This installment: a messy college romance; a multilayered Quebec mystery; a fictional take on a local serial killer; messy progressive boarding school sex; a tale of psychological manipulation; and a fraught search in India.
The Rest of Us by Jessica Lott
Oh those intense, doomed college romances—this one with a professor, no less. Terry connects with Rhinehart, a poet, but ultimately his wife steps in and Terry’s life loses momentum. But 15 years later their paths cross again and this time it’s a very different relationship, bittersweet but fecund. Terry’s art (photography) is rekindled and she actually comes into her own in the fierce New York art scene. Ironically, Rhinehart’s ex, Laura, acts as stimulus and conduit, but it’s a fraught, double-edged experience. Intense story, and I love inside dope—in this case the exigencies of making it as a recognized artist.
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
I hadn’t read any of the popular Chief Inspector Gamache series but plunged into this one because I love the title and it had gotten very good reviews with which I concur. The setting: Montreal and rural environs. The characters: Gamache, once powerful and respected, but now his department has been gutted His aged, brilliant sidekicks. His troubled ex son-in-law, once his chief officer but now a puppet of what we learn is corrupt police force tied to a respected but scurrilous top politician. A misanthropic old poet whose best friend is a duck. A marvelous black lesbian bookstore owner, former therapist. The plot: the last of those famous quints has been murdered after visiting a little village. Lots of local color, including swear words like maud tabernac. Multi-layered and fascinating.
After Her by Joyce Maynard
An interesting fictional take on the serial killer who terrorized Marin’s beautiful trails from ’79 on. The primary investigator has two teenage daughters who’ve grown up essentially feral on the slopes of Mt. Tam above their house as their depressed mother spaces out and drinks. He’s moved out and spends less time with them as he’s subsumed by the frustrating case. So the girls play detective themselves and turn up both red herrings and significant clues. Evocative—song titles are great memory prompts for those of us who were around then, and suspenseful.
The Virgins by Pamela Erens
Adolescence is so painful and sex so awkward, whether fulfilled or frustrated. In the late ‘70s at a progressive boarding school, there’s a star-crossed—can we even call it a romance?—between Seung, a Korean American boy and Aviva, a wild, neurotic Jewish girl. They act out all over campus but when it comes to The Deed there’s humiliating malfunction which eventually has tragic consequences. Intense and vivid.
How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
Middle-aged Marta is starting to lose it. She can’t seem to follow up on regular tasks and often is gripped by unexplained terror. Hector, her husband, saved her life long ago, or so she’s believed all these years. He’s still solicitous but we sense menace. She’s used the eponymous book, a gift from her mother-in-law, to guide her all these years but the bland, subservient suggestions don’t fit the current situation. An extraordinary secret emerges at the end. Great tale of psychological manipulation.
At the Bottom of Everything by Ben Dolnick
Thomas was always otherworldly as a child—very smart, pretty weird. Adam, a transfer student at 12, really needs a friend so they fall in with each other. A daring, stupid prank they pull has fatal consequences. Their involvement in it is undetected but the friendship’s over. Now grown up, Adam is rudderless; he picks up tutoring jobs, and has gotten involved with the mother of one of his students. Then Thomas’s family contacts him. Their son has disappeared somewhere in India and Adam goes to retrieve him. It’s a creepy, fraught, fascinating journey with elements of expiation for both. (At first I thought the book was just another screwed-up-kids story—I’ve read a lot of them recently—but the journey to India really grabbed my attention.)
Back next Monday.