I have not written here for two months – the longest gap since I’ve started this blog – but I have been reading. Here are a few of the adult fiction standouts over the past couple months.
“We have to make choices. I used to think we had time to do anything we wanted, but we can only do some of the things in any one lifetime.” -My Real Children
My Real Children by Jo Walton
I just finished this tonight, and I loved it; it spans a century, and the part that takes place from WWI to WWII reminded me strongly of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. We begin in 2015, when Patricia is in a nursing home, “very confused.” On top of her ordinary memory problems due to aging, she remembers two separate lives. The reader wants to know which is real, of course, but both are equally real in the world of the book; only in the final pages does Patricia work it out (at least, I think she does; it’s a bit open-ended). This has been on my to-read list for a while and my book club is discussing it this month; I’m eager to hear what others thought of it
Liz had tried not to experience the doubly insulting sting of being excluded by a person she didn’t care for. –Eligible
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
I suggested this for book club also. The main appeal for discussion is to compare it to Pride & Prejudice, which some of us remembered better than others. I have adored Curtis Sittenfeld’s previous novels (Prep, American Wife, Sisterland), and had high expectations, tempered only somewhat by mixed reviews. In the end, I thought she did an excellent job adapting Austen’s story and characters, bringing them into present-day Cincinnati, New York, and California. Mr. Bennet’s quips are sharp, and Liz is observant (with one significant blind spot). Highly enjoyable, though it ends on Mary Bennet, which is a bit odd.
He considered how memories hold our lives in place but weigh nothing and cannot be seen or touched. -Father’s Day
Father’s Day by Simon Van Booy
Sad and lovely as all his novels and stories are (The Illusion of Separateness, Everything Beautiful Began After, Love Begins in Winter, The Secret Lives of People in Love). Set on Long Island and in Paris, Father’s Day is the story of Harvey and her father, Jason. Harvey’s first parents were killed in a car crash when she was in first grade, and thanks to a persistent, good-hearted social worker named Wanda, Harvey is adopted by her father’s brother. Now, Jason is visiting Harvey in Paris, where she lives and works; he has come for Father’s Day, and Harvey has prepared a gift for each day of his trip. Each gift connects to a memory from their past. The final item, some official documents, are a surprise to Jason and to the reader, though Harvey herself won’t understand the significance unless Jason explains it to her; like My Real Children, there’s something of an open ending. Van Booy’s writing is beautiful and tender without being at all showy.
Why should one expect to feel the same every day, in a world that was rearranging itself by the hour? -Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Like Sittenfeld and Van Booy, Chris Cleave is another of my favorite authors (2016 is a good year for me in this respect, and I hear there will be a new Ann Patchett this fall!). With Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Cleave departs from contemporary fiction and delves into historical fiction, specifically the early years of World War II. Mary and Tom are in London during the Blitz, and Alistair is suffering during the siege of Malta. Unlike in Gold – my favorite of his previous novels – I did not quite feel as though the characters were wholly real. Mary’s sensibility was imperceptible from a progressive modern one, and Tom and Alistair were too perfectly British, with their dry wit, pithy quips, and good manners even in the face of bombs and starvation. Still, this is high-quality WWII fiction; it reminded me a little of Corelli’s Mandolin, perhaps just because of the Malta setting. I enjoyed it, but I hope he returns to the present in his next novel.