This installment: a mystery with a musical theme; a novel about an seething, quiet woman; short stories that marry sex and spirituality with weird overtones; a novel featuring Middle Eastern food; an amazing DVD; and a novel about the immigrant experience, America to Lagos and back.
The Tooth Tattoo by Peter Lovesey
I get recommendations for the few mysteries I read primarily from the NY Times Book Review. Since the theme of this one is music, I went for it and was nicely rewarded. A string quartet needs a new violist since a member disappeared. Mel is delighted to be chosen, but disturbing things keep happening. Including the body of a young Japanese woman fished out of a canal in Bath. Inspector Diamond makes a link between this death and one he came across on a vacation in Vienna where he and the lovely Paloma were intrigued by echoes of that classic thriller, “The Third Man.” This is a whodunit, to be sure, but the detailed treatment of the theme, the tension of Diamond’s emotional shut-down, and the clever Third Man parallels made it a multi-layered treat.
The Woman Upstairs by Clare Messud
I was initially put off by the extremely surly start of this book . Nora’s enraged and lets you know it in a furious three- page rant. But I persevered and found out why: she was always the good girl who subsumed her dreams of making art. Now she’s a beloved elementary school teacher and into her classroom comes dreamy Reza and his fascinating parents. Mother Sirena is an artist and invites Nora to share her studio. (Nora makes dioramas of woman writers’ homes; Sirena is working on a huge installation, Wonderland.) Father Skandar is a subtly seductive professor, when he’s around. The family becomes Nora’s obsession which takes on the quality of doomed, many faceted love affair. I found the tone of the book kind of chilly, and some details of Nora’s life skimped over, like seeing her mother through ALS. But still it was a gripping read.
I Want to Show You More: Stories by Jamie Quatro
Promiscuous housewives, either fantasizing or acting on it, create the theme in many of these intriguing stories which are set in Lookout Mountain where Georgia and Tennessee meet. Religion and the Confederacy are part of the mix, and sometimes it’s very heady indeed. The stories take what initially seem like ordinary happenings: a foot race or a crumbling church, and play them out wildly. In the former, the “winners” meet a, shall we say, surprising end; in the latter, the entire building is demolished and the congregants move to the forest au naturel. But the writer has such a sure hand that I was very willing to accept the bizarre, intense, richly constructed world she created in which sex and spirituality spar, intertwine, and sometimes arrive at holy ground.
Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
Here’s a book I kept questioning yet reading, imperfect yet compelling. Lorca at 16 loves her moody mother, a NYC chef. But she keeps cutting and is threatened with boarding school. Her father’s back in “Cow Hampshire,” wimpy and sad. If Lorca could recreate a dish, masgouf, she might win over her mother. With the help of a bookstore clerk, Blot, she tracks down its source and takes cooking classes with aging Victoria who owned the restaurant where her mother once ate it. Her husband Joseph has just died. Victoria gave up their baby for adoption long ago. Could Lorca be her grandchild? Lots of angst, lots of depression, a Big Secret, some forgiveness. In alternating chapters we get perspectives from Lorca, Victoria, and Joseph. I liked Lorca’s intensity, though it sometimes wore me out, and aspects of Middle Eastern culture and cooking. If these interest you as well, it’s definitely worth reading.
The Man From Beijing (DVD)
Sometimes I read a book and think it would make a great movie. But in this case, the subject was so rich and complex, I couldn’t imagine how it would work. Well here they managed to prune, condense and focus so well that I was very satisfied. A bizarre series of murders in a small Swedish village and in Reno, Nevada, leave everyone hacked up. A middle-aged woman judge is the only family member still alive, and she tracks down the killer at great peril after the police think they’ve solved the case with a confession from a local crazy guy. The action careens from Sweden to China to America in the last century. Moral ambiguity and cross-cultural tangles deepen the tale, as reflects author Henning Mankel’s original , breathtaking novel.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu seems to have it made in Princeton—great job, nice black American boyfriend. But back to Lagos she goes, where she’d fled years ago. There’s unfinished business with her first love who she shut out after a series of deeply discouraging, humiliating, and shaming experiences when she first came to the USA. She’s also the author of a successful blog from the perspective of a non-American black, very candid and eye opening. Here’s a chance for the reader to glimpse the underside of immigrant experience through the eyes of a very smart, canny woman. It took me awhile to connect with the book, but I’m glad I persevered.
Back next Monday