This installment: small town New England and troubled adolescents (f); politics, cancer, and loyalties (f); and life with an autistic boy (f).
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud
Small-town New England where friends’ paths veer off when they hit adolescence. Julia and Cassie grew up together but then Cassie started to rebel and then she disappeared. She and her mother Bev (a creepy, too sweet hospice worker) were a tight unit until an equally creepy doctor became her stepfather and started to dictate behavior according to their fundamentalist church doctrines. Julia’s puzzled, then hurt, and keeps trying to understand why things went so bad. Intense, and it underscored my relief that my high school years are so far behind me.
Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein
Karen has stage IV ovarian cancer. A single mom, she wants her young son Jake to know as much as possible about his origins and their relationship. Hence this book where we learn the Jake’s progenitor Dave didn’t want kids back then so walked out on Karen when she got pregnant. Now Jake asks about his father. When Dave meets him they hit it off beautifully. Karen, still hurting from the betrayal, is initially furious. She’s also running a campaign for a popular shoo-in with mayoral aspirations but a murky personal history. These conflicts play out with intensity while she struggles with her condition. Yes the material is dark, but life shines through it. A very satisfying read.
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
Matthew, 10, is autistic but better than he used to be. His current obsession: origami, and his parents Audra and Graham schlep him to a “club” where weird grownups are dedicated to the craft. Audra’s an exuberant, extroverted woman who seems to have no conversational boundaries. A big contrast to Elspeth, his former wife, a self-possessed lawyer. Graham reconnects with Elspeth who offers an oasis of sorts when life gets too dense—the couple often have guests in their NYC apartment. Heiny is extremely witty and there are amazing opportunities for humor as these characters juggle their complex lives. Delightful (really…).
Back next week.