This installment: family dysfunction on a small island in Maine (f);a gross, exhilarating book, Midwestern setting (f); lapidary tales from Lively (f); pregnant and shunned in New England (nf); and a teen book about a surprise half-brother (f).
We Shall Not All Sleep by Step Nagy
In ’64 on a small island in Maine, two old families reenact the midsummer ritual of moving the sheep. But what a complicated scene: the Helfingers and the Quicks are at odds but sisters Lila and Rachel are married to one of each. Jim (Lila’s) is a CIA agent in trouble. Billy (Rachel’s) is bereaved; his former wife committed suicide after the witch hunter came after them because of a brief Communist connection. (I’d forgotten how awful those times were.) There’s a Lord of the Flies atmosphere among the many offspring and Jim’s younger son must spent a night on a nearby deserted island as a test of valor. The contrast between all this stress and the beauty of an island summer create a vivid story.
Tornado Weather by Deborah E. Kennedy
This book is kind of tasteless but I confess I loved it. A small Indiana town is beset by said weather and other unsettling conditions. The primary employer, a dairy, has replaced local workers with Mexican immigrants who live in a funky complex, the Ranasack Apartments. (As for the broad nature of the writing—just an “a” away from “ransack.”). The primary plot device: young, wheelchair bound Daisy Gonzalez has disappeared. Her high school teacher father is intimidated by a dad in the Militia because his daughter got bad grades. The dairy owner’s kid is transitioning and has chosen the name Wilma. It’s sometimes hard to track what’s happening in this gross milieu (blame it on the weather) but I found myself transfixed. Kennedy goes about as far as you can go with greed, prejudice, substance abuse—you name it. Weirdly exhilarating.
The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories by Penelope Lively
These are lapidary tales, starting with the title story’s take on Pompeii as that eponymous avian recounts the scandalous doings in the garden where she’s a decorative element. There’s a witty chronicle of a feckless, artistic traveling couple who get stuck in a remote Spanish village and have to employ their craft to bail them out—not fun. Each story has a cool twist and there are many rueful contemporary comedies of errors. Very satisfying.
Without a Map by Meredith Hall
When the author was 16 she got pregnant. This was anathema in her small New England town so she was ejected from home and sent off to live with her father and his new wife. There she had to stay inside throughout her pregnancy and then the baby was snatched away. What a trauma! A brief respite at a boarding school, then she dropped out of Bennington and embarked on a wild journey abroad. Later, divorced with two young sons, she connects with her first child who came looking for her when he reached adulthood. Deep wounds but lots of healing. She also sees her mother through 18 years of MS until her death. Deeply emotional, and an amazing story.
Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy
Lucy at 15 is shocked to the core when she discovers an 8-year-old half brother out there. What she thought of as a stable family life now seems fraudulent. She learns it was a brief fling, but can’t fathom how her mother remains so calm. Out of desperation she flees to visit the grandfather she barely knows in Maine. He’s quite a character and just what she needs. Lucy comes of age by necessity, learning about fallibility and acceptance. She also has a goofy boyfriend who turns out to be a solid support in time of need. A teen book, but a good read for any age
Back next week.