This installment: feminism in the not so good old days (f); a dark obsession with feathers (nf); grumpy age vs provocative youth (f); a teen cd about art and grief (f); and Tyler’s latest
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Greer is star-struck by Faith Frank, a feminist icon who recognizes potential in this quiet college student and hires her to work for her foundation. There lies the rub: it’s funded by a mogul whose dealings are sometimes slippery. Meanwhile Greer’s relationship with Corey, the Boy Next Door, suffers first from lack of proximity (he’s sent to Manila) and then by a family tragedy. Rude awakenings as each comes of age in this imperfect world. Guess what: Greer comes into her own with a best-seller that exhorts women to use their “outside voice.” For me revisiting the era when the feminist movement arose was a mixed experience—all that rhetoric. But still, a powerful story.
The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson
Subtitled Beauty, Obsession and the Natural History Heist of the Century. What a tale! A brilliant American home-schooled boy, Edwin Rest, gets hooked by the arcane art of tie-flying. To do it correctly you need specific feathers, most of which come from endangered or extinct species. At college in England he discovers a museum with a treasure trove of these, cases it intensively, and makes off with a suitcase stuffed with plunder. The author became obsessed with the story and spent years tracking down the specifics, presented here in rich detail. He plumbs the intense world of tiers (those who tie flies), interviews the main players in depth, and brings us along on this utterly fascinating journey.
Trick by Domenico Starnone
Danielle is an old grumpy illustrator. The last thing he wants to do is take care of his grandson, 4 year old Mario but he’s pressed into service anyway. His daughter’s marriage seems stressed. It’s a very challenging set up, especially when he gets locked out on the balcony in the rain. Frustrations and joys cycle rapidly, former more than latter, but when the parents finally return it’s been worth it: parents in a better place, Danielle re-inspired (he was stuck on a project) and the bond between him and Mario sweet and firm. (Mario may be chip off that old block.) A great exploration of the parallels between youth and age, and witty to boot.
Island Home by Tim Winton
I love this Australian writer’s novels, and here he shares what is subtitled A Landscape Memoir. The places he’s lived through the decades, richly described and evocative. He characterizes the land as a “place where there is more landscape than culture…”geography trumps all.” In addition to celebrating the scale and wildness, the essays also reflect his grief, indignation over human depredations, and he’s taken action to redress some of the outrages. No man is an island—it’s obvious, and Winton calls it like it is: imperfect but poignant and beautiful in turn.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
Leigh’s mother, a pianist born in Taiwan, has just died by her own hand. Leigh is literally haunted by her—in the shape of a large red bird. Relations between her mother’s parents were severed long ago, but when a mysterious box appears, Leigh knows she needs to go to Taiwan and discover what her mother meant in her note (crossed out), “I want you to remember…”—but what? Leigh is an artist but her American father pushes her toward more practical pursuits. This teen book came to me in CD form which I especially liked because there are phrases in Mandarin, easier to hear than to read. There’s magical realism, of course, and a form of synesthesia in which Leigh sees emotions in color. Evocative and intense.
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
This book jumps decade by decade into Willa’s life, starting with her mother’s leaving when she was in elementary school, then to courtship during college (there goes the rest of her education), then to sudden widowhood with two boys in tow, and finally to a strange episode in Arizona where she ends up taking care of her son’s ex’s daughter and discovers she yearns for a new start and really bonds with the child although she discovers she can’t just slide into a new family and community. But this jumpstart enables her to claim herself, at last. Tyler always delivers, in my book.
Back next week.