This installment: an abducted girl thriller; a fine older memoir; a sad multi-layered book set in New England; a yeasty novel of family dysfunction; Binchy’s last, comforting novel; a tale that spans from WWII to present day with art as a focus.
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton
Another abducted-girls thriller, very well wrought. Reeve was rescued six years ago and has worked hard since to create a functional life for herself via therapy. When another girl is discovered in a rural setting, she’s brought in to help the traumatized victim and the investigation. The perpetrator is very canny and strategic; he’s also a member of the police force. Reeve struggles with clues shared in confidence and eventually has to pursue them on her own. Totally gripping with fascinating details about surveillance technology used for ill.
Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas
(I read this back in 2000 with great pleasure but when it fell into my hands again, I wanted to see how it landed now. Very well indeed, I can report.) Subtitled some true stories from a life. Very short chapters, sometimes one paragraph, that create a fine mosaic. Three husbands, three children, upheavals and heartbreak—the “whole catastrophe” (in the words of Anthony Quinn from Never on Sunday which I often quote, referring to domesticity). It’s a very accessible, entertaining yet profound tour de force.
Enon by Paul Harding
At 13, Charlie’s daughter Kate has a fatal bicycle accident and his whole life crumbles. His wife flees to the comfort of her parents since things are so bleak between them. He slides into endless, bitter reminders of how it was and what -ifs as he prowls around familiar territory in their small New England town. He can’t sleep, he’s injured his hand in fury and now hooked on painkillers. The history of the town weaves through his fevered ruminations and the graveyard becomes a hallucinatory backdrop for communion with Kate. A year later he reclaims a functional, sober, diminished existence: “Sometimes I sit in a wordless, inexplicable kind of broken-hearted joy.” A sad, multilayered book, beautifully written.
Love All by Callie Wright
The Obermeyers seem like a solid family but there’s murky history that reemerges when Bob, the patriarch, comes to live with them after his wife dies. He was a philanderer and was “exposed” along with the whole town in a Peyton Place- type novel back in ’62. Hugh runs Seedlings, a preschool; his wife Ann is a high-powered lawyer, often elsewhere. Their teenage daughter Julia plays tennis and is caught in an intense triangle between her friends Sam and Carl. Their older teenage son Teddy is resisting college plans and emotionally tangled as well. Hugh stumbles into infidelity and destabilization intensifies. Lots of sports action and imagery (which doesn’t exactly speak to me) but still a yeasty novel.
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
This is her last opus and it has all the cozy, satisfying elements that have made her books so popular. Chicky’s prospects in Dublin have run out so back to her village she goes, where an old funky mansion and its old dotty owner are in need of work.
A guest house in the making, and each visitor comes with baggage galore. A movie star fleeing from a botched schedule (he hopes no one recognizes him, but they’re all being discreet). A fiancée and her prospective dragon-lady mother-in-law, yoked together by her clueless son (he hopes they’ll be great pals). Second-place prize winners who think they’ve gotten the short end of the stick until they’re won over. And more. Yes, it’s often predictable and too tidy, but so comforting and full of rich Irish atmosphere.
The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes
A small village in France in WWI. Most of the men are gone to war which leaves Sophie and her family to cope with the intrusive German soldiers. She end up cooking for them and the Kommandant, an art lover, propositions her. One of those impossible wartime situations in which there’s no clear path. A leap to our time, and the portrait of Sophie now graces a young English widow’s bedroom. Sophie’s descendants locate it and demand it back, but it represents her husband’s love and she fights to keep it. A complex wrinkle: the lawyer for the family gets involved with Sophie before he realizes she has what he’s after. Lots of probing into history, lots of suspense, and a gratifying end. An exciting story.
Back next Monday (and the ALA convention last week was chock-full of book lore which I’ll pass on to you, dear readers, in the fullness of time).