Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer Reads #3

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

I have been impatiently waiting for Hoffman's newest novel to come out, after being stunned by her 2011 novel The Dovekeepers, truly a masterpiece, and fascinated by her 2014 novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things.  Similar to Dovekeepers, her newest book relies heavily on her characters, making this a story driven not by plot, but by the development, interaction, and dynamism of her various characters.  Based on the family of Camille Pisarro, one of the fathers of the Impressionist art movement and comrade of Monet, Degas, and Renoir, Hoffman brings us into a world of mysticism and romance on the island of St. Thomas in the 1800's.  We hear the story through a variety of voices:  Rachel, a defiant young Jewish girl who wants more than the arranged marriage she sees in front of her; Frederic, the Parisian nephew of Rachel’s husband, a young man of passion and faith who embarks on a life of isolation and excommunication from their synagogue; Jestine, Rachel’s best friend, daughter of the African cook, who loves Rachel’s white half-brother; Lyddie, Jestine’s daughter who was stolen years before and lives a seemingly normal Jewish life; and Camille, the youngest child who sees the world in tints and shades and colors.  Throughout the story, the characters encounter anti-semitism and racism, and encounter deep wells of loneliness as love is stolen, lost, destroyed, and found again.  As always, Hoffman uses spirituality and an almost other-worldliness in her story that describes both the characters and their environment, and as the reader loses oneself in the story, we can almost hear the birds, smell the spices, and taste the molasses of a long-gone era.  This is a book that will linger in your mind long after your fingers browse the final pages.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
I am one of the few who have not read a Sue Monk Kidd book; yes, I missed The Secret Life of Bees a few years ago.  However, I do love good historical fiction, especially when it is based on heroic unknown people from our past and she hits it just right in her latest book.  Encompassing the story of two of America's earliest abolitionists and feminists, Kidd follows the story of the two sisters from Charleston who set the world afire, as well as their slave, Hetty in her attempts to free herself of both physical and mental slavery.  Sarah is the rebellious daughter of a judge and a strong-willed Charleston matriarch, who are both determined to keep the social order and allow their daughters as little self expression as possible.  As the oldest, Sarah is repressed, daunted by society, and struggles with a speech impediment.  However, as she raises her youngest sibling, Angelina, Sarah fosters in her a rebelliousness and fight that eventually seeps into her own soul.  At the same time, Hetty and her mother fight their own rebellion, as Hetty learns to read and revolt in her role as the house seamstress.  Steeped in history of the time and beautifully written, if you are a fan of historical fiction, this book will not let you down.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Made into an award-winning movie a few years ago, this 2003 book had been on my 'to-be-read' shelf for awhile.  It should have come off that shelf muuuuch sooner; it is a riveting, harrowing, hair-raising look at what it means to raise a sociopath and watch his path of destruction.  Written in a series of letters, from the mother to her husband, Eva delves into some fairly dark places.  We see the beginning of the marriage to Franklin and the angst over whether to create a family or stay in wedded un-parenting bliss.  From the very onset of Kevin's birth, a disconnect occurs and Kevin creates a completely unexpected chaos, unlike the birth of a 'normal' child, as well as a disconnect between Eva and her husband, Franklin, that is impossible to breach.  Eva gives hints of the school shooting to come, and as the years progress and she lays out Kevin's life to us, we can see the signs of destruction.  This is a completely gripping tale and an obsessive read; it would be a stellar book club book as it delves into some treacherous waters surrounding our ideas of what it means to be a good parent and supportive spouse.

The Scribe by Matthew Guinn
I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of Guinn's new book; his first foray into literature, The Resurrectionist, was an Edgar award finalist.  This time he goes back in history, to Atlanta, Georgia in the 1880's where a cotton exposition designed to catapult Atlanta into the future and leave the 'unpleasantness' behind collides with a vicious serial killer.  Thomas Canby, a former Atlanta detective, lives out in the countryside, busily dealing with important crimes like missing pigs.  When given the chance to redeem his good name, he grabs it with both hands.  Teamed with the first black Atlanta PD detective, who is not yet even allowed to carry a gun, these two men find themselves following a bloody trail to hunt down the killer.  Author Guinn sprinkles clues to Canby's past throughout the story, giving us a sense of the unusual policeman that he is:  former Union soldier in a city that holds their Confederate past dear; son of an Irish immigrant killed in Sherman's siege; ex-fiance of a prim school teacher; and childhood friend of the city's beloved madam.  Guinn weaves a suspenseful tale in the midst of an accurate historical fiction; this is an entertaining read.

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