This installment: a children’s author gone rogue (f); the magazine industry skewered (f), a haunting novel from Korea (f); Obrecht’s latest on CD (f); Haddon’s latest really mixes it up (f); and a celebration of geriatric romance (nf).
Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent
An over the top psychological thriller in which this renown children’s author is arrested for battering his long-time, long-suffering wife. Many voices from his life lend their narratives by chapter and we gradually learn what horrid depredations fashioned this monstrous figure. We end up feeling a little sorry for him and I was relieved he wanted to stay in the safety of prison for the rest of his life. Irish setting.
Mr. Nice Guy by Jennifer Miller and Jason Feifer
A bonbon by this married team of writers, skewering the magazine industry. A law school dropout gets a job as lowly fact-checker at a glossy publication, somehow stumbles into a one-night stand with an older woman and it turns out she’s a sex columnist for said rag and describes all his failings. He writes an anonymous rebuttal and the publisher sees a rich opportunity to boost circulation. The eponymous fellow develops quite a complex relationship with the bombshell and it all falls apart, to good end. But there are incredibly awkward and discouraging forays before they come clean and get real, of course. Clever.
The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun
I’ve read very few books from Korea. Here’s one—very strange indeed. Oghi, quarreling in the car with his wife, crashes. She’s killed, he’s left a terrible mess, paralyzed and disfigured. His mother-in-law ends up as primary caretaker and it’s a nightmarish relationship. The hole refers to the pond she’s installing where his wife’s precious garden used to be, and also the emptiness in his life, before and after. Sounds really grim and is, but fascinating if you (like me) want to find out about life stripped down to its essence. Also a glimpse into domestic life in this enigmatic country.
Inland by Tea Obrecht
I loved her Tiger’s Wife but had trouble initially getting into this one on the page. Then listened to the CD version and embarked on a mysterious journey to the Wild West in the late 1800s. Nora’s tough in many ways and has to be, what with her husband’s failing ventures (sheep farming, newspaper publishing) and the endless drought. Her daughter died of sun exposure but lives on in her head; they converse. A servant of sorts, not good for much but conjuring spirits, is part of the household, in addition to two grown sons and young Toby who lives in dread of “the beast.” In a parallel story a “Levantine” kid joins a gang, flees the law, and ends up with a caravan of camels in military maneuvers and then on the lam again. He communes with his steed. At the very end the two stories come together. Very atmospheric, and an interesting mix of gritty and mystical.
The Porpoise by Mark Haddon
This is one of those books I read with wonder and confusion but was so taken with it that I want to share it. A dizzying mix of contemporary and classic, careening between a scary rich man who keeps his only daughter much too close, and the legend of Antiochus, also featuring incest, in which the modern-day characters are recast. Shakespeare’s Pericles of Tyre gets into play as well. I didn’t try to track it, but just plunged into the extremely descriptive adventures on sea and on land. Amazing.
Advanced Love by Ari Seth Cohen
This author celebrates beauty in old age with photos and quotes from the subjects. Here we have a wide variety of couples in all their finery and joy. They all have considerable style, but more important, great affection for their partners and candor about how hard it can be to hang in there. To quote Mehitabel from that old classic, “there’s life in the old dame yet!” Inspiring and entertaining.
Back next week.