This installment: an empty nest gets steamy (f); family dysfunction to the max (f); the joy of reading (nf); the essence of a famous mime (nf); and two girls explore theology and a mystery in their English village (f).
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
Poor Eva, adrift now that her (boorish but she doesn’t see him that way) son Brendan is off to college. She takes a community college class in gender studies taught by Margo, who’s trans, which shakes things up. She’s lonely and befriends Amanda, a coworker, a little too warmly. It gets complicated, especially because a peer of Brendon’s is in her class and they connect as well. Sounds like the Decameron in suburbia but full of rueful groping and hard truths. Finally a surprising Mr. Right comes along to give Mrs. Fletcher the pleasure she deserves—whew!
Ill Will by Dan Chaon
Dustin is a psychologist. At first he seems like the soul of compassionate reason, but we soon learn about his very dark history and currently screwed up life and start to wonder. Especially when his adopted, estranged brother Rusty is freed from prison by the Innocence Project. So who actually slaughtered the rest of the family long ago? The book swivels between past horrors and current dilemmas, revealing the mystery only at the very end. Meanwhile Dustin’s son Aaron is going down the rabbit hole of drugs, unbeknownst to his dad. Lots of brutal material, sometimes hard to read, but horror fascination drove me through it like a slow freight train.
Morningstar by Ann Hood
Subtitled Growing Up With Books, and for Ann in a blue collar household, they were a lifeline. Many of the books that influenced her might be considered hokey, but it shows how powerful the written word can be if you’re hungry enough, no matter what the quality. I encountered a number of these titles on my parents’ bookshelves, so it was like coming home to relive them through her discoveries. Chatty, anecdotal, cozy and short—a little gem.
A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause by Sawn Wen
This little book is an odd, compelling love letter to the art and life Marcel Marceau. Very short chapters, some of which describe his acts in detail, while others explore the ephemera of his life and provide vignettes that reveal the complex fellow behind that white face. He’s always been an iconic figure to me and here’s a chance to discover the sources of that talent and drive. Especially fascinating to me: videos flatten his art, so now that he’s gone, this is a good way to connect with it.
The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Grace and Tilly are 10 and determined to find out what happened to Mrs. Creasy, a favorite neighbor who disappeared suddenly. The setting: a small English village in 1976 during a very hot summer. The title refers to a sermon and they try to sort out the difference by asking local folks about their beliefs. When Jesus appears at the bottom of a drainpipe (though it could just be a creosote stain), they think they might finally be honing in on the presence of God. Along the way we discover that some villagers who seemed evil aren’t necessarily so. Quirky and thoughtful.
Back next week.