This installment: books aid the biggest transition of all; Kingsolver’s latest; a dark, funny, redemptive novel; and an English comedy of manners based in Morocco.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Books and death--right up my alley. Will's mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While they're hanging out during chemo sessions they discuss what they're reading. Both are terrifyingly literate; mother was admissions director for Harvard and Will is an editor. Thus the genesis of their ongoing communion of that which strengthened, diverted, and nourished them during this difficult time, i.e. literature. Will's mother lived longer than predicted. It was a pleasure to get to know her on these pages, a self-effacing powerhouse with very strong opinions and enormous generosity. (She spearheaded many projects for refugees all over the world, including building a library in Kabul.) And Will is very good at summing up what they read. A great pleasure.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Climate change is the theme of her most recent book, a novel with A Message. The story: Dellarobia, a poor young mother in Appalachia, sets off for a harebrained romantic assignation, the first "flight." On her way up the mountain she sees trees laden with monarch butterflies. It's a sign, and she turns back. Tourists come to marvel, then scientists, and her life expands with a taste of potential. Ovid, the head researcher, hires her. He comes from the Caribbean and she falls for him but he's married and principled. She finally recognizes it's the limiting shotgun marriage to a decent but dense fellow she needs to shed. Notice I've concentrated on all the human interaction--that's what I'm interested in primarily. But there's lots of material on The Message as well, sometimes a bit too earnest for my taste. However, despite the heavily laden baggage compartment, I was caught up on this flight and glad I joined it.
May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
Her books tend to be dark and this one starts with utter horror: a Greek tragedy in which one bullying, raging, successful brother, George, is involved in a fatal auto accident and hauled off to the bin. His sibling, mild-mannered bachelor history professor Harold, comforts George's wife and George returns, catching them in flagrante, and bashes said wife's head in. Now the kids, Nate and Ashley, are Harold's responsibility. And, as it turns out, his saving grace. They're good kids and he rises to the occasion with lots of bumps along the way. Harold is a Nixon scholar (!?) and I kind of got his fascination with such an insalubrious subject. I loved seeing Harold's pinched soul expand, his household becoming a surprising refuge. So from the worst Thanksgiving to the next, a year later and so much better, where there's forgiveness all around. Absorbing and wickedly witty in turn.
The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne
Shades of Camus. David and Jo, an English couple on the way to a decadent weekend in Morocco, run over a native in the dark. They arrive with the body in the back seat--real party poopers. Finally the young dead man's father is located and he insists David come along for the burial in a far off village where fossils are mined. Meanwhile the party rages on with all sorts of indulgences that contrast with David's stark isolation and bouts of terror. We get to know what the young man was doing on that dark road--not a pretty story--and his equally scuzzy history. Cultural contrasts abound as the servants observe the "infidels" at debauched play. And ending that is both surprising and inevitable. Fascinating.
Back next Monday.