This installment three novels: British literary machinations; an artist arises from a Japanese internment camp, and a mixed martial arts hopeful meets more than his match.
Alys Always by Harriet Lane
Familiar ingredients as in so many British novels: the literary world, the summer house, the great writer and the quiet, ambitious woman. But this one starts with a bizarre event in the woods: a single car accident and only one witness. Frances has come across dying Alys Flyte, they have a brief exchange of words, and that's what connects her with Leonard Flyte's family. From there she plots a scheme with great watchfulness and hidden strategy. Usually a novel this gripping has me rooting for the protagonist, but in the case of Frances, I was often ambivalent. Each finely wrought sentence led me further into the subtle twists of plot and increasing psychological suspense.
Requiem by Frances Itani
Japanese internment camps in WWI in Canada were traumatic enough, but when Bin's "first father" gives him away to an old widower, it seems like the worst of betrayals. But Bin's an artist, the "second father" is very cultured, and ultimately Bin becomes a successful painter. When his beloved Canadian wife Caroline dies much too soon, he gets word that First Father may be on his last legs. They've been estranged for decades. So off Bin goes, deeply conflicted, to mourn his wife and his patrimony with his dog and his memories, revisiting sites along the way. Alternate chapters take us back to the camps. Therein lie tales of injustice, ingenuity, tenacity, and how a cohesive, cooperative society can arise from chaos and extreme deprivation. For instance, in the camp Second Father plays impassioned Beethoven on a painted wooden keyboard until his fingers bleed. Bin grows up with music as well as literature and art. Deafness, often a theme in Itani's work, appears here through Beethoven's affliction. Rich, vibrant, and sad.
The Longshot by Katie Kitamura
Hemingway's influence appears in this world of mixed martial arts boxing. Rivera's a monster in a cape with implacable confidence and a large retinue. Cal, plucked from high school wrestling by Riley, a trainer, was up and coming until Rivera knocked him out. The 4 year climb between that crushing defeat and a rematch in Tijuana is a chance for Cal to reclaim what amounts to his life--the only thing he knows how to do. In the two days leading up to the fight we see flashes of the old spirit in which everything seems to come together, but there are equally prevalent times of fear and doubt from both Cal and Riley. Cal won't back down, even deep into the devastating finish. I was fascinated by this glimpse into physicality and psychology at play in this macho milieu.
Back next Monday.