This installment: gay in Ireland (f); Sedaris’s latest (nf); marginal life in inland Florida (f); a romance not made in heaven (f); a kids’ novel about music and identity (f); and groping towards Judaism (nf).
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
It starts with a 16 year old publicly shamed and cast out of town for pregnancy. Catherine makes her way to Dublin and gives up the baby. A very well-off, eccentric couple take Cyril but refer to him as adopted from the get-go and things never exactly warm up. A significant problem: Cyril knows he’s gay early on but that’s anathema in the ’60’s in Ireland. The book follows him from birth in the ‘40s to present day and it’s an amazing journey, with love, violence, and heartbreak spread over two continents. And yes, mother and son finally connect but it takes a long time. (Spoiler alert but I really wanted it to happen.) A fat, juicy read, and they don’t come along all that often.
Calypso by David Sedaris
The new, eagerly awaiting collection of quirky essays and this batch made me very happy. Partly because it’s a mix of funny and sad and intimate. His sister Tiffany’s suicide, his mother’s death, his father’s aging all evoked at Sea Section, the vacation house where the remaining Sedaris clan gathers. Laugh out loud lines as well—that doesn’t happen often on the page for me. About the title: that’s the name those people give your cat that has decamped to greener pastures—and better cat food. And the weird cover: a new art form of finding pictures in wood grain.
Gun Love by Jennifer Clement
Pearl lives with her mother in a car in a trailer park in inland Florida, a very marginal existence but there’s magic amid the squalor and it’s also the only life Pearl knows. Then Eli, a gun runner, appears and Pearl must find other quarters to do her homework when he and her mother get together. Where there are guns there’s always tragedy and after the inevitable, Pearl is first in a foster home and then on a fraught adventure with Corazon, a neighbor who spirits her away to Mexico. It all sounds pretty crazy but is so solidly conceived and executed that I entered this weird world, suspending disbelief, utterly fascinated.
An Unsuitable Match by Joanna Trollope
A clever twist on the romance genre. Rose’s cardiologist husband finally claims his long-term relationship with his colleague and makes a new life with her in Australia. Rose, first flattened, buys and renovates a charming mews house and becomes content. Enter widower Tyler, handsome and smitten. Made in heaven? Not exactly, as her suspicious grown children throw up roadblocks. Is it their self interest or potential trouble in paradise? A combination, it turns out. Domestic drama par excellence.
Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
Subtitled Find Your Own Beat, that’s what Melly “Mouse” is charged with when her parents spring their plans for divorce on her and send her off to Camp Rockaway. At least her best friend Olivia comes too but that gets complicated as Olivia first is ubiquitous and then completely absent when a boy comes along. Meanwhile fellow camper Adeline sparks surprising feelings in Melly. At last Melly comes out with her authentic self through song lyrics that express her hurt and even makes up with Olivia—whew. A J book that captivated me.
Between Gods by Alison Pick
Brought up Christian, Pick discovers her Jewish roots and embraces them. Tricky, especially because her fiancé must convert before marriage. For the matter, so must she since only her father’s side is Jewish. Her strict rabbi wants everyone “on the same page” and their conversion classes leave a lot to be desired. Ultimately they arrive at a series of compromises that work. A poignant struggle shadowed by history (WWII and the camps) but illuminated by love.
Back next week.