The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey is a beautifully written memoir that explores the intimate adventures and encounters with a common woodland snail that she takes in as a pet. A refreshing new voice, as her first book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating captures your heart and makes you appreciate the smaller and more natural parts of the world. Elisabeth, being bedridden due to a degenerating illness, explores new ground and minor details of the room she is confined to, with the snail. Doing extensive research on the life of the snail, she comes to some staggering realizations about her own existence and makes us questions things about our own lives. Her story is told with resilience and her observation of the small creature elucidates true existence in our natural world.
Newly nominated for the Booker Prize long list, this Australian author weaves a multiple narrative. He masterfully explores the inner lives of eight people. The local details describe a suburban city in contemporary Australia. The author’s keen observations of his multi-cultured characters deal with male violence and its roots. –Jane
Case in point: One of my favorite childhood books was The Pink Dress by Anne Alexander. Looking back, it was a pretty corny book, but I was a pretty corny kid. Sure, she kept my Nancy Drew books (the umpteenth edition), but The Pink Dress is gone, GONE. Current worth on the market: $3500. Worth to me: priceless. Oh well, my mom’s pretty priceless herself. But still.
p.s. And thank you to cousin Anne Marie for reminding me about The Pink Dress the other day because I had forgotten all about it and how much I loved it and how mad I am that my mother didn’t keep it under glass for me when I left for college a hundred years ago.
The Great Perhaps is a much more subtle treatment of the family-in-turmoil theme. There is much humor in the work, but it’s more in the descriptions and observations of the characters, tender and frequently absurd. Jonathan Casper, his wife Madeline, their daughters Amelia and Thisbe (teenagers), and Jonathan’s aged father Henry are each undergoing an individual existential crisis. This novel allows us into the heads of each of these characters, and Meno keenly captures the gamut of emotional confusion experienced by insecure, angry teens, middle aged professionals who are losing their grip and losing each other, and a man close to death who just wants to escape. All of the characters fear the complexities of life, and each of them deals with the fear in a unique way. The overlapping and intertwining threads of their quests for understanding make this novel rich and satisfying–a joy to read.
This Is Where I Leave You takes place over one week during which the Foxman family sits shiva in honor of their recently deceased patriarch. They are an emotionally stunted and brutal group, and aren’t sure if they can endure each other’s company for seven days. Judd Foxman, (angry and heartbroken over the disintegration of his marriage), his bitter older brother, his disillusioned and neglected sister, their much younger hedonistic slacker brother, and their embarrassingly sexual psychiatrist mother settle in for the week. The author hits us with equal parts laugh-out-loud banter and painful, brutal honesty–often in the same sentence. Read this clever book to discover how the Foxmans weather their stint in the shiva chairs; I predict you will be surprised at the meatiness of this “humorous” tale.
Faithful Place the hotly anticipated novel by Tana French, is an intricate and edgy top-notch psychological thriller. Beautifully written and elegantly descriptive, this is a true literary detective novel rather than a whodunit. Frank Mackey, head of Dublin undercover unit, left home at 19 to run away with the girl he was madly in love with, but Rosie never showed up. Frank assumed she’d left him behind, but 22 years later his sister finds Rosie’s suitcase hidden in an abandoned house. Frank reluctantly returns home to his childhood neighborhood, Faithful Place, and finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. Tana French visits themes of love, loss, memory, murder, and life in modern Ireland with brilliant dialogue, humor, and suspense.
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, is an epic novel of contemporary love and marriage, friendship and loyalty, children and rebellion. It slowly weaves a portrait of Pat and Walter Berglund; the new pioneers of old St. Paul – the gentrified, hands-on parents of the Whole Foods generation and their polar opposite best friend, Richard Katz, the wildly attractive, punk rock musician. But now, as they raise their family and do their small part to build a better world, the Berglund’s have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively conservative family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard still doing in the picture, but most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has she become a very different kind of neighbor, the enviable perfect mother and wife appearing furious and unhinged, instead of forever pleasing and accommodating? In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty, the compromises, struggles and loss of control these edgy characters experience as they learn how to live with the weight of freedom. As Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” –Adele