If you’re tired of the virus infected reality in which we’re living, here are a few good novels that will allow you to escape.
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
This was one of my favorite books of the last year. It is a wonderful novel about Christina, the muse of painter Andrew Wyeth, and her life story told through this fictional memoir.
Christina had a strong personality but a weak body, and she was determined not to depend on other people. The book displays her character growth and her waking up to love that she had taken for granted or didn’t fully embrace.
The relationship between Wyeth and Christina began when Wyeth married a friend of Christina’s. He found that he was inspired by Christina and her farm, and he became a regular fixture painting there for 20 or 30 years. After Wyeth painted Christina’s World, he says,
In the painting she is paradoxically singular and representative, vibrant and vulnerable. She is solitary, but surrounded by the ghosts of her past. In the house, like the landscape, she perseveres. As an embodiment of the strength of the American character, she is vibrant, pulsating, immortal. p. 304
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
The Orchardist is an excellent book about a stoic loner, Talmadge, running an orchard in the early 1900s. Talmadge begins to leave food for two young pregnant girls, Della and Jane, who he’s noticed in his orchard. They develop a relationship and eventually the girls move in with Talmadge. Sadly, Della’s twins die at birth and Jane gives birth to a baby girl, Angelina. More heartache follows.
The rest of the story is about Talmadge’s relationship with Della and Angelina. Della is a reckless woman who doesn’t know who she is or who she could be and Angelina is a girl who has grown up knowing that she is loved by Talmadge. The book is well written and the last two paragraphs made the book.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I read this engaging and well written book over a weekend. It’s Kya Clark’s story. She was left alone with her Pa at the age of 6 until he left and never came back. Kya grows up with nothing but the marsh, swamp and wildlife of the North Carolina coast to teach her.
When she’s about 10, a boy named Tate begins to leave her feathers on a stump and slowly they become friends. He teaches her how to read and brings her books. When Tate goes to college he promises to come back to Kya, but he doesn’t, and she feels abandoned again.
Kya then gets involved with Chase Andrews, a town hot shot, and you know this will not end well. When she reads in the newspaper that Chase is engaged, she is once again rejected and she builds her protective walls a little higher.
She is eventually charged with Chase’s murder and a court drama follows. What was most interesting to me was the way that she processed the hierarchies of people through the lens formed by growing up in a swamp.
Kya has a small band of supporters sitting behind her: Jumpin and Mabel, a black couple who were the only ones who helped Kya, Tate and his father, Kya’s brother, Jodie who had come back into Kya’s life and the editor who had published her books. (She had become an expert on marshland birds, insects, mushrooms, shells, etc,.)
There was no actual proof that Kya had killed Chase, just the prejudice of the town against the “marsh girl” who was unclean and uneducated in their minds.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
I really liked this book when I read it…a long time ago, and I decided that it was time to read it again.
It is an Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel like story of family, competitive brothers, good and evil, free will to choose one or the other and the results of those choices set in the Salinas Valley of California.
Steinbeck deserves all the credit he has won for this novel. It’s a gem.
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
This is a story about Ester, a Portuguese Jew, who had been sent with her brother, Isaac, to London to stay with Rabbi Ha Coen Mendes. Isaac was to be a scribe for the rabbi, but he died leaving Ester to do the work. Ester was a brilliant writer and thinker, but she was also a woman, which was a problem.
Helen, a aging historian with Parkinson’s, in present day London, found many of Ester’s letters in a house that Ester had lived in long ago and learned what she could about Ester’s life. It was an interesting life, and Ester concluded that desire is the unmet goal of every life.
“How bitterly she’s been brought to understand – through fire and fever, through deaths and her own failure to die – that life fought for its own continuance. But she realized now that she’d never thought to ask why. This, she saw, was the reason. Water forcing her palm open, the current kissing her fingers. This. This shock of pleasure.” (p. 557)
I re-read “The Weight of Glory,” an essay by C.S. Lewis in the book The Weight of Glory, and interestingly, it spoke of desire.
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; bit if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” (p. 30-31)
The book felt a little incomplete to me, but it was a great read.
A Better Man by Louise Penny
I read a Louise Penny book every year and will continue to as long as she writes them.
A Better Man didn’t start out strong. There were heavy rains threatening the town, Gamache had just returned to the homicide department, which his son-in-law now led, and a man wanted help to find his daughter. Beauvior was about to move to Paris, so he wanted this last case of his to be settled, his wife, Gamache’s daughter Annie, is pregnant, and the woman missing is about Annie’s age and was pregnant.
There was a little too much review of past books, and I thought Penny overdid the I have a daughter/wife too – what would I do? thoughts of Gamache and Beauvior.
The possible flood was settled, they found the woman’s body, and the rest of the story is about finding her killer. Penny’s point seems to have been that things are not always what they seem and that everyone looks at situations differently. After the first few chapters, I enjoyed it.
What have been your most interesting reading escapes?