This installment: a writer in the Falklands (nf); a Japanese novel with cultural constraints but high emotions (f); a mystery exploring the slippery nature of the law (f); an unusual NYC female PI in Yellowstone (f); and lightning strikes bring about a weird temporary transformation–in Canada, no less (f).
Bleaker House by Nell Stevens
Subtitled Chasing My Novel to the End of the World. I’ve recently read a handful of these memoirs and find the subject very satisfying: gleaning gold from unpromising ground, as it were. A fellowship let Stevens choose a far-flung location and she figured a Falklands Island would enable her to concentrate on the writing project that had eluded her thus far. She soon discovered how many distractions hardship produced: slim rations, wild weather, odd folks, and her own inner blocks. It’s fun to read the results of her attempt to craft a story but of course her own floundering and discoveries became the real material. shot through with rueful wit.
Inheritance From Mother by Minae Mizumura
A very Japanese book which gave me challenges and treasures in equal measure. The challenges: cultural references to The Pillow Book and other serial novels, plus social mores that create complex constraints. The treasures: emotional material we can all relate to: a failing marriage, an aging mother, sibling rivalry. Mitsuki’s husband has a lover, her narcissistic mother’s in decline, and her sister’s not stepping up to the plate in terms of care. Atmospheric and intriguing.
Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman
Lu is tough and feisty, attributes she needs as a state attorney in Maryland. The case: an apparent murder involving burglary and possibly sex. The suspect: a homeless man. But other discoveries cloud the evidence and Lu can’t proceed full steam ahead. Family history—her father served as state’s attorney, her brother got in trouble at 18—comes to light in flashbacks and delivers secrets that show how slippery the law can be. A thoughtful mystery—the kind I like.
Celine by Peter Heller
The eponymous protagonist is a bundle of paradoxes. She’s of a certain age, glamorous, makes strange sculptures, and lives in NYC with her partner Pete, an old, tough guy. But she’s also a private eye who connects adoptees and birth parents, compensating in part for her own personal tragedy. Gabriela requests her help in investigating the supposed death of her father, a photographer, near Yellowstone. Off Celine and Pete go and they ultimately uncover a weird set of circumstances with ties to dark happenings in Chile. Sometimes things seemed a little far-fetched, but Heller is a fine storyteller with a lyrical way of taking readers into the woods, so I went along willingly.
Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy
Rose runs a movie house with the dubious help of her mother, Fiona, who’s mildly demented—so far. Her sister Ava died in childhood—a bizarre accident in which Rose played a part. When thunderstorms occur, Rose has the very peculiar experience of finding herself in a stranger’s body for a spell. She tracks down the identity of the woman, Harriet, and eventually gets involved with a seminal decision in Harriet’s life. I know this sounds incredibly far-fetched, but it’s told with such straight-forward intensity and verisimilitude that I accepted the premise, fascinated. Canadian setting.
Back next week.