This installment: a witty take on “enlightenment” (CD); murder in the Outback (f); an African-American painter with secrets (f); a musical, amorous historical novel (f); the art world in disarray after a death (f); and look into Filipino life in Milpitas (f).
Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky
Another that fell into my hands in the check-in room and I was ready for a new book on CD. Listening fell into the guilty pleasure category because it was so over the top. The set-up: the Canadian cousin, Lillian, an impecunious artist (she does dog portraits, complete with their auras), reconnects with Seven, (once Florence) and joins her Ascendancy movement, big time. Not only does the organization help lift up women seekers, it also fosters prosperity—turning coin via enlightenment. Lots of woo-woo, gently spoofed. I kept waiting for the big reveal of a dark underside and yes, there are shadows, but mostly the light of the title. Also lots of technology underpinning communication (emails and texts galore, and even ringtones that call for a moment of meditation when they sound). I had fun with it.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper
This Australian mystery writer, relatively new on the scene, keeps coming up with fascinating stories. This one, in the grim outback, features three brothers whose land adjoins. One is found dead in baffling circumstances and much exploration ensues before we get down to the family sickness underneath the tragedy. Highly recommended for atmosphere and character development.
So Much Blue by Percival Everett
Kevin is a successful African-American painter with secrets. The biggest: a huge (eponymous) painting he won’t let anyone else see. In his other studio in New England there are the ones that sell well. Subtle but palpable tensions, especially between him and loyal wife Linda. Flashbacks to Paris (another secret) and El Salvador in ’79 where he accompanied his college friend Richard to retrieve Richard’s bad brother. Richard is still in his life. Alcohol doesn’t help. Ultimately he comes to grips with what haunts him. Fascinating stuff.
Love Is Blind by William Boyd
True, but in his case the lover in question can’t see much without his specs back in the early 20th century. (Subtitled the rapture of Brodie Moncur.) He becomes infatuated with a Russian singer, Lika, who unfortunately lives with a brilliant but erratic pianist, the Irish John Kilbarron. Brodie is a skilled piano tuner who comes up with a successful scheme to associate Kilbarron with a piano manufacturer and things get very tricky indeed. Backstory: Brodie’s father is a horrid cleric who thunders about sin from the pulpit and holds the other family members who couldn’t get away in thrall. The trio, plus Kilbarron’s sinister brother, travel all over the Continent and then to Russia and at the end, even further, with an expectedly tragic conclusion. A rich historical novel.
Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley
What happens when Zach keels over? Everything falls apart. His wife Lydia can’t cope and moves in with best friends Alex and Christine. They’d been a foursome for years with some complex history before each coupled up formally. Zach ran a gallery where Christine often showed. Her artistic energy seems to have ground to a halt. That which had been cozy and satisfying now feels confusing and hollow to all parties. Hadley anatomizes all the tumultuous feelings and subsequent sequelae with elegant precision.
America is not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
Hero, short for Geronima, has fled the Philippines and is living uncomfortably with relatives in Milpitas, CA. Gradually we learn her background and why her hands are so messed up (scary business). The book is shot through with Tagalog which is both lively in terms of color and sometimes a little confusing, though context usually comes through. Many characters add to the stew. I know very little about the country’s history and culture, and appreciated the opportunity to plunge into it here. Flashes of warmth and humor abound, like the phrase always repeated before they take off in the car: “arms, legs and tails—all in?”
Back next week.