I’m looking forward to some beach worthy reading this summer, but first I’ll share a sample of the novels I’ve read this year. (Six months of non-fiction here.)
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman was a surprising and delightful book. It’s about a woman who had endured a painful past and turned in on herself until an unlikely friendship helps her to see herself and the world more accurately.
I read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd for the second time this year, and it was even better than the first time. Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who lived in Charleston, SC., became abolitionists and early feminists, and Handful was Sarah’s slave. The story is told alternately from Sarah’s and Handful’s perspectives starting when Sarah was given Handful on her 11th birthday. Sarah was never comfortable with it. This time through I found it fascinating that they were both in bondage. Handful was a slave, but Sarah was subjugated to public opinion, expectations and limits placed upon her by society.
Sarah answered Handful’s question about why she was sad…
“I’m 27 years old, Handful, and this is my life now.” She looked around the room, up at the chandelier, and back at me. “This is my life. Right here for the rest of my days.” Her voice broke and she covered her mouth with her hand.
She was trapped same as me, but she was trapped by her mind, by the minds of the people around her, not by the law. At the African church, Mr. Vesey used to say, Be careful, you can get enslaved twice, once in your body and once in your mind.
I tried to tell her that. I said, “My body might be a salve, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way around.”
She blinked at me and the tears came again, shining like glass.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This book was on the best seller list for weeks, but it didn’t grab me right away. It was about mothers and their children and asks the question: What is more important in mothering, blood or privilege? One mother, who thought she had all the answers, found out that she didn’t have many.
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick was an enjoyable book about a man who had lost his wife and then learned surprising things about her when he looked for meaning in the charms he found on a bracelet. He discovered that life was meant to be lived, people were meant to be met, loved, and enjoyed, and that he wasn’t too old to do exactly that.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a difficult drama about domestic abuse, but it is also an encouraging story of the power of community. The family would not have survived in Alaska without their neighbors, and the tough climate was the least of their worries. It took me a while to get into this book, but it was well worth staying with it.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. What would the world be like if a flu wiped out 99% of the population? Station Eleven imagines such an apocalypse and the resulting effects. Interesting.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson was an eye opening novel about Jun Do, an orphan in North Korea, his re-invention into Commander Ga and gaining the love of Sun Moon, the actress whose face he had tattooed on his chest. This novel reveals the painful and easily re-imagined reality in which the people of North Korea live.
“Ga thought about reminding the Dear Leader that they lived in a land where people had been trained to accept any reality presented to them. He considered sharing how there was only one penalty, the ultimate one, for questioning reality, how a citizen could fall into great jeopardy for simply noticing that realities had changed.“
Autumn and Winter, both by Ali Smith. I read a review of Autumn, and it sounded intriguing. It was. The book is a nonlinear tale about a relationship between a 32 year- old woman and a 101 year-old man in the context of Brexit and other contemporary issues. Winter uses broken relationships, this time between a mother, Sophie, and son, Art, the son’s fake fiance, Lux, and Sophie’s sister, Iris, to investigate technology, authenticity, and Trump. In order to really understand these books, I think I need to read them again.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is about a busy, well-adjusted couple with five boys, only their youngest boy feels strongly, by age 5, that he is a girl. The book is written largely from the perspective of the parents, Rosie and Penn, and portrays their honest desire to do what is best for Claude, aka Poppy. I admired their hearts, even if I wouldn’t have always have handled situations the same way. These are challenges that I’ve never thought much about, and this book had me thinking.
Nora Webster by Colm Toibin is about the awakening of a woman who had just lost her husband. Potential plot interests are just that; potential, for the plot is Nora coming alive again.
I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon. Was Anastasia Romanov really killed with the rest of her family, or not? That is the question, which has been answered historically, that this novel deals with. It was a good read.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng was the sad story of a Chinese American man who marries a white woman in the 70s, and the dysfunction they both create in their children due to their unmet desires. The book is well titled, because a little communication would have gone a long way to help this family.
I’m always looking for recommendations for good novels – what are some of yours?