This installment: creepy Boy Scouts (f); open marriage (f); Gaiman on Norse myths (f); a New England farming family with airs (f); and contemporary life in the woods of Minnesota (f).
The Hearts of Men by Nicolas Butler
The world of Boy Scouts is pretty creepy underneath, and this novel explores that subject in depth. Nelson’s father takes him to scout camp early on where boys bully and fathers hang out with each other and drink. But he does make a good friend, Jonathan, who defends him. As they grow up, their paths diverge. Nelson gets messed up in the Vietnam War; Jonathan becomes a successful businessman but his domestic life is scrambled by serial infidelity. Nelson ends up running the scout camp and bad things happen the summer Jonathan’s grandson and daughter-in-law come for a session. The contrast of pure ideals and nasty human acting-out is well-drawn. Disturbing (which I like…).
Next Year for Sure by Leigh Peterson
Oh the snares of open marriage. Chris and Kathryn have been together relatively harmoniously for nine years. Into their lives comes Emily who lives in a commune of sorts and he’s attracted to her. Kathryn actually encourages him to follow his instincts—she wants him to be happy. It’s really awkward and increasingly confusing as they get deeper into relationship. And though everyone has the best intentions, the center will not hold—no surprise. Lots of humor here, despite the hurt.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman does magic with these already magical tales. He retains their essence but gives them additional coherence and heft. Their basis in human foibles makes the material even richer and more accessible. Especially his characterization of Loki, the trickster, who keeps doing damage which he then has to (kind of) repair. It’s a delicate balancing act to respect the origins utterly yet draw the stories into a timeless context that often seems almost contemporary. Yes it’s a complicated, multilevel series of worlds and Scandinavian names, but the power of the stories just sweeps you along, with a laugh or two as well.
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
Well they think they’re excellent, and therein lies the trouble. This very large farm has been in the family for generations and they’re an eccentric bunch, at odds with the local populace and each other. The land is divided up between two brothers and a witchy aunt which causes interfamilial tensions. The narrator’s father runs an extensive apple orchard. Gloria, a quiet young Jill-of-all-trades, does the lion’s share of work until she falls for a come-lately nephew, is eventually spurned, and leaves. Atmospheric Midwestern setting, with domestic strife growing like weeds amid the fertile fields. Intriguing.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
In the Minnesota woods, Linda’s always felt different and alone. The commune her parents were part of collapsed so it’s just her, them, and the lake. Until a mother and young son move into their new summer cottage and Linda starts doing childcare for them. At school she’s intrigued by a fellow student, Lily, and a history teacher; these two get into it and he’s fired. A tragedy ensues across the lake, Linda’s a very uneasy witness, and all the pieces of Linda’s life seem to crumble. Re: the title—when she’s asked to do a history project she chooses the lupine rather than the human world. It makes more sense to her. Haunting.
Back next week.