Friday, August 31, 2012

Summer Reading

I really debated whether I should write about this book. It falls somewhere between the literary fiction I usually write about and pop fiction. And it's not as if I'm alerting you to a book you might otherwise miss, since Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl sits atop many bestseller lists and on the laps of many summer vacationers. It reminds me of the summer when every time I turned around I saw someone reading Scott Turow's “Presumed Innocent”.

And it bears some resemblance to that novel, since both have at their center a married couple in which both spouses are keeping secrets. Flynn's characters, Nick and Amy Dunne, are unreliable narrators, and they both kept me whipsawed as I tried to stay ahead of their maneuverings. Flynn cleverly sprinkles clues that sometimes clarify and sometimes obfuscate, and though occasionally the plot turns strained credulity, I never stopped enjoying the twists.

Her book certainly qualifies as a suspense novel, but it is also the dissection of a marriage where outside pressures and personality conflicts contribute to a meltdown with massive repercussions.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Growing Up with Secrets

Roy Jacobsen, the Norwegian author of "ChildWonder" tells us that this is a story about an Oslo of "rather rough experimentation. Before oil. Before anybody had any money at all. " The award winning author grew up in this era. The story takes place on an "estate" (we may recognize it as a sprawling group of apartment buildings) in a working class area outside of Oslo. The narrator is Finn, a boy of about nine years old. He lives in a two bedroom apartment with his divorced mother. When his mother suddenly decides to advertise for a tenant to live in the second bedroom, Finn's life undergoes radical changes. The story, from Finn's perspective, is riveting. Because Finn is nine years old, he is unable to really understand what is happening around him (aka the unreliable narrator). His mother is no help at all. Similar to parents, world wide, in the 60s, she makes life altering decisions without consulting with Finn. And then she mysteriously disappears with no explanation, for weeks. The reader is often left as much in the dark as poor Finn.  A tenant arrives who has his own secrets. And most perplexing is the arrival of Finn's half-sister, Linda. But something is seriously wrong with Linda. It becomes the job of Finn's mother and then Finn himself to help Linda.  The ensuing events of the story lead the reader to question what really happened that year and the extremes people will go in the attempt to "make things right".  The conclusion comes abruptly without warning. And then the last chapter advances about ten years  and allows Finn to explain some of the choices that were made, but it does not explain the complicated history that led to those choices. It seems that many of the answers will stay Finn's mother and the people who grew up in the 50s and 60s protecting their secrets. This is a beautifully written story about Norway in the 1960s told by an author who may have lived this story more intimately than he has led us to believe.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Question of Faith

I've read my share of novels about beautiful, talented young people graduating from college and making their way in the world, tackling problems in their professional and personal lives. Johnathan Dee's “The Privileges” and “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides come to mind. And that's the direction in which Christopher Beha's What Happened to Sophie Wilder seemed to be heading.

In alternating chapters Beha follows the lives of Charlie Blakeman (narrated in the first person) and Sophie Wilder (told in third person), who met as college freshmen in a writing class, and bonded over their shared aspirations to be writers, their shared loss of parents and their shared devotion to the power of fiction.

But Sophie's conversion to Catholicism turns the story into something far more compelling than post-collegiate angst. It tackles questions about the power and the burden of faith, the obligations of children to parents, parents to children, the living to the dying, the believer to the non-believer.

Don't be put off – this is not a book written to defend Catholicism or to condemn it. But religion does offer Beha's characters a means to delve into questions about their deepest values, and also about the importance of writing to explain the complex motives that govern their lives.

What happened to Sophie Wilder? When I read the last page I realized what a complicated question that was. This is a story that is still spinning around in my head – I think I will have Charlie and Sophie with me for a long time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

R and R - It's Not What You Think

Rock and Roll - No
Rest and Relaxation - No
Rules and Regulations - No

Readers and Recommendations - YES

Our friend and faithful living2read blog reader Kate has sent in the following recommendations:
I just finished A Dead Hand, a novel by Paul Theroux.  It was a good, creepy little puzzler. 

I also read The Northern Clemency, by Philip Henschler. It was on the short list for [the] Booker Prize. It was a novel about two families in Sheffield, England in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  I liked it a lot; the writing was vivid and witty, the characters were complex, and since it was so long, it made for a very absorbing read.  The length worked against it a bit simply because such a long book is a commitment.  I also wish I knew more about the region and what a Sheffield accent sounds like.

I don't know what comes next in my reading list, I may pick up a good suggestion from your blog.

Thanks, Kate.

If any other readers of this blog would like to submit a recommendation with comments that we can post, please send  your text to us in care of and we'll take it from there.