This installment: bones in a trunk and dementia in small town South (f); a very French psychological thriller (f); Penny’s latest Three Pines mystery (f);the dark side of a children’s book writer (f);and short stories with the flavor of India (f).
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
A tale of two sets of stepsisters, one official and the other sub rosa. Leia, a graphic artist, has a one night fling (with a costumed Batman, no less, at a convention) and gets knocked up. Her stepsister Rachel who does everything “right” is having marital problems and they both end up back in Alabama where Grandma Birdie needs more help than Birdie’s long time best friend Wattie can provide. (Wattie’s black.) There’s a trunk full of old bones, a passel of old resentments, and Secrets are Revealed. Birdie, though demented, comes through cannily when the time is right. Spirited, full of local color, and I couldn’t put it down.
Based On A True Story by Delphine de Vigan
This is a very French book, a little chilly and ultimately haunting. It’s fiction but…Delphine is facing writer’s block after her last success. Into her life comes L. who gradually becomes a very supportive friend in Delphine’s time of need. There’s a husband, but he travels a lot and they maintain separate residences. L.’s sophisticated, elegant, and a ghostwriter by trade. She steps in as Delphine continues to stumble, taking charge until Delphine realizes her life has been co-opted. L. fades away as mysteriously as she’d appeared, and things get even weirder. I wasn’t sure what to make of it—a house of mirrors, as it were—but was in thrall despite.
Glass House by Louise Penny
Well I’m hooked on these Three Pines mysteries that take place in Quebec. Her latest proposes a fascinating moral dilemma. In order to catch drug-smuggling kingpins, Inspector Gamache has to give the impression that his department is incompetent which means letting a number of shipments go through. He and a former antagonist hatch a scheme that might mean utter disgrace if it fails. And what is that creepy figure doing, silent and motionless, in the middle of the village green? Great interplay of familiar characters, requisite suspense—a delight.
A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
Holed up in his country house, Mort writes acclaimed children’s books. Much younger Tommy (Thomasina) who knew him tangentially when she was a child, is now his mainstay. She weathered his long affair with narcissistic Soren until he died of AIDS, wants to break away and claim a life of her own, but Mort’s undone and pleads with her to stay. Then he dies in a freak accident and she finds herself chief executor. There’s a wrangle with a museum that was expecting a large behest and the complication of a biopic in the making with hot movie star Nick trying to find out more about Mort’s life close up. Like layers of an onion Glass reveals the sources of inspiration and neurosis that make up this complex character. Tommy retains a purity amid all the machinations that adds a special quality. Fascinating.
A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma
Short stories with an Indian flavor A woman suffering in an arranged marriage by surprise falls in love with the husband who’d previously repelled her. A widower fixates on the pragmatic but sensual widow next door. A brother in a long coma echoes the subject of Sharma’s fine book, Family Life. The title story in which a young man tries to launch a relationship with Nirmala, a fellow graduate student, but can’t resist the lure of prostitutes. In these stories, some set in India and some in the States, people try very hard but most often come out wanting which makes them touching and often funny.
Back next week.