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of Ambiguity by Elliot Pearlman
Michele's & Sue's book of
the month is Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Pearlman.
Australian writer Pearlman sets a high bar for himself, and
the result is a relentlessly driven story. This is an epic
novel about obsessive love in an age of obsessive materialism.
The basic thrust of the story is about a man who has never
gotten over a woman who left him 10 years before and kidnaps
her son. The book is segmented in seven parts, each narrated
by a different player in the unfolding drama, with sections
and scenes overlapping. The characters are similar and yet
different being incredibly insightful, bright, and in tune
with the human condition regardless of age, sex, or social
standing. This book has awesome magnitude and scope of what
is a phenomenal piece of literature.
Elephants by Sarah Gruen
Mindy's book of the month
is Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen. Gorgeous, brilliant,
and superbly plotted, this book will sweep you into the world
of the circus during the Great Depression. The novel, told
in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski, recounts the
wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers
Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined
during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns
that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving
him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school
and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the
circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures,
including a complex elephant that only responds to Polish
commands. He also falls into an equally complex love with
Marlena, one of the show's star performers--a romance complicated
by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss
who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for.
Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes, and
freaks who populate her book and with a showman's expert
timing, saves a terrific revelation for the final pages,
transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist
Women Writing on the Great Lakes
Alison Swan's book of the
month is Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes. Alison,
a close friend of ours, is the editor of this book and also
has a short story included. This collection of nonfiction
works by female writers focuses on the Midwest: living with
the five interconnected freshwater seas that we know as the
Great Lakes. Contributing to this collection are renowned
poets, essayists, and fiction writers, all of who write about
their own creative streams of consciousness, the fresh waters
of the Great Lakes, and the region's many rivers. This book
reminds us of the small transformative moments we experience
on and around our Great Lakes, and it adds significantly
to the record of the beauty we find there, which will ultimately
A Town Like
Alice by Nevil Shute
Keith's book of the month
is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, published in 1950. My
good friend Michele turned me on to a book titled 1001 Books
to Read Before You Die, which did cause some angst but also
spurred me to start reading at a voracious pace. This classic
of literature takes place on three continents. It involves
history, geography, travel, adventure, misery, joy, evil,
and love. Shute creates marvelous three-dimensional characters.
Even the countryside is like another character, because it's
so full and important to the story. It could almost be two
different books, such is the compelling strength of the section
set in World War 2 where our heroine is leading a group of
women who are captured and are being marched between towns
hundreds of miles by the Japanese who weren't going to kill
women and children but barely had enough supplies for their
own soldiers so they just kept moving the women on. It's
a great book with a beautiful bittersweet ending.
the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Michelle's book of the month
is Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. This magnificent
new novel has a similarly extraordinary scope and the same
capacity to amaze, entertain, and bewitch the reader. A tour
de force of metaphysical reality, it is powered by two remarkable
characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from
home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search
for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton
called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction
and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the
most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their
odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched
throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats
and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs
a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently
unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse)
fall from the sky. Extravagant in its accomplishment, Kafka
on the Shore displays one of the world's truly great storytellers
at the height of his powers.
Mindy's book of the month
is The Space Between Us by Thirty Umrigar. Umrigar's schematic
novel illustrates the intimacy, and the irreconcilable class
divide, between two women in contemporary Bombay. Bhima,
a 65-year-old slum dweller, has worked for Sera, a younger
upper-middle-class Parsi woman, for years: cooking, cleaning
and tending Sera after the beatings she endures from her
abusive husband. Sera, in turn, nurses Bhima back to health
from typhoid fever and sends her granddaughter Maya to college.
Sera recognizes their affinity, despite the different trajectories
of their lives, circumstances dictated by the accidents of
their births. They are also caged by the same strictures
despite efforts to throw them off. Class allegiance combined
with gender inequality challenges personal connection.
Come Back From the Moon
Michelle's book of the month
is Please Don't Come Back From the Moon by Dean Bakopoulos.
The summer Michael Smolij turns 16, his father disappears.
One by one other men also vanish from the blue-collar neighborhood
outside Detroit where their fathers before them had lived,
raised families, and, in a more promising era, worked. One
man props open the door to his shoe store and leaves a note:
I'm going to the moon, I took the cash. The wives drink,
brawl, and sleep around, gradually settling down to make
new lives and shaking off the belief in an American dream
that, like their husbands, has proven to be a thing of the
past. Unable to leave the neighborhood their fathers abandoned,
Michael and his friends stumble through their 20s until the
restlessness of the fathers blooms in them, threatening to
carry them away.
This month's book is Garlic
and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl and was recommended to us by
Mindy and Michelle. This delicious new volume of Reichl's
memoirs recounts her adventures in deception as she goes
undercover in the world's finest restaurants for the New
York Times. As Reichl metes out her critical stars, she gives
a remarkable account of how one's outer appearance can influence
one's inner character, expectations, and appetites. This
book is as much fun to read as it is to eat.
Keith's book of the month
is Glass Castle, A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls. A great
read about Walls' unbelievable childhood. In the beginning,
Walls' family lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert
towns. As the dysfunction of the family escalates, Walls
and her brother and sisters have to fend for themselves,
supporting one another and finally finding the resources
and will to leave home. Hers is a story of triumph against
all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional
love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her
the fiery determination to carve out a successful life of
Sue's book of the month is Case
Histories by Kate Atkinson. The novel opens with three
case histories, crimes that occurred up to 34 years ago.
It is such a satisfying novel, one that is aided by the
compelling nature of a good mystery, yet all the while
Atkinson's language can't fail to delight, being psychologically
keen, whippet quick, and utterly joyful. You will never
want this book to end, yet, like the best mystery novel,
you'll stay up all night to find out exactly how it does.
Atkinson connects the lives of her ensemble cast of characters
with a blithe, fairytale-like narration that can be, at
turns, hilarious, macabre, and suspenseful.
1 Ladies' Detective Agency
The month is The No. 1
Ladies' Detective Agency by African-born author Alexander
McCall Smith. A pleasing novel about Mma (aka Precious)
Ramotswe, Botswana's one and only lady private detective.
Mma Ramotswe's cases come slowly and hesitantly at first:
women who suspect their husbands are cheating on them;
a father worried that his daughter is sneaking off to see
a boy; a missing child who may have been killed by witchdoctors
to make medicine; a doctor who sometimes seems highly competent
and sometimes seems to know almost nothing about medicine.
The desultory pace is fine, since she has only a detective
manual and her instincts to guide her. Mma Ramotswe's love
of Africa, her wisdom and humor, shine through these pages
as she sheds her own light on the problems that vex her
clients. Images of this large woman driving her tiny white
van or sharing a cup of bush tea with a friend or client
while working a case linger pleasantly. This is a little
gem of a book and a fun mystery read.
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