Advertisements

Archive for the ‘Algonquin books’ Tag

As the Crows Fly   Leave a comment

25810606

The Atomic Weight of Love begs the question: how heavy is love? Elizabeth J.Church’s novel has war as its bookends: World War II and Vietnam. The passage of time reflects changes in attitudes toward conflict and women.

Meridian Wallace is a brilliant, young student interested in pursuing not only a college education, but an advanced degree in ornithology. This is unusual in 1940s Chicago. While at university she meets and falls in love with professor Alden Whetstone, who is secretly involved with the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M. Although he can’t reveal his research, he convinces Meridian to postpone her studies, move across the country and marry him. There will be plenty of time later to pick up where she left off academically. Ha!

Alden’s commitment to his work and the slow disintegration of a loving relationship could seem a cliché. Yet, Meridian manages to flourish even when the attitudes of the day bear down on her. On her own, she continues to study birds without the benefit of academic resources, she makes a few friends despite being ostracized for not having a doctoral degree like most of the wives in her community. Although they are well-educated they do nothing with their education.

Meridian falls in love with a much younger man but maintains the façade of her marriage with Alden, who becomes increasingly narrow-minded and unlikable as the novel progresses.

The author is masterful in the transformation she ascribes to Meridian and the world around her.

The Atomic Weight of Love
Five Bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2016
352 pages

Advertisements

Love and the Passage of Time   Leave a comment

33590210

An American Marriage is about the institution of matrimony and race in America. Author Tayari Jones introduces readers to Celestial and Roy as each provides their perspectives on their relationship from its early stages to the circumstances that shake its foundation.

Roy’s a country boy with grand aspirations who left rural Louisiana at his first opportunity; Celestial is an artist born and raised in Atlanta. She could be considered haughty, just as he could be seen as arrogant in his drive to move far beyond his roots. Yet, Celestial is the more appealing character of the two. She’s intelligent, independent and creative. There’s just something about Roy that makes him less sympathetic.

This is true even after he is sentenced to serve a 12-year prison term for a crime he did not commit. During his incarceration, the narrative is told through the couple’s exchange of letters. Initially, their correspondence is warm, loving, a continuation of their previous life together. Slowly, the letters become less personal, more terse and infrequent.

The other significant character is Andre, literally the boy next door; Celestial has known him all her life. They have always been close friends and it was Andre who introduced her to Roy.

One year quickly becomes five. Life moves forward for all concerned through professional success, a death and realizations about the past. Following an early release, Roy hopes the passage of time hasn’t completely removed him from Celestial’s world. All are left to wonder what future their marriage holds.

An American Marriage
Three and three-quarter bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2018
306 pages

A Book for Booklovers   1 comment

18293427
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is the literary equivalent of a triple chocolate dessert. It’s rich, nuanced and meant for those who love chocolate, or in this case, books.

A.J. is an ill-tempered man running a bookstore on an Atlantic coastal island. The store does a brisk summer tourist business. Otherwise it’s a slow, quiet livelihood for A.J., whose wife has been dead for almost two years. But, he’s not old. He’s not even middle-aged. He is, however, a snob, particularly when it comes to literature, and he’s set in his ways, such as they are, as a lonely and often rude man.

Parts of this novel are entirely predictable, but in all the right spots. A.J. meets someone, actually three someones, who change his life: Amy, a publisher’s sales rep; Lambiase, the local police chief; and Maya, the two-year-old child abandoned in his shop. Despite some unsurprising turns, Zevin writes with humor and poignancy. She also displays a knowledge of books.

The relationships also allow A.J. to accept the greater world around him, for better and worse. It helps that the three persons who share his life are book nerds. Lambiase, who is only ever referred to by his last name, is the last to jump on board as a reader. His evolution from a by-the-rules cop is fun and warm. It’s A.J.’s connections to Amy and Maya that resonate the loudest through their shared passion for pages that need to be turned by hand.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2014
260 pages

Exclusion by Design   3 comments

18267068
Hate crimes, altruistic youth, deception and not fitting in are themes driving James Klise’s The Art of Secrets. Although this falls into the young adult genre, there’s no age limit to the ideas behind his novel.

Fifteen-year-old Saba Kahn is a first generation American of Pakistani descent. Her family’s two-bedroom apartment and all its contents are lost in a fire, believed to be a hate crime. Saba is a scholarship student at a Chicago private school, where the student body rallies behind two fellow students who conceive of a fundraiser to help the Kahns.

Klise is masterful in the way the story unfolds. His characters are vivid, thanks to each sharing his or her perspective and unique voice. Each chapter is told either through the use of a diary, emails or in separate one-sided conversations with a reporter, the police and an insurance adjustor. It’s clever and effective. Beginning with Saba’s diary entry a few weeks after the fire, the story follows the fundraising efforts, with asides from school administration and their not-so-subtle efforts to appear open-minded. Saba, a bright, gifted student, is suddenly the center of attention. Those who had previously walked past her in the hall suddenly see her. She’s somebody. Meanwhile, Javier, an exchange student from Spain, is nearly invisible to those around him, including his host family who insist on calling him “Savior.”

This poignant story, with a twist, is filled with humor as Klise demonstrates the ease of believing something we want very much to believe.

The Art of Secrets
Four Bookmarks
Algonquin, 2014
255 pages