This installment: a clever pregnant teenager (f); a dubious artists’ retreat on a farm (f);a historical novel with gypsies and horses (f); Cusk’s latest (f); and an Indian widow on a quest in the U.S.A. (f).
The Book of Essie by Meghan McClean Weir
Essie’s family shines on TV. Her father’s an evangelical preacher, her “perfect” mother wields the power, and her older brother Caleb is a budding politician. Then at 17 Essie gets pregnant and what to do? A swift marriage is the only option. Well in this hypocritical milieu Essie has learned to maneuver well and she chooses her spouse to be, a fellow student, Roark, with his own secret. The sickness in the family is finally revealed and Essie and Roark create an independent life together. Pretty creepy and fascinating.
The Honey Farm by Harriet Alida Lye
A classified ad brings young Silvia to said farm, along with other young would-be artists and writers. The deal: free room and board and time to create when the chores are done. Things are challenging on the farm, especially with the drought, and most leave but Ismail sticks it out. He’s a driven artist from an immigrant family and he connects with Silvia—no surprise. Cynthia, who owns the farm, seems benevolent but there’s a peculiar undercurrent which emerges when Silvia gives birth, wracked by guilt, and beset by apocalyptic visions. Northern Canadian setting. Another in the “creepy but fascinating” department.
The Wanderers by Tim Pears
Leo is in bad shape when the gypsies rescue him. It’s 1912, he has some skill with horses, and he travels with them until he can get free. We also track Lottie, the girl he left behind, and wonder if they’ll ever reconnect. Amazing adventures in the English countryside—lush and atmospheric. I didn’t realize it was the 2nd book in a trilogy and am now eager to read the first.
Kudos by Rachel Cusk
I have a love-hate relationship with this writer. She’s so smart that her reflections on underlying patterns of behavior sometimes wear me out. But I stick with it because she’s so smart. Here we hang out with an unnamed writer at a conference where she’s confronted with absurdities galore. Like interviewers who fill their limited allotted slots talking about themselves. And architectural and geographical settings that are highly touted but leave a lot to be desired. Sly wit abounds.
America For Beginners by Leah Frangui
As soon as Prival’s husband dies she embarks on a very uncharacteristic journey. This mild-mannered woman suffered her “decent” husband’s coldness for years but has been grief-stricken by her son’s defection to the U.S. where he supposedly died of a heart attack. She arranges an expensive tour that will eventually deliver her to L.A. where she may learn what really happened. Her companions: an awkward new guide, Satya, and Rebecca, an American actor, hastily conscripted because Prival should also have a female companion. There are surprises all around as each loosens up, confronted by new sights and scenes, and discovers the qualities that will serve them well in the future.
What to do When I’m Gone by Suzy Hopkins and Hallie Bateman
Subtitled A Mother’s Wisdom to her Daughter. A touching, sensible, charming, comforting book about death–can you believe it? The set up: instructions day by day on how to get through, starting with a recipe for day 1 for fajitas. (Chopping the onion and crying go together.) Suggestions include fun (rollerblading!); relationship (taking a risk and knowing if and when to bail); practical matters; and making a duck-it list (that which you don’t have to do). So solid, with beautiful illustrations. A jewel!
Back next week.