This installment: a novel with a political theme (f); a classic myth in contemporary times (f); dealing with mom’s dementia (nf); a sophisticated bonbon book (f); a “model town” is rogue under the surface (f); and relationships and dogs in NYC.
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Action toggles between 2011 and 1968—a time of great political ferment that feels right on target these days, unfortunately. Samuel’s mother (once an activist, now a recluse) is facing a prison term for throwing gravel at a politician. Sam’s been out of touch with her for years but now out of necessity their paths cross with difficulty and many secrets are revealed. Evocative of time and place, intense but with flashes of humor. A powerful read.
Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle
I fell in love with his The Last Unicorn decades ago and was delighted to get back in touch via this reworking of a classic myth in contemporary times. Lioness shows up at a diner on a small island in the Pacific Northwest, gets a job, and intrigues everyone with her mysterious presence. She’s taken in by Abe, whose younger long-time girlfriend, a flight attendant, is based in in Seattle. He also has a grown daughter, Lily, an unhappy lesbian. Many fall in love with the new arrival, and the climate seems to change in her presence. Things get predictably complicated and yes, Lioness is reclaimed by the fate she was fleeing from, but what a surprising journey that transforms many lives along the way. Sweet, sad, and satisfying.
Where the Light Gets In by Kimberly Williams–Paisley
Subtitled Loving My Mother Only to Find Her Again, and another of those facing adversity books I’m so drawn to. Kim, an actor, loves her mother Linda but is increasing disturbed by apparent lapses which turn out to be symptoms of a rare form of early dementia. Her dedicated father is the primary caregiver but gets dangerously worn down and ultimately they have to find a place for her. Kim pulls no punches in describing the tangled mess of emotions and dilemmas that come along with this grim condition but also shows how it’s possible to make peace with what seems impossible though acceptance and release. It helps that the family has the means to keep her in a good facility but it made me think how even more dreadful it would be otherwise.
A Dangerous Age by Kelly Killoren Bensimon
A sophisticated bonbon book that shows off the glittering world of art, fashion, and media and its greedy, sometimes desperate underside. Four friends in NYC are each scrambling in their own way. One wants to be chosen for a reality show; one is a cool Scandinavian model with a propensity for the wild life; the third is an up and coming food maven; and Lucy, the protagonist, is a journalist married to a famous artist. They meet regularly, dine, work out, party, commiserate, and get into trouble. Name-dropping, both brands and people, is frequent. There was a plot device I figured out early on. So I couldn’t stomach a steady diet of this kind of book, but as an amuse-bouche, it works just fine.
The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne
It’s supposed to be the model of a contented little town in New England, to the point where a visiting scholar intends to study it as such, but right under the surface there are there considerable conflicts. Especially over the canines which, according to some, run rampant and create hazardous conditions. Dogs end up poisoned and tensions abound. An irony (or perhaps not): Littlefield is overloaded with therapists. With a strained marriage and a newly divorced novelist, we know how that’ll go, i.e. badly. Lots of wit here, with a slanting look at how a high standard of living doesn’t necessarily yield rich rewards.
The New Yorkers by Cathleen Shine
Another novel in which people come together (and come apart) through their animals. Their dogs meet on the streets of the city and thus start a series of star-crossed yearnings. There’s a dignified pit bull Beatrice, a silly puppy, Howdy, and their humans who pursue frustrating attachments until it all works out. A comedy of manners in which the very nature of dogs adds much to the humor.
Back next week.