This installment: haunting interface of Japan and Colorado (f); oh that Ove (f); galloping domestic suspense (f); from England to Australia– not a good fit (f); a Japanese ghost story (f); and the memoir of a costume designer.
Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce
Rio is a nurse who lives in Colorado with husband and daughter. They have no idea she was once Chizuru, who killed a bully at school in Japan when she was 12, and these two personas create hidden internal torment. Her father was a violin virtuoso married to a white woman who committed suicide. Chizuru got through 8 years of juvenile detention estranged from her father and the teacher who’d befriended her (for a while). Then she created a new identity and moved to America. Now her father is dead and she goes back to Japan to ask some questions, face her demons, and try lay her horrific history to rest. It’s a complex pilgrimage, both literally and figuratively. Very haunting.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
The charm of this book is Ove’s obdurate character. At first I wondered why I even cared. He seems so rigid, grumpy, negative about everything and is ready to End It All. Therein lies the tale, because every attempt is sidetracked by some interference in which he ends up doing a (very reluctant) good deed. And there lies the beauty of the story: underneath his armor is a true man of character. Gradually we learn what shaped him and get to know his neighbors, especially a fierce, vital young Iranian mother a few doors down. So much fun to find uplift in what seems like fallow ground.
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña
Anna is at her neighbors’ dinner party, worrying about her baby at home. The sitter cancelled, the neighbor said no kids, so she and husband Marco listen to the baby monitor and check every half hour. Then the baby is missing and an investigation turns up very few clues. Suspicion falls on Marco—his business is in trouble. But then there’s Anna’s post-partum depression and a hidden history of blackouts and violence. And her loaded parents who have their own tensions. When it’s all played out, the complex tangle is ugly indeed. Galloping suspense that I devoured in one sitting.
The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
Charlotte isn’t doing all that well what with a new baby and no chance or even inclination to continue painting. But she derives some solace from her familiar English surroundings, no matter how cramped and dank. Henry, her Anglo-Indian husband, gets a teaching job in Australia and she doesn’t have the energy to resist the move. She’s also pregnant. The new setting is dreadful shock– too hot, too big, too different and she goes into a downward spiral. She’s driven to desperation and it takes relocation and time before healing comes. The tone of the book is often dreamlike and melancholy, reflecting Charlotte’s state, and very evocative of the need for Home, whatever it may be.
Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto
That’s the phone salutation Yoshie’s father uses when he calls. But he’s dead so it must be his ghost on the line at the family house. However Yoshie’s mother has moved with her, needing a change after the shock (a suicide pact with a lover they knew nothing about.) At first it feels like an imposition in the small studio, but gradually they each develop new lives for themselves in this vibrant neighborhood and start to appreciate and support each other emotionally. Yoshimoto creates a sparkling mosaic of cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops as well as a poignant depiction of mystery, grief, and connection. Very Japanese.
Wear and Tear by Tracy Tynan
Subtitled The Threads of My Life. Her parents were flamboyant, famous, and infantile: a theater critic (Kenneth) and a writer (Elaine Dundy). Thus a rocky growing up, privileged yet deprived. Apparel became her comfort and eventually her profession as a costume designer for the cinema. Each chapter starts with a garment of note. Tynan is a delightful writer and if you like clothes the way I do, or gossip, or just the stuff of life, you’ll love this memoir as well.
Back next week.