Reminder: come this Thurs. to the Fairfax Library where I’ll be telling Animal Tales at 7 p.m.
This installment: a clutch of novels-- creepiness in Australia; the perils of lodgers; short stories about fractured families; an anthropologist mother with a “different” child; a roller-coaster thriller; and a satire about publishing.
The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
Is that really a tiger in the house at night? So worries Ruth, a recent widow who lives in an isolated beachfront bungalow in Australia. So when take-charge Frieda shows up on her doorstep who says she been sent by the state as a caregiver, it’s a relief—of sorts. Because Frieda becomes increasingly pushy, presumptuous, and ultimately nightmarish. You’d think Ruth’s son Jeffrey who lives elsewhere would step in but he was glad to be off the hook and Frieda snookered him as well. It’s hard to sort out what’s in Ruth’s disordered head; she’s haunted by scenes from her childhood in Fiji. Disturbing and fascinating.
The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Lloyd
Celia, who lost her husband when she was young, has finally found peace. Or so she thinks. She now rents to carefully chosen tenants who give her a sense of connection even though she prides herself on the values of privacy and autonomy. But a new sublet, Hope, upsets things fast. She’s volatile, sexy, needy and erratic. Also the elderly gentleman upstairs disappears and his family is anxious and increasingly hostile. Celia finds herself snooping in their apartments and not liking what she discovers. But all this disruption eventually leads to a surprising release and the possibility of expanded horizons. Brooklyn setting, lively characterizations.
Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash
Short stories. The single mother of a teenage son hates his attraction to a “cheap” hostess and tries to interfere. A mother and son release their tensions at the blended family’s summer home by howling at the moon. A young man whose mother recently died resents the parade of women in pursuit of his father. A theme emerges: fractured families and the varieties of responses to awkwardness and pain. Vivid, deftly done, and often funny (as a crutch).
The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble
I used to read Drabble a lot—such a bright British author. This new one is on a fascinating subject: the “different” child. In this case, it’s Anna, who’s sweet and pretty but slow and clumsy and will always need supervision. Her mother, Jessica, an anthropologist, has devoted herself to Anna. The father, a married professor, is completely out of the picture. Long ago in Africa Jessica witnessed a tribe in which the children had limb deformities but seemed happy and functional, and this is how she views her own when she isn’t worrying about her daughter’s future. She’d also studied a groundbreaking mental health facility and reconnects with some of the inmates, now doing quite well in the world. A health crisis and a journey back to Africa bring things full circle. The book is narrated by a friend of Jessica’s and we gradually learn more about her tangentially, which adds an interesting angle. Thought-provoking.
Close My Eyes by Sophie Mckenzie
True confessions: this is a totally improbable suspense-filled book but I gobbled it up despite my critical mutterings. Gen, a writer, hasn’t been able to work since her baby was “born dead” 8 years ago. Her workaholic husband Art keeps pushing for IVF since she didn’t get pregnant afterwards, but she’s reluctant. Someone shows up and says her baby is alive. What a can of worms! She’s in pursuit of the truth and the child. Everyone thinks she’s crazy. “Accidental” deaths of key figures along the way signal that she’s on to something. Art’s chilly, glamorous sister Morgan becomes increasingly sinister. A wild denouement. If you like rollercoaster rides and suspending disbelief, this book’s for you too.
Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett
62 year old Amy lives in Southern California with her basset hound Alphonse. She wrote novels a while ago but now lives a quirky, solitary life except for some teaching. The day an interview is scheduled she bumps her head so what comes out is fresh free-association. The article goes viral, and her old publicist Maxine goads her to reconnect with the literary life on radio, TV, on panels and eventually on tour. The media love her eccentricity. All this stimulation gets her writing again. Willett knows the publishing industry well and it’s a great field for satire. I was especially interested in Amy’s long, celibate marriage to gay Max, now dead—a true love match hatched from adversity. (Otherwise he’d be drafted.)
Back next Monday.