This installment: a comedy of manners set in Brooklyn Heights (f); a Neapolitan novel not by Ferrante (f); and Bali after the bombing (f).
The Heights by Peter Hedges
A modern comedy of manners with lot of familiar material but I found it refreshing anyway. Tim and Kate and their young children are shoehorned into a small Brooklyn Heights apartment. He’s a high school history teacher, still struggling to finish his dissertation—on loss. They need more money. Kate’s old boss contacts her. A job’s come up: philanthropy that might just Change the World. She leaps for it and he takes a leave to stay with the kids. Into the neighborhood comes Anne, rich and troubled. Is this the Big Test or is she the snake in Eden? Well both, or course, and the marriage is tested to a fare-thee-well. Witty and engaging.
Ties by Dominico Starnone
Another Neapolitan writer like Ferrante, and there’s similarity: lots of passion hard-headedly catalogued so we learn how they work to illuminate or destroy lives. In this case Aldo and Varda and their two young children. Aldo meets toothsome Lidia and can’t live without her. Varda is bitter and furious. Their estrangement goes on for four years. Aldo tries feebly but can’t really connect with his baffled kids. First we get Varda’s point of view through the letters she writes to Aldo. Then Aldo describes the situation from his vantage point. Aldo’s brother and sister are charged with taking care of their parents’ cat while they’re on vacation. The brother has 4 kids by three women; Anna refuses to procreate. The book’s title refers to the ties that bind as well as those which keep our shoes fastened unless (when tied together as a prank) they trip us up. A twist at the end, and a multi-layered look at relationships.
The Paradise Guest House: A Novel by Ellen Susan
A romance scoured by tragedy—yes! Jamie is in Bali with Miguel from Chile. He’s just proposed but they’ve only known each other for two steamy weeks. She says no, he strides off to the club across the street and a bomb goes off. (It’s 2002.) He dies and she’s injured, inside and out. Gabe, an American living in Bali, rescues her. He’s been suffering from his own heartaches—a dead 4 year old son—and can’t go back to journalism. As he tends her, a relationship forms but then she disappears– too much too soon. A year later she’s back in Bali for a ceremony to commemorate the event, hoping to find Gabe. It’s risky, of course, but well—it’s a romance…Intense, atmospheric, satisfying.
Back next week.