This installment: a psychological thriller in a creepy English mansion (f); a plane crash with a 72 year old survivor (f); family dysfunction in Kansas (f); inside dope on therapy (nf-CD); a psychological thriller set in a creepy hotel in France (f); and inside dope about the tech bubble (nf).
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Libby has an ordinary life until she learns of a behest: a mansion in London and a family she knew nothing about; she was adopted early on. The house is creepy and things get especially complicated when her older siblings weigh in. There was a cult and a murder-suicide. A journalist who pursued the case fruitlessly when it was fresh connects with her and offers some ballast in the turbulent emotional waters of these new relationships. I wouldn’t call it a happy ending—some loose and scary threads—but that’s the twisted pleasure of a good psychological thriller.
Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis
The kind of setup that always intrigues me: a small plane crash in the mountains and a 72 year old woman is the only survivor. Cloris seems conservative and (yes) old, but she has very surprising strengths and manages to keep going much longer than expected. She has very surprising help from a fugitive who’s been hiding out for years. Other characters: Deborah, a ranger always soused on Merlot, and Steven Bloor, a search and rescue guy who’s as eccentric as all get-out. For instance he’s concerned with sweaty palms so his hands are always covered in chalk to counteract it. Suspense and depth—what else can you ask for?
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
At first I thought this was one of those “too smart for its own good” books but I kept at it and was rewarded, if periodically confused. Adam’s strong suit in high school is debating and there are many scenes of competition, quite unpleasant. (Talking very fast seems to be a desirable skill.) Other characters include his picked-upon classmate Darren who’s under treatment at the eponymous school. And Adam’s mother who’s written a best-selling feminist book that doesn’t go down well in the conservative milieu. Kansas is sometimes treated fondly but more often satirically. The family riffs on “World Famous” and applies it to the most absurd and modest settings. By the time the book ended with Adam, all grown up, first revisiting his childhood haunts, then demonstrating against ICE with his family in NYC, I was glad to have made his acquaintance.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Subtitled A Therapist, Her Therapist and Our Lives Revealed. I read this a while ago and thought it was interesting but pretty heavy on the subject of therapy (which is essentially what it’s about). Then the CD version came into my hands (and into my car) and I was totally hooked. I kept forgetting it was a real story. Lori’s fiancé drops a bomb on her: he’s not ready to marry because he wants to be child-free at last and her 10-year old son is a deal-breaker. She gets into therapy with iconoclastic Wendell and we witness how clever she is at covering up her true feelings and how clever he is to tease them out. We also learn about her clients, including obnoxious John who undergoes quite a transformation. Inside dope, which I always love, and very well written.
The Snakes by Sadie Jones
With that title, you know something wicked is going to slither in. It turns out to be money and power which can be very destructive. But there are also reptiles in the French hotel Bea’s parents have bought to give her junkie brother Alex something to do. Bea and her mixed-race husband Dan pay a visit—they’re taking some time off—and it all turns nightmarish. Dan has no idea how rich her family is and Bea, idealistic, has refused to use any of their money. Moral tangles, race and class all raise their heads and sorry to say, it ends badly. Absolutely chilling (which I like).
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
This memoir takes us into the heart of tech insanity. Anna gives up a dead end job in publishing in NYC and ends up working for a hot data-gathering startup. She brings an East Coaster’s perspective to the narcissistic, playful SF excesses—spot on and very funny—but also an innocence. She really wants to believe in the work but essentially it’s a cut-throat, misogynistic scene. I had to look up many words, some to do with the field (I’m far from techy) but others beyond my vocabulary. (This doesn’t happen often.) I read it with horror-fascination and a kind of schadenfreude—so glad it’s not my milieu.
Back next week.