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Archive for the ‘Riverhead Books’ Tag

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

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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

Rail Sights   4 comments


There’s a lot of hype surrounding Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and I’m not quite sure why. Words like thrilling and unpredictable are used to describe it. I thought it was just OK; I finished it, but its grip was weak. Perhaps if I had cared more about the characters I’d have been more invested in the outcome.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Rachel, Megan and Anna. Rachel’s is the primary version conveyed. This title character’s life is dismal. She’s recently divorced and is an alcoholic. It’s no surprise these elements lead to a series of bad choices. It’s from Rachel’s vantage point on the daily commuter train that she imagines an idyllic life for the couple she names Jess and Jason. Then she sees something, or thinks she does.

Interspersed with Rachel’s account, thrown into question because of her drinking and poor emotional state, is Megan’s. She’s a tougher personality and cheats on her husband, Scott. When she goes missing, he’s the prime suspect.

Anna is married to Tom, who just happens to be Rachel’s ex. Although Anna is now living the life Rachel once had, she’s disdainful of Rachel. Anna and Tom live a few doors down from Megan and Scott.

The voices of the three women are distinct only by the experiences they share. Megan is definitely the most mysterious. Rachel’s self-pity and lack of self-control, while vividly described, make her unreliable and pathetic. In this regard, Hawkins’s writing is successful.

The Girl on the Train
Three Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2015
323 pages

 

More Than A Day on the Beach   Leave a comment

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The Vacationers by Emma Straub is as bright as a day on the beach and also as gritty. Full of poignant, laugh-out-loud descriptions, Straub masterfully portrays a family in crisis.

Jim and Franny Post, with their teenage-daughter, thirty-something son, his girlfriend, and Franny’s best friend Charles and his partner are slated to spend two weeks together in a large rented house on Mallorca. Each chapter represents one day of the vacation and every day includes various perspectives provided by the connected tourists. These are separate views more than distinct voices. Each character hopes to project, or better yet protect, a certain image, because everyone has a secret – some known to a few, others hidden.

The Posts, married 35 years, are financially well-off, privileged. Their daughter, Sylvia, is set to start at Brown in the fall, and the trip was planned as a family celebration. However, in the interim from when the trip was conceived and actually occurs, Jim has had an affair and lost his job. Some know this; others don’t.

As the emotional baggage is shuffled around, the Posts direct their own disappointments to Carmen, the girlfriend. She’s perhaps the most honest among the group, but she is also subjected to the family’s rude behavior. Only Sylvia demonstrates fleeting moments of kindness and understanding.

Yet, the novel isn’t about being mean to others. It’s focused on what people do to live with themselves, even when they’re basking in the sun and have been out too long without sunscreen.

The Vacationers
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2014
292 pages

Parenting Gone Awry   Leave a comment

Imperfect Birds

Anne Lamott’s Imperfect Birds is either a wake-up call or a near-miss experience for parents and their kids. Either way, it’s a disheartening look at teenagers, parenting, and community. The first paragraph sets the tone: “… a teenager died nearly every year after a party and kids routinely went from high school to psych wards, halfway houses, or jail.” The first thing I’d do is move, no matter how idyllic the little town, where the story’s set, with its appealing proximity to San Francisco.

Lamott writes with purpose, honesty and humor. Yet her characters are not likeable. Rosie is an entitled high school senior, facing real and difficult situations where peer pressure, availability of drugs, and opportunities for sex are abundant. Elizabeth and James, Rosie’s mother and stepfather, know these dangers exist, but are reluctant to parent. Why should they? Rosie’s a good student and involved at church. Plus, as a consummate liar she successfully overrides her parents’ arbitrary concerns.

It doesn’t help that Elizabeth is a recovering alcoholic – except it should. She shouldn’t be such an easy mark. James doesn’t fare much better, although he tries. Elizabeth’s fault is her desire to be Rosie’s friend first and parent second. The book does lend itself to a discussion about parenting.

If Lamott’s goal is to show how blind loving parents can be, she’s successful. When Elizabeth and James finally see the light, it’s not through their personal epiphanies, rather from Rosie forgetting to keep the wool over her own eyes.

Imperfect Birds
Three Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2010
317 pages

Friendship’s Trials and Tribulations   Leave a comment

interstings

Titles, like first lines, can make or break a novel’s appeal. Certainly, if Meg Wolitzer had called her most recent book The Borings, instead of The Interestings, it might not have garnered much attention (which it has). Yet, there’s something pretentious about it, which is just the tone – along with some irony – the author instills in this contemporary epic about friendship, love, human potential and disappointment.

Wolitzer’s account moves back and forth through time, but it all pivots around the beginning which occurs at a camp for the arts in the summer of 1974. “The Interestings” is the name six teenagers give themselves; it’s meant to separate them from everyone else in camp. They’re talented, to varying degrees, mostly privileged and self-absorbed. Even as they move through adulthood, they carry those same qualities. Yes, they mature and Wolitzer is at her best illustrating their personal struggles and triumphs, but they can’t quite shake idea of their old moniker.

The power of friendship, particularly among four of the six, is an underlying theme and it, more than anything else, drives the novel. The characters’ ability to fit in and accept themselves also delivers some impact.

The exhaustive story spans more than five decades in a way that’s reminiscent of Forest Gump. Instead of a sound track to identify the passage of time, Wolitzer relies largely on political events. Although the characters are interesting, it’s not as much as they think – or as much as we want them to be.

The Interestings
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2013
468 pages