This installment: a cataclysmic coming of age memoir; more disappearing girls; Frazier’s laugh-a-minute spoof; Munro’s latest magnificent short stories, a novel set in Rwanda; and a novel set in Amsterdam featuring travelers with all manner of baggage.
Disaster Preparedness by Heather Havrilesky
The author came of age in the '70s where cataclysms seemed to lurk around every corner, especially in this Kansas family with parents who detested each other. The material is all very familiar--all the discomforts of growing up, but Havrilesky articulates them with humor, candor, and rueful wisdom. And at the end, after all that adolescent angst and flailing, there's the grace of embracing imperfection and having managed to come through. A good lesson for all of us and nicely done at that.
Say You’re Sorry by Michael Robotham
Another variation on theme of teenage girls who disappear and are much later discovered imprisoned by a madman. (I've read at least two other book on the subject and it never ceases to fascinate.) In this case a clinical psychologist, Joe, puts the pieces together. The police want to blame it on a very disturbed local boy but Joe perseveres with his insights and hunches. All the characters are well-drawn and three dimensional, in addition to a gripping plot and mounting suspense--all of which makes for a very satisfying mystery. Set near Oxford, England.
The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days by Ian Frazier
This is an absolutely ridiculous book but it made me snort, chuckle and guffaw so many times that I have to share it with you. Everything that can go wrong does in the benighted but perpetually hopeful life of Cursing Mommy, who spews expletives like a blender with the top off. She starts off full of self-improving plans but into this life a veritable monsoon of trouble must fall: doomed recipes and craft projects, bad husband, bad children, and lots of alcohol to blunt the edges. (Frazier writes "serious" books too, which I've also enjoyed.) Cozy up with CM and your own life, no matter how flawed, will shine by comparison.
Dear Life by Alice Monroe
This Canadian octogenarian writer is the best, and I'm so glad she's still going strong. Her stories are direct, modest, yet masterfully subtle--you aren't specifically aware of technique or exquisite language but are just deeply drawn into the worlds she creates. For instance the one in which a woman keeps getting more and more confused and lost, like a bad dream in real life, and then in the last paragraph you find out the real circumstances. It took my breath away. She includes some semi-autobiographical pieces at the end, an additional pleasure.
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
A novel set in Rwanda. Jean Patrick hopes to represent his country in track at the Olympics. But he's a Tutsi in a land of brutally retaliating Hutus and his dreams shrink to survival and escape as he loses almost everything: home, family, schooling, love. A Scottish geology teacher befriends him and his coach, a dark and complicated figure, also plays a part in saving his life. Sometimes a bit exhaustingly dramatic, but it's very possible life was like that in Rwanda's darkest times.
The Light of Amsterdam by David Park
Three sets of travelers, unknown to each other, set out from Ireland on the same flight for a presumably festive weekend in Amsterdam. But they all come with considerable emotional baggage. A single mother is dragged along on her spoiled daughter's pre-wedding hen party. A teenage boy is dragged along to a Bob Dylan concert by his divorced father since Mom's off to Spain with her lover. And a wife who senses her marriage has gone cold arranges a shocking "present" for her unwitting husband. As you can imagine, there are times of great frustration, but all the characters arrive at some expanded self-knowledge and peace by the end. Sometimes a bit sentimental, but it was worth it for the comforting denouement. (One ringer, though, which I have to note here: he speaks of the song "Quanta La Mera" which I believe must be "Guantanamera". That's the kind of editing detail that makes me crazy.)
Back 3rd week in August (I'm off to Canada!)