This installment: Scandinavian coming of age novel by Out Stealing Horses author; inside dope about the hospitality industry ; a tough, brutal, funny novel; another Longmire mystery; a novel of WWII full of Hungarian lore; and a novel that straddles NYC and WWII with a focus on the nature of justice and conscience.
It’s Fine by Me by Per Petterson
Audun shows up for his first day of high school late, hidden behind sunglasses he refuses to take off. Not a promising start, and he’s definitely on the outs, except with equally rebellious new friend Arvid. At home it’s just his mother and sister; the father’s taken off but still haunts them, an alcoholic specter. His younger brother went on a joy ride and was killed. Audun’s bright, reads eclectically, wrangles about politics with Arvid, but drops out of school and gets a job at a printing plant (the one that publishes the newspapers he delivered after school for years). Fresh, immediate writing, very engaging.
Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky
Subtitled A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality. Inside dope is always fun, and Tomsky has a lively, almost jazzy style that sometimes wore me out but also conveys the highs and lows—more of the latter—of the business. Behind the suave, welcoming façade are resentments, dirty tricks, a complex society of workers, and a lot of potential dysfunction. I never realized how far tipping can go to get the customer special treatment. A romp, and an eye-opener.
Fight Song by Joshua Mohr
This book is a fable of sorts, like a graphic novel without the graphics. Bob Coffen is unhappy at work and at home. He’s a video game designer for Dumper Games (see what I mean?) and his last success featured disemboweling. His marriage is flat, and Jane, his wife, is practicing to top the world’s record for treading water with a handsome Nordic coach who wears a Speedo even though he never gets in the water. Other players: a testosterone-driven neighbor who plays a fight song on his bagpipes, a lachrymose magician, a rock band which covers Kiss in French. Lots of absurd happenings but a plunge towards truth and reconciliation at the end, which pleased me because I really cared about what happened to all these folks.
Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson
Walt Longmire is still semi-courting fellow deputy Vic and worried about his young Basque deputy who is stressed by a newborn son, recovering from a knife wound, jumpy and ready to quit. The spark’s gone out of the job. Geo the junkman is somehow being dragged on a long rope behind his son’s tough girlfriend’s car—a bang up burlesque opening scene. A severed hand is found in a cooler at the dump. Whose is it? Geo has a surprising relationship with Walt’s now retired English teacher. The eponymous animals are Geo’s two wolves. What a delicious stew, all stirred around in bitter Wyoming weather. (Note: part of a series and also there’s a popular TV show based on it.)
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
1937, Hungary, and young Andrash has managed to get a scholarship to study architecture in Paris—not an easy thing for a poor Jew. His brother Tibor ends up studying medicine in Italy. Anti-Semitism builds but Andrash makes some good connections moonlighting in a theater company. He falls in love with Klara, a ballet teacher; she’s older and a tortured, convoluted courtship ensues. Finally they’re together and she’s pregnant. Then come the conscriptions as WWII progresses, putting both brothers and their friends in peril. There are bad actors, out-and-out villains, and family constraints yet some miraculous saves as well (the right compassionate officer shows up at the right time). Andrash and his friend Mendel produce a satiric paper to keep their spirits up in the camps and stir up rebellion. Very good interleaving of complex historic events. Joy and sorrow and lots of Hungarian lore in a corner of the world not familiar to me.
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Pearlman
I almost didn’t persevere with this because of a didactic quality. The theme: Justice in America. But then I got hooked by one of the characters, Lamont. He’s black, just out of jail, and really wants to fly right. He gets an internship as a janitor in a big NYC hospital and ends up making the acquaintance of an old patient who has quite a story to tell and needs to tell it before he dies. He was a kapo in the camps in WWII and had to do terrible things to survive. A historian searching for archival material plays an important role. Complex plot, some coincidences I didn’t quite trust, but all in all compelling enough to keep me reading.
Back next Monday