This installment: the big juggle—kids, writing, teaching and moving (nf); on CD, a wry story of failed love (f); an African-American romance (f); an intern and a congressman–again (f); a thriller with a Big Twist (f); and a profound kids’ book on CD full of insight and poetry.
The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy
Subtitled A Working Autobiography. Levy’s marriage ends and there she is, juggling kids, writing , teaching, moving, and trying to stay sane. Which she does, admirably, but takes us along to reveal how tricky it is. There are many aspects of her new life that seem unfair, but rather than climbing on the polemical bandwagon, she tells it like it is— intimate and direct in tone— which speaks volumes.
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
This came to me on CD and at first I found the story of an affair between 19 year old Paul, the narrator, and 48-year old Susan exhausting and ill-considered. How could he be so dumb to make this the arc of his young life? But the book deepened when he actually goes off with her and she gradually slides into pitiful alcoholism. He tries everything he can to “save” her, which doesn’t work, and later to save himself. But along the way this callow youth becomes a decent man, and it is a love story of sorts after all, though very sad. One clever note: they meet at the tennis club and there are repeated references to the nature of “love” on the courts and in life.
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
A romance with an African-American perspective. Alexa’s stuck in an elevator in the Fairmont Hotel along with a stranger, Drew, who’s dreading his role as best man in an upcoming wedding. By the time they get released she’s agreed to come along with him and they start to see each other. Challenging geographically—he’s a doctor in LA, she works for the mayor in Berkeley—and also some cultural differences. (He’s white.) These come to a head at the wedding where she learns more about his past life and after a miserable time is ready to bail. It’s frothy, sometimes steamy, but also eye-opening for me in terms of how racial prejudice is embedded and can come out in sneaky but devastating ways.
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Aviva, an enthusiastic young intern, falls for her married boss, a congressman, and the ensuing scandal derails her future. Especially because she’s pregnant, though the father is not revealed until the end of the book. She moves across the country with a new identity and makes a good life until her daughter reaches adolescence, wanting to know more about her paternity, and Aviva, who goes by Jane Young, runs for mayor of her small Maine town. Of course it all comes out but—whew—human decency prevails. (Would that life were like fiction…)
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman
On a honeymoon in Bora Bora, Erin and Mark take a life-changing scuba dive. They come upon the wreck of a plane which holds lots of money. Fortuitous, because Mark’s just been laid off. Now they have to figure out a plan which takes research and scheming and trying to evade bad guys. Things get increasingly tense and dangerous and there’s a stunning denouement. I call this the Gone Girl genre—a Big Twist—and read it with (slightly) guilty pleasure.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
An enlightened teacher gives 6 kids unusual assignment: just talk for an hour a week by themselves. Red, the narrator, has a white father in prison and a Puerto Rican mother, long dead. Amari is black, an artist. Estaban’s father may be deported back to the Dominican Republic. Haley is African American, well off. Ashton is white and his family had to move after a reversal in fortune. They’re initially suspicious and uneasy but over time learn each other’s stories and really bond. The contemporary issues that plague us—immigration, black lives, equity—all play out here, eloquently expressed by the kids themselves. On CD this J book really sang, with characters well delineated.
Back next week.