learns how to imitate but not to create, a skill that helps him become a competent cartoon illustrator but not a true cartoonist. Not until he comes close to losing the one friend who knows him best does he begin to break the patterns learned as a baby. VERDICT This welcome variation of coming-of-age tales shares with Grunwald's previous novels (Whatever Makes You Happy; Summer ) a compelling web of characters and emotions that will please will please the author's fans and readers interested in novels with emotional depth. [Library marketing; ebook available 3/10: ISBN .]—Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC --Jan Blodgett (Reviewed November 15, 2009) (Library Journal, vol 134, issue 19, p60) 
Kirkus:
/* Starred Review */ A "practice baby" grows up to be the most indifferent guy, in this multilayered new novel from Grunwald (Whatever Makes You Happy, 2005, etc.).As the baby boom begins in 1946, fictional Wilton College in Pennsylvania works hard to prepare young women for that all important MRS. degree. It even provides a home economics "practice house," where coeds can hone their mother craft by caring for an infant on loan from the local orphanage. Each foundling is surnamed House by decree of Wilton's middle-aged, widowed and childless doyenne of domestic science, Martha Gaines. Three-month-old Henry, the current rental baby, is diapered, bathed and bottle-fed by alternating shifts of college students under Martha's hypercritical supervision. Though she's firmly wedded to the parenting wisdom of that era (e.g., babies must be trained, not indulged), Martha finds long-dormant maternal yearnings awakened by winsome Henry. Through guile and well-placed blackmail she adopts him, and he remains at Wilton under the care of successive practice mothers. Manipulating multiple moms teaches Henry to view women as interchangeable pushovers. Female demands—especially Martha's—repel him. A talented artist, Henry finds a haven with his beatnik art teachers in boarding school, until the birth of their child displaces him. His birth mother Betty, now a Manhattan career girl, offers temporary asylum from Martha, then unceremoniously abandons him. He finds work in Hollywood as a Disney animator, painting penguins for Mary Poppins (another story about a mother substitute). Then he moves on to London at the height of the Swinging Sixties to help animate the Beatles' Yellow Submarine. Henry is both irresistible and impervious to women other than his childhood friend Mary Jane, adept at the approach-avoidance game that is his Achilles' heel. Then, one day Henry meets his narcissistic match in another former practice baby. The near-omniscient narration perfectly suits this story, which often reads like a rueful but wry case study of nurture as nightmare. (Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2010)


Further Reading: