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Archive for the ‘marriage’ Tag

Love and the Passage of Time   Leave a comment

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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

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Not So Neighborly   Leave a comment

The Woman Next Door

The title of Yewande Omotoso’s novel The Woman Next Door is pleasantly ambiguous. There are actually two women living next door to one another with much more than a property line separating them.

Both women are older widows, had impressive careers; one is white and the other black. The setting is suburban Cape Town, South Africa. Neither is happy and each covets something the other has. Despite these similarities they are barely civil to one another.

Of the two, Hortensia is the most acerbic, although Marion is only slightly less prickly. The interactions between them are exercises in seeing who can sling the deepest barb. Marion is not Hortensia’s only victim; her caustic manner assumes an equal opportunity approach. Hortensia might as well wear a t-short with a warning label: stay out of my way.

In a well-paced style, the author reveals the women’s past which helps explain their attitudes toward each other and the world. An accident forces the pair together, but the situation is far from amicable. Even though it is Hortensia who offers the first semblance of a peace offering, it’s evident the gesture has ulterior motives. Meanwhile, Marion’s efforts to extend an olive branch appear more genuine.

Omotoso’s writing is vivid and engaging. The story begs an answer to the questions of Hortensia’s universal dislike of people and Marion’s general unhappiness.

At the risk of needing a spoiler alert, the ending is the weakest element of the narrative. However, overall it’s poignant on many levels.

The Woman Next Door
Four Bookmarks
Picador, 2016
278 pages

Disconnecting the Dots   Leave a comment

 

A Separation

The narrator in Katie Kitamura’s novel, A Separation, is never named. Nonetheless, we learn other, more intimate details about her.

The title has multiple implications beginning with the fact that the narrator is separated from her husband, Christopher, and has been for six months. The couple has not announced the split; in fact, the pair has promised vowed to continue waiting before going public with the news.

Kitamura is terse in her descriptions. Yet her characters are well-developed, even the ones we never actually meet. Christopher, for example, has gone missing in Greece. Still, he is seen through the narrator’s eyes and experience.

In London, his mother Isabella, who is unaware of any change in Christopher’s marital status, contacts the narrator since messages to her son have gone unheeded. In just a few sentences, Kitamura deftly portrays the uncomfortable relationship the women share. Isabella is incredulous that her daughter-in-law has no idea of Christopher’s exact whereabouts. Both know he is in Greece and the resort hotel he checked into, but nothing beyond that.

What ensues is the narrator’s trip to Greece in search of the man from whom she is no longer in love. He’s not been seen at the hotel for several days, although all of his belongings are still there.  She’s curious,  but her heart isn’t in it. Her voice is stoic, matter-of-fact, with occasional flashes of anger or disappointment as she discovers new secrets and is placed in the awkward position of being presumed a devoted wife.

A Separation
(Barely) Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2017
229 pages

Love and Vengeance   Leave a comment

My favorite passage by Lauren Groff is where she signed my copy of Fates and Furies at the request of my son Tim’s girlfriend. Groff wrote: “Robin – Mariana is the most beautiful and wonderful, isn’t she!” The answer is yes. It is such a stark contrast to the tenor of the novel; I’m led to believe that Groff doesn’t have it out for everyone, which is a comforting thought.

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The novel is divided into two categories: fates and furies. The first section begins with newlyweds, Lotto and Mathilde, consummating their marriage on the beach, but he is the focus here. It’s all about him: childhood, banishment from his family to boarding school, college days and efforts to succeed as an actor are portrayed in detail; but not too much as to squelch the imagination. Little is revealed about Mathilde – until furies, which is aptly named.

In an effort to avoid the need for spoiler alerts, suffice it to say there are elements of Gone Girl meets Claire Underwood.

Groff’s writing is clever, humorous and rich in detail. The references to various plays and Greek tragedies, however, are distracting metaphors.

Full of unlikable characters, the book, nonetheless, was appealing. Lotto’s a selfish man who exudes charm. Real charm, not something he turns on and off at will. Mathilde is mysterious and bitchy. They are flawed thanks to the characteristics Groff imbues in them. Neither is someone I want to meet, but I was more than content to know them through the distance of fiction.

Fates and Furies
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2015
391 pages

Rosies are Read   Leave a comment

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I am humbled and surprised when I run into someone who tells me my blog is enjoyable and a good place to learn about books (and restaurants when I write about them).  When I started The Blue Page Special nearly three years ago, that’s what I hoped for. What’s even better is when one of my readers shares a book title with me, introducing me to a new author or genre. Such is the case with The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

Simsion presents Don Tillman: a nerd. This renowned genetics professor at a Melbourne, Australia, university has created a life so structured that all of his activities are scheduled to the minute. He finds the slightest deviation unnerving. This, along with his intelligence and inclination to view the world through literal eyes, makes him socially inept.

Nonetheless, he decides it’s time to find a life partner and creates the Wife Project, complete with a multi-point questionnaire which has no place for romance. That is until Rosie Jarman, a graduate student in psychology, unwittingly becomes a candidate in the project. Don quickly dismisses her as a viable contender because of what he perceives as her many (human) faults.

The novel is predictable which might warrant a spoiler alert, but I encourage reading it anyway. Don’s voice and personality quirks are well-developed — complete with a few laugh-out-loud moments. Also, Rosie’s criticism that the Wife Project objectifies women is unarguable. Yet, the premise results in a fun read where transformations occur on several, some even surprising, levels.

The Rosie Project

Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2013
292 pages

Befores and Afters   Leave a comment

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In her debut novel, An Untamed State, Roxane Gay serves up a brutal story about cruelty, survival and love. In the process she’s created haunting characters who don’t easily disappear from the mind’s eye — even days after putting down the book.

While vacationing in Haiti to visit her parents, Haitian American Mireille Duval Jamison is kidnapped just outside the gates of their well-heeled estate. Her husband, Michael, and young son are threatened, but it’s Miri the kidnappers want for the ransom she’s likely to bring. What they have no reason to expect is her father’s steadfast and misguided refusal to ante up. Nor can they have any clue regarding Miri’s tenacity to survive.

Gay tells the story in two sections. The first includes the kidnapping and Miri’s past: how her parents came to leave their island home only to return years later having led successful lives in the U.S., as well as how Miri and Michael fell in love. A particularly moving section recounts Miri’s care of her mother-in-law and the evolution of that relationship from tolerance to respect and even friendship. This plays a significant role in the novel’s second section which comes after Miri is released from her 13-day ordeal. There’s no need for a spoiler alert, since the beginning of the story reveals as much.

Gay doesn’t temper her descriptions of Haiti’s poverty or of the brutality inflicted by the captors. Miri’s pain, fatigue and even filth are tangible. So is her despair.

An Untamed State
Four Bookmarks
Black Cat, 2014
367 pages

Poetic Justice   Leave a comment

Finacial Lives

Jess Walter takes satire to a new level in The Financial Lives of Poets, a look at marriage, social media, unemployment and breaking the law. Matt Prior is an unemployed financial journalist and a would-be poet. His senile father lives with Matt, his wife and their two young boys. Matt is convinced his wife is having an affair. When he isn’t busy writing poems about the direction of his life, he stalks his wife’s online activities.

Walter instills humor and pathos in his characters. In fact, these elements are so evenly balanced it’s difficult to choose a preference. It’s funny that Matt meets two young hoods late at night at a 7-Eleven; it’s pathetic when he continues the relationship. It’s amusing when Matt comes up with an idea to save his home from foreclosure; but it’s sad to realize the extent of his debt and desperation.

The novel’s title comes from another of Matt’s bad ideas, although this one is completely legal: a website with financial news written in blank verse. Matt left his job at the local paper to pursue this not surprisingly unsuccessful venture. It’s not that the poetry is weak, only that, for better or worse, poetry simply doesn’t appeal to everyone; and as it turns out, particularly not financial types.

The Financial Lives is suggestive of a Breaking Bad Lite. The motivation for making ill-conceived choices is understandable, even if it cannot be condoned. The farther Matt sinks, the less intriguing the story. It wears thin.

The Financial Lives of Poets
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2009
290 pages