This installment: Nesbo meets Shakespeare in a dark alley (f); Powers takes on a huge theme (f); an air disaster with extensive fallout (f); smart but naïve in the Big Apple (f) ;two boys in the summer of ’76 (f); and the legacy of an obnoxious artist (f).
Macbeth by Jo Nesbo
This brutal, blood-drenched, conniving “Scottish play” is now set in the ‘70s, and what a fit. Drugs and fierce ambition characterize dirty doings in the local police force and Macbeth climbs the rungs on the backs of murdered rivals. His Lady, the drive behind the dire events, runs a casino/brothel. Nesbo, Scandinavian crime writer extraordinaire, uses the original characters’ names and the outlines and underpinnings of Shakespeare’s play to brilliant effect.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
This prodigious writer, a MacArthur genius, tackles the inter-connectedness of all living things in this amazing 500-page novel. First we’re introduced to a variety of misfits though their separate stories. These then weave together as they get involved with actions to save the forest primeval near a Northwest town, ill-named Solace, because the demonstrations are doomed, with some tragic consequences. A fascinating figure is the crippled computer wizard whose gamester following is so hooked he might just bring them around to acting out the principles of right action in the real world. So much rich and solid information here but never preachy. I’d call it Book of the Year, so far. It made my head spin.
Panorama by Steve Kistulentz
I love a good disaster book, and here we have a jet going down and all those lives smashed and remade. Especially Richard’s. He’s a TV newsman in DC, lonely and suffering from love lost and a sense of the superficiality of his trade. His sister’s on that flight and leaves her odd son Gabriel to him, the only next of kin. A steep learning curve. She was hoping for a commitment from her lover/boss (a bad combo) and was coming home from a flawed getaway. After the shocks, some modest heroism arises from areas you wouldn’t expect. Gripping.
Neon in Daylight by Hermione Hoby
Kate is taking a break from her life in England, staying in an aunt’s NYC apartment. She’s like Alice in Hip-land, constantly baffled by the wild local scene when she falls in with daring Inez. Whose father, a writer, takes up with Kate, though none of the three find out the connection until toward the end. It’s a bizarre, disturbing world out there, druggy and hedonistic but often joyless. Very atmospheric.
Setting Free the Kites by Alex George
Oh that summer in ’76 when Robert meets Nathan, the newcomer who rescues him from a junior high bully. The family business is an amusement park, Fun-a-Lot, where both boys work during the summer. Robert’s brother Liam has a terminal neurological condition which breeds constant domestic tension and casts long shadows. Nathan has a passionate, adventuresome streak which lures Robert into daring exploits in an abandoned textile mill. A heartfelt exploration of grief and release.
The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman
Poor Pinch. His painter father, Bear, Is seldom home and his mother is a clingy mess. Pinch makes art too, hoping for connection and acclaim, but Bear casually dashes his hopes early on, then decamps to more women and offspring. Pinch ends up teaching foreign languages in London, always feeling second-best. But then he inherits his father’s cottage in rustic France, discovers a trove of unknown works, and embarks on a surprising scheme to redress some of Bear’s domestic wrongs, secure his artistic reputation for the future, and employ his own artistic skills tin the process. At first I found Bear extremely obnoxious and Pinch a sad sack, but got caught up in the plot and kept thinking about the story afterwards, and that’s why I’m sharing it here despite initial reservations.
Back next week.