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.
In Other Words (In Altre Parole) by Jhumpa Lahiri
Written in Italian and translated (by Ferrante’s translator, no less) into a simple, slightly strange-feeling English. A very personal book about how we relate to the language we speak (and read, and write) — native language versus learned language, the urge to learn a language. Plus two short stories that read very much like work in translation, in a good way. I enjoyed going back and forth between English and Italian in my bilingual edition.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
I seem to really like memoirs about people going through really terrible things– here, the loss of a baby and a marriage. This one felt a bit different because the writer’s hands are not clean. She has an affair, behavior she doesn’t really try to defend.
I wish it had been longer. I think there was more to explore, especially around the protracted affair her mother had when she was a child and how it may have shaped her views on fidelity.
The writing grabbed me right away. In fact I think the reflection at the opening was some of the book’s strongest writing. Interesting that she chose to write this part without revealing the gender of her spouse.
“Writing is communicating with an unknown intimate who is always available, the way the faithful turn to God.”