This installment: secret sorrows in Palm Springs (f); mounting literary dread (f); a wild card fashion photographer (nf); New Orleans noir (f); seduction at a private school (f); and growing up with Leonard Bernstein (nf).
The Family Tabor by Cherise Wolas
Palm Springs where patriarch Harry is about to receive the city’s Man of the Decade award for his philanthropic work. His lovely family is assembled at their lovely house but each member bears a secret sorrow despite their seeming success. Where did the money to fund Harry’s organization come from? Why can’t son Simon sleep? Why is Camille the anthropologist so depressed? Why hasn’t delectable, successful Phoebe found a mate? Harry does a bunk just before the awards dinner, creating panic and confusion all around. The prose is luminous and thoughtful, another fine exploration of moral tangles (a favorite subject of mine).
The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins
Why is Olivia so nervous at what should be her triumphant book party? She’s just found out the “impeccable” source material she based it on might be seriously flawed. And who’s behind that? Her eager faithful source and helper, Vivian. The former is charming, the latter awkward though very bright. Also Olivia’s marriage to another writer is in trouble. Mounting dread, surprising confluences—arresting!
Fashion Climbing by Bill Cunningham
I’m not interested in high society but I’ve always been fascinated by Cunningham, who was a wild card in the design field. He started as a window dresser, moved to millinery, and when hats were no longer de riguer became a reporter covering top designers. What made my heart beat fast as I accompanied him on his adventures is his originality, verve, passion, and honesty. Lots of fun. (His last act as street photographer for the New York Times is beautifully documented in the DVD Bill Cunningham New York, available through MCFL.)
November Road by Lou Berney
At first the meanness and gratuitous violence turned me off, but I kept going and got caught up this tale of New Orleans noir. A link with the JFK assassination which mob guy Frank is supposed to expunge, via a vehicle dump. But he realizes his boss Carlos might be setting him up and has to maneuver and connect with the few of his contacts who might help him survive. Along the way he scoops up a family in distress as cover (Charlotte and kids are fleeing from her alcoholic hubby) and he gets attached. Uh oh. Still blood and gore galore, but heart, too.
His Favorites by Kate Walbert
A very (unfortunately) familiar story: young girl at posh school is seduced by charming teacher. In this case, it’s Jo who ended up there having killed her best friend as a result of a golf-cart escapade that went very wrong. So she’s ultra-vulnerable. A slim book that toggles back and forth from before and after, layer after layer, until we get the whole sad picture. What’s especially effective here: when the Master’s attentions keep pushing on after the first flush has receded and 1) how disgusting it is for Jo and 2) how the school establishment sweeps it under the rug. Walbert nails it.
Famous Father Girl by Jamie Bernstein
Subtitled A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein. And what a dizzying whirl it was, a mix of exhilaration and confusion that Jamie anatomizes beautifully. We go from the bathroom, where he often held court while emitting very smelly farts, to the concert halls where he was idolized, to the bedroom (oy—as his homosexuality emerged), and so on. Great gossip about all the famous people in their lives, compassion for the groping and misery as wife Felicia and the three siblings tried to find their footing in such tumultuous territory. A rare opportunity to get up close and personal.
Back next week.