A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
Richly drawn portrait of Tomasina, the assistant to famed children’s author/illustrator Mort Lear, who dies at the beginning of the book, and leaves Tommy his house–and responsibility for his estate. It resolves, present-plot-wise, around the bequest, or lack thereof, to a museum, but the real rich material is elsewhere, in the life of the actor who plays Mort in a movie, in Tommy’s childhood. I ultimately felt it had too many points of view; I’d have jettisoned the sad single museum curator. Maybe necessary for the plot to fully materialize, but a detriment to focus on the most compelling material.
Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer
Mailer always writes with such authority that it’s hard to believe he wasn’t actually there in the room when these events occurred. There’s something very male about it. Set in the CIA in the late 50’s and early 60’s, along with a backdrop of the love story of Harry Hubbard and his distant cousin Kitteredge, who is married to his Godfather and sometimes boss. what could go wrong?
It’s an engrossing–and especially long–read. Perhaps too long, so that it started to feel that it lacked an overarching narrative and was instead a series of historical episodes loosely woven together. It ended rather abruptly–it seemed to be the death of JFK that brought things to a close, but he only became an important figure mid-way into the book. I almost could have read it starting with the Cuba/Washington section, with a few flashbacks, that that would’ve been enough.
Mailer’s fictional versions of real historical characters are, as ever, fascinating.
All That’s Left to Tell by Daniel Lowe
Story about stories… Marc has been kidnapped in Pakistan and one of his captors is a woman who tells him stories, kind of a reverse Scheherezade. But the stories appear as if real– about his daughter, Claire, who was killed, and the life she lives after she survives the attack. Also the life Marc leads. Stories are told within that story too, and it becomes unclear what’s actually real, because of course, the whole thing is a story–a novel–and the different realities are both written as though real. Fascinating, and makes me think about stories and what they do to and for us.
The Purple Swamp Hen by Penelope Lively
Stories. Not the fashionable contemporary kind– often they have some sort of twist to them. All third person with some distance. Focused on relationships that don’t quite work for some reason, often a failure of communication. A lot of them kind of blurred together, especially toward the end, with their marriages or not-quite, women in their 30’s who are successful but something’s off. I enjoyed reading them but I’m not sure they’ll stay with me.
The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
A blend of true crime and memoir — the story of a murder, unrelated to the author’s life, that took place in the early 1990’s, and the author’s own childhood, during which she suffered sexual abuse. It’s pedophilia that ties the two stories together, both thematically and literally, for surely–even if this is never made quite explicit–that was what made her investigate this particular crime at such length. I wouldn’t have thought it would work, weaving the two together like that, but it seemed to. The writing is incredibly strong, and there is a link there. Dark stuff, but ultimately moving.
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Entertaining, compulsively readable. Andrea, the woman who actually seems okay with being single at 40ish, gives us history of various incidents in her past, and we get to know her parents and some of her friends — Kevin, the neighbor; Indigo, the beautiful yoga teacher who marries a rich man. I wouldn’t say there’s a plot, but there is an arc, toward realizing that she remains an important part of her family and has obligations to them, that she can’t actually be alone. There’s also a thread about her life as an artist–abandoning it, maybe returning to it at the end–but that feels to me like an artificial overlay.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
I really loved this. It doesn’t have a plot, really, and it’d be hard to say what it’s about. A woman, spending a week in Athens, has conversations with a series of people, friends and strangers, where they do most of the talking and she doesn’t do all that much editorializing, but still we come to know her. It’s a mystery how Cusk makes that happen. The absence of action means it feels good to dip in and out, which is how I tend to read these days. And it all just feels true, devoid of any gimmick or awareness that you’re reading words, fiction, anything other than true living people.