This installment: Kingsolver’s latest (f); the Siege of Troy as seen by a woman (f); a very scary child (f); the double-edged nature of caregiving (f); a very original graphic novel (f); and the snare of vinyl (f).
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
I spent New Year’s Eve in the company of this book and can’t think of a better way to usher in 2019. An ironic title that explores the nature of shelter in all its ramifications. And guess what: it’s not the roof over your head. Doesn’t feel like that for Willa, though. The house she inherited is falling down around her ears, making life precarious for professor husband, his infirm Greek father, their rebellious daughter Tig (short for Antigone) and then Tig’s brother Zeke who moves in with his baby (wife committed suicide). A parallel story from the last century: a beleaguered teacher named Thatcher, his next door neighbor Margaret, a natural scientist, and the hot controversy over Darwin’s theories. Willa hopes to get a grant to fix up the house, discovers its history, and ultimately that offers a way out. A very satisfying read.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Barker does history very vividly. Here we have the old, old story of the siege of Troy, this time from the point of view of Briseis, a captured queen, now slave and concubine. In addition to servicing Achilles, then Agamemnon (the women get traded around) she weaves, learns healing, and is constantly observing the ugliness and pathos of war. Powerful.
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
A very scary book which I was initially suspicious of—all too much—but then got caught up in (death grip). Hannah at 7 is a terror. She wants to extinguish mother Suzette and get father Alex all to herself and is brilliantly manipulative. Alex, an architect, mostly sees Hannah being good, if strange. (She won’t speak, though as the book progresses words do come out.) Suzette, closeted with her and exhausted, is both frightened and often furious. They try doctors and schools to no avail until Beatrix, a therapist, steps in at the last minute to save them all. Southern California setting, some Swedish (Alex’s country of origin) and creeping terror. Yes!
The Caregiver by Samuel Park
We first meet the eponymous Mara helping her employer, Kathryn, who’s in the grip of stomach cancer. It seems like a close relationship; Kathryn even suggests she might leave her house to Mara after she dies. The book then takes us back to Mara’s growing up in tempestuous Rio de Janeiro during the ’80 where her single mother, Ana, does what she can to survive. This ends up in a botched terrorist episode that eventually jettisons Mara to America with $300+ to her name. What was the real story? We finally find out. Lots of reflections on the double-edged nature of caregiving, and an extra, tragic dimension; the author himself died of stomach cancer at 41. An intense, rewarding read.
Coyote Doggirl by Lisa Hanawalt
I read a lot of grim graphic novels, and this one certainly has a dark side but is drenched in glorious color and is full of playful hybrid creatures. Our heroine is bright pink with coyote head, human body, and nifty self-crafted garments. Beloved horses, however, are horse through and through. A western of sorts with a lot of action, sometimes a little mysterious, sometimes pretty violent. Not a book to “figure out” but one to sop up and savor.
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
I loved her first book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. A little less sanguine about this, her second, but enough fascinating material in it to share it with you. Late ‘80s in a sagging neighborhood on Unity Street (hah). Stubborn, eccentric Frank sells only vinyl records and scratches out a living, barely. Into his life plummets mysterious Ilse. She seems to have a fiancé but asks Frank for music appreciation lessons (his taste is very eclectic and he’s articulate and passionate). It’s all too much, the burgeoning relationship crashes, the neighborhood is hollowed out by a development company, and 20 years pass. Then Ilse returns from her native Germany and manages to find Frank again—a touch of magical realism. Music as healing—a fine theme.
Back next week.