Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Words for a New Year

The last really festive, on-the-town New Year's Eve I remember happened the year before my oldest son was born. And by festive I mean: party dresses in red and black silk, drinks in little bars all over Mt. Washington, dinner at a schmancy fancy restaurant overlooking the crisply-lit city, champagne toasts, noisemakers, and drunken kisses at midnight. I remember a heart-to-heart with my friend Elaine in the ladies' room just minutes after the clock struck 1983--heads together, we smiled at our reflections and the seductive promise of our pretty lives hovering in front of us like holograms.

The next year my son, Matty, was only two months old, so we stayed in, our little family wrapped up in the comfort of our tiny family room in the little Bethel Park colonial, and that night held new magic for us. We spent the next series of eves family style with friends, all of us balancing babies, toddlers, and paper cups. For a while, nothing seemed to change. Then, suddenly, we were on our own again, our children away or at parties, our friends opting to stay close to home, all of us on call just in case someone needed a ride home.

Tonight, finds me at home, still. High heels click on the bathroom floor above me; the shower switching on and off as my children get ready to meet the New Year. I will still have a kiss at midnight, but I'll probably be balancing a book along with my champagne flute.

If I can't be twenty-something, dressed in red silk, standing on the edge of my future, I'll be content to be this book-worm me, tome in hand, leaning against the love of my life, waiting for another year of our lives to begin.

Here's some of the books I read since the clock struck 2012. Just like the parts of my life, some will make you laugh, and some will make you cry. Cheers.

The Sandcastle Girls, Chris Bohjalian
      I just finished this beauty, a heart-wrenching love story set in Turkey during the 1915 Armenian
      Genocide, as discovered and revealed by the lovers' surburban American granddaughter. Details
      of box cars crammed with starving Armenian women forshadow the coming Holocaust, as
      German officials (then allies to Turkey) marvel at the inhumanity of the "situation." Against the
      bleak desert backdrop, the war's victimization of women is etched on the reader's mind.

The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg
       A dysfunctional family is set spinning by a father's divorce from a brilliant, but
       domineering mother who won't stop eating--a searing portrait of family love and disgust, an
       examination of how we nourish or starve each other in relationships. As I
       read The Middlesteins, I couldn't help but think about a lesson hard learned in my life...once
       they're gone, they're gone.

Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley
        A writerof historical fiction feels a strong pull to New Slains Castle at Cruden Bay in Scotland,
       where she is compelled to write (channels?) the story of an ancestor who was involved in a plot
       to reinstate King James.The plot parallels the two women's lives in modern day and 18th-century
       Scotland. As a writer, I enjoyed reading about Carrie's process, especially that "other-worldly"
       connection to information that somehow appears in my brain.

In Between Days, Andrew Porter        
     An incident at college involving a middle-class couple's youngest daughter, Chloe, rocks the
     entire family. This beautifully-written novel forces us to examine the power of white versus    
     Muslim in America, frightening us with the results of blanket prejudice and loss, leaving us to
     wonder about our own racism and what lengths we must go to to find hope.

The Hypnotist's Love Story, Liane Moriarty    
     Combine a well-meaning stalker, her ex and his young son, and a hypnotist for a sometimes
     funny, sometimes sadly revealing of human nature read. Moriarity balances her characters
     well, equitably revealing both warts and halos...even of the stalker, as she enters the hypnotist's
     kitchen to make her a batch of muffins. The question really raised here involves the
     consequences we must face when we casually move on, in effect, discarding a human being from
     our lives.

Heading Out to Wonderful, Robert Goodrick         
     Charlie Beale settles down in small town America after his return from WWII. All around
     good-guy, Charlie falls victim to greed and lust, becoming the town outcast--tragic chronicle
     of America's spoiling from within. Goodrick is Faulker without the page-long sentences.
     Equally haunting, Heading Out to Normal exposes the greedy center of American life that
     threatens to consume us all. Picture Jay Gatsby in the midwest without the parties.

Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness
         The second in Harkness' All Souls Trilogy, this book takes us from present-day New England to
         Elizabethan London, where Diana Bishop  and Matthew Clermont (witch and vampire)
         continue their hunt for Ashmole 787, an illusive manuscript that contains the secrets of
        "creatures" (witches, vampires, and daemons). Note: we meet Christopher Marlowe as a
         daemon! Harkness seems to have found a better balanced pace for her plot in this second

The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler
        Anne Tyler is today's best popular novelist at navigating the shadow's of the human heart. In this
        short work, almost a novella, Tyler introduces us to Aaron, a vanity publisher who has long
        struggled with a physical infirmity, but who now is devastated by the loss of his wife Dorothy--
        sturdy, practical, Doctor Dorothy. When Dorothy begins to appear in Aaron's life once more his
        journey begins again.

The Street Sweeper, Eliot Perlman
        Complex characters bring together the American Civil Rights movement and the Holocaust in
        this lyrical novel. The tension is palpable from the first chapter as we meet Lamont Williams, a
        man recently paroled from prison, who struggles to keep his job as a sanitation worker at a local
        hospital. A novel full of surprises, Perlman's words wrap us in the hope and devastation of the
        human condition.


The Rebel Wife, Taylor Polites  
Set in the in the aftermath of the Civil War, The Rebel Wife is both suspenseful and thought-provoking, as Augusta Branson,
former Southern belle married off to a seeming carpet bagger,
must survive by her wits after her husband dies from a mysterious illness. Polites offers insight into the turmoil and betrayal that must have been the reality of the South shortly after the end of the war.

The Lost Saints of Tennessee, Amy Franklin Willis
       Ezekiel Cooper and his family (a passle of siblings, including a mentally-handicapped twin
       brother and his fire-hearted southern mama, Lillian) provide the emotional backdrop for a
       modern novel of the south, full of angst and healing. Think male version of The Divine Secrets
       the Ya-Ya Sisterhood  (Rebecca Wells) or Prince of Tides (Pat Conroy).

American Dervish, Ayad Akhtar
       The coming of age story of young Hayat Shah, an American boy living in the suburbs with his  Pakistani parents, this novel focuses on the arrival of Mina, the beautiful friend of Hayat's mother who comes to live with his family. Mina takes on the role of religious tutor, teaching Hayat about the Quran. Confused by the power of his emerging sexual identity and what he perceives to be morally right, Hayat betrays the lovely Mina, essentially condemning her to a miserable

Prayers for Sale, Sandra Dallas
       A home-spun tale of women who struggle to survive the physical hardships, weather extremes,
      and constant loss that exist in a 19th-century Colorado mountain mining community. Dallas
      bookends the life cycle with two predominent women: Nit, the 17-year-old bride who knocks
      on mountain matriarch Hennie's door after seeing Hennie's yard sign offering prayers for sale.

The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides
      A love triangle begins simmering between three Brown college students beginning in the 1980s.
      Madeline, the lit major researching the Victorian marriage plot; Leonard, the beautiful and
      brilliant science major, locked in the early stages of bipolar disease; and Mitchell, the religion
      major, all-around good guy in love with Madeline. Masterfully written, we are invested in all of
      Eugenides' characters as they rise and fall with and without each other.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
       If you haven't read Gone Girl, put it at the top of your list. Set aside the block of time you'll need
       to read 432 pages of this rollercoaster of a novel about "until death do us part," this rock'em
       sock'em robot word fight, this labyrinth of plot and suspense. Just remember this, when you open
       the pages of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, remember: nothing is what it seems.


nataliejane said...

Your images are so crisp. I can picture the scenes, and I hear your voice reading the post to me.

Quite lovely book covers too.

Unknown said...

The book covers are lovely, aren't they? I delighted in collecting them for this post, especially since I read all of the novels on my Nook, which isn't Nook Color or the Nook Table--just the plain old-school Nook where all things appear in simple black and white.

judyspalette said...

Thanks Jill, now I have a list of good books to read.

Kimberly Long Cockroft said...

Jill, an impressive list!

I read your poem in NDR--so well done. I'm so sorry about your friend. You capture your feelings so well in the poem. I'm glad to see that you're blogging again! I miss our occasional little chats in the early evening in the warm offices up on the hill.